317/365 H is for hybrid

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When I was looking for the Snow bunting at The Knap in Barry yesterday, I also spotted this hybrid duck. It’s probably the same hybrid that’s been seen in The Knap lake and at Cosmeston, both this winter and last, always in the company of Tufted ducks. But what is it?

191113 hybrid

Well, the fact that it associates with the Tufted ducks may mean one of its parents was a Tufty. Here’s a photo of a male Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula). As you can see, the hybrid doesn’t have the dark back or the head tuft of this bird.

191113 tufted duck

The lighter back feathers of the hybrid resemble those of a Scaup (Aythya marila) and the occasional Scaup has been seen associating with the local Tufties, so maybe…. Here’s a male Scaup for comparison.

191113 scaup

There’s still the issue of the hybrid’s head shape and colour, which to my inexperienced eyes look rather like a male Pochard (Aythya ferina), a duck that also has light grey back plumage (photo below). So, maybe we have a Tufted duck – Pochard hybrid?

191113 pochard

The reality is that no one can be 100% sure of the hybrid’s parentage without a DNA test, but it’s always interesting to see birds like this and speculate. What do you think?

316/365 Lifer : Snow bunting

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On 3 November a Snow bunting was found at Porthcawl on the south Wales coast. Yesterday a Snow bunting, almost certainly the same bird, was found at Barry, another seaside town but about 25 miles further east and much closer to where I live. So, first thing this morning I caught the train to Barry to try and see my first ever Snow bunting.

191112 snow bunting (1)

Not long after I arrived at the spot where it was last seen, I met up with a birding friend, Graham, who was also looking for the bird. It had obviously moved off but where? Graham headed one way, I headed another, and not long afterwards I spotted Graham waving to me from the other end of the lake. He’d found it!

191112 snow bunting (2)

We spent the next 30 minutes watching as it scurried along the edge of a tarmac path, around some bollards, across a roundabout, up and down the long concrete steps leading to the old harbour, on to rocks on the shore, and then back up to the path again.

191112 snow bunting (3)

It appeared fearless and quite tame, approaching to within a couple of feet of where we stood or sat, though the reality is that, because Snow buntings breed in the Arctic, this little bird might have had no previous exposure to humans or an urban environment and simply didn’t realise it should be afraid of (some) humans and wary of cars, bikes or dogs.

191112 snow bunting (4)

Fortunately, it was finding plenty of food so, although these birds are quite rare in south Wales, there’s no reason why it couldn’t survive its Welsh adventure and either make its way to join other over-wintering Snow buntings on England’s east coast or spend the winter alone and head back to the Arctic next spring. It was a great privilege to spend time with this lovely creature today and I certainly hope it manages to live long and prosper!

191112 snow bunting (5)

315/365 Sparrowhawk

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This Sparrowhawk was hunting over the west paddock at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park this afternoon. Three times I spotted it flying past, landing to check out potential prey and then moving on again empty-clawed.

191111 sparrowhawk (1)

Sparrowhawks always look smaller than I expect but they are incredibly aerobatic and agile in the air. I watched this one swerving at speed between branches that were swaying in the strong breeze. Once it landed, it was rather ungainly, struggling to maintain its balance on bushes as it peered down for the bird it had been chasing.

What a pleasure it was to watch such a magnificent creature! I’m only sorry the photos don’t do it justice – it was a little too distant.

191111 sparrowhawk (4)

314/365 Toothed and crusty

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Crust fungi are notoriously difficult to identify and I’m not at all sure which this is, though one possibility is Toothed crust (Basidioradulum radula). Despite my uncertainty I thought I would share some photos as its shape and form are wonderfully sculptural and more than a little beautiful, I feel.

Toothed crust Forest Farm 191108 (3)

312/365 Nuts

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Today was a glorious autumn day so I took myself to Forest Farm Nature Reserve for a long walk. I popped in to the hide to see what birds were around but it was very quiet.

191108 moorhens

Apart from a couple of Moorhens in the pond, the only feathered creatures I saw were these, a Jackdaw and a Jay that had been enticed down on to the grass in front of the hide by the peanuts another birder had thrown out for them.

191108 jackdaw191108 jay

311/365 Mermaid’s purse

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I found this egg case on the beach at Cuckmere Haven a week or so ago. With such a leathery, tough outer skin, it’s easy to see how well this could protect the embryo that must once have been inside.

191107 mermaids purse (1)

I checked the Shark Trust website’s identification page and, given the south coast location, I think this eggcase might belong to a ray, perhaps a Spotted ray (Raja montagui) or an Undulate ray (Raja undulata).

I’m not sure where the name Mermaid’s purse came from – perhaps it’s simply because the eggcases come from the sea, are vaguely purse-shaped and hold something valuable inside them.

310/365 Living fossil

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The Equisetums are such wonderfully sculptural plants, living fossils that are so old they once thrived beneath the trees in the Paleozoic era, more than 250 million years ago. The name comes from the Latin equus, meaning horse, and seta, meaning bristle, which is probably why these plants are also known as horsetails.

191106 equisetum

309/365 Starling adoration

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I know I blogged about Starlings just last week but I simply can’t resist giving them more air time. This is partly because the Starlings I encountered in London’s St James’s Park last week allowed close views and I managed to get some reasonable photos of their stunning plumage.

191105 starlings (1)

But it’s also because when I was on a Glamorgan Bird Club field trip to Rhossili last Sunday, we were treated to some small murmurations and one of these gatherings looks to my eye just like a seal – did I mention I have a vivid imagination?!

191105 starlings (4)

308/365 Birds of St James’s Park

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I’ve just returned from three days with two friends in London. We were doing touristy things as our Australian friend hadn’t been to London before but I did manage some birding during our walk through St James’s Park. Though abundant and obviously breeding locally, most of these cannot really be classed as wild birds but they’re lovely just the same.

191104 st james park

The birds we saw included Mute swan and Black swan, Black-headed gull, Moorhen, Egyptian and Greylag and Canada goose, Feral pigeon, Shelduck and some species of white duck that I don’t recognise, Grey heron, Ring-necked parakeet, Bahama pintail, Tufted duck and more. Unfortunately, the resident Pelicans were hiding on their island so we saw them not.

191104 moorhen
191104 egyptian goose

191104 heron white ducks191104 ring-necked parakeet

191104 can goose coot191104 tufted duck