Sitting at work just having my lunch in front of a computer, I glanced at What'sApp on my phone. A message had just appeared - 'BAIKAL TEAL, East Chevington North Pool now'. This was not wholly unexpected as this bird has travelled around eastern England for a few weeks now, but yesterday it had gone past us and into Scotland. We thought we had missed out on its north bound itinerary. However, Scotland wasnt to its taste, and it was now loafing on the bankside here at East Chev.
I downed tools [keyboard] and headed off up the road for this genuinely wild, long distance vagrant, ***it has been to Spurn, so it must count*** arguably one of the finest looking of all the wildfowl. As its name suggests it should be breeding now somewhere east of the Siberian Yenisey on tundra pools, not hanging around the ex Northumberland coal field.
A few birders were already watching the bird when I arrived, and what a little stunner it was too, with the green and yellow harlequin face pattern of an adult drake. Although it was quite distant, good scope views could be had on the bank and out on open water. At the time of writing, it has moved down to Druridge Pools where it looks set to put the summer in.
Although some people are concerned that it is a species widely kept in captivity and it may have just hopped a fence, it was unringed and certainly behaved like a wild bird, being very uneasy and flighty even at range. Numbers have increased from a few hundred thousand birds in the 2000s up to a million birds now wintering in South Korea so why wouldnt it be the real deal?
We will have to wait until the powers that be decide on that one, but I've already added it to my list.
More importantly, it is in 345th position on my Northumberland List and is a great bump start to a slow year, arriving in the county with a few other good birds such as Broad billed Sandpiper, Red necked Phalarope and American Wigeon.
|Northumberland's first Baikal Teal, East Chevington.|
This small roadside pool,a former local patch for the master, Eric Ennion, is a proper mass of thick impenetrable juncus, so I didnt hold out much hope of having a repeat performance of the 1989 Sunderland bird. I hung back awaiting news. I just sat down to my tea, when the message came, the bird was out scratching around the mud, in the open!
As with the Teal, the pause button was pressed, tea put in the oven, Springwatch recorded, and off I went, all of 15 miles north of home. I skidded to vehicle abandonment and jumped out. 20 birders were just gazing around as they do. 'Has it gone? I asked Ian Fisher. 'Its just gone behind those rushes a few minutes ago' was the response. Thats that then I thought and got the scope out as a token gesture. After 10 mins, Tariq Farooqi gave the call, 'There it is!' resulting an a 30 second panic until I could locate the tiny hunched scrap of feathers picking around in a tunnel of rush. Eventually it emerged into the open and had a bath and a preen for 10 minutes before skippng off out of sight where it was never seen again.... wow, what a bird. Not a full lifer, but one I never thought I'd see again, let alone in the home county.
These tiny marsh creepers are quite scarce and difficult to see anywhere in Europe even though they are widespread breeders. It is believed that some may breed in the UK after a survey found several calling birds on marshes in Wales, but in this kind of habitat, we could never be sure.
The county tick  was tinged with some ( very little) remorse that many of the top Northumberland Birders couldnt make it up north from Newcastle etc. A bitter sweet experience for sure...
|Northumberland's second Baillon's Crake, Monk's House Pool.|