Wednesday, December 21, 2011

After all the report writing and Christmas shopping we needed a break. We also wanted to celebrate getting selected as part of the team who, next spring, will be eradicating Black Rats from Dog Island, Anguilla. Dog Island is home to roughly 120,000 seabirds of nine species! So we headed to Hartlepool, primarily to see the Slavonian Grebe which had been there for a couple of days. We birded the headland first and immediately bumped into a close in Velvet Scoter, the closest views we've had at this site. Several Red-throated Divers and a raft of Common Scoter and Eider were also in the area. We headed around the bay and an adult Mediterranean Gull was rafting close in. Rich then insisted that we stopped to photograph a leucistic Knot whilst, unbeknownst to us, the Slavonian Grebe was swimming up and down about six foot off the beach. When we arrived to the Slav it had headed further into the bay and views were only from above. But it was still a belting bird nonetheless.

The Americans call them Horned Grebes whereas we go for Slavonian. But they're not really from Slavonia, an area of Eastern Croatia, although they do occur in Croatia. So what's going on? An Archibald Thorburn watercolour at Christie's auctioneers went for £7250. The title was 'Lesser Crested, Horned or Sclavonian Grebe'. Sclavonia is in Russia and indeed there is a large Russian population, however the majority of these are not thought to over-winter in European waters (Ilicev, 1985). But perhaps this explains the name? Linnaeus officially described the species in 1758, but we can't ask him. What we do know is that they eat their own feathers, and feed them to their young, to form a stomach plug which keeps fish bones there for long enough for them to be digested! (c) Richard Brown

Hartlepool Headland is a fantastic site for catching up with Velvet Scoters. (c) Richard Brown

The reason Rich didn't get stunning Slav photos. But this Leucistic Knot is still pretty smart. A defect in the development of pigment cells means that this bird is unable to produce pigment in certain areas. The feathers will be weaker and the bird will probably stand out to predators. But it seems fine at the moment. (c) Richard Brown

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