Saturday, 26 September 2015
If Tolkien had populated the Elven kingdoms of Middle Earth with ducks, he would have used Pintail. Every year, after the Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler have joined the Mallard and Gadwall on the washes, I wait for the arrival of these graceful birds, who seem to rise above the frantic dabbling and bussling of the massed flocks, and instead cruise among the hoi polloi with all the aloofness of visiting royalty.
They are seen at their best in late winter, and the earliest arrivals appear incognito among the loafing crowds, eclipse plumage hiding the Art Deco patterns of chocolate and white. At Welney yesterday I was able to fully digest the sepia and grey barring and speckling of one confiding male as it basked in the warm sun. His head was straw coloured, but fine dark marks ghosted his breeding finery, subtly describing the tongue of white that laps up the side of the neck behind the ears. A few vermiculated feathers broke the scalloped pattern on his flanks, but there was no sign of the gold-edged lanceolate scapulars that will mirror the curve of the slender neck in a few weeks time.
Further down the reserve, the same grey, white and black colour scheme was to be found sported by some wagtails. They minced among the straw covered islets in the company of Meadow Pipits, while Swallows breezed overhead. Two of them had pale grey backs, inviting the thought of White Wagtail.
At the top end, all was quiet, until a flock of gulls drifted across from the fields and dropped in for a bathe. One starkly impressive Lesser Black-backed Gull stood proud, pale eye staring harshly as the Blackheaded Gulls bickered nearby.