On Friday I received news from Alastair Gray through the Sussex Ornithological Society’s sighting page that a Great Northern Diver had been spotted on Weir Wood Reservoir, a patch tick for him. It was late in the evening so I couldn’t do anything about it just then, but on Saturday morning I persuaded my mum to drive me there.
Our first stop was the West end, where most of the bird action usually is. We arrived first but soon other birders had come to have a look too. Unfortunately after some hopeless 45 minutes scanning the water with our scopes, we decided that it wasn’t here. It was a tense 3/4 of an hour: every Cormorant (there are lots of them) gave us false hope. The only birds of note were a dozen Gadwall, and a Marsh Tit on the feeders.
I was about to give up when I heard the other birders suggesting going to the East end, which is even more exposed. I followed them and we faced a chilly uphill walk to the bank of the reservoir near the sailing club. The wind was so bad that the water mimicked the sea off Brighton Pier on a bad day! Again we scanned the water but nothing was to be seen, we were losing hope once more. However, someone spotted the diver, far off. Too far off for my telescope to even see! Thankfully one of the other birders showed it to me before he left. It wasn’t a very impressive view of an otherwise majestic bird, but it made the trip worthwhile.
Great Northern Divers, also known as the Great Northern Loon or Common Loon in North America, is a member of the genus Gavia, the symbol of Minnesota; the provincial bird of Ontario; and foreign exchange dealers’ name for the Canadian dollar: the Loony because it appears on the country’s notes. The birds are related to grebes and are very powerful swimmers. They breed in Great Britain but usually only in the north, they winter further south but are mainly coastal in winter. That makes this bird at Weir W0od Reservoir, a very inland site, a very special bird.
I have been checking the Sussex Ornithological Society’s website morning and evening, waiting for a rare bird to turn up (which it shall, with it being the autumn passage season) and finally one turns up not too far away from us. It was a Great White Egret, a bird that I regularly see in Africa, though have never seen in the UK before. The only problem was that the sighting appeared on a Monday, a school day, so I had to persevere a whole week of worrying whether it was still going to be there.
On Saturday morning it looked good, there was no reports of it having left on Friday (though none to suggest it was still there) and we set out just past 8 am. When we had nearly arrived I looked anxiously out of the car window to try to spot it early on, but in vain. I did get a mild shock when I misjudged the distance between me and a Lesser Black-Backed Gull, however apart from that there was no sign of it so far.
To my surprise there were only two people at the car park next to the hide, they seemed to have arrived much earlier to try to snatch a glimpse of this elegant bird. Our visit started out with a bit of horrible luck, as the Great White Egret had just flown away and rounded a bend only a few minutes before we arrived. This meant we had time to look at all of the other birds that were visible from the hide: a pair of Mandarin, Cormorants, several Green Sandpipers, a possible Common Sandpiper, Snipe, Lapwing, Mallard, Little Egret, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese and Grey Herons. While we were watching a trio of Green Sandpipers on the far bank we all received a pleasant surprise, the Great White Egret had flown silently on broad wings underneath the view of the scope! It landed half-visible to the left of the hide behind an overhanging shrub and I hastily took a few pictures. It seemed these weren’t needed, as the Great White Egret regularly flew right in front of the hide and along the far shore! Once I even took a photo of it flying behind a Kingfisher perched on a post, which I only realised when I arrived back home!
Spot the Kingfisher!
Egret flyby (cropped)