Tuesday 10 January 2017

Devon Flashback 13 - 2004 Lesser Scaup

Exactly thirteen years ago today, on January 10th 2004, I discovered Devon's first Lesser Scaup, a first-winter male, on Exminster Marshes. There is an account of the find in the 2004 Devon Bird Report and the above sketches were shown on the back page of the report. I kind of thought that it would open the floodgates for more Devon records and indeed Kev Rylands discovered the second, a female, on Beesands Ley just a year later on March 4th 2005. A third bird, another first-winter male, was found on Roadford Reservoir on November 19th. It remained in to 2006 and, as far as I'm aware that was the last accepted record in the county (The Birds of Devon - Michael Tyler). Not exactly the opening of the floodgates despite a very promising start! Of course the recent 'probable' first-winter female at Slapton may well get re-found and prove to be Devon's 4th. Let's wait and see.....
Since Britain's first Lesser Scaup, at Chasewater in Staffordshire in 1987, numbers have increased nationally to the point where it is now no longer a BBRC rarity. It was removed from the list of species considered by the BBRC at the end of 2014, although apparently numbers in North America have been in decline (British Birds October 2015 Vol 108).
The Exminster bird stayed on the marshes until April 23rd 2004. It was often out of sight in one of the wide drainage ditches and on at least one occasion it popped over to Bowling Green Marsh.

This is one of the few photographs taken of the Exminster bird. It was taken by Dave Stone and quite nicely shows the size and structural differences compared with a Tufted Duck. Many thanks for letting me use the photo Dave!

Some of my original field sketches, drawn just after finding the bird. It was on the main lagoon on the marshes, so a long way off.

Mike Langman managed to get these digi-scoped shots of the bird on the day of its discovery. Mike's doing a talk in north Devon tonight so I haven't managed to get hold of him to check if he minds me using them. Hope it's ok Mike. Note the rather dirty-looking plumage which shows it's moulting from first-winter into adult-type plumage.

Head shape is important when it comes to identifying Lesser Scaup. The photos show the classic shape with the peak of the crown at the rear. The shape changed considerably though when the bird was diving - it could look quite flat-crowned. I tried to capture this in the above sketches.

This shot of Mike's was very helpful in getting the record accepted by the BBRC. It shows the all-important truncated wing-bar - nice and bright across the secondaries, abruptly fading to grey across the primaries. Anyone re-locating the Slapton bird should check for this feature, as well as the small black nail at the bill tip.


  1. it was a great find Matt particularly with the viewing distance involved!And to get the news out so quickly. Of course it was perfectly okay to use the images.

  2. Hi Mike - many thanks. Didn't think you'd mind but always prefer to check.
    Trust the talk went well yesterday.
    All the best. Matt

  3. Lovely post Matt. A long time prior to me picking up the bins, but makes me keen to see one. Enjoyed the Scaup by Mudbank the other day.

  4. Hi Nick - many thanks. The Mudbank Scaup seems to have pushed off. Not sure what the chances of Lesser Scaup are in Exmouth. Pretty close to zero I'd imagine. Should be more in Devon though and there's one on Dozmary Pool in Cornwall at the moment. Cheers. Matt