Saturday 6 April 2019

Mandarin Madness

It is not often that one gets to see grown men embarrass themselves. Well, apart from every day in Parliament at the moment. Today however I was able to enjoy this pleasure a little closer to home. The patch had been truly dire -  a week of pent up expectation dashed before 8am, and with the coffee and bacon bap already done very little to remain out for. Tony and I wandered around disconsolately, kicking stones, and talking about the likely candidates, knowing how fruitful a similar chat about Garganey had been last weekend. Although it had been a crap morning all it would take was one bird. And so of course about two seconds after we had stopped discussing Mandarin Duck Nick went and found one on Alex. 

Or rather it found him. He was actually looking the other way when the Mandarin saw him from the other side of the pond and made a beeline for him. I can't remember exactly what he said but it was something like he felt something on on his left side and all of a sudden there it was perched on his left shoulder. Or maybe his right? Regardless, I have never seen Tony move so fast. One minute in deep depression at another unreasonably early start for no reward, the next sprinting to Alex - I could barely keep up! We crested the slope and there it was right in front of us. Tony shed a tear, there is not much that is up there with a patch tick. But wait, why was it swimming directly towards us? A fresh arrival from China would surely be far more wary? 

Hunger, pure and simple. It was desperate, fat reserves almost totally depleted from the long flight from the wetlands of Ha Lau Pons, it put fear aside and swam straight to us, but once it realised we had no food it flew off and around the corner. We agreed this has been an incredible experience with a wild bird. We walked around the pond to join Nick and Bob, still shaking with excitement. Had this really just happened? What a way to get to 141! 

A sudden revving of engines and the squealing of brakes signalled the arrival of James, also keen not to miss out on this eastern mega, his 130th species for the patch. When he joined us a short while later he also commented on the slavering hunger of this remarkable vagrant. Think how far it has come I exclaimed, gesturing grandly. Just as I did that the bird swam around the corner, and seeing my hand movements swam directly towards me. What happened next was very special. With all of us crouched down on the bank the bird actually got out of the water and stood in the middle of us....


  1. You're kidding, right? A migrant? Surely a visitor from the feral colony in the UK? Or am I showing my ignorance? We saw at least 6 in Richmond Park a few weekends back

    1. I think you're showing your ignorance of my particular brand of 'humour', which not everyone always understands.

      Sorry about that, you probably needed to have been there. This particular bird travelled all of about a mile overnight, as another local birder had it on the Hollow Ponds (near Snaresbrook) the day before. Ha Lau Pons was perhaps a stretch...