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Saturday, 11 February 2012

In search of Smew

Every now and then you have a day birding when it all comes together, you can do no wrong and good birds trip themselves up trying to see you, today was one such day.
I had been trying to visit Grange Waters for a while now, basically ever since the wind shifted from the usual westerly / south westerly and came round to a northerly/north easterly; it is usually the cue for the rarer winter migrants to hop across the North Sea.
The Smew at Grange Waters usually arrive in the 1st week of December, due to the winds they have not, until the recent cold weather and the wind change.
I arrived pretty early at Mollands Lane hoping that the lakes would not be frozen, the 2 smaller lakes were partially frozen and the big lake with the island was 50% open, the 2 smaller lakes produced a 22 Wigeon and 2 Bullfinch.
Walking down to the end section of the large island lake and I came across a large circular raft of Shoveler doing there circular feeding routine, a total count of birds in the unfrozen water came to 47, a good start.
Whilst scanning around amongst the Black Headed Gulls I found a cracking Drake Smew, this was what I was looking for, views were distant and through trees but none the less a very good start to the morning. After some digi scoped shots I headed off to the other lakes, no other Smew were found but plenty of Fieldfare present with 185 seen along with 3 Lesser Redpolls. Given the weather I was expecting more on the 3 Grange Waters Lakes, in the past I have found Long Tailed Duck, Goosander and Goldeneye.

Distant photos of the Drake Smew

Arriving back, I thought I would take one more look at the Smew to try and get a better photo, no luck with relocating it but 6 Goosanders had took its place! There were 2 Drakes and 4 Redheads, this was the other bird that I had in my head, I was now on a roll, no stopping me now, I took some record shots and made my way back to the car.

2 Drake Goosanders

Redheads with a Drake


Thinking that Stubbers might be worth a visit I headed that way, booking in on arrival I walked over to Russell’s Lake. A good 70% was ice free and I could see Wildfowl in good numbers, one of the 1st birds seen was a cracking Drake Goldeneye. Scanning round and good birds started to show, more Goldeneye and also Redhead Smew, it was freezing cold but days like this make all the blank ones worthwhile.

Redhead Smew

After covering most of the lake I arrived at 3 Redhead Smew, 6 Goldeneye made up of 2 Drakes and 4 Ducks, again I took a few record photos for reference, again distant but not too bad.

Drake Goldeneye

3 Female Goldeneyes

2 Redheads feeding together

It was whilst I was reviewing the photos at home afterwards, in particular 2 Redhead Smew together, that I noticed a Duck in front on the photo. Blowing it up a bit showed a big white saddle, big head and bill, it looked very good for a Scaup, photo below. At the time I was so intent on digiscoping the Redheads I obviously overlooked it, even when scanning the lake. Later Dave Mcgouth saw it as well.
All in all a very good mornings birding with some cracking birds.

Large head and bill, white blaze, wide body,looks good for a female


  1. A very nice selection of photos of some classic winter birds. Looks good for Scaup although I would like to see the nail on the bill. Did you see this in any other shots?

    1. Marc,unfortunately this was the only shot, the nail on the bill would be the clincher, photo is not good enough to confirm id.The next day the lake was completely frozen,all had departed.