South River, January 13

Bird news from Subhojit Chakladar and Bradlee Sulentic

As a part of our effort to understand and count Scaly-sided Mergansers, we have been surveying a particular stretch of the river extending over several tens of kilometers. Starting early in the morning, we encountered very heavy fog for the first hour or so. With visibility less than 20m at times, we initially sought out passerines. The first bird of note of the day was a Hawfinch, followed by a couple more flying over. Close by, a group of very vocal Eurasian Bullfinches entertained us for a while. There were also a flock of Brambling, a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker and a couple of Naumann’s Thrush as well.

After the fog lifted, we scanned stretches of the river that looked promising. Waterfowl were present in reasonable numbers but no sign of the bird that we had come find. We spent the first 2 hours scanning at least 5 spots, including 2 spots where we had encountered them before. There were good numbers of Common Pochard, Scaups, Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks, Falcated Ducks and Common Mergansers. Japanese Wagtails, Olive-backed Pipits and Long-billed Plovers were also observed. A juvenile White Tailed Eagle came very close, trying to land on a rather weak tree-top providing some excellent and rather comical views.

The first Scaly-sided Merganser was a female type bird encountered at a location that might be considered ‘disturbed’. Even though the bank was about 40m above the river, there were houses very close to the bank. Though there were other waterfowl present close by, this particular bird preferred to be on its own. It flushed when we were about 200m from it and flew downriver. A second group of bird were found a few km downriver, including stunning views of 3 males and 3 female type birds. We observed them from a ‘safe’ distance (about 250~300m) as they splashed around. Later, using cover of the trees and reeds on the river bank, SC was able to approach within 100m of the birds and observe them from the level of the river. Once again the birds preferred to be on their own and maintained some distance from a group of Common Mergansers also present nearby. The last of the birds was a male found about 5km further downstream making a total of 8 birds on this particular count.

Other birds of note encountered on this trip were a tree full of Rustic Buntings, Meadow Buntings, a hunting Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Azure-winged Magpie.

Note: The number of Scaly-sided Merganser found on this particularly day was quite low compared to our previous count 3 weekends ago, when we counted between 21 and 31 birds at 4 different sites of the river spanning a stretch of about 25~30km. 13th January was a relatively warm compared to that day, with less winds and more cloud cover. The river was however relatively ice-free on both these days.

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