Monday, 16 November 2015

Great Northern Diver at Elton Reservoir, Bury

The weather has been really atrocious over the last few days and so I've been desperate to get out. However, as I'm mainly interested in bird photography (unless there's a bird about which I haven't ever seen), I don't go out too far in inclement conditions.  I want to go back to the see the Short-eared Owls and Barn Owls at Lunt Meadows, but unless there is a promise of at least two hours of decent light without rain or wind, there's virtually no chance of getting any decent photos.

But this weekend a special bird has been showing at Elton Reservoir in Bury and so, because it wasn't raining and the sun was shining at least intermittently, I decided to go for it.  Elton Reservoir is a place I don't visit much and I'm not really sure why.  It's quite a large expanse of open water, with a boat club at one end and plenty of rough land, fields and hedges around most of it. Perhaps it's because when I made my very first visit there I approached from the wrong side and ended up driving down a potholed road before coming to a locked gate - I then had all the problem of turning round in a narrow lane and retracing my steps and when I did finally get to meet up with the others in my party on the correct side of the reservoir, I was all hot and bothered and not in a good mood.

Anyway, I've been several times since and usually had a good selection of birds.  The last time I came was for a county mega bird, the Little Bittern which I wrote about here.  I've missed several other good birds here including a pair of White-winged Black Terns and an Iceland Gull.  So I decided I wasn't going to miss this one - A juvenile Great Northern Diver in non-breeding plumage.

Great Northern Diver's are seabirds and it's unusual to find them so far inland.  They are spectacular in breeding plumage, but as the nearest place they breed are the loughs of Scotland, we normally only see them like this one, in non-breeding plumage. The last bird I know about that was around these parts was one giving good views on the Wigan Flashes - unfortunately this bird wasn't very well and it eventually died or so I believe.

When I'd first arrived a couple of people were leaving and they'd said they'd been all round the reservoir and not seen the Diver.  Undaunted by this, I decided to make the best of the day and walk round for myself.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent selection of other birds present, including around 30 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Goldeneye, 2 Pochards, a female Shoveler, 2 Mute Swans, a Grey Heron and many of the usual Coots, Mallards and Gulls which are ubiquitous here.

But it would have been easier to find a black cat at night down a coal hole that finding the Diver.  The water was very grey and choppy due to the strong winds and the breaking waves gave hints of white that perfectly matched the bird's plumage colour.  And to make things worse there were more Great Crested Grebes about today than I've ever seen here, as well as the occasional Cormorant.  All these things made locating the bird very difficult and many times I thought I might of spotted it only to realise that it was either the waves in the water, a Grebe or a Cormorant.

However, I was just about on my way home when I spotted it on the opposite side of the reservoir at the boat house end. I quickly dropped my small rucksack off in the car and, carrying only my bins and camera, I scurried round to the spot where I'd seen it.  Isn't it funny how, when you get to the other side, the place you thought the bird was showing is always further away than when you'd looked across the area?  Well that was certainly true today, and it took me quite a time to find it again. The bird was highly mobile and could dive for long periods of time and then reappear quite a distance away, which meant you'd spent ages waiting it for it to surface only to be looking in the wrong place!

But find it I did and when another birder appeared, I complained that I'd spent a good few hours looking for it and when he turned up it just appeared in front of him!  His name was Richard Thew and we had a nice chat about the area as he is local and visits it frequently.  Richard said the bird was behaving a little more erratically now than it had at first, when it would come fairly close to the reservoir wall, especially early in the morning.  I mentioned that a couple of birders had seen it fly off at night, and thought that it might have left for good, but as it has returned today they now think it might be roosting on the smaller Withins Reservoir nearby.

I also had a nice chat with Stephen Wend who appeared with his birding-widow wife and dog shortly after Richard had left.  I managed to put him on to the bird which had now moved to the opposite bank (don't they always?) and I think he managed some decent views through his scope.  Just to be sure I showed Stephen and his wife a couple of these shots on the back of my camera and they seemed quite pleased with that as well as having actually seen the bird, albeit very briefly.

So as usual in birding, persistence pays off, and although my shots are only decent record shots for me, I left happy that the mission was accomplished.  I've also included photos of some of the other birds I saw today throughout this page.

Here's a link to the Manchester Birding Website's map and description of Elton Reservoir: Elton Reservoir and a link the forum sightings page: Elton Reservoir Sightings

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