Before this weekend, the last time….

August 25, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Red-crested pochard.


Before this weekend, the last time I saw a “wild” (or at least feral) red-crested pochard, rather than a sad individual that had had its wings clipped in a waterfowl collection was in the highlands of Scotland, almost thirty years ago.

At that time I was about 13 years old and then a member of the now defunct “YOC”, the RSPB’s Young Ornithologists’ Club – on a YOC holiday at Aigas Field Centre, near Beauly, Inverness.

Us “YOs” were being driven to or from a black grouse site, or a crested tit site (or wherever) in the Aigas minibus, when we spotted a red-billed duck in the middle of a wee loch down below the pine-lined road.

We all jumped out of the minibus and agreed on the identification - and also reluctantly agreed that this individual had almost certainly escaped from a waterfowl collection somewhere in the highlands of Scotland – possibly very close by.

But…. At that point, at that moment, the red-crested pochard (drake as I remember) was free from its collection fences and diving happily in a highland loch….

That was almost thirty years ago like I say.


Yesterday though, my eagle-eyed wife (we make a formidable team) spotted four strange ducks, two with red beaks, on a large, quiet, swampy fishing lake in rural Berkshire, just off the Kennet and Avon canal, as we pushed our 9-month-old son along the sunny, midgey towpath in his pushchair.

It felt like we were in the Everglades at one point – such was the look of the lake and its flooded vegetation and tree roots (see photos below).

We didn’t have our binoculars with us, or me my camera, but I didn’t need a close look to identify my wife’s ducks. These were clearly red-crested pochards, two males (with strikingly red bills) and two duller females.


I am aware that these birds tend to hang out and breed on the near continent (especially Spain and France) and there are a few birds that have escaped from waterfowl collections here in Blighty and have set up shop (so to speak) in quiet lakes and gravel pits.

But you’ll do well to see any…. anywhere here in the UK.

These birds have been reported in the area that my family and I walked in yesterday, but not so for two months now. So I informed the county recorder – I think he’ll be interested they are still together, still in the area and still at large.

I wonder if they’ll breed next year?

A lovely treat to see these striking birds again a few miles from our house in Berkshire, so long after I saw them last – and some pretty ropey photographs taken with my old FZ50 bridge camera can be seen below…


Hummingbird hawkmoth.


Before this weekend, the last time I saw a hummingbird hawkmoth was on the most wonderful holiday I’ve ever taken, in rural Turkey two years ago (to the day almost), described here.

I had seen them at our garden in Reading when we lived in that town, but only very briefly as they darted over our rampant honeysuckle plant that had taken over the roof of the decrepit garden shed.

Today however, my wife pointed out a large buddleia bush on the Kennet and Avon canal near Sheffield Bottom and I stopped stock still as I immediately saw a hummingbird hawkmoth darting between the purple buddleia flowers.

These are wonderful moths – not particularly rare in the south of the UK – and as they fly by day, there’s always a chance we’ll see them nectaring around long-stemmed flowers such as tobacco plants, jasmine, valerian etc.

I grow white valerian in the garden, specifically to attract these moths – and next year I hope to add a large red valerian bank, together with some tobacco plants, to really make our garden irresistible to these great little moths.

It’s a strange coincidence I guess that last night, one of my twin sisters (I’m a triplet for those that didn’t know) texted me from her new garden in Chicago – to tell me that she had just discovered hummingbird hawkmoths (as well as (ruby-throated) hummingbirds) in her new Chicago garden.

I do love these moths and this afternoon’s sighting was another lovely treat for both me and my wife.

I post a terrible photo of the buddleia flower and the blurred moth below (taken with my old bridge camera).




I’ve saved the best for last.

Before this weekend, the last time I saw an Osprey was on holiday in Mallorca, about four years ago, to celebrate my father-in-law’s 60th birthday.

Anna and I disappeared for a day from her family and drove down to the S'Albufereta Natural Reserve from our villa on Carrer de la Gavina in Port de Pollença, Mallorca.

There we saw all kinds of birds including mating black-winged stilts, a marsh harrier or two and a very grumpy-looking osprey sat on a low post in the tidal mudflats.


Before then, the last time I’d seen an Osprey was on the same YOC holiday at Aigas Field Centre described above under “Red crested pochard”.

It was about 1984 and I had the good fortune then to watch seven beautiful ospreys fish over Findhorn bay on the Moray coast.

Since that day, Ospreys have been my favourite bird of prey – and by some way.

But that was almost thirty years ago – and whilst I’ve kept my peepers peeled in Berks over the last few years at migration times, hoping to see my favourite bird of prey drift over in a blue sky – nada….


Until today.


I wasn’t on the lookout for ospreys. Why would I be?

As I pushed our son along the sandy Kennet and Avon towpath in rural Berkshire this afternoon, marvelling at the many emperor dragonflies hawking over the Himalayan balsam in the warm sun, I again stopped stock still.

A big bird of prey leaped from a high willow branch over the corner of the “red-crested pochard fishing lake” (see red crested pochard entry above) about 50 yards from me - and flapped low across the water, displaying a very brown back and wings that were very un-buzzard-like.

I watched, thinking that it must be a buzzard, but after a few seconds, realising that it just wasn’t – I let go of our Son’s pushchair and put our binoculars to my eyes – could it be? Could it possibly be?

The answer was a resounding – YES.

This was a stunning osprey I was watching – and as it turned to gain height, its underside and head came into view properly – there was no mistake.


This osprey was in the RIGHT place it seems – on its way back from breeding here in the UK (I assume?) to Africa for the winter – a lake brimming with big carp and tench and surrounded by many other fishy lakes…. Osprey heaven!


Well…. I didn’t even put my old bridge camera to my eyes to take a (record) shot of my favourite bird of prey – I was just overwhelmed to see it at all  - especially such a close view, with my family and in our home (at present) county down south.



I think I’ll be back to Osprey heaven this week (I have a week off and hear the weather will be good all week) but do I fancy my chances of seeing a wonderful osprey here again this week?

To be honest I doubt it…. But you never know...


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