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Thursday, 15 January 2009

DRAKE KING EIDER IN SUSSEX - FIRST COUNTY RECORD


A finder's account by Cliff Dean
''Sunday 11 January: Up a bit late after a jolly evening with the Friends of Brede Valley, and family commitments calling so just time for a brisk walk along the seawall - no scope, no camera, strictly roots.
Wind changed, frost thawed, a different feel to things. And just west of the pools, a bird in close to the shore, flapping its wings and showing a black belly. A badly oiled Guillemot. Except that when I looked through binoculars I could see it was an Eider. I don’t see so many of those these days, especially a male with subtle boreal washes and…a great big…..orange……..beak……….

This is where it got seriously strange because, just the previous evening, I’d been looking at an article on dutchbirding.nl about a Kerstdag twitch for a Koningseider in 1981. And here, straight in front of me, seemed to be a drake KING EIDER, in fact a better one than on the Dutch website. Such a dark and unfathomable synchronistic twist that I really wondered if I was seeing what I thought I was. Anyway, how did I know what it was? What did Steller’s Eider look like? Not expecting to see either eider, I’d never paid any attention to their details.

Then I found my phone wouldn’t work: Now press * Press. Now press* Press. Now press* …Too cold, I suppose. Nobody else around.

Better do what people used to do, before mobiles and digital cameras: a field sketch! It’s truly terrible; I blame frozen fingers. But I could note the beautiful, soft, subtle blue-grey on the crown, the warm, unlikely orange-pink of the breast, and the not-so-subtle mad beak.

Still no luck with the phone. It unlocked, but then tried to call unrecognizable numbers.
There was a birder back by the pools. I considered running back to tell him, but worrried that by the time we returned there would be no sign of this Alleged Rarity. Luckily, he drove along and chose to stop nearby, so I slid down the seawall and blocked his view, requesting a field guide which he graciously supplied.I figured King Eider must be right at the end of the ducks, the baroque ultimate model of evolutionary production, but I couldn’t find it. There were scoters & Long-tailed Duck, but my numb fingers were unable to separate the pages until…there it was - I was right!
We climbed up over the wall to where the duck was still swimming and Stuart Pemberton was my first corroborator, the second person to witness the improbable sight of a King Eider in Sussex.

Following some vicious stabbing of buttons, my phone woke up, enabling me to contact Barry but, as usual, Pete Rouse had his phone switched off or was just not answering. By this time, the duck was swimming out into bigger waves, was beginning to dive and got lost among the hundreds of grebes and dozens of divers offshore. By the time Barry arrived, it was distant though still recognizable, but when Pete, Graham and Andrew got there, we had lost sight of it.
Anyway, I’d got things to do''.
Barry Yates managed the sole surviving image published above. Following the release of its presence, a further 60 or so birders saw the bird during the afternoon (including Ian Barnard, Paul Marten and Garry Bagnell) when it was persistently attacked and harassed each time it resurfaced after a dive just offshore of Pett village. There was no sign of it the following morning.
Ian Barnard added
''Hi Lee
After the initial sighting as portrayed on the RX web site the bird was lost to view. The news filtered out by phone, pager and via the RX web site which displayed the photo to dispel any doubts about such an incredible record. Most of Sussex's keenest listers descended on Pett most were glum realising they had probably missed Sussex's first King Eider. Then at about 13:30 the bird was relocated off Pett Village by Chris Ball. Many observers had given up and left the site. Panic followed including a Wacky Races style car chase but eventually all on site congregated at Pett Village and all were soon enjoying good views of this stunning drake King Eider. The bird was being continuously mobbed by Great Black Backed Gulls and was being pushed further and further west. Eventually it turned and started to head east. It was followed until it reached just past Pett Pools and was eventually lost to view at around 15:30.The bird was looked for over the following days but was not seen. For those that were lucky enough to see it I'm sure a better start to the year could not have been hoped for. For those that missed it hopefully it's lingering somewhere of the Sussex coastline just waiting to be refound''