Titchwell ducks

I like ducks. A couple of hours spent by the side of a lake gazing at and identifying numerous duck species is time well spent in my opinion. (N.b. as I write this I’m sipping a glass of a very tasty Chilean Cabernet and listening to The Lyre of Orpheus by Nick Cave. How much better can life get?)

Anyway, back to the ducks. Inbetween chasing swifts with my camera and snapping marsh harriers and avocets there were several species of duck availing themselves of the bounty supplied by the fresh and salt water mudflats at Titchwell.

Shoveler male

Shoveler (Anas clypeata, Dansk – skeand) can be seen on the lakes close to Cambridge but it’s rare to see them close up. At Titchwell there are so many birds there that if I wait long enough it’s very likely I’ll get close up, and so it proved with several species of duck. The shoveler is immediately recognisable by his enormous beak which he uses to filter crustaceans, molluscs and other small creatures from the water. The pale blue patch just visible on the upper forewing is just visible on this one and is diagnostic for the shoveler. The blue-winged teal also has a blue patch here but the teal is smaller and doesn’t have the distinctive beak of the shoveler.

Teal female (Anas crecca, Dansk: krikand)

The teal is the smallest duck and the male plumage is handsome. Like the mallard, the female is predominantly brown but she has the lovely green patch on the lower forewing, visible on the lady above as she stretches her wings. Teal can form big flocks on coastal wetlands out of the breeding season. They are named after their call.

Pochard female (Aythya ferina, Dansk: taffeland)

Another species which kept flitting into view was the pochard. Pochard are not regular breeders in the UK, but in the winter there can be around 40,000 here which have migrated in from Eastern Europe and Russia and they can be seen on lakes, gravel pits and estuaries.

A pair of shelduck (Tadorna tadorna, Dansk: gravand) on final approach

I think one of the  most majestic ducks is the shelduck. The red beak, black head, and brown, white and black body make it very distinctive. Shelduck are big too, almost, but not quite, the size of a small goose. They were persecuted in some sandy areas of the UK in the 19th century apparently because they competed with rabbits for burrows. Which sounds to me like any excuse, because why would anyone worry about a few homeless rabbits! Despite that there are now around 60,000 individuals overwintering in the UK and around 11,000 breeding pairs. The conservation status is amber in the UK but it is a species of least concern in Europe as a whole.

15 responses to “Titchwell ducks

  1. I love the Shelducks too. I’ve done a few train journeys this year from North Wales and at one point the track runs alongside an extensive tidal mudflat, somewhere around the Flint-Shotton area. Anyway, there are usually Shelduck there, but last time I passed, a few weeks ago there were loads, definitely in the low hundreds. Great sight and a spot that is pretty inaccessible to people too.

    • That sounds like a place I think I should visit. I’d love to see flocks of shelduck consisting of hundreds, it must have been a captivating sight. Is the location completely inaccessible or could a determined photographer get reasonably close?

  2. The shoveler has a magnificent beak! I love your shot of the female teal showing that green flash, it’s very striking. I’ve never to my knowledge seen a pochard but I have admired a number of beautiful shelducks, they really are very handsome. I agree with you that time gazing at ducks is time well spent, they are splendid creatures.

  3. I like the teal (we have them here too), but the shelducks are spectacular!

  4. That’s interesting about the rabbits – strange! Love the shelducks.

  5. Wonderful article. Our duck ponds seem to be covered with mallards, mallard/domestic hybrids, and Canadian geese. In all the years I’ve lived here I haven’t seen another breed of duck. I’ve always thought the pintails are so graceful from the photos. But I’m glad for the introduction to these, you’ve presented as I wouldn’t have a chance to see them.

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