Hooded Merganser at Corsham Park, Wilts – 24th Feb

This north American duck offered a nice short-range outing on a perfect sunny winter’s day after being found yesterday. Having encountered the Radipole, Dorset “escaped” drake a number of times in the past (click here) I thought it would be fun to see a female as well, whatever her provenance might turn out to be.

The ancient market town of Corsham is 60 miles from Oxford along the old Great West Road (A4) between Chippenham and Bath. From the High Street car park I entered Corsham Park (pictured below), the estate of the country house Corsham Court that till Tudor times was a royal residence but now houses an art school and collection. This location bore a distinct resemblance to Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Park but without the latter’s grander edifices. On referral I found that Corsham too was designed by Capability Brown.

corsham.1604 park and lake

Corsham Park and lake

Crossing rather muddy ground (wellies recommended) to the park’s lake (ST878706) I met two other birders who said the Hooded Merganser had just been close inshore in front of them before diving and disappearing. “Must have seen me coming,” I thought. But before long she approached again from a reed edge to our left. A check of my north American field guide before departure had indicated a dapper brownish number with a high rufous crest, yellow bill and bright red eyes. Now here was one in all her finery (below) – what a cracker!

My companions said this bird had been watched and photographed out of water earlier in the day, she was un-ringed (see here) and on flapping her wings revealed they had not been clipped. As if to further increase her credentials, when the number of observers grew she swam off to conceal herself in the most inaccessible corner of the lake. After 45 minutes or so she re-emerged and crossed my line of sight again, but further away than previously (pictured below).

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I now await the decision of the appropriate rarities committees. But whatever that might be this duck provided great value on a sunny afternoon out in the park. The great yellow orb has been much more in evidence just recently and I drove home having seen something a little different with spring seeming suddenly just around the corner.

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