A rare duck that breeds in northeast Russia and usually winters in Japan and Korea, was a surprise find in Foryd, west of Caernarfon, on Sunday. It is the first Baikal Teal recorded in North Wales, and comes less than a month after the first in Wales, at Llangorse Lake in Powys. It is tempting to assume this was the same male and there’ll be close scrutiny of the photographs, but interestingly the Powys bird was with Teal and the Foryd bird with Pintails, which may point to different individuals. Waterbirds that are out-of-range often stick close to birds from the same area, and while Wigeons and Teal originate from the east, the few ringing recoveries of Pintail in north Wales suggest an Icelandic origin – although some Pintails in Ireland arrive from the east. To add to the intrigue, a female Baikal Teal was at a South Yorkshire gravel-pit in mid January, and individuals have also been seen in southern Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece this winter.
Baikal Teal had a slow journey onto the list of birds accepted as wild in Europe because its colourful appearance made it popular in waterfowl collections. Modern science was key to changing our understanding. Stable isotope analysis can be used to infer diet, foraging and climatic origin from a feather sample, using the ‘signature’ embedded during its growth. A Baikal Teal accidentally shot by a hunter in Denmark in 2005 had an isotope signature characteristic of the climate found in the extreme tundra of Russia, suggesting that the species could make it to Europe. The Danish results prompted testing of a museum specimen obtained in Essex in 1906, and this too had feather isotopes likely to be from northern Asia. Up to 2021, a dozen Baikal Teals considered to be wild had been recorded in Britain, but none in Wales.
Other unusual ducks in the region at the weekend include Ring-necked Ducks on Cefni Reservoir and Llyn Tegid. Two Surf Scoters off Llanddulas proved to be different from one off Benllech at the same time, the latter along with at least six Long-tailed Ducks and three Velvet Scoters. Five Ruddy Shelducks beside the Clwyd estuary on Sunday may have more questionable origin, and perhaps include birds seen recently on the Dee. Firecrests were at Bodnant Garden and Morfa Madryn, a Black Redstart at Aberdaron, four Hawfinches in Llanrwst, and Snow Buntings at RSPB South Stack and Kinmel Bay.
*This post has been updated from the original to reflect relevant information to the Baikal Teals seen in Yorkshire and Norway*
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.