The fudge duck at Ham Wall

Seeing a ferruginous duck at Ham Wall brought back memories from when I was about 8 on a family holiday in Scotland. It’s a distinctively-coloured duck which normally lives in south-eastern Europe, but a handful come to the UK each year.

Dad had previously been very excited to see a black-throated diver, which didn’t interest me at all. But a bit later he was also thrilled to see a Ferruginous Duck – pointing out to me the unusual colouring. For some reason that did catch my interest, and the event has stayed in my mind since then.

I’ve wanted to see another one ever since – and dipped ignominiously a few years ago (apparently a female was in full view but I hadn’t recognised it). Thus when a drake showed up a couple of days ago at Ham Wall, I had to go.

Ferruginous Duck with coot and female mallard

I arrived in the hide at about 10.30 to find an array of birders already there. It was all quiet. One guy smiled and pointed into his telescope – and there it was, in full view. He also showed me where to view with my binoculars, and I was able to watch it for about an hour. With its colour it’s not hard to see why it’s called ‘ferruginous’ – the white tail end is also very characteristic.

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck with gadwall

On my way back towards the car I stopped off at the first viewing platform as there were plenty of birds to see. The unexpected bonus was to see the glossy ibis: it’s been at Ham Wall for a couple of years but although I’d seen it several times, I’d never had as good views as I had today. The lighting was reasonably good and the photos below capture something of their iridescence – which leads to their ‘glossy’ name.

Glossy ibis at Ham Wall

Glossy ibis at Ham Wall

Iridescent feathers

Saturday morning, 8am – I’m opening up a hide next to Druridge Bay, on the coast north of Newcastle, rather than catching up on sleep in college.

Glossy ibis and greenshank

Glossy ibis and greenshank

First shutter open: a heron flies off lazily. A wader skitters along the shore of the lake – I later learn from my bird book that it’s a greenshank. I open a few more shutters – by this stage I’m thinking that there’s a bit less bird activity here than I’d expected. Then I notice it – off to the left of the hide, a glossy ibis!

This was the bird I’d gone to see, prompted by local birder Jaybee. He’s a guy whom Tom and I had met a few weeks ago at a hide closer to Durham, where he and another gentleman had regaled us with entertaining tales of the stupidities of a certain local conservation organisation. (For example: when a bittern arrived to skulk around a nearby reedbed, they chopped the reeds to make it easier to see the bird). He’s a retired teacher who now spends his time doing wildlife photography. His website,, provides professional-quality images free of charge to anyone who wants to use them. But it’s not just for the wildlife that he’s doing this: it’s a way for him to keep using his legs – otherwise he’ll lose them.

Here’s a picture he took of the ibis earlier this week.

Glossy ibis, taken by Jaybee

Glossy ibis, taken by Jaybee

The bird itself is way off course. It’s meant to live no further north than the south-east of Europe, wintering in Africa, so is an exceptional rarity this far north (although a small flock spent a few days near Slimbridge a couple of years ago). It’s a charismatic bird: easy to spot with plenty of elegant antics to entertain. One of its favourite perches is a boulder just in front of the hide – hence the photo at the top with the greenshank.

It was a huge relief to be able to do this trip – I finally emerged from the fug of the cold/flu at the end of the week, and was itching to go somewhere in celebration!

"Why are your legs such a funny colour?" - redshank and greenshank stare at each other.

“Why are your legs such a funny colour?” – redshank and greenshank stare at each other.