Birdwatching in Emsworth
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 BAFFINS POND
A personal history by Brian Fellows - written in 2009

I first discovered Baffins Pond as a relative newcomer to birdwatching in 1989 at the age of 53. I know many birders turn their noses up at Baffins Pond as being full of 'plastic' birds, but for me the pond was an ideal venue to view a variety of birds at really close range without the need for a telescope. Better still, nobody else seemed to be watching the pond, so I had it to myself!

I made regular weekly visits for 14 years or so from 1992 until 2006, counting and logging all the birds and sending my records to the Hampshire Ornithology Society Recorder, John Clark. In this time I not only got to know the birds of the pond well, but also some of the local residents and, in particular, George Benham who greatly impressed me with his devotion to creating a sense of community around the pond. Sadly, he died soon after I stopped visiting the pond.

My favourite birds in the early days were the Barnacle Geese. They were not truly wild birds, but they were beautiful and they were mine! From the winter of 1993-94 they went on regular annual winter holidays to Titchfield Haven, not far as the crow flies, and tt was there they got the nickname the "Baffins Gang". They would stay for a couple of months, but always came back home. Two Snow Geese and a Bar-headed Goose also used to travel with the gang in the early years, later to be joined by a Hybrid Goose (Bar-headed x Snow?). In its hey day, in the winter of 1998-99, the Barnacles were up to an amazing 42, but by 2001-02 they were down to 10; now there are just a few individuals remaining. They have bred several times, most recently in 2006 I think, but I doubt if any youngsters survived.

There were always some Canada Geese on the pond throughout the year, but I always used to look forward with excitement to the arrival of the large flock on their annual moult migration in June and July. Numbers were normally around 150, but in June 2003 I counted an astonishing 273. They were a fine spectacle.

The pond had a pair of resident Mute Swans that nested on the main island and they often managed to produce a few youngsters, though I suspect the survival rate was poor. Looking through old Hampshire Bird Reports, I was surprised to see there used to be a sizeable flock of Mute Swans on the pond in the 1980s with 89 being recorded in Feb 1991, but from 1993 onwards 5 was the most I ever saw. Strange how the habits of Mute Swans change. The same thing happened at Canoe Lake, Southsea, where I used to find wintering flocks of up to 90 Mute Swans in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they had all but disappeared from about 2004. Was this due to an edict not to feed with bread?

Shoveler were (and still are) regular winter visitors to the pond. The most I ever counted was 72, but Bob Chapman holds the record of 83 on 22nd November 2001. I always enjoyed watching them feeding in their strange circling fashion. Why do they do that?

Cormorants were a feature of the pond, often loafing on the main island. Apparently, Baffins Pond used to be an important venue for fishermen until, I think, the Council put a stop to it.

The other resident water birds were Little Grebe (up to 5), Grey Heron (one), Embden Geese (2 or 3), Mallard (over 250 in late 1980s, but down to about 100 nowadays), Tufted Duck (mainly a winter visitor with a maximum of 93 in Feb 2005, but also occasionally breeding), Coot (high 30s in early 1990s, but down to 25 or so in 2002) and Moorhen (maximum of 22).

I have also recorded Brent Goose, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Shelduck, but only infrequently.

Probably, the most famous bird of Baffins Pond was the highly confiding Water Rail, which provided lots of visiting birders with excellent photo opportunities in March 2001 and again in 2003, when it was joined by a second bird. There has been no sign of them since then.  

As for rare birds, I got very excited by what I thought was a Ferruginous Duck in October 2004, but sadly it turned out to be a female Rosybill, an escaped exotic duck. This bird was still on the pond in February 2005 when I came across another exotic duck, a Chiloe Wigeon which I had previously seen on Peter Pond in Emsworth.

Other 'plastic' birds on the pond at various times included Lesser White-fronted Goose (in early 1990s), Black Swan, Emperor Goose and Muscovy Duck. I believe the Council stocked the pond with a variety of ornamental waterfowl in the 1960s. A friend's photos taken at that time shows Greylag Goose, Swan (Chinese) Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mandarin, Pintail and Wood Duck, though I did not see any of these during my time on the pond.


DIARY OF MORE RECENT VISITS

Wednesday December 5 - 2012

I did not do a proper count but noted the folowing birds on the pond this morning: Cormorant 4, Mute Swan 2, Embden Goose 1, Tufted Duck 60, Mallard 100+, Shoveler 30, Feral Pigeon 100+, I was suprised to find no Canada Geese at all.

The Shoveler were feeding in their distinctive fashion, usually in male-female pairs, circling around sieving food particles from the water.

I happened to meet my friend Eric Eddles who lives near the pond and it is a regular birdwatching site for him. He told me the Mute Swan pair had a successful breeding season producing 7 cygnets all of which survived. He said Canada Geese were quite rare on the pond except during moult in July.

Call Ducks

Most interestingly, Eric showed me some newcomers to the pond, called Call Ducks, which I had not only never seen before, but never actually heard of. He said there were about 10 of them, both males and females, but just how they came to be on the pond he is not sure. The males were Mallard-like with dark heads and white on the flanks; the more attractive females had pale orange plumage and orange legs and feet, as shown in the following photos.

From the internet I learned that the Call Duck is a bantam breed of domesticated duck raised primarily for decoration or as pets. They look similar to Mallards, but are smaller in size. They were first used in the Netherlands as decoys, their high-pitched distinctive call luring other ducks into funnel traps. However, now they are mainly a domestic species kept as pets. There is actually a British Call Duck Club to promote interest and good management of these popular ducks. See . . . http://www.britishcallduckclub.org.uk/ This web site indicates there is a variety of breeds of Call Duck.


WATER RAIL RETURNS - March 2011

Water Rail is bird I remember very well from my years watching the wildlife on Baffins Pond from 1992 to 2006. I recall my astonishment when this normally secretive and hard to see bird suddenly appeared on the path right in front of me on the southern side of the pond on 6 Mar 2001. I saw it regularly for the next couple of weeks and local people used to give it food.

I did not see the Water Rail again until February-March 2003, when there was not just one bird, but two! Local wildlife photographers flocked to the pond to get a lifetime best image of these very confiding birds, though I recall only one bird regularly came onto the path. I did not see them again, though my visits to Baffins Pond became infrequent after 2006.

I was very pleased to hear from local Baffins resident Eric Eddies (in Feb 2012) that a Water Rail was back on the pond in 2011, in much the same place as before and just as confiding. As the expected life span of a Water Rail is only up to 7 years, this is unlikely to be the same bird as the one that was there in 2003. Eric sent me some photos taken of the bird on the south side of Baffins Pond on Saturday and Sunday the 5th and 6th of March 2011. I have asked him to keep a special watch this year just in case it returns.

Here is a link to the web site of the newly formed Baffins Pond Association which has interesting features on the history of the pond and the wetland planting work that is currently taking place. See in particular the link to About Baffins. http://www.baffinspondassociation.org.uk/