Answers and solutions
We start our water bird challenge with what appears to be a duck, judging by that flattened ducky bill! The bill is big and dark and about as long as the head of the duck itself. This may make you think about the Shoveler and its outsized bill. But the proportions of the bird and the colours seem wrong for Shoveler, and the bill itself is not long enough. Indeed, the head looks large in proportion with the rest of the bird, which those familiar with these pages will recall, is an indicator that this is a small bird. The back and wings are plain brown, and look under the water at the rear end and there appears to be a submerged tail, almost like a beaver’s. Face-wise, there is a dark crown and bold ‘horizontal’ pale and dark stripes, pointing to this being a Ruddy Duck.
KEY FEATURES Large head, big duck bill Striped head Plain brown body, low in water Long ‘beaver tail’ under water
Here, we have a wader in flight. Now, just about all waders are associated with water, so we have many birds to choose from. A few things should strike you straight away. Firstly, the bill is quite short and very slightly down curved. This rules out snipes, Woodcock, godwits and curlews. The long white wing bars rule out plain-winged species such as most Tringa sandpipers (as does the dark rump, as most of the Tringa species have white rumps) the long tail with barred outer tail feathers doesn’t seem right for the chunky Calidris sandpipers either. Indeed, that long tail is an important feature in itself, as is the bowed profile of the wings, which are typical of Common Sandpiper. This mainly freshwater species has a distinctive flight style on bowed wings.
KEY FEATURES Clearly a wader Obvious white wing-bar, dark rump Shortish, down curved bill, long tail Wings bowed downwards
To make things a bit more challenging, this bird isn’t even showing its head. It appears to be right in the middle of a plunging dive, apparently from a swimming position, having leapt from the water slightly. This in itself rules out certain water birds, such as dabbling ducks. The legs are set well back on the body, as is typical for a bird which obtains food by swimming underwater. Plumage-wise, this is a very dark, almost black bird, above and below, with a crow-like gloss to the plumage and bronzy inflections in the mantle and wing coverts. Also notable is a pure white patch on the rear flank just above where the legs emerge. This in itself, but especially in combination with the rest of the features, points to this diving bird being a Cormorant.
KEY FEATURES Dark bird in mid-dive All dark, almost black with bronzy wings White flank patch Leaping partially out of water
Blackish plumage Leaping out of water in dive White flank patch
Big, dark bill, big head Striped face, plain body flattened ‘stiff tail’ under the water
Long white wing-bar Plain brown back and rump and tail Bowed, flicked flightstyle