March 9 2014 Latest news:
A recent build-up of silt and debris has sparked renewed calls for a Suffolk river to be dredged in order to prevent future flooding.
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Birders are possibly the only people who actually want freezing weather hurtling in from the east in winter rather than the mild, damp and dismal stuff we have been getting from the west over the past few months.
The reason for this seemingly sadistic desire is pretty simple: if it’s cold here it’s a fair bet that it’s much colder on the Continent and that means East Anglia, in particular, will host an influx of birds of many species shifted our way by the plunging temperatures on the other side of the North Sea. One of the most popular and sought-after species prone to making this weather-induced “hop” our way is the smew, which is an attractive, dapper and charismatic little duck.
It is a member of the sawbill tribe that includes goosander and red-breasted merganser – so called because all three species have serrated bills that make holding on to their fish prey that much easier.
Adult males are one of the most beautiful of all duck species – largely white, with black etchings on their heads, flanks and backs. They are often referred to as white nuns. Females, as with most duck species, are much duller, and so to are the immature males. Referred to as “redheads”, these have gingery crowns, pure white cheeks and grey bodies.
Smews breed on freshwater lakes, pools and rivers in the boreal forests of northern Eurasia, with our birds probably breeding in Fennoscandia and western Russia. In mild winters, such as this, many stay on the water bodies of mainland Europe – especially Holland – but if there is a Continental freeze-up, the ice-free meres and reservoirs of Suffolk and Essex receive small parties, sometimes reaching into double figures.
This winter’s mildness so far has meant that very few smews have visited us – two redheads at RSPB Minsmere being the only ones reported in Suffolk. Smews do not head back north and east until early spring so it is still not too late for a hard-weather influx from the Continent. However, with milder winters expected to be the norm in future, it might well be that this popular species becomes an increasingly rare sight on our side of the North Sea.Have you spotted a smew this winter, or in previous years. Share your photos with our readers.