Earlier this month
following exceptionally low temperatures remarkable numbers of wigeon
assembled on a single marsh in the Yare Valley near Claxton. Using the
car as an observatory, we were able to watch these attractive wildfowl
grazing on partly-frozen grass.
Flight after flight swept past, turning and twisting at high speed and maintaining close contact. Others climbed high, silhouetted against the sky, before returning to the marsh. As each flight swept down diagonally their wings produced a startling rushing sound. And at the moment of landing the drakes revealed dazzling white wing-patches.
The great flights of wigeon arriving in Norfolk are mainly long-distance travellers from a vast area of northern Russia and Siberia. The basin of the River Ob is especially favoured.
Some ringing recoveries are even more remote, including examples more than 2800 miles from this country. Wigeon also nest in Iceland, particularly those wintering in Scotland and northern England.
In the brief northern summer wigeon favour lakes with aquatic vegetation, tending to avoid waters overgrown with reeds and very deep lakes. Surprisingly it is mainly a bird of the coniferous forests, but is also found much farther to the north alongside tundra rivers and lakes.
Nests are hidden in vegetation, each lined with an ample layer of down to cover the eggs when the sitting bird is absent. There may be many nests with only a few yards between them.
Nine is the usual clutch size and the duck alone incubates for three and a half weeks. The ducklings are immediately led to water and fly after 45 days. The drakes soon abandon the brood and gather at moulting grounds at the end of June.
Autumn movements of wigeon are in a south-westerly direction along the Baltic and North Sea coasts. The vanguard reaches Norfolk by early August with peak totals between December and February.
Wigeon, like white-fronted
geese, travel due east in March and April, then head north to the tundra
in May. Before departing, communal courtship may be observed. Several
drakes, each with neck stiffly erect and wing-flapping to advertise the
white patches, crowd round a duck on the water. These encounters are often
followed by pursuit flights, each group making rapid twists and turns
high in the air. As some drakes drop out others take their places
By Michael J. Seago