I have only seen a few Garganeys

A Garganey.
A Garganey.

“HAS your old banger passed the MOT?” inquired my friend on the telephone, “Of course.”

“They don’t make them like that any more do they,” he replied. “And a good job too.”

“Better be good what you are going to tell me,” I answered, not really affronted as I suspect he is actually an admirer of my old Alvis.

“It is good. If the car will start, get in and meet me on the sea wall.”

This chap, I had better explain, knows a lot about birds, and nothing about classic cars. Well it isn’t given to us all.

So off I shot into the late summer sky (you always think you are flying in an Alvis), with all four pistons going up and down and all four wheels revolving.

Soon I was on the seawall, the old long-stroke creaking as it cooled.

My friend was a couple of hundred yards away staring through binochulars into the reed bed. “Garganey” was all he whispered.

He was right, it was good. I have seen very few of them.

This tiny little duck was sitting still on the water with a few other tiny little ducks, which were teal.

It was not in the magnificent plumage as shown in the photo as it was in partial eclipse, otherwise called moult, or at least coming out of eclipse as it began its journey back to Africa again.

See a male in March or April in Sussex and you will enjoy that superb crescent of white resembling the new moon,

After a lot of peering through the bins ( my friend had invested in a new telescope instead of new tyres) I too was able to distinguish the garganey shape compared to the teal shape.

The beak for instance is a trifle longer and thinner. The head is just a trifle flatter,

You have to have both together to compare. Where had this garganey bred during the summer, we wondered. Welney Washes in the Fens, Cley-next-to-the-sea in Norfolk, perhaps. Even the outside chance of breeding in the Arun Brooks.

They are as secretive as then, but for one give-away. The drake has a dry rattling call which may be syllabised as ‘ccrr-ick’.

“My grandfather used to call them cricket-teal,” whispered my friend.

“Because they sounded like a cross between a frog and a cricket chirping away in the reeds.”

The old birder might also have called them summer-teal because that was when they appeared, with the cuckoo and the swallow. Better name than garganey.

So why garganey I wonder? From the Roman word garganello it seems, which means throat.

Well, you gargle in your throat do you not. A bit like that dry gargle the drake uses as a love call.

“A bit like your old banger.”