Over the last couple of weeks it has been pleasing to see several Smew on the NNR and surrounding water bodies. Smew are winter visitors to the UK, with most birds not arriving until at least December -leaving again by the middle of March, before spending the summer in the taiga forests of northern Scandinavia and Russia, where they nest around lakes, ponds, rivers and other water-logged places - ideally with plenty of trees where they nest in holes and cavities.
The number of Smew reaching the UK each winter has decreased dramatically in recent decades, with them now being considered a scarce visitor (over recent years not many more than 100 individuals have wintered in the whole of Britain). This decrease has been attributed to the effects of climate change, with warmer winters reducing the distance they have to travel from their breeding grounds to escape freezing conditions. Up to six females (red heads) and a stunning drake (White Nun), have been seen recently, with Wheldrake Ings the best location to see them. It would appear cold conditions in continental Europe have forced these birds (with small numbers of White-fronted Geese and Bewick’s Swans) into the country. Thanks to local and regular patch birder Duncan Bye for the image.