White-billed Diver at Audenshaw (a first county record)
On the evening of Monday 7th December 1987 I received a telephone call from Robert Adderley informing me that he had found a Great Northern Diver on Audenshaw Reservoirs (my local patch). I therefore decided to call at the reservoirs on my way to work the following morning (I am a teacher).
I arrived at the reservoirs at 8.10 a.m. and after searching for a couple of minutes could not find the bird. As one corner of the reservoir was obscured, I decide to walk the 200m to the corner where I could see the complete water. As I reached the corner, the bird emerged from a dive about 40m from where I was standing, and viewed through 10 x 40 binoculars the bird I saw was totally unexpected and very striking. The colour, shape and size of the bill, together with the paleness of the face immediately suggested White-billed Diver.
Over the next 30 minutes, with the sun behind me, I had five or six excellent views of the bird as it dived about 40m from the edge of the reservoir. I then watched it dive and emerge a further four or five times as it worked its way towards the far end of the reservoir (about 200m away when I left). It was on the surface for about 20-25 seconds between dives and most of my observations were through a 20 x 60 telescope.
The immediate impression was of a large bulky diver, with a striking pale face and bill. The colour and shape of the bill drew my attention at once. The colour of the bill was pale creamy white, possibly more so towards the tip. Dusky areas were noted at the bases of the culmen and the lower mandible, but neither of these areas extended to the cutting edges of the bill and about one-third from the base of the bill. The rest of the culmen was critically examined and found to be pale cream to the tip.
The shape of the bill was equally striking and impressive, both in its length and depth at its base. The upper mandible appeared to be slightly larger than the lower and the culmen was dead straight. The lower mandible had a sudden and quite sharp upward curve from about halfway along the base, giving the bill an even more 'up-tilted' effect than Red Throated Diver.
The bird had a steep forehead and the dark eye was surrounded by a broad pale area. The general appearance of the head and neck was of patchy shades of brown, merging diffusely into the whitish throat and foreneck. The exact distribution of these areas was not noted, apart from the large pale 'eye-ring' already mentioned. The upperparts were dark brown and paler tips to mantle and scapulars could be seen at close range, although not sufficiently striking to indicate juvenile plumage. The head and bill were held noticeably above the horizontal as it sat on the water.
At about 8.50 a.m. I left the reservoirs and stopped at the first telephone box to make two or three telephone calls, Most 'local' birders were at work but i was able to leave a message with the wife of D G Lowe. I then reluctantly went to work (20 mins. late) and returned to the reservoirs at lunchtime, only to be informed that D G Lowe had watched the bird depart at 10.30 a.m. (approx.).