Long-tailed Duck – 2011

Clangula hyemalisHwyaden Gynffon-hirErratic winter visitor and passage migrant.

Long–tailed Ducks have a circumpolar arctic and sub arctic breeding distribution, normally the nearest nesting to the UK being in Norway and Iceland. They winter out to sea but to a lesser extent along coasts, entering estuaries and sometimes visiting fresh waters.

The first to be recorded in Pembrokeshire was a male in summer plumage shot near Haverfordwest on the 15th June 1843, chronicled by Mathew (1894) who also noted that two immature birds were shot on the Stackpole Estate but quotes no dates.

Coincidentally the next to be recorded was also in June, shot within the Milford Haven waterway on the 7th in 1906. There followed recordings in three years during the 1950’s, four in the 1960’s, five in the 1970’s and in every year from 1980 to 2006.

Most long-tailed ducks were found within St Bride’s Bay and in the Pembrokeshire corner of Carmarthen Bay. Others around the coast at Pwllgwaelod, Fishguard Harbour, Strumble Head, St David’s Head, Ramsey, Skomer and Skokholm.

Also in the Teifi Estuary (once three and a half miles upstream), within the Cleddau Estuary at Landshipping/Picton Point, Carew, Westfield Pill, Llanstadwell, Sandy Haven and the Gann, and on fresh water at Heathfield Gravel Pits, a pond close to St Bride’s Haven, Bosherston and Llys y fran Reservoir.

Most sightings were of one or two birds at a time but four were at Llys y fran Reservoir on the 18th November 1973, five at Strumble Head 6th January 1973, three there 20th December 1981 and on 21st October 1984, three Broad Haven (north) 3rd – 21st January 1969, three Amroth/Saundersfoot 9th March 1991, 14th – 24th December 1994, 2nd January – 4th March 1995 and 6th January 1999, with four there 20th April 1984, 7 from 29th December 1990 to 10th January 1991 and up to 12 from 29th January to 9th April 1989.      

Monthly distribution: 1843 – 2008.

Some were seen on one date only but many remained in the same area throughout the winter, sometimes until March or April. One remained at the Gann from the 2nd January to the 23rd July in 1983. A male which was first seen at Pembroke Mill Ponds on the 24th December 2001 stayed until the 11th August 2004. This well watched bird frequently took bread offered to the local Mute Swans and Mallards, duly went through moults between winter and summer plumages and was thought to have taken brief sabbaticals at Westfield Pill on 7th and 8th August 2002 and 2nd September 2003.

The number noted each year has varied, illustrated by the longest unbroken sequence of years being depicted graphically:

Just one bird recorded in the years 2005 and 2006 was the first time this occurred sequentially in this 27 year series, which if coupled with none being recorded in 2007 and 2008, may be an early indication that fewer Long – tailed Ducks are coming as far south as they did formerly.

The majority winter within the Arctic region, often in close proximity to the pack ice and climate change is causing the ice to recede, so it is possible less may travel as far south as they did in the past as more open water becomes accessible at higher latitudes.

More about the long-tailed duck in Pembrokeshire