Tuesday, November 01, 2016


Mandarin drake, Eye Green LNR, 31/10/2016, taken with Canon 80D, Canon 100-400mm f4-5-5.6L MkII at 300mm, f5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 800
Mandarins have been reported from time to time at Eye Green LNR (a disused clay pit just east of Peterborough) over at least the last year and I have seen two males there on several occasions. But whenever I have taken a camera, they have failed to appear! This was the first occasion I have found them when I had a camera with me and it so happened that the light was rather nice with hazy, low afternoon sunshine lighting up the autumn colours of the trees around the lake and reflecting in the water.

The Mandarin is considered to be an introduced species in Western Europe, including the UK, although, according to Sir Christopher Lever's monograph on the species (Poyser, 1990), there is evidence that it occurred in this part of the world in the past - i.e. 600,000 years ago in the Cromerian Inter-glacial! The species was widly sold in the far east and many were probably brought back to Britain, especially in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The first known reference is to birds displayed in the gardens of Sir Matthew Becker at Richmond Green, Surrey in 1745. He was a director of the East India Company so it is easy to understand how he obtained them. By 1834 they were breeding in the gardens of the Zoological Society at Regent's Park, London and the first mention of a wild breeding bird was one shot at Cookham on the River Thames in Berkshire in 1866. By the First World War, over 300 were reported to be breeding in and around the Duke of Bedford's park at Woburn Abbey and by the second World War there were strong populations breeding wild especially at Windsor Park, the Forest of Dean and around Woburn. As a young bird watcher, I saw my first one at Virginia Water around the mid 1970s.

The native range of the species is in the far east with a migratory population that breeds in the east of Russia and China and winters in Korea and Vietnam, and a resident population in Japan. The Russian/Chinese population is believed to have declined substantially over recent decades and may now number less than 1,000 pairs, but the Japanese population is believed to be stable at around 7,000 pairs. An estimate published in the BTO's journal, Bird Study, in 1988 by A.K.Davies put the UK population at around 7,000 individuals with about 2,500 breeding pairs, but there is some evidence it has spread further since that time. There are other, smaller introduced populations in Europe, especially around Berlin and a couple of small populations in the USA. The IUCN has assessed the species as "Least Concern", so it is not currently though to be threatened, despite the declines in China and Russia.
Mandarin drake against autumn colours reflected on the water - details as above.