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The Lowdown: Daffy's ducks

In a 20 year career of international and county cricket Phillip DeFreitas managed to combine the rigours of life on the professional circuit with a secret second career - as an international wildfowl expert. He tells PDCC about his top three favourite web-footed friends.

From his humble early beginnings as a talented junior sportsman and novice twitcher Phil DeFreitas - or Daffy, as he was known - became one of Britain's most respected ornithological figures, with a passion for all birds: but especially ducks. By the age of 16 he was attracting cricket and football scouts from all over the country whilst at the same submitting papers on wildfowl taxonomy to the British Journal of Bird Identification.

picture of Phillip DeFreitas
'Daffy' DeFreitas: out for a duck

On the field Daffy's bare statistics are impressive: 140 wickets and 943 runs in his 44 tests, 372 first class matches with a grand total of 10,991 runs and 1,248 wickets. And then there's plenty more of both in his one-day career. But it's 'in the field' that the Dominican-born, London-raised, all rounder really made his reputation.

Ask Daffy what he considers his single biggest achievement to be and you'd be surprised at his answer. It's not the test debut in an Ashes match at the age of 20 or the thousand plus wickets. No, it's the day when was when he became the first person on British soil to find a Barrow's Goldeneye and take a 5-for on the same day.

"I opened the bowling for Leicestershire against Glamorgan at Grace Road, me and Les Taylor skittled them out for 180 odd and then I was straight into the motor for a mad dash to the Firth of Forth and back again in time to bat the next day. It was well worth it: the first accepted British record of this mega rarity. Add to this Leicestershire's best bowling figures of the season and it was a pretty successful couple of days."

In this PDCC exclusive Daffy tells us about his top three ducks and how his love of twitching sent his team mates quackers!

picture of Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri)
Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri)

1. Steller's Eider (Filey Brigg, August 1989 - 4th British record)

"There's been a few Steller Eiders popping up over the last couple of years but during the 80s they were as rare as the proverbial hen's teeth. After a few near misses I was pretty desperate to see one of these stunning birds and the chance came one August in 1989.

I was waiting to go in to bat in a Sunday League match for Leicestershire against Essex at Chelmsford when a birding friend of mine - Billy Linnet - suddenly popped up outside the pavilion, gesticulating wildly and flapping his arms like a swan trying to get lift off. As soon as I saw him a wicket fell and as next batsman in I had to get out there pretty sharpish. The second I emerged on to the steps he came running over and said “Daffy, there's a Steller reported off Filey Brigg. We need to get over there NOW!”

Well, I'm not saying that hearing such news affected my performance but that first ball full toss from Ponty was too good for me and I seemed to tweak a hamstring on the walk back to the dressing room which ruled me out of doing any bowling. Luckily Billy Linnet was on hand in his trusty Ford Cortina and we were off to North Yorkshire before the ink was dry on the scorecard. Ten hours later after enjoying magnificent views of a cracking specimen I was raising a glass of Stella in honour of a stellar Steller!"

picture of Green winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)
Green winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)

2. Green Winged Teal (Marton Mere, September 1993 - 1st North West record)

"I left Leicestershire in 1989. They got a bit fed up with me dashing off to the remote corners of the country every time an exotic web-footed rarity turned up somewhere. Also I was a bit bored of the rather boring birding scene there. Me and Jonathon Agnew used to argue about it all the time. Aggers reckoned that the flat midlands landscape was where 'real' birdwatching went on; not in the salt marshes and coastal lagoons where my beloved ducks congregated. Things got so heated between us once that he threw my kit bag over the players balcony after I'd accused him of claiming he'd seen the short-staying Blue Throated Thrush at Melton Mowbray when I knew for certain that he'd been playing a Gillette Cup match at Cardiff. If there's one thing I can't stand its stringers.

picture of Toilet Duck (Domestos Khazicleaner)
Toilet Duck (Domestos Khazicleaner)

There are also a few jokers in the dressing room who are always eager to take the Mickey. I remember John Morris at Derbyshire was always pulling my leg over my feathered interests. One day he told me that he had found an amazing duck in a bog that was green all over with a red bill. I looked in Larsson and Svennson's seminal 1975 study of anitidae: Illustrated World Wildfowl, but couldn't find anything that fitted his description. I got even more excited when Morro said he knew where it lived and would bring it in the next day. Needless to say I had a sleepless night thinking about how I was about to discover a brand new species.

Typical Morro. He brought the 'duck' in as promised. Flippin' Toilet Duck!!!

Quack quack oops!

I could have joined a couple of counties but I plumped for Lancashire because it was an up and coming side with plenty of good players ... and it was within spitting distance of the legendary wildfowl sanctuary at Martin Mere.

One September day in 1993 when I was playing for Lancs against Northants at Old Trafford I heard that there was a suspected Green-winged Teal newly arrived at the aforementioned wetland site. As the nearest available duck expert the pressure was on me to get over there and clinch the I.D. The problem was we were chasing 240 odd on the last day to win the game and - yes, you guessed it - I was next man in. Let's just say that Robin Bailey's off breaks could be deceptive and my first ball swipe was justified in the circumstances. I might have been 'stumped' then but I wasn't stumped an hour later when I trained my binoculars on a magnificent rare species and confidently told the waiting twitchers: “yes - it's a Green wing!”"

picture of American Wigeon (Anas Americana)
American Wigeon (Anas Americana)

3. American Wigeon (Brent Reservoir, London September 1995. 7th British record)

"Bird watching rivalries have always existed in county cricket and probably always will. In 1995 I moved to Derbyshire and decided that I would have a crack at winning that year's national Birdwatching Challenge. The idea behind this competition is a very simple one: the person who sees the most species of bird in the country over the course of the year is the winner.

There's always a long list of the cream of British ornithologists vying to win the contest and 1995 was no different. I heard a whisper at the end of 1994 that Middlesex all rounder Keith 'Dutchy' Dutch - a keen birder - also fancied his chances of scooping the prize.

To cut a long story short, towards the end of the season we were playing Middlesex at Derby when news came through of an American Wigeon at Brent Reservoir in North London. Dutchy and I were on 312 species each and I knew that there wouldn't be many more rarities to come that year.

As luck would have it I was bowling when the news broke and it wasn't long before a smiling Dutchy arrived at the crease. I knew he was going to waste no time heading off to see the stray Wigeon when I saw that he had his binoculars tucked into his pads.

“'ere Daffy. Don't worry about me. I won't be staying long”, he said laughing, as I walked back to my mark “I'm off down to London in a minute to see that Yankee Wigeon and as soon as I tick it I'm going to scare it back off stateside. Shame you'll be here bowling all day and are going to miss it.”

He wasn't laughing a minute later as he was carried off by the St John's Ambulance men after an 'accidental' beamer from me laid him out sparko. A couple of nights in Derby General Hospital sorted his bruises out but it was his heart that was broken when he found out that our avarian visitor only stayed a day before it returned stateside with only me clapping eyes on it. Sorry Dutchy!'