Friday, August 13, 2010

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Well, this is my 500th blog post since enlisting with Blogger, and I hope you've enjoyed at least some of them. My blogging body of work was even larger, as I had made probably a few hundred other posts prior, on a different blogging mechanism. Alas, some inexplicable bug wiped all of those out, and my pre-Blogger posts are lost in the abyss of the Internet.

Anyway, this quincentennial post is a doozy, or at least the subject is.

Word hit the Ohio Birds Listserv around 9:30 this morning that a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck had been found at Pipe Creek Wildlife Area in Sandusky, along the shores of Lake Erie and in the shadows of Cedar Point amusement park. Shortly thereafter, I received direct confirmation when the discoverer, Larry Richardson, phoned with the news live from the spot.

Larry deserves major props for this find, which is Ohio's second record. Not only was he out and about in the extreme heat, but Larry was working a somewhat sparsely birded site that requires a fair bit of walking to access. After he found the bird, he quickly got word out and the grapevine was abuzz within no time. Excellent work, Larry!

Well, I was in my office, which is one of the pitfalls of having a job. I am not a major lister when it comes to birds, but finds like this drive me mad as I am slightly fanatical in regards to my Ohio list. It's really the only formal bird list that I maintain. When word comes of an Ohio bird that I haven't seen in the state, the fever takes hold. So, it was another dip into the vacation hours, and off I went along with Bernie Master.

One of the impoundments at Pipe Creek, an excellent birding locale. That island off yonder was the focus of the numerous visitors today.

There were lots of interesting birds at Pipe Creek today, and we didn't ignore any of them. All bird photos in this post are courtesy of Dr. Master and I thank him for letting me use them. Bernie had the big gun - an 800 mm lens - and that's what it took to get the shots. My comparatively puny Panasonic FZ50, great as it is, wouldn't cut the mustard with the distances involved. This is one of a number of Snowy Egrets that were present.

There were droves of the world's largest tern, the Caspian Tern, both adults and immatures. Mixed in were Common and Forster's Terns. Lots of shorebirds, too. Hard to make out, but behind the terns is a Red-necked Phalarope, and a Willet was nearby. We also saw Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher.

But this was our primary target: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. It wasn't hard to find. As soon as we rounded the bend and the wetland came into view, I pulled up m glasses and there it was. Most of the time, the bird lay on the mud, head tucked in and completely disinterested in the throngs who had come to admire it. Even when in repose, the whistler was distinctive in its rich darkly cinnamon plumage and gray head.

Occasionally the bird would stand, stretch, and have a gander at things. Then, its odd gooselike proportions could be seen, along with the namesake black belly. Check that pink bill! No mistaking this beast.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks range from the southernmost United States south through Central America, and well into South America. There are two subspecies, and perhaps not surprisingly this bird is of the northern subspecies, Dendrocygna autumnalis autumnalis, which occurs from the southern U.S. to Panama.

This odd duck is on the upswing, at least in the northern reaches of its range. There have been numerous records in the Midwest and along the east coast in recent years, and Ohio's first record came in 2004. I suspect we'll have other records before long. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks nest in cavities, and take readily to manmade boxes. People are putting out ever-increasing numbers of boxes, and this factor along with an increase in favorable habitat are two factors that are probably helping the ducks to increase. Thus, we have more ducks to wander and turn up in strange places like northern Ohio.
At least 40 people dropped by in the two hours that Bernie and I spent at Pipe Creek, and I am sure that many more have visited. If the whistler stays for a while, and there is probably a good chance that it will, hundreds of people will probably make its acquaintance.

I'm sure glad that I did. And for those of you that are interested in such things, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was number 363 on my Ohio list.


rebecca said...

Wow - I've never seen a whistling-duck, despite lots of birding in Arizona, and of course as soon as I leave Ohio one shows up there. What a gorgeous bird. And congrats on your 500th post!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Jim on both the bird and the blog! You blog is the one I head to first when I log onto to my computer. Thanks!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Congrats on your 500th post here. Congrats on your Ohio bird. Both numbers are quite impressive.

Janet Creamer Martin said...

Congrats on your 500th post and life bird.

Wren nests in... said...

Black-bellied whistling duck seems an appropriate #500 gift! Congrats on both accomplishments.

When I first read the post, I though you had migrated to Cape May; we have a few BBWD's here this summer, too.

Pat Ernst said...

I have learned a lot from your posts and appreciate the fact that you keep them coming!

Jana said...

I can honestly say I never heard of this duck before, but whaddya know, I just read that they also showed up in southeastern PA near my hometown.

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