#346: Fulvous Whistling-duck

Fulvous Whistling-duck was one of my target birds for the year. I’d planned to pick it up in Audubon Park in New Orleans, where they’re regular in the winter. However, a family of Fulvous Whistling-ducks showed up in the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge last Sunday, and have been regularly seen there almost every day last week, so this morning bright and early I took the A-train to Broad Channel to see if I could add this bird to my life list.

Despite the clouds, it was a very nice day. Barn Swallows were common along with the usual gulls. Heading out the West Pond trail, I checked each bench for the Fulvous Whistling-ducks. There were quite a few Mallards, American Black Ducks, Mute Swans, Gadwalls, Canada Geese, and a surprising female Hooded Merganser. (It’s been almost two months since I last know of one being seen in the city. They should all be North by now.)

Around Bench 4, I heard the distinctive Fitz-Pew of a Willow Flycatcher. Then I shortly located the surprisingly cooperative bird. This is my first definite Willow this year. Any flycatcher is tough to ID without the song, and Willows are impossible to ID from sight alone. The Willow and the Alder Flycatcher are identical visually. According to Eric Salzman, “noncalling birds cannot be separated, even in the hand.” (Bull’s Birds of New York State, 1998 edition, p. 364). They used to be classified as one species, Traill’s Flycatcher, but were split about thirty years ago.

I continued walking along the West Pond trail, and at Bench 8 as I was scanning a large mixed flock along the shoreline, I spotted one obvious standout: a very buffy colored duck unlike anything else out there. Bingo! That was the Fulvous Whistling-duck. I waved another group of birders over, and they confirmed. They’d seen the three ducks fly over earlier around 8:00 A.M.; but I think this as the first siting on land this morning. By the time I left around 9:30 A.M. several dozen other birders had seen and photographed it. I did mentally kick myself for forgetting my cell phone so I couldn’t call the local rare bird alert. Fortunately someone else phoned it in.

Fulvous Whistling-duck on West Pond of JBWR

Bench 9 was really where the action was. Besides the Fulvous Whistling-duck, it also yielded a male Wood Duck. Several sandpipers were also feeding in the mud. After much observation, we decided we had definite Semipalmated Sandpipers and one White-rumped Sandpiper. Possibly there was a Least or two mixed in, but I wasn’t certain of that. September and October should also be good at other shore sites.

I doubled back to the Terrapin Trail, and spotted a Least Tern flying over; unusual for the refuge but not unheard of. Forster’s and Common Terns were also present. The mud flats at the end of the Terrapin Trail yielded Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, and a single Black-bellied Plover. Someone spotted a late Brant out there, but I didn’t find it.

Continuing along the West Pond trail, the Marsh Wrens were calling from their usual location on the west end of the loop. At various locations I also heard House Wren and Carolina Wren, though I didn’t see a single wren all day. One more Willow Flycatcher started calling around the turn back to the Visitor’s Center at the Northeast corner of the loop.

I had hoped there’d be some warblers and other passerines pushed in by last night’s south winds, but it was not to be. Very few birds in the gardens at all. Just a few wrens calling and a lone White-throated Sparrow singing its “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody” song.

I crossed over to the East Pond, where I heard my first Northern Cardinal of the day calling. 13 late Ruddy Ducks are still hanging out on the East Pond, probably waiting for a better wind to head north with. Big John’s Pond was quiet though, and the trails were quite muddy. (Waterproof boots would have helped here.)

I returned the way I came and continued the way I came and scouted the South Garden, but nothing new turned up until a single Brown-headed Cowbird gave its water drop song in the parking lot, and then flew to perch on the Visitor’s Center. That’s a bird you’re never sad to miss.

I decided to try for one more life bird for the day, so I trekked down to the south end of Cross Bay Blvd. to Big Egg Marsh. I thought the East Pond trail was muddy today, but I hadn’t seen anything yet. After rains like last week’s, the parking lot at Big Egg turns into a small lake. The “road” (and I use the term loosely) into the marsh is just six inches of water on top of sixteen inches of mud. Rubber boots are highly recommended. I took the long away along across the baseball field and around the shore, which proved wise since a small inlet was harboring 12 Short-billed Dowitchers, a Black-crowned Night-heron and a Green Heron as well as some more Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Short-billed Dowitchers at Big Egg Marsh

However, I regret to say, despite hiking back through the mud I did not find the Seaside Sparrows. I’ll have to try again on another trip, or perhaps try Four Sparrow Marsh. However, despite whiffing on the last target bird, it was an excellent day today with one gorgeous life bird and several year birds.

May has been surprisingly quiet this year. The winds just haven’t cooperated. A lot of birds may be coming through late or perhaps just flying West of us. I’m still hoping for one last big push, but the weather doesn’t look likely to cooperate until next weekend. After that, things quiet down for a couple of months, with just the local breeding birds. July is by far the worst time of year for birds in local city parks. However, come August the shorebirds will return on their journeys south. If you can stand the heat, August is a great time to visit Jamaica Bay, and September isn’t bad either.

3 Responses to “#346: Fulvous Whistling-duck”

  1. verisimilidude Says:

    Places like Terrapin Trail and West Pond I can understand as park locations that I would find on a park map. What is “Bench 9”? Does the park label its benches for is this a location name known only to birders?

    I saw a Discovery Channel article on the falcons of Central Park but it was two or three years old. Are they still there? I’m sure they haven’t been driven on by lack of food.

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Yes, the benches are numbered; and the locations are quite well known in the local community. If I recall correctly there are 13 benches at various locations more or less encircling the pond. (It’s a large pond by the way, maybe 100 acres.)

    As far as I know no falcons nest in Central Park, though Peregrine Falcons are regular visitors; and peregrines do nest aelsewhere in the city. You’re probably thinking of Pale Male and family, a group of Red-tailed Hawks that nest just outside the park on Fifth Avenue.

  3. verisimilidude Says:

    You may never find this, posting a reply almost two months later, but for what it’s worth…

    Yes, It was Pale Male and family. I thought of falcons because they have taken up residence near me on the north side of Chicago on the top of a grand old movie palace, the Uptown Theatre. I thought you might be interested in an album of photos of them:

Leave a Reply