American Black Duck – 2001 – first for Pembrokeshire

Anas rubripes – Hwyaden Ddu America – vagrant

January 2001 was an interesting time at Heathfield Gravel Pit.  A pair of scaup had been joined by a remarkable four ring-necked ducks and I was looking for these on the 28th when four ducks flew from the water.  Three, together, were clearly mallard but the fourth looked a bit odd; a darker, plainer bird was my first impression.  I was taken aback however, when it flew overhead and bright, white underwings stood out markedly against a dark body. I kept on it as it flew away, to the south, noting a lack of white in the wings and a paler, greyish head against a very dark body.  There was obviously a chance it was a black duck but it couldn’t be claimed on these views and it appeared to be gone.  My gloom deepened when I mentioned the sighting to Steve Berry who responded that he had seen something similar, briefly on the 20th, but as he was engrossed with pinning down a newly discovered ring-necked duck, he didn’t really follow it up and didn’t see it again.

There was no sign of it again until on 10th March I accidentally flushed two ducks, one of which was clearly a female mallard though the other wasn’t a mallard at all.  I had excellent views of a dark, almost black, body; grey head; and bright orange legs dangling as it lifted, facing me.  It flew low over the water a couple of time giving superb views at close range.  I noted a satiny sheen on the blue-purple speculum in all dark wings and there was no hint of white in the tail.  A dark crown and eyestripe framed a grey ‘face’.  It was a clear, dry day and I was struck by what a splendid looking bird it was.

The bird was plainly not resident at Heathfield GP and I didn’t see it again until the 14th.  This time it was on the water, displaying to male mallards on a grey and gloomy day.  When viewed now it appeared to have grey scapulars!  I checked as many references as I could muster.  There were a collection of descriptions of the colour of the scapulars; though BWP says they are greyish.  A fairly recently published photograph shows a black duck with grey scapulars (Birding World Vol 13 no 9) suggesting elsewhere it is partly a reflective effect.  it was a nice puzzle but I could have lived without it.  As it happened, all turned out well and it was accepted by the BBRC as an adult male black duck: the first for Pembrokeshire.

Mike Young-Powell

Pembrokeshire Bird Report 2001

More about the Black Duck in Pembrokeshire