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.
Pembrokeshire Bird Report 2001