You can tell spring is in the air when the males start fighting over the females. These drake Mallards were really going at it. To the victor the spoils?
They always make me smile so it’s a joy to see Tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula) back on my local lakes here in south Wales. These ducks tend not to live in Wales year-round: instead, they spend most of the year in England and Scotland, only heading south-west when the days get shorter and the temperatures cooler. Numbers throughout Britain also increase during the winter months as birds from Iceland and northern Europe head to our slightly milder isles.
When sightings of rare birds are reported, the birds are usually in out-of-the-way locations that are difficult to access by public transport so I can’t go looking but yesterday was different. A ‘scarce and very secretive’ duck had been spotted at Roath Park Lake, my old stomping ground, so I hopped on a train and was there like a shot.
The bird was a Garganey (Anas querquedula) and it was certainly living up to its reputation: I spent 30 minutes or so walking and looking and couldn’t spot it (though the Teal and Shovelers were an added bonus amongst the resident water birds). A fellow birder told me he’d seen the Garganey briefly through his ’scope but it had then disappeared under overhanging tree branches. So, I went for a walk around the park, watched a young Heron fishing in the sluice and enjoyed the autumn colour, before heading around the lake again on my way back to the train. And there it was!
The female Garganey looks much like a female Mallard at first glance but she is a much smaller duck, the markings on her face are stronger, with the eye stripe giving her quite an exotic look, and she has a bill that shows she’s a dabbler. She was very active, constantly ducking her head under the water for plant material and insects – in fact, most of my photos are of a headless duck!
Garganeys are only seen in small numbers in Britain, as they pass through during spring and autumn migration, so being able to see and watch this beautiful female was a treat indeed!
I met these three Muscovy ducks during this morning’s walk around Roath Park lake. I’ve not seen them before so I’m not sure if they’re recent escapees from a local waterfowl collection or not-so-local farmyard, or are feral – they were certainly friendly enough, toddling over to beg for food.
The Muscovy (Cairina moschata) isn’t native to Britain, nor does it come from the area around Moscow, in Russia, which is what the word Muscovy normally means. This duck came originally from Central and South America but has been domesticated by the Native Americans since pre-Columbian times, and has long been introduced to many other countries.
Being larger than the mallard, Muscovy are favoured for eating and apparently have a stronger flavour, which some liken to the taste of roast beef. In culinary circles, the bird is known as Barbary duck so don’t be confused when you see Barbary on the menu – you’re actually eating Muscovy. Since their introduction to Britain, many birds have escaped or been released from domestic confinement, so there is now quite a large wild population. And, in case you’re wondering, the name actually refers to the strong musk odour the bird produces from a small pouch below its beak.