Friday 15 July 2016

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Hamilton!

July is a pretty slow time for rare birds in Ontario. Part of the reason why is that most birds have settled in on their breeding grounds in July, while during spring and autumn the push of migration increases the odds that occasional birds end up in far-flung places . The other reason for the relatively paucity of reports of unusual bird species is that there simply is not that much birding happening! After the rush of spring migration followed by the excellent, relatively easy birding during June (if you are tolerant of mosquitoes) when all of the breeding species are on territory and easy to find, most birders are somewhat burnt out by mid-summer and partaking in other activities while keeping an eye to the future and anticipating the rush of fall migration, something which is only at a trickle this time of year. But occasionally good birds can be found, regardless of the time of year.

Yesterday morning while out for a walk along Bayfront Park in Hamilton, Eric Holden found a group of five ducks along the beach area that looked like Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. He was without his optics at the time, but he put an alert out and returned with his binoculars and camera. The ducks were still on the beach and he confirmed that they were indeed Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. This is a very rare species in Ontario and was the first sighting for the Hamilton Study Area!

I was working north of Newmarket at the time, searching a job site for bird nests when I received the alerts on Ontbirds. After meeting with a client and finishing my surveys, I hit the road and drove south, making good time on Highway 407, arriving in Hamilton an hour and a half later. It was a stifling hot summer day and the reports were that the birds were still present as I exited Highway 403 and drove the few kilometers through Hamilton towards the harbour. I parked at Bayfront Park and walked across the sun-scorched grass towards the beach, coming across Dan Salisbury and Luc Fazio along the way. They informed me that my scope wasn't necessary - the birds were still there, easily seen at close range!

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks ignoring the warnings - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

The group of five Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was there just as advertised, snoozing in the sun at the edge of the water. The scope certainly wasn't necessary, though it was good to study them in it nonetheless!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

Eventually other birders arrived, and it was good to meet some for the first time, as well as reconnect with some other birders that I had not seen since the spring migration, including Cheryl Edgecombe, Brett Fried, Erika Hentsch and Dave Don. We all soaked up the views of these rare visitors to Hamilton.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks range from Texas, Louisiana and Florida south through Central America and the northern two-thirds of South America. The northern subspecies (fulgens) is found from Panama northwards to the southern United States and is known to wander north, particularly during the spring through mid-summer. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have pushed northwards (especially up the Mississippi River) in recent years, and it is an annual occurrence now that the occasional small flock is seen in the Upper Midwest and occasionally the northeastern United States. There is a possibility that these are the same birds as a group of six Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks that spent most of July 10th in Ithaca, New York. It is not unreasonable, however to expect that there could be several flocks of wandering Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks north of their breeding range during this hot and dry summer, and perhaps these are harbingers of more throughout the summer.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

There are five accepted records of Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in Ontario. Three of these records are of small flocks ranging in size from 9 to 13 individuals while two pertain to solitary individuals. The details of the accepted records are as follows:

- 9 at Rayside-Balfour (Greater Sudbury): 17 June to 07 July, 1993 (Fred Marshall, Deborah Kuehnbaum);
-1 at Kingsville (Essex): 12 May to late May, 1994 (Kay Beerthuis, Joyce Ellsworth, Molly Harrigan, George Hutchinson, John Nims, Thelma Nims);
-13 at Tiny Marsh (Simcoe): 02-04 May, 2010 (Alex M. Mills);
-10 at Windsor (Essex): 15 May, 2010 (W. Alan Wright); and,
-1 at Milford (Prince Edward): 13 July to 23 August, 2010 (David Okines).

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

Like many Ontario birders, I added Black-bellied Whistling-Duck to my provincial list after chasing the bird at Milford in 2010, a good year for the species as three of the five previous records occurred during a two-month period.

Unfortunately these Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Hamilton appeared to be a one-day wonder, disappearing later in the evening after they were flushed from the beach. There were no sightings today, though given all of the available habitat in the Hamilton Harbour/Cootes Paradise area it would not be a big surprise if they reappeared in the vicinity in the upcoming days. Hopefully this is the case so that others may be able to lay eyes on this rare species in the province.


nishiki_85 said...

Glad to hear you added this species to your provincial list. Jean and I took our scope too which allowed for closer study even though it was not required. We were there when the ducks were disturbed by two guys walking on the beach. Gave us a great opportunity to view them in flight when they returned to the beach.

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Bob, and good to hear that you and Jean were able to see these rare visitors as well!


Allen Woodliffe said...

A very nice addition to the HSA, and great photos too.

Andrew Bradshaw said...

There were six Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that arrived in my area (Springfield, Illinois,) back in June 2016. One stuck around until July, and the other five disappeared in June. I'd like to imagine that these five Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are the ones that used to be in my area, though of course there's definitely no proving this theory!