The bones are starting to creak and the nose is turning red, we must be headed into the tundra we call home. We made our final stop in Marion, AR yesterday to perform the RV winterization ritual in the closing hours before we officially hit sub-freezing temps. Asked Linda several times during this process if she wanted to turn back and flee south again…with great agony so reminded me we have important appointments awaiting us throughout February, sigh. On the good news front, I can update you on my Average Year efforts. With a few days still left in this month I’ve clocked in 173 unique birds for the young year (Ron at healthy 152). Quite stunned by that and can be directly attributed to how wonderful birding is in Texas. I’ll be turning my err… Linda’s sights on getting the Snowy Owl (link here) immediately upon our return.
Right now I have to focus on hitting my self-imposed post quota for this month. Once again, I’ve overestimated the amount of free time available on our vacation. Amazing how we manage to fill up an entire month with activities (read birding sunrise to sundown). Was able to get five out there during the longer drives leaving me with today’s featured feathered friend for the win.
Okay birders, without hitting the jump, want to take a guess on what this duck is?
Hit the jump for further clues.
Maybe you need some additional meta data to help narrow your options. Our interestingly colored creature was photographed at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Wait, scratch that, they have officially changed their name to South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary (SPIBNC&AS). There is a Monty Python sketch in there for sure .. & Great Blue Heron Vacation Spot & Dancing Ibis Show & Clapper Rail Hunting & Turtle Spa &… you get the skit premise. I digress. Although these shots were taken back in December 2017, I can confirm from my trip back there this month that this duck (or at least its species) are still abundant in their open waters. I understand if you are having problems pinpointing that species, so here is another clue.
This is the same species as the more colorful one in the lead in. Same overall coloring with the exception of the white splotches. Same gender as well! Admittedly, that is still a bit devious. It is generally pretty hard to identify a duck from just the female specimens. There are feature characteristics that make some females easier to spot – Wood Duck (link here) comes to mind with their unique head profile and wide white eye-ring. More common is the hard to distinguish brown drab feathering.
There is a clue if you look closely at the bill. Both specimens possess the faint ring around the end of the bill and the lighter outline around the base that looks like someone used too much glue to attach that nose. If you saw that and guessed Ring-Necked Duck (link here) you deserve some credit… but, unfortunately, wrong. Ha, just noticed the R-ND link brings you to a post bitching about the same naming issues pointed out in the previous post – obviously something that sticks in my craw). I digress again… must be the cold weather. Okay, time for the reveal.
If you originally guessed a Redhead Duck then please send me your cell number so I can put it on my speed dial for the next time I need identification help – you are a birding rock star. Out of context I would have really struggled with that first shot. Fortunately, one of my golden rules is to always take “associated” birds – especially when it comes to females. As a generalization, drakes follow the old hair band cliche where the males put the makeup on to impress the ladies. The golden rule reminds me to be sure and snap anything hanging around a target bird to help in the identification process. In this case the easily identified male Redhead was floating not too far away.
Thankfully there was also another “normally” colored female tagging along with the splotchy specimen at the top of the page or I would have been repeatedly beating the reference book against my head. Pretty confident of the ID, I went exploring to see if the extra white feathering was a juvenile, a normal breeding molt or some kind of toxic sewage coming out of the water treatment facility that sits next door.
From what I found, this is not frequent and considered more of a mutation – toxic sewage theory wins ha! Big thanks to Cornell’s hybrid and mutation education page for helping to nail this down (link here). Near the bottom you will see a discussion on this very mutation along with a very helpful picture from a specimen found in New York.
Well folks, going to call it a post and get back to a heated “debate” with my wife – “Now tell me again what appointment I have that is worth freezing my ass off for!?!”
Hope you enjoyed today’s Mutant X Duck.