Words On Birds 04-26-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Duck Found in Ipswich
April 26, 2024
By Steve Grinley
     The birding highlight this past week was a rare duck from Eurasia. I had just arrived in the door from work last Sunday afternoon when Margo announced that we needed to go see a garganey in Ipswich! Now I am always a bit skeptical about stray ducks and geese, as their “origin” (whether they are truly wild or escapees from a farm or zoo) is always in question. But the garganey is a very common duck in Europe and is highly migratory to Africa and south Asia.  There have been a number of scattered records all over the eastern United States in recent years.
     So we jumped in the car and sped off to the Kamon Farm Conservation Area on Pineswamp Road, an Essex County Greenbelt Property that Greenbelt acquired just three years ago. As we arrived, we glanced down into the field on the left, where the bird was supposed to be, but saw no one.  As we pulled up to the parking lot on the right, we could see a small group of birders just inside the opening to the field. We took one of the last parking spots in the small lot, grabbed our scopes and walked across the road to join the them.  
     We saw many birders that we knew and they had their scopes and cameras pointed down into a grassy wet area at the bottom of the field. The ducks were apparently moving within the grasses and were difficult to spot. Looking through one observer’s scope helped us pin-point the right spot and we finally got our scopes on the rare duck.
     This garganey was a handsome drake, with a bold white stripe over the eye and dark top of the head. He was associating closely with a pair blue-winged teal, handsome birds in their own right. We watched it intently and occasional it emerged into some open water and revealed the handsome feathering of its wings and body. It was a good distance away, too far for some cameras, but Margo was able to get a number of phone scope shots through our Swarovski scopes.
     This isn’t the first garganey in Massachusetts. A female garganey was spotted on Plum Island in May of 1985 by Bob Stymeist and stayed for about a month.  Another was found on Plum Island in August of 2000 by Rick Heil. So this Sunday’s garganey was a life bird for many birders. Margo and I saw many of them in Thailand, but it was a first North American record for her.
     As we stood there admiring the waterfowl, which included some green-winged teal, wood duck, mallards and a couple of Canada geese, more birders continued to arrive as evening approached.  Soon, the street was lined with cars. The word had gotten out, and birders within driving distance were rushing to view this rare bird.
     Suddenly, the garganey and the two blue-winged teal lifted off the water, gained altitude and flew off over the trees to the west. Everyone’s heart dropped. We hoped they would circle around and return to this spot, as they apparently had done earlier in the afternoon, but after many minutes of their absence we lost hope. More birders were arriving only to learn “the” bird had just flown. A disappointment familiar to any avid birder.
     A few people left, but many stayed hoping the garganey would return. A local resident said that the bird had been there for a week, which was encouraging. After what seemed an eternity, one person noticed three ducks overhead that circled down to the wet area. I put my scope on them immediately and saw that it was the garganey and two blue-winged teal.  I yelled “its back!” Even as people were leaving to get into there cars, they rushed back to see this rarity.
     More birders continued to arrive and we stayed to help them see it. We eventually left with many satisfied looks, a few photos, and happy to see so many of our birding friends that also were able to see the bird.  
     Unfortunately, the bird was not seen again after that Sunday. With no reports on Monday, we stopped by Kamon Farm near the end of the day. Several birders were still keeping a vigil. One person from the south shore had been there since 6 am without seeing the duck. Another had driven from Connecticut without luck. We felt lucky that we lived so close and were around to see the garganey the evening before.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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