Friday 1 February 2019

Falcated Duck

First-winter Falcated Duck - photo taken from Exmouth Leisure Centre on 18/11/06.
Mark Bailey kindly texted me at lunch time today with news that the BOU has added Falcated Duck to the British list. This is big news for me personally because back in November 2006 I found a first-winter drake in Exmouth - just off the leisure centre. It turned up at roughly the same time as the nearby Long-billed Murrelet and generated a lot of interest, both locally and from further afield. It was in with a large Wigeon flock and showed no signs of having been in captivity, but went straight onto category D of the British list and has languished there ever since. Of course the Devon individual hasn't officially been accepted as wild yet, and it may not be, but the drake in Norfolk and Northants in Dec 86 - Apr 87 has made the grade as Britain's first, so at least the Exe bird now stands a fighting chance.
A male shot on Orkney in November 2000 was stable isotope tested and proved to have come from a long way east, but its exact origin couldn't be established. An article on the Devon bird published in Birding World (Volume 19 Number 11) summed up the species' occurrence nicely for me. It read:

'This 'ornamental' species is kept in captivity, of course, but is also highly migratory in he wild and surely also reaches Britain as a genuine vagrant; certainly this individual seems to exhibit excellent credentials for being wild. It has been associating with a known 'carrier species' which originates from the same breeding area (Wigeon), and showed no obvious signs of having been held captive. There is already an established pattern of occurrence for Falcated Duck in western Europe which is (allowing for the occasional escape) very much as would be expected for a vagrant Asian duck. In 1987, a distribution analysis was published in Twitching 1:21-23, and little has happened since to change the rationale of 20 years ago. The most convincing single piece of the jigsaw is that BWP (Cramp & Simmons 1977) mentions that a Dutch-ringed Wigeon has been recovered from 108°E in Irkutsk (north of Lake Baikal). Since the breeding range of Falcated Duck extends north and west of Lake Baikal (to 90°E), it is highly likely that the odd one abmigrates to western Europe amongst our regularly wintering Wigeon flocks. Now that Baikal Teal has been proven to reach Europe as a genuine vagrant (see page 397), there is even more reason to assume that Falcated Duck does too. Eds.'

The Devon Falcated Duck remained on the Exe until January 11th 2007 and I was amazed to re-find what was presumably the same bird at Countess Wear sewage works on January 30th 2008. It was last seen on May 4th 2008. One of its wings had suffered some damage and was ever so  slightly dropped, which may explain its protracted stay the second time round.

When I first found this bird it had me completely stumped. It was one of the most non-descript birds I'd ever seen. After a lot of head-scratching, and a chance read of a sentence at the back of a field guide, which likened female and juvenile Falcated Ducks to female/juv Pintail, the penny dropped and all the features fitted in to place. By the time anyone else saw it, it had moulted a bit more and was looking more obvious. It remains my most difficult identification conundrum to date and it's one I'm still quite proud of.

Having originally favoured the south end of the Exe this bird followed Wigeon to the north end. These field sketches were made on the 1/1/2007 at Exminster Marshes.
Falcated Duck - Exminster Marshes.

Falcated Duck - Countess Wear 2008 - the pool this bird frequented was inside Countess Wear sewage works but it was sometimes visible from the Exeter Canal towpath. It was associating with Gadwall and its left wing was slightly dropped.


  1. Fingers crossed that the Exe bird makes the grade

  2. Hi Spencer - I'm hoping so. Apparently the Exe bird prompted the review of its cat D status so it stands a good chance. Should find out in October when the BBRC report is published. All the best. Matt

  3. I'd be surprised if it doesn't make it through Matt - and therefore a brilliant first for the county! I'll keep my eye on the WIP files...