Galveston Beach at Dawn

Galveston Beach at Dawn
Galveston Beach at Dawn

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Our VIP Visitor

 On Thursday, December 8, 2011, Dan Tankersley visited the Colusa NWR platform and found a falcated duck (formerly Falcated Teal), a very rare visitor to the United States from Asia. ( I can only find three other California submissions and one sighting that was not submtted to the rare bird committee.) This has caused great excitement in the birding community and all the volunteers were taken off their regular jobs so we could cover Colusa  and Sacramento NWR's all day.

I, of course, was the first to volunteer and got to go to the platform that afternoon. The bird had first been seen at the closest little islet but soon after it was discovered, two groups ignored the "no walkers" sign and walked into the auto tour which starts just past the viewing platform.  Of course, this caused all the birds in the pond to fly away, including the falcated duck.  It had not returned by the time I had to leave at 3:30P. At 4:00P, it again came to the nearest pond and the Refuge Manager got pictures of it. The refuge manager called for volunteer help to keep people from getting out of their cars on the auto tour or to and to greet them at the platform.

People watching for the falcated duck the first afternoon after it was discovered
My boss allowed me to go to the refuge early on Friday and I got there at 7:00AM and found sixteen people already trying to find the duck in the predawn light. And about 7:30, the duck was gracious enough to come to the front of the back pond and take an hour and half nap in front of a tule clump so we could all (barely) see it. 
The small platform was almost full by 8:00AM on Friday
I really enjoyed getting to share this bird and others with people arriving at the platform.  A few of the first birders didn't have their own scopes, and even those that did, took a quick look as they arrived so they could see the bird and its location. I left at noon but got reports that he had been seen several times.

Saturday was a madhouse because the bird didn't show itself at all and no one wanted to leave.  Soon we were trying to squeeze in over thirty-five scopes and even more people and had to extend the viewing area to along the road and allow cars to park in the maintenance area. But Sunday morning, our visitor relented and gave lots of pretty short but adequate views of itself so people came and went normally.  The luckiest group had driven over two hours to get there and got good views of it in the first twenty minutes of viewing.  So the volunteers' work got a lot easier and we didn't overload the platform. 


The duck is still here over a week later and bringing in lots of visitors. We had 81 visitors yesterday, Saturday, and 105 today. And it is staying in the front pond and, for the last two days, has been continuously visible.  Today it even stayed active during its normal nap time of about 10:30 to 2:30 and delighted lucky visitors with a display - seemingly a "I'm the cock of the walk" that it does to male American widgeon which it likes to hang with. It first thrusts up its head and flashes its white neck and raises its crest a little and then ducks his head, lifts his tail and shakes it. I got to see the display several times today. 

Duck, on right with an American widgeon - he also has been courting a female widgeon -pic by Mike Peters

Falcated duck with greater white-fronted geese - Photo by Mike Peters

I'm even starting to get some distant pictures of him
I've enjoyed talking to the visitors, some who have come back multiple times. Because we are spending so much time in the same small area, we are also seeing other fairly rare sightings. Yesterday we had a flock of about 50 tundra swans fly over and immediately after that, several tree swallows flew through. Today we had two sightings of barn owls, a half-dozen ruby-crowned kinglets feeding on water plants in the creek, a white-tailed kite, an immature sharp-shinned hawk and a Virginia rail that flew about a foot above the water and a couple of feet in front of the viewing platform.

And we get to watch behaviors that we don't normally watch long enough to see.

Pintail love?
And today I met the Sutter Buttes Christmas Count Compiler. He;s going to let me join the count this Tuesday and I'll be in his group on his ranch in the Buttes. This will be the first count when I may be too interested in the scenery to find the birds. I'll definitely have my camera and an extra battery with me.

While doing traffic control, I got interested in some of the license plates. Word is that we have had some visitors fly in from New York, but I just got a few of the many places the bird lovers are coming from.   Many of them have driven 8 hours or more to get to us. Some reported driving all night.We are also getting locals from minutes to an hour away.


We expect the bird to spend the winter here. Hopefully we'll have lots more days like this weekend. He sure has been a great Christmas present for Colusa NWR and made a fun job even more fun.

P.S. One day later I found a link to a video taken of the bird.  Apparently I was doing my job of helpping the public find the bird since that Texas drawl is definitely mine.