26 May 2012 – is the fudge genuine or not?
With two Ferruginous Ducks (also known colloquially as “Fudge Ducks”…) having been found at Paarl Bird Sanctuary earlier in the week, there was no doubt where we would be going to today. With no previously accepted genuinely wild records of this species in Southern Africa before, and a propensity of wildfowl keepers in the Cape, it was always going to be difficult to prove these birds as genuine vagrants, but the timing of their arrival fitted well for a reverse migrant and they do come into Africa from Cameroon in the west across to Kenya in the east.
Arriving at the sanctuary, we were not surprised to find that we were not the first ones there. Conditions were not great with overcast skies, but we began the search for the birds anyway. Most of the usual water birds were quickly encountered and we really had a good variety of ducks including several species that are not particularly numerous in the area like African Black Duck, Hottentot Teal and White-faced Duck. There were even a few Fulvous Ducks there, still a bit of a scarcity in the province whilst we were also quite happy to encounter an African Jacana, another regional rarity, which although it remained distant, at least allowed us the opportunity to just slightly improve our shots for the challenge…
Careful scanning through the flocks didn’t reveal anything else interesting at first, but the groups of birders remained vigilant and, eventually, one of the groups picked up an immature Ferruginous Duck in amongst some Southern Pochards. The birds were extremely skittish and didn’t allow a close approach at all and, as soon as we got anywhere near them, they took flight and moved off to another pond.
We eventually managed to relocate the bird again, but it always remained distant. Whilst scanning through the other birds on the pond that it was now on, we picked up another interesting bird which appeared to be a hybrid Fulvous x White-faced Duck and then, the flaw in any possible argument that the Ferruginous Duck was a genuine vagrant came into play when we located a sub-eclipse male Northern Shoveler. Whilst there have been a handful of genuine vagrant Northern Shovelers accepted over the years in Southern Africa, this bird was in totally the wrong plumage for the time of the year and the odds that 2 major vagrant waterfowl had turned up at the same sanctuary was just stacked too high against us. Even if these birds were genuine vagrants, there was always going to be a lot of doubt clouding the validity of these birds. Oh well, another duck assigned to the wonderful status of “escapee”…:(