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19th January 2012

Rather out of the blue a drake Ferruginous Duck was found at Whitlingham on Thursday afternoon.  In hope rather than expectation I managed to get to Whitlingham after work, but even a part jog (part wheeze) around to the conservation area bay wasn't enough to beat the impending darkness.  The conservation area bay was almost empty, with most of the wildfowl drifting into the middle of the broad to roost.   I tried to find a consolation Owl or Woodcock, but it was not to be.  The Fudge Duck has been seen again today, so if you don't need to use your digits for a while, I would appreciate you crossing them for me that it stays until tomorrow.


  1. I stood on the south bank from soon after 4pm in the gloom. There wasn't enough time to walk to the conservation area. I saw someone on the river bank path looking amongst the ducks in the bay. A small number of ducks, mainly pochard, drifted out into the broad past the posts and gulls. One of the ducks was clearly smaller than the tufties and pochards present. I scoped this bird which had its tail down most of the time. Fudge duck Norwich / Whitlingham tick but light not good enough to confirm all the features of ferruginous were there and that ir was pure etc. Pager message for 415pm confirmed bird was present.

  2. Presumably one from the broads that has been present at least three years now. Spent all last year at Cockshoot etc. Same with the RND. Both seemed possibly wild at first but now surely not.

  3. Having seen the bird today I think that its a 1st-winter drake, and therefore not one of the ones that have been in the broads in recent times. Of course it could have been born to them, but I'm not sure that that is more likely than vagrancy. Its unringed, but as evidenced by the Lesser White-front debate, proving a birds origins beyond all doubt is often impossible. Incidentally I thought that main issue sometimes expressed about the broads Fudge Ducks was possible hybridism rather than them being escapes.

    I don't see an issue with the Ring-necked Duck. I don't think many American birds make it back to America, so it has attached itself to an Aythya flock that returns to certain areas of the broads and will presumably winter here for as long as its alive.


  4. There are pure and hybrid Fudge Ducks in the broads, and there have been since at the very least late 2008 when a drake Fudge and female Ring-necked Duck were discovered at the same site on the same day! The numbers and recurring locations would seem to mitigate against genuine vagrant Fudge Ducks - why would what is essentially still a very rare bird keep occurring in the same small area of Norfolk and remain producing offspring? The Ring-necked seems to be resident in the area as a very lesser scaup-like bird has been seen and is thought to be the offspring of the Ring-necked and a Tufted.

    This was posted on Surfbirds by Sandgrouse: "There is a small wildfowl collection between Oby and Thurne (opposite St. Benets Levels at the Thurne mouth on the Bure) with a pair of Ferruginous Duck of unknown parentage in the collection (amongst other potential UK vagrant type geese and ducks). It is likely that if offspring have been produced here some may have escaped as there is a waterway connection to the river Bure and the housing with these birds in does not look too secure."

  5. Hi Tim, thanks for your input.

    Andrew's information about the Thurne collection is interesting, and may account for some of the Fudge Ducks around. It would be good to know what other species are held there. Unfortunately unless collections consistently ensure that all of their birds (including those born in the collection) are ringed and kept securely, debates like this will happen everytime a potential vagrant species of wildfowl turns up.

    I agree that the Ferruginous Ducks that oversummered haven't done themselves any favours in terms of being considered wild. That said, I don't think it can be extrapolated that all recent broadland records are escapes. In the early 2000s there were regularly 2 or 3 records each year. I don't see any issue that the majority of records are from a relatively small area - the broads are probably the best habitat in the county for Aythya ducks (with the possible exception of the Ouse Washes), and being relatively close to the coast probably makes it even more desirable to arriving birds.

    With regards to seeing the Fudge Duck and Ring-necked Duck together, was that the first time the RND had been seen? My recollection was that it was first found at Whitlingham in November 2008, and then seen at HLB along with a Fudge Duck and Scaup in early 2009. This is also what it says in the 2008 Bird & Mammal Report, suggesting that the birds arrived elsewhere and then joined up when the Aythya flocks moved about.

    I still haven't seen anything that unduly worries me about the Ring-necked Duck. Have there been any sightings of it in Norfolk over the summer? Several species can produce Lesser Scaup type hybrids, including Pochard x Tufted (there is a picture of this in Collins 2nd ed). The other thing is, does anyone know where displaced American ducks go to in summer? I would think they would move off and stick with a flock of similar species somewhere?

  6. Hello James,

    the Lesser Scaup-type was a female and (unfortunately) had a Ring-necked Duck wingbar so I can only surmise that the female Ring-necked Duck oversummered and produced this bird - the Bure complex isn't well-birded in the summer so that might be something I'll have a look at this year. It has been around since 2008, compared to the three or four one day RND, and one three-day RND of the past 15 years. However, of note is that a male RND spent four winters in the broads in the early 90s.

    The series of FD records in the broads seems to have started in autumn 2007. The NBR for 2007 mentions that given the 'release of numerous surface water and diving ducks in both south Norfolk and north Suffolk, the provenance of these birds is open to question'. Other species have indeed been seen including Wood Ducks, RC Pochards, leucistic Pintails, Chiloe Wigeon etc. Going back to 1980, I can't find any oversummering FD although there are one or two probable returnees. Of the 35 or so records 1980-2004, only four are from the broads and three of those are one-dayers. There were no records from 2004 until Martham Broad in 2007 and then the rest is history. This is coupled with a background of serious long-term declines across Europe.

    Clearly it's impossible to be sure of anything here. I'd like to think the RND is a wild bird and the timing and long stay are just some of those coincidences that do happen. I'm far less sure of the FDs though for reasons given above. It's a strange world though.

  7. Thanks for the clarification about the hybrid, I had assumed it was a male as there was one of those about last winter.

    It appears my idea of good Fudge Duck habitat is some way off what the birds themselves favour, there are far fewer broadland records than I thought.

    I've seen Wood Duck at Ranworth (complete with female mallard and hybrid young), and remember seeing leucistic Pintail and Red-crested Pochard at Flixton Gravel Pits, where I was told they were released for shooting. I don't know how they are allowed to do that legally, but that's a whole other debate...