Wood You Tick It?

Photo: Drake Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

A species of Duck that has a natural range in North America has been spotted at Mersey Vale Nature Reserve, about one mile west of Stockport in Greater Manchester

The stunning drake Wood Duck was first reported on 8th October and was still present today, 14th October along the River Mersey near the large willow tree 300 yards west of the Vale Road Weir

The bird is un-ringed and fully winged so cannot be confirmed as an escape from captivity, and this therefore raises the possibility of it being a genuine trans-Atlantic vagrant

The Mersey Vale Nature Reserve area hosts Goosanders and Teal, and on April 13th a female Common Scoter was present on the River Mersey at the Vale Road Weir, showing that wild, migratory ducks use the Mersey Valley as a wildlife corridor to navigate along

The Mersey Valley has a superb record of rare ducks that includes 2 or 3 records of the North American Ring-necked Duck, an immature drake on Chorlton Water Park in February/March 1991, perhaps the same drake on Chorlton Water Park in February/March 1994 and a drake on the River Mersey in April 2006

A drake Wood Duck was on Broad Ees Dole Nature Reserve at Sale Water Park in the Mersey Valley in May 1989 and two drake Wood Ducks were seen briefly in the Mersey Valley on 8th May 2014

Greater Manchester has a good record for Nearctic Ducks with a drake Canvasback at Pennington Flash in July 2002, a drake Bufflehead on Astley Moss Peat Pools in April 2004, several records of Lesser Scaup and Green-winged Teal, and sightings of American Wigeon and Blue-winged Teal

Wood Ducks are very popular in captivity, and there are some “feral” birds living in UK, however the USA population is on the increase, a testament to the positive energy of the American conservation movement, and it is officially accepted that wild birds turn up on Iceland (5 records) and The Azores (15 records)

Wood Ducks on The Western Isles (27th-30th March 2014), at Ynys Hir in Wales (6th January 2014), at Tacumshin in County Wexford (2nd December 2012), on Shetland (16th April-early June 2009), on Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland (26th January-11th March 2006) and at sea on the North Sea (2nd November 2003) have all been touted as probable genuine vagrants, primarily due to location and time of year, and there are other records where a case could be made

Any Wood Ducks seen in the UK should be checked for rings as it is surely only a matter of time before a Wood Duck is found in the UK wearing bling from the USA, where many are ringed (known as banding in the States), and the discovery of such a bird would result in a big twitch and the promotion of the species from Category E to Category A of the British List

It has been a good Autumn so far for trans-Atlantic vagrants with Wilson’s Warbler and Swainson’s Thrush on the Scottish Isles, an Acadian Flycatcher in Kent, Ridgways Cackling Goose in Devon, multiple sightings of American Golden Plover in the UK, arrivals of American Wigeon and Snow Goose in Scotland and Indigo Bunting, Bobolink, Great Blue Heron and Chimney Swift on The Azores, where there was also a vagrant drake Wood Duck at Lago Branca on Flores on 24th September, perhaps a returning bird

It is highly probable that the Mersey Valley Wood Duck is an escape/release from a collection or a bird from the small, feral population in the UK, but the timing of the arrival of this bird is decent and there is a school of thought that says all birds that are potential vagrants and show no obvious signs of captivity, such as this one, should be counted as wild birds, as it can’t be proven otherwise

Each record should be judged on its’ own merits and Wood Duck is being treated much more seriously as a potential wild bird in the UK and Ireland due to the large population increase in the USA, where conservation measures such as the placement of nest-boxes amongst suitable habitat are having positive results

The big question for many UK and Irish birders when it comes to Wood Duck is “Can I tick it?”, a debate that is likely to carry on until definitive evidence occurs that a wild bird has made it to our shores

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