Spotted, a dabbler

I like watching the Indian spot-billed duck (Anas poecilorhyncha), partly because you don’t have to strain your eyes to see it. It is a large duck, about the size of a mallard, and does not mind swimming in open waters. The yellow-tipped black bill has two orange spots near its base which give it its name. I don’t think I have ever noticed the subspecies which one finds in Myanmar and further east; it is supposed to lack exactly these same orange spots which give it is name. A spot-billed duck without spots!

These photos were taken at Lakhota lake, in the middle of Jamnagar. The wonderful morning light showed me the clear brown eyes of the duck. That’s a detail I don’t see so very often, although the bird can be seen dabbling away in small ponds and lakes all across India. Earlier in the morning, when there was a tiny haze over the water, I’d seen several of them preening. The photo above shows that characteristic flash of green, under a black wing edged in white, which lets you identify the spot-bill even if you can’t see its spots.

Before rapid genetics became easy, there was a confusion between the Indian spot-bill and a closely related species in China and to its east, now called the Eastern spot-bill. Eventually, observers in Hong Kong found that although both species can be seen together, they almost never cross breed. That observation led to the discovery that there are two species, something that molecular genetics now confirms. I love these painstaking field workers, and envy them. They get to spend their days in the sun, watching birds all day, with long breaks in the afternoon and night, perfectly in time for two large meals a day. It’s a wonderful life, in spite of the constant danger of being drained of blood by a friendly neighbourhood mosquito or leech. Some of my gurus in birding live such a life, earning some money by taking amateurs like us on birding trips. They have a bad time now, with the virus keeping them indoors. If the lockdown or even curtailed travel persists for long, say two months or two years, I wonder what happens to them, and a lot of others who are invested in hotels, restaurants, transport, wildlife guides, and so on.

It is sometimes said that spot-bills don’t mix with other ducks. That may be true in some small ponds at some time of the year. As the photo above shows, they have absolutely no trouble mixing with coots. The spot-bill is a dabbler, searching for food just below the surface, snagging minute crustaceans and vegetation in their bills when they upend. They don’t compete for food with divers or skimmers. In a large, reasonably deep body of water, many species always come together. The lockdown gives me an opportunity to go back in time, and arrange my photos. I think I’ll try to find some more photos of the spot-bill.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

10 comments

  1. Considering the double meaning of “coot” that’s a pretty funny statement, “As the photo above shows, they have absolutely no trouble mixing with coots.” Pretty impressive as coots are known to be curmudgeonly. 😉 Beautiful duck. I am charging my camera so next time I’m out there I can take some decent pictures. Halfway decent.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a beautiful duck! Does resemble the Mallard. Wonderful shots, close ups and the pic of them congregated with the coots. It will be interesting to see what happens with the economy around the world. Florida is open and has been for months even though our numbers are starting to go back up. 🙂 Over 10 million people have been vaccinated in Florida, my husband and myself being two of them, but there are a lot of people that refuse to get it. This is even scarier than when it started because no one has to wear a mask.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d written this a month into the first lockdown. Now, with more than a year’s business lost, I know that the wonderful naturalists who make their living as guides are suffering very badly. If we lose their field expertise, that is a whole body of knowledge lost.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think we will lose their expertise. We may not have it for a bit and they will find a way to survive. I have. I lost my job last March at the beginning of this pandemic. I found a way to sorta earn a living online. I’m doing okay for being less than a year open. Close to being able to draw my first paycheck. Maybe within a couple of months. 🙂 I just miss being with people period!

        Liked by 1 person

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