Three ducks. Umm.. four, no five

Within a space of about twenty minutes during a weekend outing in the creeks of Mumbai I thought we saw all three ducks that we got to see. The first that I noticed was the small Garganey (Spatula querquedula), whose male has the white band on the head that you can see in the featured photo. There were lots of these winter migrants swimming about, occasionally dipping their heads into the water to feed. They have the usual mottled brown look of most dabbling ducks, and I would have been hard put to identify them if it were not for two things. One was the conspicuous white band on the head of the male, and the other was that I had an expert birder with me who unhesitatingly identified it. I really have gotten rusty if I can’t recall the names of ducks instantly.

Amongst these Garganey were one of the most distinctive ducks which you can see in India. This is the Indian spot-billed duck (Anas poecilorhyncha). Seen from the front, its face looks extremely colourful: a red spot on the lores, and a black beak with a big tab of yellow on it. The rest of it is the common mottled brown of dabbling ducks, except for the very prominent white stripe on the wing. About twenty of them were dabbling in the water for underwater plants in the company of Garganey. Since these are non-migratory, you can bet that they are descendants of some of the original inhabitants of these islands. In the photo above you can see one of the ducks with its head down, but that’s not what it does while dabbling. It really drops its head under the water, so you only see its rump up in the air. I wished I had a GoPro under water to catch it with its neck extended looking for food.

The third was a little further out in the creek, where the mud flats began. This was the Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata). Like the Garganey it nests in the northern latitudes and prefers to winter in warm climates with more food. The thick flat bill which gives it its name is distinctive. The brown mottled female only has some white on the tail (photo above), but the male is distinctive with its iridescent green head and white neck and belly. Maybe their feeding time was over, because I saw most of them standing in the mud, well away from the water. But I was lucky to see several take off into the air. They are quick off the ground (or water): a couple of steps, and a twist and with powerful beats of their wings they are off, as you can see in the photo below. Quite a sight when it happens in front of you.

The fourth duck was quite a surprise. I saw three of them far out in the tidal mudflats walking among a flock of flamingos. We passed them at a clip, and I couldn’t take a photo. Later, when I was going through my photos of the morning, I found a lone ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), somewhat out of focus, among flamingos in another part of the creek. Finally, just now before hitting the publish button I looked closely at three photos from that day with crowds of ducks, and found the common teal (Anas crecca) hidden in plain sight.