Monday 21 June 2010

Whistling ducks appear to be nesting in Augusta

RIGHT: Black-bellied whistling ducks, native to Central and South America, are turning up in several new locations, including Florida, coastal South Carolina and Phinizy Swamp Nature Park in Augusta. (Gene Howard/Special)
By Rob Pavey
Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lots of people who visit Augusta end up living here.

The same is true for a new species of waterfowl that began stopping by Phinizy Swamp Nature Park a few years back.

The black-bellied whistling duck is normally found from southern Mexico to Central and South America, said Ruth Mead, senior education specialist at the 1,100-acre park.

"We first started noticing them here in the summertime four summers ago," she said.

Occasional sightings had also been reported in the Florida peninsula, and later in Georgia's Altamaha River Basin and coastal South Carolina near Charleston.

The supposition was that an occasional whistling duck was passing through the Augusta area, but there was no indication of a breeding population.

This summer, however, larger groups of the ducks have been observed -- and at least one pair appears to be nesting.

"This year, the population is fairly large and we see them every night. There is one flock that flies in regularly into the boardwalk area," Mead said.

The handsome ducks, named for their high-pitched, soft, wheezy whistle, have become a tourist attraction of sorts, especially from ardent birders.

"It's one of the tree nesting ducks," she said. "They are also brood dumpers -- females will sometimes dump a pile of eggs in someone else's nest."

Since the Nature Park near Augusta Regional Airport was established 10 years ago as part of a project to transform sewage-impacted wetlands into a restored riverine environment, more and more bird species have been confirmed there.

"I think we're at 236 species now, which is an incredible list for a Piedmont and Coastal Plain area," Mead said. "We just added a new bird to the park list this weekend: a white breasted nuthatch."

By comparison, a yearlong study conducted in 1998 that included the entire Phinizy Swamp corridor, including the Merry Brickyard pond system, identified 157 species.

The park, off Lock and Dam Road, is open from dawn to dusk daily -- and entry is free.
(Submitted by Chad Arment)

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