Baer’s Pochard breeding success

Last weekend I visited the Baer’s Pochard breeding site in Hebei Province with Dr Wu Lan, a post-doc researcher from Beijing Forestry University, and visiting South African birder, Derrick Wilby.  Our key aims were first, to try to see Baer’s  Pochard and, second, to establish whether breeding had taken place this year.

As is usual at this site, there were reasonable numbers of Baer’s Pochards present in spring, with double-figure counts regular.  And, with the vegetation low and the birds displaying, it is easily the best season in which to see them.

However, as spring turns to summer, the birds become much more secretive as they begin to breed and the higher vegetation makes viewing more difficult.  July is certainly not the ideal time to visit but, with a combination of knowing where to look and a little luck, it should be possible to find some.  And of course there is the possibility of finding birds with young.

On Sunday morning, after finding several families of Ferruginous Duck, we encountered a female bird, accompanied by 5 ducklings, that stood out from the crowd.  Although not always straightforward to separate from the closely-related Ferruginous Duck on plumage, structure is a helpful way to differentiate Baer’s, particularly the relatively flat head shape and long, deep bill.

Baer's and Ferruginous females head shape comparison
A comparison of the more rounded head shape and shorter bill of Ferruginous (left) and the flatter head and longer bill of Baer’s (right).  Especially useful in strong light and during eclipse plumage.

I often feel that Baer’s also sit slightly lower in the water and don’t look as ‘buoyant’ as Ferruginous.  A combination of that structure and overall darker brown colouration (as opposed to the more reddish brown of Ferruginous) and hints of pale fore-flanks, are all strongly indicative of Baer’s.

After enjoying the family of Baer’s, we moved to some other locations around the lake to try to find adult males.  It was with some disgust for the female member of our group that, whilst the female Baer’s was looking after the ducklings, the males were ‘hanging out’ in a different part of the lake.. seemingly without a care in the world!

Given the status of this duck, the sighting of ducklings is a welcome boost.  And, with just a tiny number of known breeding sites, the survival of these youngsters will have a significant effect on the known population.

We wish them well as they begin their life adventure…

You can follow the international effort to save the Baer’s Pochard here.

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