Common Pochard seen from Port Henry, NY

Common Pochard seen from Port Henry, NY

The Common Pochard found at the Champlain Bridge on New Year’s day continues to persist on the lake as a member of a very large and variable flock of ducks. A raft of Goldeneye, Scaup, Mergansers and Mallards, with other bits of waterfowl spice thrown in numbering upwards of 9000 birds. Birders also still continue to come, some from great distance, to view the Pochard. Just this past Saturday I met a gentleman who had driven up from North Carolina with his two young sons to see it, and I was very happy to be able to help him find it in the flock.

This interest continues despite the revelation that the Pochard may not have wild origins. On Jan 6, the day of the largest influx of birders searching for the bird, it was re-found very close to the shore at the public beach in Port Henry, New York. From that close vantage point, several birders noticed that the Pochard was wearing a leg-band. This immediately made people question the bird’s provenance, because though Pochards certainly are banded by ornithologists in their native range, it is also a common practice to band birds in captivity for identification purposes. This caused what one birder described as a “no joy in mudville” attitude among many or the birds who came to see it that day.  In retrospect, the band was visible in one of Larry Master’s pictures from Jan. 2, and other’s have since take more detailed photos of the leg band that they were able to read partial numbers from.

Ian Worley and I decided that we should ignore this information and went ahead and submitted a rare species documentation form to the Vermont Birds Records Committee. A submission has been made by other birders to the New York State Avian Records Committee as well. The ultimate decision on whether or not the Pochard will be counted as an official record for each state is in the hands of these committees. They have been coordinating their investigations and the current thinking is that the Pochard is in fact an escaped bird. Their inquiries into the aviculture community have revealed that a Pochard has gone missing from a private collection 80 miles south of where this bird has been seen, and that the bird in question matches its description. All the details are not in yet, like the timing of the bird’s escape and the number’s on the escapee’s leg-band. The committees are also reaching out to bird banders in Europe to see if the type of band seen on the Pochard is consistent with the type they use. Until all the evidence is in, there is still a chance that this bird is indeed a wild vagrant, but it will probably take match to the band numbers to a known wild bird to convince the committees to accept the record now.

Since news of its questionable origins has come to light, I have been asked several times by people if they should bother coming to see the Pochard. My reply has been to tell them that the worst case scenario is that they will have spent time looking at a beautiful duck inside a huge flock of other beautiful ducks.

– Ron Payne