Monday, 23 January 2017

Gathering gadwall

St Andrew's Broad with tufted duck and gadwall Chris Durdin
Regular NWT blogger, local resident and wildlife enthusiast Chris Durdin puts the seemingly 'dull' and overlooked gadwall in the spotlight. Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Thorpe Marshes reserve is in the Norfolk Broads, yet on the edge of Norwich in Thorpe St Andrew. Local resident Chris Durdin writes.

I’m in two minds. The mild winter means that there has been no big hard weather influx of wintering ducks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. That must be good for the birds’ survival.

On the other hand, the birdwatching on St Andrews Broad, the gravel pit, is therefore largely routine: tufted ducks, teals scattered around the edges, an occasional shoveler or wigeon alongside the many gulls, the regular great crested grebe and a cormorant or two.

A constant, though, is that the most obvious dabbling duck species on St Andrews Broad is the gadwall, with some 50 or so regularly present. They like to feed by waiting for coots to surface with waterweed and then snatching it. But coots are relatively scarce so this bullying tactic is the exception and mostly they feed for themselves.

A new birdwatcher’s first impression of gadwalls is often that they are dull-looking. Then a close view, perhaps through a telescope, causes a conversion to admiration when much of the grey plumage is revealed as rather dapper black and white mottling. 

Gadwall by Elizabeth Dack
Flashes of white when loafing or swimming expand when gadwalls flap or fly: the distinctive white speculum, part of the trailing edge of the wing. Not that identification at Thorpe Marshes is a challenge: mallards all but disappear here in winter.

Normally a wintering bird at Thorpe Marshes, last year gadwalls also bred with young seen in spring and summer. The highest count of gadwalls on the reserve in 2016 was 114. These are two of many nuggets of information in the NWT Thorpe Marshes Wildlife Report for 2016, which is now online at on along with details of monthly wildlife walks.

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