The Status and Occurrence of Garganey (Anas querquedula) in British Columbia
By Rick Toochin and Jamie Fenneman
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Introduction and Distribution
The Garganey (Anas querquedula) breeds widely across the temperate and boreal regions of Eurasia, from the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and Scandinavia, east through Russia and other regions of northern and central Asia to the Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island, and northern Japan (Brazil 2009, Mullarney and Zetterstrom 2009). It is highly migratory, wintering in northern and central Africa, and from Pakistan and India east through Southeast Asia to southern and eastern China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea (Brazil 2009, Mullarney and Zetterstrom 2009). Despite being an abundant and widespread dabbling duck throughout the Old World, recent evidence suggests that the Garganey is declining in a number of regions (IUCN 2014). The primary factors linked to this decline include excessive hunting pressure and habitat degradation, although in some areas (e.g., parts of Europe) predation of adults and nests by introduced American Minks (Neovison vison) is also a concern (IUCN 2014). This population decline has even been detected in vagrancy patterns, and observations of the species in North America have been fewer in recent years (Hamilton et al. 2007, OFO 2012, WRBC 2012, Toochin et al. 2013a).
In British Columbia, the Garganey is an accidental vagrant and its frequency of occurrence in the province is expected to diminish as populations continue to decline (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). It is also occasionally seen as a vagrant in central and eastern North America (Dunn and Alderfer 2011). The Garganey is a very rare spring and fall migrant in the western and central Aleutians of Alaska and casual on the southern Bering Sea islands (e.g., Pribilofs) (West 2008). It is also casual along the Pacific coast of North America south of British Columbia. It has been recorded twice in Washington (WBRC 2012), four times in Oregon (OFO 2011), 23 times in California (Hamilton et al. 2007) as well as a record for the Hawaiian Islands (Spear et al. 1988). Vagrants have also occurred inland in the Pacific Northwest, including two records from Idaho (Grothe 1991, IBRC 2014), three records from Montana (J. Marks pers. comm.), at least three records from Alberta (Spear et al. 1988, Hudon et al. 2008), and one record from northern Yukon (Spear et al. 1988, Sinclair et al. 2003). Inland records have consistently been in the April-June period, as have many coastal occurrences. Fall vagrants have been more frequent in California than elsewhere along the west coast (Hamilton et al. 2007). A wintering individual in southeast Washington from December 15-22, 1994, in Richland is noteworthy both for its season of occurrence as well as its inland location (WBRC 2012). This record, as well as additional winter records from California (Hamilton et al. 2007), suggests that the species could potentially occur in winter in southern British Columbia, particularly along the coast.
Occurrence and Documentation
The Garganey is a very rare vagrant to British Columbia, with records from both coastal areas as well as from the interior (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). Although occurrences of vagrant waterfowl are commonly considered questionable due to the abundance of private waterfowl collections in many areas, records of Garganey from North America, especially along the west coast, are typically considered to represent natural occurrences (Roberson 1980). Sugden (1963) investigated the status of Garganey in private collections in North America and found no captive Garganey at zoos or aviaries in western Canada during the 1960s. MacDonald (1978) also investigated local zoos and aviaries in the Vancouver area to determine if any captive Garganey were present, but none were located. Similarly, a 2011 search of the International Species Information System (ISIS), which tracks populations of captive animals throughout the world, indicated that there were only three individual Garganey in captivity in North American zoos and aviaries, and none were in western North America (ISIS 2012). As a result, and following the example of Spear et al. (1988), all records of Garganey in British Columbia are considered to represent natural vagrants unless specific details are available to suggest otherwise.
The first Garganey recorded in British Columbia was an adult male that occurred at Iona Island, Richmond on May 14-31, 1977 (MacDonald 1978). This individual was observed by many birders over the course of its stay, and was photographed on the day of its discovery (MacDonald 1978, Campbell et al. 1990). Since this initial observation, the species has been detected in the province on a further twelve occasions (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). An additional record from the Lower Mainland on October 18, 1982, at Tsawwassen was rejected by the Vancouver Natural History Society’s Bird Records Committee due to concerns over the identification (Weber 1985). That decision is upheld here as no additional information is available for review (Weber 1985); Thus, a total of thirteen accepted records and one rejected record of Garganey are currently on file for the province (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). The Garganey has been documented as a vagrant to both coastal and interior areas of the province. Ten of the thirteen accepted records for the province have been from the south coast, including both Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The species has been observed on Vancouver Island at Campbell River, Port Alberni, Long Beach (Wickaninnish sewage ponds), and Port Renfrew, while all six Vancouver-area records are from the sewage ponds at Iona Island (Toochin et al. 2013b, see Table 1). Curiously, and in contrast to many Asian vagrants in British Columbia, there are currently no reports of the species (either accepted or rejected) from Queen Charlotte Islands (P. Hamel pers. comm.). Its absence from this area, however, is considered only temporary, and it is expected to eventually occur on the islands (P. Hamel pers. comm.). In the interior, single Garganey has been detected in the Princeton area, the Okanagan Valley at Penticton, and along the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). Based on this pattern, the species can be expected as a vagrant anywhere in the province.
The Garganey has been recorded in British Columbia between mid-April and mid-October, although most records are from the spring and early summer (mid-April to mid-July) (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). Peak occurrence in the province has been in mid to late May, which corresponds to northward-bound migrants from unknown wintering areas to the south (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). Most fall migrants have been detected in the province during the early portion of fall migration (late July to mid-August), with only single records each for September and October (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). Most observations (eight out of thirteen) have been single-day or two-day occurrences, with the longest staying individuals including a bird that spent 24 days at Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and another that spent 18 days at Iona Island, Richmond (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). Most birds detected in British Columbia have been adult plumage males, some of which have molted into eclipse plumage during their stay (see Figures 1 & 2). Two observations have been of adult females, and two observations have been of immature-plumaged birds (one male, one female) (Toochin et al. 2013a, see Table 1). The difficulty of detecting and identifying females and immatures, especially in the fall, likely limits observations of these plumages so that they may occur more frequently than these few records suggest (MacDonald 1978). Vagrant Garganey in British Columbia usually occur in shallow freshwater and brackish environments such as estuaries, sewage ponds, marshy ponds, and river backwaters; and there is a single record on August 8, 2009, from Port Renfrew, of an individual migrating along the marine coastline with a mixed-species flock of migratory ducks (Toochin 2012b). It commonly associates closely with other species of dabbling ducks when it occurs in British Columbia, particularly other teal (MacDonald 1978). For example, the first bird observed in the province was closely associated with Cinnamon Teal (MacDonald 1978), and subsequent records from the same site have consistently been of birds associating with the large congregations of dabbling ducks that occur there (Toochin 2012a). The first record of Garganey in Idaho was also of a bird that was associating with Cinnamon Teal (Grothe 1991), suggesting that the species may be most likely to occur with migratory flocks of either Cinnamon or Blue-winged Teal in the spring. As observer knowledge and coverage increases in British Columbia, it is highly probable that more Garganey could be detected in the fall migration period in the future.