We are in the southern Rio Grande Valley, where the Texas summer is as we had feared. Hot. However, Texas has cool birds.
Take Black-bellied and Fulvous . They are called Whistling-Ducks now. They used to be called Tree-Ducks. Ken is a Fulvous fan. “They are so fulvous!” he says. “You know what? My old Peterson guide said Fulvous Tree-Ducks are seldom seen in trees.”
They are noisy ducks. With my head down, pushing into a headwind, I can still hear a flock of Black-bellies flying overhead. They don’t whistle, really. They squeak.
Black-belly’s plumage is elegant: rich brown and black. White flashes show when they fly. But wait! Their bill and feet are bright coral pink. I think it’s what inspired cosmetic designers to make that lipstick that was so popular in the early seventies.
I glance up from the road and see a duck perched improbably on a telephone wire. It is swaying dangerously in the wind. Duck on a wire? I pull out my binoculars. Hey - it is a Black Bellied Whistling-Duck.
We stop to watch a heavy bird hovering three feet above the prairie, sort of like a kite. It has a bright pink bill. It drops down and disappears in the long grass. Black Bellied Whistling Ducks apparently don’t know how ducks are expected to behave.
The American Birding Association’s North American checklist puts Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in the number one spot. I agree.