Monday, September 16, 2019

Episode 490 (9-16-19): A Duck Trio’s Unusual Visit to Virginia Tech

Click to listen to episode (4:31)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 9-13-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of September 16, 2019.

SOUNDS – ~13 sec – At the Va. Tech Duck Pond on 9-11-19, 3:30 p.m.

That’s a sample of the sounds of people and birds at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond in Blacksburg on a typical September afternoon.  In September 2019, however, something not typical at all happened at that popular aquatic location, when a trio of feathered visitors made an unusual drop-in on Virginia.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds to a recording of this species’ call, and see if you can guess the name of this bird.  And here’s a hint: whistle while you work on this, and you may end up feeling ducky.

SOUNDS - ~11 sec

If you guessed a whistling duck, you’re right!  More specifically, that was the sound of the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, one of two North American whistling duck species, which are noted for their whistle-like call, long goose-like legs, and similar appearance of both sexes.  The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is distinctive for its red and blue bill, reddish-pink feet, and tree-perching habit.

On September 10 and 11, 2019, the sighting of three Black-bellied Whistling Ducks generated excitement and serious attention from birders in Blacksburg, because the species is rarely seen in Virginia.  Its normal range is primarily in Mexico, Central America, Texas, Arizona, and Florida, although scientists have noted an expansion of the range northward, such as in the lower Mississippi Valley and along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.  Observations beyond this normal range—including ones in Virginia—have been documented by the e-Bird program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.  Observations of birds beyond their normal range are referred to as “bird vagrancy.”  According to Audubon, causes of bird vagrancy can be some flaw in individual birds’ navigational capacity, being transported on ships, and being blown off course by weather systems.  In the recent Blacksburg case, the timing led to local birder speculation about the possible role of Hurricane Dorian the previous week.

Whatever the cause, the brief visit of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in southwestern Virginia was a bird-watchers’ bonanza and a sign of the surprises that nature can spring.

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use the whistling duck sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.  We close with some music in tribute to wildlife and its surprises; here’s part of “To the Wild,” by the Harrisonburg, Va.-based band, The Steel Wheels.

MUSIC - ~ 25 sec – mostly instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


Thanks to Stephen Schoenholtz and Mark Ford for their help with information in this episode.  Thanks to Gloria Schoenholtz for use of her photos of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

The Black-bellied Whistling Duck sounds were from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

“To the Wild,” by The Steel Wheels, is from the 2017 album “Wild As We Came Here,” used with permission.  This song was also included in Virginia Water Radio Episode 426, 6-25-18.  More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at and at

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.   More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Two photos above: Two shots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond in Blacksburg, September 10, 2019.  Photos by Gloria Schoenholtz, used with permission.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck in Texas, July 2007.  Photo by Robert Pos, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at, accessed 9-13-19.  URL for the specific image is


Used for Audio

American Birding Association, “ABA Blog,” online at  Entries include various “Rare Bird Alerts,” such as for September 13, 2019, online at

Shannon Brennan, For Love of Nature: Rare sightings set bird watchers a-flutter, 8/14/19, published by Lynchburg News & Advance.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at  The Black-bellied Whistling Duck entry is online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at (subscription required).  The Black-bellied Whistling Duck entry is online at

Cornell Lab of Ornithology National Audubon Society, “e-Bird,” online at  The Black-bellied Whistling Duck entry is online at  See also the “Status and Trends” page, online at

Kenn Kaufman, “The Curious Case of the Itinerant Fulvous Whistling-Duck,” 10/18/16, published by the National Aududon Society, online at

National Audubon Society, “Bird Vagrancy,” online at

National Audubon Society, “Guide to North American Birds/Black-bellied Whistling Duck,” online at

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at  There was no entry for the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, as of 9-13-19; the entry for the Fulvous Whistling Duck is online at

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  This application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md. (2006).

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002; and Nature Smart Web site, online at

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at  The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes on ducks.

Episode 136, 11-12-12 – on ducks generally.
Episode 197, 1-20-14 – on Canvasback.
Episode 303, 2-15-16 – on Common Goldeneye.
Episode 398, 12-11-17 on teal (two species).
Episode 472, 5-13-19 –on Mallard.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
2.7 – Weather and seasonal changes affecting plants and animals.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
3.4 – behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.

Life Science Course
LS.4 – organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.10 – changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.

Biology Course
BIO.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.