Whistling ducks appear to be nesting in Augusta

Lots of people who visit Augusta end up living here.

The same is true for a new species of waterfowl that began stopping by Phinizy Swamp Nature Park a few years back.

The black-bellied whistling duck is normally found from southern Mexico to Central and South America, said Ruth Mead, senior education specialist at the 1,100-acre park.

"We first started noticing them here in the summertime four summers ago," she said.

Occasional sightings had also been reported in the Florida peninsula, and later in Georgia's Altamaha River Basin and coastal South Carolina near Charleston.

The supposition was that an occasional whistling duck was passing through the Augusta area, but there was no indication of a breeding population.

This summer, however, larger groups of the ducks have been observed -- and at least one pair appears to be nesting.

"This year, the population is fairly large and we see them every night. There is one flock that flies in regularly into the boardwalk area," Mead said.

The handsome ducks, named for their high-pitched, soft, wheezy whistle, have become a tourist attraction of sorts, especially from ardent birders.

"It's one of the tree nesting ducks," she said. "They are also brood dumpers -- females will sometimes dump a pile of eggs in someone else's nest."

Since the Nature Park near Augusta Regional Airport was established 10 years ago as part of a project to transform sewage-impacted wetlands into a restored riverine environment, more and more bird species have been confirmed there.

"I think we're at 236 species now, which is an incredible list for a Piedmont and Coastal Plain area," Mead said. "We just added a new bird to the park list this weekend: a white breasted nuthatch."

By comparison, a yearlong study conducted in 1998 that included the entire Phinizy Swamp corridor, including the Merry Brickyard pond system, identified 157 species.

The park, off Lock and Dam Road, is open from dawn to dusk daily -- and entry is free.

PADDLE GEORGIA: The Augusta area will have about 350 other visitors this week as Paddle Georgia's sixth annual canoe adventure culminates here after an 82-mile trip that began Friday on the Broad River near Franklin Springs, Ga.

The paddlers will make their way to the Savannah River and then follow the lakes and river channels to Thurmond Lake on Wednesday, after which the entire crew will camp at Columbia County's Greenbrier High School.

On Thursday, they will launch their canoes at the base of Thurmond Dam and paddle to the Augusta Canal headgates, and then camp a second night at Greenbrier.

As part of the event, Georgia River Network and the Georgia Water Coalition will also hold a candidates forum Thursday night at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, during which candidates in Georgia's upcoming gubernatorial race will answer questions on water issues, energy and the environment.

That event is free and open to everyone. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the forum will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Six candidates had responded that they will attend.

On Friday, the paddlers will depart from the headgates and paddle into downtown Augusta, where a Friday night campout and party -- complete with live entertainment and a fish fry -- will be held at the Boathouse area of the city marina. More information is available at www.garivers.org.

Listen for yourself

To listen to the black-bellied whistling duck, visit allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-bellied_Whistling-Duck/sounds.

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