Summer teal is one of the local names for the garganey. Similar in size to the common teal and a summer visitor, it is a pretty good name. The majority of garganey arrive back in the UK during March and April although the first migrants can arrive in the south as early as Ferbuary. Most of the European breeding population spend the winter at large wetland sites in western and central Africa, south of the Sahara. In the UK, they are a rare breeder with less than 100 pairs compared to an estimated one million pairs in the whole of Europe.
At Titchwell, garganey are a regular spring migrant that can usually be found skulking around the edges of the fresh marsh or in the reedbed for a few days. This year however, has been different. The first birds (a pair) arrived on March 23rd and at first were very mobile, moving between the fresh marsh, reedbed and Fen Hide but it wasn't until March 28th that we realised there was actually two pairs around. Things have got even better in the last week and we now have three pairs spending much of their time feeding right next to the Island Hide!
Generally, garganey are easy birds to identify, especially the males. The combination of grey sides, long grey feathers on the back and brown head with white stripe make them very distinctive. The females however, can be a bit more tricky to separate from common teal. In the photo here you can see the overall greyer plumage, white chin and throat, round pale spot at the base of the bill and the dark stripe running through the eye. If you are lucky enough to see both species together then the garganey are slightly larger.
Garganey are under threat throughout their breeding and wintering range from habitat degradation and wetland drainage so if they do stay and breed, we will be helping the population in a (very) small way.