Rare Bird Alert: Mottled Duck Observed at Duck River Unit

One of Tennessee’s most prolific birders, Rubin Stoll, located a rare Mottled Duck while birding in a remote area of Duck River Unit. A Mottled Duck looks similar to a female Mallard, but is distinguished by its buffy neck and head, a small black dot at the gape of its bill, darker overall body, minimal white wing bars, and no white in its tail.

There are only 28 reports (this number will increase as more observe and make reports to eBird) for a Mottle Duck in Tennessee, according to eBird, and many of those reports are from different people observing the same couple of birds.

Stoll observed the rare Mottled Duck on July 23, 2021, while birding on the east side of Pool 1, at Duck River Unit. This location is difficult to access, requiring a 4.48 mile round trip, consisting of about 3.3 miles of grave road which is closed to vehicles, and 1.2 miles walk through a field of knee high grass.

The easiest way to access the observation location is to drive a car to the intersection just before the southern most boat ramp at Duck River Unit. Park near the yellow gate, being sure not to block it. From there you will have to travel the gravel road west past the yellow gate. Proceed until you reach the first intersection and turn right heading north, as you walk along this gravel road you will notice a small sign on the left side. Proceed past the sign about 100 yards, until you see ATV tire tracks in the grass heading off the left side of the road. Follow the bent over grasses west until you reach Pool 1.

Some observers have attempted to paddle to this location from the pump house, but report that they had trouble getting out of their kayaks due to the soft deep mud. Birder Chris Agee recommends taking a mountain biker and riding it to the location. I attempted this and found it cut off at least an hour of time. A mountain bike can be ridden the gravel road and through the knee-high grass field with a little effort.

Thanks go out to Stoll for quickly reporting the Mottled Duck’s presence which has allowed those brave enough to make the difficult track an opportunity to observe it.

While there haven’t been any reports in a couple days, this is expected due to the remoteness of the location. It is likely this bird is still hanging out in the same location, as there hasn’t been any negative reports.

If you observe a infrequent or rare bird in Tennessee, please use your phone to report its presence to the Tennessee Rare Bird Alert Facebook group. When reporting an infrequent or rare bird, please include the county where the bird is located, as well as the best possible description on where you saw the bird, including address and GPS coordinates, if possible.

You are not required to post a photo of the bird to the Tennessee Rare Bird Alert group, but you are encouraged to post one if you have one. We encourage you to take a photo of the LED screen of your camera to included a diagnostic photo as part of your report. The goal of the group is to share the presence as quickly as possible, so don’t worry about photo quality. You can always post a report and add a photo later to supplement the report.

Mottled Duck hiding behind a female Mallard at Duck River. One can see the buffy head and the diagnostic black dot at the gape of the bill.