Archive for Waterfowl

Wood Duck juveniles 9/4/18

There are many drab young ducks around ponds and wetlands this time of year, but it’s only the young Wood Ducks sporting that bold white eyeliner. Within a day of hatching, the ducklings climb up to the nest opening and . . . jump. Often nests are built directly over water, but suitable cavity nests are rare, and many wind up being some distance away. A lot of a Wood Duck’s diet is found by foraging on land—seeds, berries, acorns, insects, as well as by dabbling for underwater shoots and aquatic invetebrates in the shallows. They get their name from the claws on their feet, which unlike all other North American ducks, allows them to perch in trees.

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Three Bufflehead drakes 4/1/18

Gotta love all the new birds arriving, American Woodcock are regularly “peent”ing around open area in the dusky hours, Eastern Phoebes have begun arriving with their calls that are somehow scolding and cheerful at the same time, and just yesterday several reports around the coast announced Tree Swallows—which I may go looking for later today.  The birdlist reports are full of “FoY”s meaning “first of year” sightings. But the flipside is that many winter residents are leaving us now, including the Buffleheads. I don’t know about you but they bring me so much winter cheer. I may still see a few more small groups over the next few weeks, but soon they’ll have disappeared for the bogs and boreal forests of Canada, to find a mate, take over an old Flicker nest, and raise a brood. Safe journeys!

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Hooded Merganser drake 2/13/18

Naw, not a crab attack but the sawbill playing with his food, breaking it up into more easily swallowed pieces. I had the luck of getting pretty close to this pair of Hoodies alternately diving for crabs and then taking naps in the rain (see yesterday’s female). Shooting from a car helps, except for the raptors and corvids, birds will generally ignore a parked car. There’s nothing like car birding in the rain, it’s the best. Don’t drive up too close, instead have the time and patience for them to come right up to an even better spot and present you with their personalities up close and personal.

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Hooded Merganser female 2/12/18

Hoodies are my favorite of the 3 sawbills, all mergansers being so named for their serrated bills. They pass through tidal marshes and inlets late fall and early spring while their breeding habitats are icebound. But some winter at the coast, waiting for the spring thaw to have first pick of the best freshwater territories farther inland. Females like this one have rusty heads that resemble a thick paintbrush, while male hoods are dress-white and trimmed in black.

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American Wigeon drake 1/25/18

American Wigeon are alternatively known as “Baldpates” for the drake’s ivory crown, or “Bluebills” for the pale blue bill found in either sex, or “Poachers” for their habit of hanging out with diving ducks who sometimes bring tasty vegetation to the surface. They are dabbling or puddle ducks that don’t dive but “tip” to reach underwater for growing shoots, and they’ll also forage on land for waste grains. We see them in winter and during migration when many travel to the east coast. In recent decades their breeding range, which historically extends from Hudson Bay west to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is expanding eastwards.

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White-winged Scoter drake 1/22/18

Scoters are a peculiar genus of highly migratory sea ducks. They have bulbous and colorful bills but this White-winged one was intent on keeping his tucked away as if he were sleeping, but in the half hour or so I spent with this bird, it would drift close and always kept an eye out, but always maintained its restful pose and I was not inclined to disturb it. White-winged Scoters breed near freshwater lakes and ponds in the forests and tundra west of Hudson Bay in Canada all the way to Alaska, but migrate thousands of miles to winter on the east, west, and gulf coasts as well as the Great Lakes. Their favorite winter prey to dive for are mussels and clams. Females are browner and lack the white inverted eye comma but have white patches on their cheeks.

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Wood Duck pair on ice 12/20/17

Wood Ducks can be found year round in many parts of New England, so long as they can find open water in swamps, marshes, and other wooded wetlands, but many of them migrate farther south for the winter.  Unlike other ducks, they have clawed toes that enables them to climb out of deep nest cavities as ducklings, as well as perch high up in trees as adults. They’ve made a remarkable recovery from overhunting in the last century, helped in large part by humans providing nest boxes for them.

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