Archive for Diving Ducks

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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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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Common Goldeneye drake 11/9/17

Common Goldeneyes are just one of our winter-only ducks, arriving late fall, generally after the Buffleheads, and leaving sometime in April for the rivers and lakes bordering the boreal forests of Canada where they build their nests in tree cavities, usually those made by one of the larger woodpeckers. They winter all across the US and southernmost parts of Canada where there’s open water, either salt or fresh, but especially in protected tidal bays and inlets where they dive for mollusks and crustaceans. Females are not nearly as white as the drakes, with darker bodies, chocolate-colored heads, and a yellowish tip to their dark bills.

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Common Eider drake 10/21/17

Eider drakes are handsome birds, though the chartreuse blush on this one’s head is a bit bleached in the early afternoon light. The boldly dressed males are easily distinguished from the warm and barred browns of females and the even duller juves. Immature males are more pied, but nowhere as dapper as the adult drakes. They are New England’s largest and heaviest duck, feasting on  mussels they tear from the sea bottom and swallow whole, the shells being crushed in their gizzards. Eiderdown is still farmed in Iceland, Scandinavia, and Siberia.

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Hooded Merganser pair 4/9/17

Hoodies are my favorite and the smallest of our 3 sawbill or Merganser species, so named on account of their thin serrated bills adapted for catching slippery fish. Both sexes have crests that can be raised for display, the male’s appearing as a thick stripe when relaxed but becoming an extravagant white hood when raised. The female’s crest is more like a rusty red fan. Early spring is the best time to see them near the coast in freshwater ponds and rivers, they follow the melting ice inland and northwards during migration. They nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers, and sometimes several females will lay eggs in one nest so that a clutch of ducklings can contain several dozen.

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