Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fowl-choked Lead

It's been cold around here. Cold enough to put a glassy veneer of ice across the surface of some of the local rivers and lakes. But that makes for excellent waterfowling, whenever one finds the open leads. And that I did the other day, at a nearby quarry.

Open water patch, Watermark Quarry, and birds. Lots of birds. I absolutely love stumbling across mixed flocks of waterfowl. They are fun to pick through, and see who is who. And I just like watching ducks. This pack had seven species in its ranks, six of which are visible in this shot. I'll tell you the seventh right now: Lesser Scaup. See if you can recognize the others. Some, easy - some, not. At least in this shot. We'll quickly dissect the scene below.

Miss this one, and we'll honk at you. Canada Goose. No brainer, but rendered slightly more problematic with the 2004 splitting of the species into two, with the micro-honkers now separated as Cackling Geese. Good cacklers aren't too tough - they are just about Mallard-sized - but problems do occasionally arise with Arctic-nesting "Interior" Canada Geese, which are noticably smaller than these "Giant" Canada Geese. With the onset of cackling fever following the split, and the allure of a new tick for the lists, some of the smaller subspecies of Canada Geese are once in a while mistakenly called Cackling Geese. Anyway, no ID problems with the big boys shown above.

Nice white vertical slashes on these guys, eh? The dominant duck in this shot are Ring-necked Ducks. The drakes can be spotted a mile off by their distinctive patterns: mostly blackish with lighter gray sides, and that prominent white line just aft of the dark breast. Even the whitish ring around the bill stands out well from afar. Lovely beasts, these drake Ring-necks.

American Coots, sometimes known as Mudhens, can easily be seen here, interspersed among the Ring-necked Ducks. A member of the rail family, coots utterly shun the secretive ways of most of their brethren. They are fond of large water bodies in migration, especially in fall and early winter. They can be recognized by their charcoal-gray bodies with darker blackish head, and chalky-white bill. They resemble little blackish floating blobs .

Three Redhead, dead center. Two drakes, with a hen in front. From afar, Redhead drakes are not as black on the back as Ring-necked Ducks and lack the white slash. They have a more rounded head shape, and their noggin is of course a rusty-red color. They are also slightly bigger and noticably bulkier than Ring-necks. Weight is not taken into account often enough when considering bird ID. Sure, you can't visually weigh a bird from afar, but its poundage translates to bulk and the impression that it gives us. A Redhead weighs about one and a half times more than a Ring-necked Duck, and you can see their comparatively bulkier look in the above photo.

Pair of Mallards, drake left and hen right, standing on the ice. Familiarity breeds recognition, and we all certainly know Mr. Mallard. The hen could be confused with a few other species, but note the obvious white tail, even visible at rest. That separates it from a hen Gadwall, which is the most likely source of confusion in this sort of habitat at this time of year. Plus most female Gadwall have some white secondaries although they can be concealed when the bird is at rest.

Finally, here's a drake Gadwall, dead center, facing left. They are hardy and often occur in this sort of situation well into winter. The males are beautifully understated in shades of gray. With a good look, the vermiculation of their feathers is among the most ornate in the bird world. From afar, the male's black rump shows up well and clinches the ID. Note, too, how much more bouyant the Gadwall appears in comparison with the Ring-necked Ducks. Dabbling ducks float higher in the water, like corks, while diving ducks ride lower, like submarines that have surfaced.

I hope to come across many more scenes like this over the winter. Hey, if you can't have warblers go for waterfowl!


Bill of the Birds said...

Really nice walk through the waterfowl scene, Jimbo. Makes me want to get out to look for waterfowl down here along the Ohio.

Anonymous said...


Great, Fun ID's on some beautiful winter ducks!

Gary Wayne

Dawn Fine said...

another great post...always something for me to learn..I liked picking the birds out in mixed flocks..thanks again

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for the feedback, all. I really do appreciate comments! I am terrible about commenting to blogs, my own included, and must resolve to be a better communicator in '09. Of course, that will require making a New Year's resolution, which I don't believe in :-)

Anyway, it is 15 degrees right now, and the fowl-choked leads will soon be iced over if this keeps up. But, I will be making trips to Lake Erie this winter and can then report on truly insane pockets of waterfowl in the warm water openings behind some of the power plants up there.


Anonymous said...

As someone relatively new to birding, this is a big help.

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