Friday, April 4, 2008

Ducks Galore

My friend Mary of My Northern Garden and I took a walk around the ponds at the southeast edge of town at midday today and found the wealth of ducks that I'd been promised. Naturally they moved steadily away from us as we neared, so all these shots are taken with the zoom and none are as clear as I'd like. Click on the photos for better detail. I was able to identify hooded mergansers (the males have the big white patches on their crests), a common merganser (large sleek duck with dark head and light body) and northern shovelers (multicolored ducks with distinctively long, heavy bills). I have been advised by my favorite birding expert that the light-bodied ducks in the top photo are scaups. As was noted in one of the comments to my previous post, many of these are just passing through on their way to more northerly breeding grounds. Enjoy them while you can!

Above: two male hooded mergansers, three scaup, two shovelers, and three female ducks, "n.o.s." (not otherwise specified).

Above: northern shovelers, male and female hooded mergansers, Canada geese

Above: male and female hooded mergansers and a scaup. Below, a common merganser.


Bleeet said...

Did you see the loon? It's been around for most of the day. The ponds are nice walks, at the very least.

Penelope said...

Yes, but only from a great distance, and thereafter it lurked very successfully. We were there again this evening and had a much better view of it as it maneuvered a fish into proper swallowing position. I took some photos but haven't had a chance to see if any of them are worth posting. Very cool to have a loon in your backyard, Brendon!

Bleeet said...

Glad you got to take a peek at the loon. I'm not really a bird watcher, but I do love watching the loon dive and trying to guess when and where it will surface. Usually I'm way off on both counts, but sometimes I get lucky.

Loon goes under. Stare at a different spot on the water and start a countdown from any number in your head. When you hit zero, does the loon pop up where you are staring? Almost always, no... but on very rare occasion. Wow.

Even getting it "right", however, means nothing about knowing the path the loon followed while submerged.

I grew up in northeastern MN, and spent a lot of time on lakes, paddling around. I've seen many, many loons. One time, I even came round a marshy corner in a little lake near Ely and went right by a loon nesting. Another time, I had one pop up about two feet away from my paddle. It dove back down very quickly. I've also had them fly directly over me in a canoe. Because of their heavier, "diving" bones, they are not fast at taking off; you could almost hear the bird grunting as it gained altitude to clear our little boat.

Rarest of rare, I saw a loon underwater. Meaning I was above the water, standing on a small cliff, the sun was hitting the shallow water right, the loon was further out, but on its dive it briefly swam into the shallow area.

That was quite a thrill. I can understand what serious bird watchers must feel in their hobby.

I did a little research and found that, according the to MN DNR, Northfield is within the southern limit of the loon's Minnesota range. Just barely, so I suppose it's possible to have loons around Northfield all summer.

Penelope said...

Bleeet: Lucky you, to go paddling with the loons!

Re loons not being fast at taking off: I was just reading that they can actually get stranded if they land on a small pond that doesn't allow them enough room to achieve take-off speed.

Re being a birdwatcher: liking to watch the loon probably qualifies you! I first got interested shortly after moving to Northfield in 1990 and seeing a yellow-shafted flicker for the first time. I wanted to know what it was, bought a field guide, and have gradually expanded my range of knowledge over the years. I'm still quite a beginner, really -- I've only had my own binoculars for three years.

Keep me posted on your pond sightings!