Saturday, March 19, 2011

Greater White-fronted Geese and a Wealth of Ducks

Click on photos to see larger view

The large, spring-fed pond south of Superior Drive is now ice-free and teeming with ducks and geese. The scenes above and below convey the numbers and variety to be seen earlier this morning. In addition to the ducks and geese (including coots, which aren't really ducks but are members of the rail family), we saw our first-of-the-year great blue herons, heard but did not see a killdeer, and saw numerous robins. In terms of birdage, I think we can say that spring has arrived.

Dave got quite excited when he spotted these orange-billed, light-brown geese (we eventually counted at least nine), seen here between two Canada geese (or they might be the smaller, related cackling goose -- it's hard to tell when their necks are tucked like this, but we did see a number of the smaller ones today and these necks don't look too long). The orange-billed geese are greater white-fronted geese, which spend their summers extremely far north, in the Canadian tundra. In migration they are common only west of the Mississippi. Janssen's Birds in Minnesota (1987 edition) describes this goose as an "uncommon spring and rare to casual fall migrant in the western regions [of Minnesota]" and "rare to casual in the spring and accidental in the fall in the central and eastern regions. Dave had not seen any for ten or more years, and I had never heard of them before.

Ring-necked Ducks (female in foreground)

Redheads on right; Gadwall on left


More gadwalls (female in foreground)

Ring-necked Ducks (female in foreground)
 The ring-necked duck has a distinctive head shape, clearly seen here, with the back almost vertical rather than rounded.

This is one of my favorite times of the year for birdwatching. Ducks at least are largish and don't flit about like warblers, so they are easy to study and relatively easy to photograph. Within a few weeks, most of these ducks will have moved on north to their summer breeding grounds. It's exciting to see them while we can.


Christopher Tassava said...

Great photos! I'm really happy to see that there are so many different kinds of ducks there. A swampy little patch across Woodley from our place is flooded right now, and it's freaking O'Hare for ducks and geese: constant landing and taking off. I'd love to get closer to see what's there, but I'd have to cross 50 yards of supremely muddy cornfield to get there...

Penelope said...

Christopher - We drove by your wet field on Woodley this afternoon. Looked like mostly Canada (and the shorter-necked Cackling) geese, but also the white-fronted geese we noted yesterday, and mallards. There is a little pond right by the edge of the road just to the west of that field, as I'm sure you know, and there were several hooded mergansers and a pair of ring-necked ducks there. The male hoodies are so striking with their white hoods with black markings.

RuthieJ said...

Nice waterfowl sightings Penny!
I hope to get out and find more of them this spring too.