Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bald Eagle on Ice, 11 Herons and Many Ducks

We've been hearing amazing reports of ducks and geese at open water on Wells Lake, just west of Faribault, for the past week or two. Dave went down there on Thursday while I was at work, and estimates he saw 750 greater white-fronted geese, as well as many different kinds of ducks and some loons. So this morning we drove down there to see what we could see. There was a great deal more open water than there had been just two days earlier, so the waterfowl we saw were far more spread out and for the most part were many dozens of yards away from us.

Canvasbacks, scaup, redheads and pintails (click to see photo larger)

We saw a great variety of ducks, mostly of the diving category, and mostly at a considerable distance. We were able to get some shots through the spotting scope -- at least good enough to show the great variety present. I recommend either clicking on these photos or right-clicking to open them in a new tab in order to see the greatest detail:

  • Common mergansers
  • Hooded mergansers
  • Redheads
  • Canvasbacks
  • Northern pintails
  • Lesser scaup
  • Ring-necked ducks
  • Mallards
  • Gadwall (at least one)
  • Northern shovelers
  • American coots (not technically ducks)
  • Greater white-fronted geese flew overhead
  • Canada geese
Scaup and pintails, mostly

American coots

But wait! There's more! Dozens of the ducks suddenly took to the air in apparent alarm, and we saw a bald eagle glide down and land on the ice. It stayed there for an extended time, during which we did not see it do anything other than stand and look around. These shots through the spotting scope turned out pretty well. I just use a point-and-shoot camera, with no manual focus, so getting it to focus properly on distant birds without good contrast to give the automated functions some assistance can be a real challenge. The high contrast of the eagle against the ice, as well as its size, helped these photos turn out about as well as I could have hoped for.

There was a steady wind blowing, and I like how you can see the wind ruffling the eagle's feathers in this next shot.

So that was exciting -- but wait! There's more! While scanning an area of shore where there were quite a few Canada geese, we realized that behind the geese was by far the largest group of great blue herons I've ever seen. We counted 11; I've never seen more than two or three in fairly close proximity before. There are nine in the photo below -- I've added some arrows to help show the three that were particularly well camouflaged; you'll probably need to click on the photo to see them properly. Dan Tallman posted about seeing 27 great blue herons on the ice at the same location on Wednesday, with a great photo of nine of them. Unbelievable.

Most of the lakes in the region are still ice-covered, but the ones that open up first due to a current provide amazing birdwatching in the early spring as migrating ducks pass through on their way to breeding grounds in the far north. Today the temperature reached the mid-60s F. and several more days of most unseasonably warm temperatures are predicted. If you have a body of water near you that's starting to have open water, check it out!

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