Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Watch for Arriving Waterfowl
October 31, 2020
by Steve Grinley
The fall weather brings with it the annual migration of ducks and geese. If you look out to the ocean from Plum Island or Salisbury this time of year, you will see rafts of scoters and eiders congregating on the water to feed. More will stream by to winter further south. Other ducks and geese are arriving on our lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Many may stay the winter if we have open water, while many more will continue their journey further south.
Last week I talked about the long strings of cormorants moving overhead, but you can also view large “V’s” of Canada geese making their way south. Brant, a goose similar to the Canada goose but smaller with a neck patch instead of the white “chin strap”, are also arriving in our area. Snow geese may pass through, and we always check flocks of Canada geese for a less-common cackling, greater white-fronted, or pink-footed goose among them.
Scores of ring-necked and ruddy ducks have already arrived at the Cherry Hill Reservoir and the Artichoke Reservoir in West Newbury. Soon golden-eyes, oldsquaw, scaup, mergansers and buffleheads will congregate in larger numbers on our waters. Like the sea ducks – eiders and scoters – these are all diving ducks that completely submerge to feed. That often makes them difficult to study as they continually disappear under water.
The surface feeding ducks, known as “dabblers”, are also arriving. Many people are more familiar with the dabblers.as they include mallards, black ducks, pintails, wood duck and teal. These surface feeding ducks are often seen with their tail exposed as they tip in the water to feed. Therefore, they prefer shallow water such as smaller ponds or salt pans. Many can be found in the main salt pannes on Plum Island as well as Stage Island and Bill Forward Pools on the refuge.
Coot are also arriving to the area. They are small, black hen-like ducks with white bills that are fun to watch. Unlike mallards and black ducks that take to flight by just lifting off the water, coot need to run across the water for some distance before they are able to get airborne. This is true of geese, swans and many sea ducks as well, but it always seems extra comical to watch a coot take off. Its chunky body seems too much for its rapidly flapping wings to carry as it runs clumsily along the water, but eventually liftoff does occur.
So if you live near a lake, river or the ocean you should notice an increase in the number of waterfowl on the water. Hunting season has begun and, yes, the guns will take a few of them. But if you hunt with binoculars like me, take solace in the fact that your duck “hunting” season doesn’t end – it will continue all winter long.