Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Waterfowl Migrating Through Our Area
November 17, 2023
By Steve Grinley
Late autumn is waterfowl time in the bird world. The number of ducks and geese continue to climb as migrants stop over on our rivers, lakes, ponds and ocean. Some ducks will stay he winter where water stays open.
Several species of geese were seen in Massachusetts this week. There are always thousands of Canada geese throughout the state, including many on the Putnamville Reservoir on the Danvers/Topsfield line. A careful scan of Canadian geese flocks will often reveal other less common geese.
The cackling goose, a miniature Canada goose was once a subspecies of the Canada, and a few of these have been spotted this week, including two in Topsfield. Snow geese are often seen with Canada geese on Scotland Road in Newbury and off Argilla Road in Ipswich. Three rare pink-footed geese have been spending time on ponds on the campuses of UMass Amherst and Smith College in central Massachusetts. Smart geese?
More than twenty species of waterfowl may be seen on Plum Island and around the Newburyport area this time of year (at least until the impoundments are breached on the Refuge.). In addition to the hundreds of black ducks on Plum Island, there are mallards and gadwall, green-winged teal, northern pintail, northern shovelers and a few American wigeon. All of these ducks are consider dabblers – mainly fresh water ducks that feed from the surface of the water. They are often seen tipping in the water, submerging their head and leaving their tail sticking up as they try to reach vegetation below the surface. On Plum Island, they are sometimes seen in the Salt Pannes, but larger numbers can be seen in the soon-to be-destroyed Bill Forward Pool and Stage Island Pools.
Joining the dabbling ducks have been some diving duck species that submerge completely to feed. Bufflehead, ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks and scaup may be found at Stage Island. Hooded and red-breasted mergansers, are also present on the island. Small flocks of long-tailed ducks and a few American goldeneye may be seen in Newburyport Harbor.
Of course, many of these species of ducks can be found on ponds and reservoirs throughout our area. Large numbers of ring-necked, ruddy ducks, and bufflehead, along with common and red-breasted mergansers may be found on Cherry Hill Reservoir in West Newbury. Johnson’s Pond, on the Groveland-Boxford line, has hosted ring-necked ducks, greater scaup, ruddy ducks, hooded mergansers, American coot and a few pied-billed grebes. You will have to resort to finding ducks in these inland locations once the pools on the Parker River NWR are wiped off the map.
Off the coast there have been growing numbers of the larger sea ducks: common eiders and the three species of scoters. Hundreds of common eider have been counted off Emerson Rocks on Plum Island. A large raft of eiders is once again present this year off the jetty at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. White-winged scoters, black and surf scoters are also numerous off the coast..
In addition to the ducks, there have been good numbers of common and red-throated loons as well as horned and red-necked grebes off our beaches. Most of these birds will migrate through, but many winter off our coast. Diving gannets add to the show of the ducks, loons and grebes and it is worth a trip to view the ocean for birds. The large white gannets with black wing tips constantly dive in the ocean, many not far offshore, making for a spectacular sight.