Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Waterfowl Arrive with Colder Weather
December 04, 2010
by Steve Grinley

     The brisk fall weather that brings with it the annual migration of ducks and geese has, indeed, arrived. Though many geese winter in Massachusetts, large “V’s” of Canada geese have been making their way south since October. Snow geese have already been seen on Plum Island, on Scotland Road in Newbury, as well as in other areas of eastern Massachusetts, most of these heading for the more temperate mid-Atlantic states. Brant, a goose similar to the Canada goose but smaller with a neck patch instead of the white “chin strap”, is also stopping on its route south. Rare white-fronted geese, a barnacle goose and a pink-footed goose have been spotted among large flocks of Canada geese in other parts of the state.

     Loons and grebes, which summer on the fresh water lakes in New Hampshire, Maine, and Canada are arriving offshore to spend the winter on the unfrozen salt water. We counted nine red-necked grebes and tree horned grebes in the water off Lot 1 of the refuge last weekend. Both common and red-throated loons were busy diving for food there as well. Rafts of dark colored scoters are congregating offshore, contrasting with the white collage of eiders that can also be seen moving into our ocean waters.

     Scores of ducks are settling on our lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Most are on their journey further south, but many that arrive may spend the winter on our open waters, as long as the waters remain open. There are surface feeding ducks known as “dabblers” and there are diving ducks. Many people are more familiar with the dabblers. Mallards, black ducks, pintails, wood duck and teal are some of the surface feeding ducks, often seen with their posterior exposed as they tip in the water to feed just below the surface. Most of the sea ducks as well as scaup, golden-eye, bufflehead and all the mergansers are diving ducks. They swim under water, completely submerging themselves, in search of food. These ducks are more difficult to watch because just as you get them in your scope view, they dive out of sight and then you has to wait for them to surface.

     Scores of ring-necked and ruddy ducks, which are also diving ducks, have already arrived at the Cherry Hill Reservoir in West Newbury along with a few scaup, American mergansers and American coot. Coot 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 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. Eventually liftoff does occur.

     Pintail, blue-winged and green-winged teal, American wigeon and shovelers are showing up on the Parker River Refuge. There were four redheads at Stage Island Pool this past week, a duck that we don’t commonly see in our area every year. There have been a dozen or more hooded mergansers in the Bill Forward Pool on Plum Island Fairly uncommon, these are one of my favorite ducks, the male with its white crest and striking rust and white markings on its dark body. Its cousin, the more common red-breasted merganser with its “punk haircut” look, is migrating in good numbers off our ocean while the larger, sleek, common merganser winter on the Merrimack and other area rivers.

     Soon golden-eyes, oldsquaw, scaup and buffleheads will congregate in larger numbers in Newburyport harbor. More black ducks, mallards, wigeon and teal will stop on area lakes and ponds to “refuel”. If you live near a lake, river or by the ocean you should notice an increase in the number of ducks on the water. If you live inland, watch the skies for flocks of ducks and geese migrating overhead. They know that this weekend’s chill is only a prelude of the winter weather that will follow.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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