Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Waterfowl Continue Their Arrival
December 17, 2021
by Steve Grinley
As the temperature fluctuates this December, and as autumn turns eventually to winter, the annual migration of ducks and geese continues. Though many geese winter in Massachusetts, large “V’s” of Canada geese have been making their way south since October. Snow geese have been seen on Plum Island as well as in other areas of Massachusetts, most heading for the more temperate mid-Atlantic states. A rare greater white-fronted goose was found grazing with Canada geese at Newhall Park near Suntaug Lake in Peabody this past week.
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. Both common and red-throated loons have been busy diving for food off Plum Island. Red-necked grebes and horned grebes have been spotted off Lot 1 of the Parker River Refuge.
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. 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 in search of food. These ducks are more difficult to watch because just as you get them in your view, they dive out of sight and then you have to wait for them to resurface.
Scores of ducks are also 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. Cherry Hill Reservoir in West Newbury, Putnamville Reservoir in Danvers and Topsfield, and Kenoza Lake in Haverhill are often worth checking before they freeze up in January.
Good numbers of ring-necked and ruddy ducks, which are also diving ducks, have already arrived along with scaup, common mergansers and hooded mergansers. Hooded mergansers 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 on other area rivers. Birders are enjoying a visit from a less common canvasback seen with the ring-necked ducks on Kenoza Lake this past week.
Pintail, blue-winged and green-winged teal, American wigeon, shovelers and a few coot have been showing up on the Parker River Refuge. These are the surface feeding ducks known as “dabblers.” 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.
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.
Soon golden-eyes, long-tailed ducks, and buffleheads will congregate in larger numbers in Newburyport harbor. More black ducks, mallards, and teal will stop on area lakes and ponds to “refuel.” If you live near a lake or river, or by the ocean, watch for the different ducks and geese. If you live inland, watch the skies overhead for migrating flocks of waterfowl. They know that this coming week’s chill is only a prelude to the winter weather that will follow.