Duck Smorgasbord!

Last week I had to go to a meeting in Lake City, MN about the waterfowl surveys we did last fall, sort of going over the info collected and assessing what we might do different in the future.  I headed down with Mark Martell and we took the scenic route to see what migrants might be lurking on the flooded river...we were not disappointed there was an awesome collection of ducks to be seen on the river.  How many species can you pick out above?

I love the Ravenna Trail drive towards Treasure Island Casino and just off of Co Rd 68 was a GREAT flock of ducks thanks to the recent flooding.  The Vermillion River was over its banks and demonstrating what a floodplain forest is all about.  We pulled over and scanned the ducks.  Since we had to get to our meeting and couldn't dally for long, I made a mental note to revisit the spot to enj0y the ducks during my vacation--I even dragged Non Birding Bill with me since he does enjoy a bird that is colorful, big, obvious and fairly easy to see.

Just sitting in the car on the side of the road was a great way to watch males competing for the attentions of females and to note comparisons of different species.  The two male bufflehead on the left hit the light just right and you could see the green and purple sheen of their head feathers.  The female bufflehead is in the center and the other two ducks were a pair of lesser scaup.  I sat in my car along the road figuring that the ducks wouldn't mind it.  I have a window mount for my Swarvoski scope so it can function as a blind.  Most birds don't seem to mind cars...just the things that come out of them.

Other people pulled over to watch the ducks.  Some foolishly parked on the far side and walked across the road to get a better view--flushing the ducks in the process.  Doh!  They guys didn't have any binoculars and soon left.  But, I was on vacation with oodles of time and figured that the ducks would eventually drift my way again.

There were other birds to watch for like the above sandhill crane foraging in the flooded farm field. Horned larks and robins were mixed in too.  As I was scanning some of the vegetation further out, I was surprised to find snoozing pectoral sandpipers and blue-winged teal--too far for photos, but pleased I was able to figure them out.

After about fifteen minutes, a very obliging bald eagle flew in chasing some of the gulls and ducks (in case you can't tell, that biggest dark bird in the above photo is the eagle).  The eagle drove all the ducks back towards my car much in the same way the three mean earlier flushed them away.

It was interesting to note the birds that grouped together like the above American wigeon (the bird with the white patch on his head and aka the bald pate) hanging with the northern shoveler (the bird with the enormous bill in the front).  This group clustered nearest the vegetation, dabbling.

There were also quite a few canvasbacks ( the redheaded duck on the right with the whole swoop thing going on) hanging out with some redheads (the redheaded ducks are the ones with the yellow eyes and light colored bills).  I love all the red headed ducks--perhaps that's the reason my hair is red right now.  I love watching these male ducks mixed in with the spring colors in the surrounding landscape.

There were quite a few lesser scaup mixed in and it was a great opportunity to observe the many different head shapes.  I have a tough time when someone tells me that they see a greater scaup mixed in with lesser scaup because they look so similar.  The best way to work on a species is to watch the common one long enough and eventually you will notice with the non common one shows up (in my case, greater scaup is less common).  Above is one female lesser scaup being followed by three lesser scaup males--note how different the head shape can look between three males of the same species.

Here are the same three males.  Ugh.  I think I will only count greater scaup when they are in areas when they are the most likely species.  For non birders who are not privy to the whole greater/lesser scaup thing here are some photos to show how similar they are.  It's crazy to me how one duck species can have so many different shapes.

All in all it was a great spot to watch ducks.  There were several ring-necks and gadwall mixed in too (gadwall not pictured).  Are you seeing any waterfowl where you are?