Category Archives: Ducks

Out of the Fog: Long-Tailed Ducks!

We had planned last week to take a trip to Gooseberry Neck Beach on that Wednesday, since the day was supposed to be relatively warm (40s).  We didn’t plan on a fog that could make Londoners get lost.  Undaunted, we started out, first heading for Shastea in Providence for lunch.  Our hopes rose, as the fog seemed to dissipate into just a cloudy day once we got there.  So, would Gooseberry Beach be equally clear?  Nope!

The closer we drove to the ocean, the deeper the grey nothingness became.  We couldn’t even see the ocean! Nevertheless, when we pulled up at the beginning of the causeway to park, I had hopes that we might be able to see some critters swimming close to shore.  Bingo!

I got so excited, seeing this guy swimming around, taking a dive or two.  It was almost a year to the day that I’d seen my first Longtail last year at Silver Sands Beach in Ct.  Now, here was my second sighting.  Then, as my eyes adjusted to the fog, I realized that Mr. Longtail wasn’t alone.  Mrs. Longtail was also on hand in the rough and crashing seas, and she was definitely no slouch when it came to hunting. Yang took this cool picture of her arching up to dive deep for some seafood take out – which she’d be taking out herself.  You’ll have to forgive the fogginess of some of these pictures.  As I said, it was a pea souper!  I don’t know how the ducks were able to see each other!

I apologize for the fogginess of the photos – it was foggy.  If you click on the photos to enlarge them, they are clearer.

I wonder what she said to provoke THIS reaction?

Could anything be more exciting?  Yes!  as Yang and I walked  along the causeway, we came across more and more Longtails!  These guys were riding the roughest of seas.  It was fascinating to watch them crest some of those  rough swells. All told, we finally saw about three flocks of Longtailed ducks, males and females.  There must have been thirty ducks riding the rough waves, diving for food, chilling in the fog! Again, I apologize for the, literal, fogginess of the photos.  However, if you click on the picture, the enlarged version is reasonably clear.

I thought these two little ladies looked rather sweet.

 

 

 

 

I think this guy is starring in the duck version of I Had Two Wives.

 

Speaking of the moving image, how about Yang’s film clip of a diving Longtail?

 

And that’s the end of my duck tail!

 

 

Happy Harlequin Hunting: Only Shooting with a Camera!

For the past month, I’ve been seeing nothing but posts about all the Harlequin Ducks flocking down the coast of Massachusetts from Plum Island to Westhaven.  Never having seen one, I was eager to make a sighting.  Three trips to the coastal waters, and I was still a Harlequin virgin.  That is until Yang and I visited Sachuest (don’t ask me to pronounce it) in Rhode Island.  Of course, my prayers for a sighting weren’t answered at once.

We went down to a cove and saw two huge flocks of Buffleheads bobbing and diving in the waves.  They are adorable with their big white spots on the sides of their heads that look like ear muffs.  But no Harleys!  Then, coming back to the parking lot, to start the trail leading around the other side of the point, we saw four deer grazing nonchalantly in the marsh field.  Beautiful in their heavy winter coats – but not ducks.

 

We later even found a family of Eider Ducks, one adult male, one juvenile male and two females – joined by a Bufflehead, who popped up out of nowhere – but no Harlequins.

So, we made our way down onto a rocky beach after we spied some Lesser Scaups ( a first sighting, ever!),  some Surf Scoters, and a female Redbreasted Merganser, but no …wait!  What’s that black and white thing bobbing and diving out there? 

See the tiny white and black thing in the middle of the screen?  It was clearer and bigger with the binoculars.  I said to Yang, “It’s, wait , I think it’s, yes!  It’s a male Harlequin.”  Now before you say, “Hey, I can’t see a darned thing, wait, big deal,” it gets better.  After watching this guy and some Redbreasted Mergansers for a while, we moved on  – and came across another Harlequin chilling with some Scaups.  A little later, we came across a lone pair of Harlequins.  These shots are better, but not our top prizes.  I just love this one of the male flapping at us.  Camera shy or a show off?  You judge.

 

 

 

 

It’s really interesting to me that when the males look at you head on, with the light colored beak and the white stripe on their face, they appear more white-faced than they actually are.  When we got to another spot, Yang got some gorgeous shots that show off all their glorious markings. So, here you go with a set of photos of another  Harley pair from much closer up.

Here’s the male by himself.  Take a gander at that gorgeous splash of chestnut on his side, the way the white stripes demarcate the patches of black, and look carefully for that line of chestnut down the back of his head.

 

 

 

Here is the pair together.    Sometimes they point those short but sharp tails upward. Notice how the female has those lovely three white spots on the side of her head.  

 

 

I think they must have had an argument.  Yang and I noticed that the female did most of the diving/hunting.  Maybe she got sick of her hubbie posing for the papparazzi when she was doing all the work. Anyway, they briefly went separate ways.

Well, deers, er, dears, that’s all for now.

Mallard, Mallard, Merganser?!

The nature trail through the marsh/river across from Holy Cross has presented us with many an interesting critter.  We’ve seen deer, black snakes, muskrats and turtles.  Our avian sightings have included Great Blue Herons, Kingfishers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and assorted warblers.  Once, we even met up with a Bob White strolling back and forth in front of us along the promenade.  There hasn’t been a shortage of aquatic birds, mostly Canada Geese and Mallards.  However, for the past week, we noticed a Mallard flock of about 15-20 had an interesting guest!

What was an adult male Hooded Merganser doing in that flock?  There he was, swimming up and down the river with the flock – just one of the guys.  Occasionally, he’d disappear in a dive for food.  Then, back up he’d pop to join the crowd.  He seemed especially to bond with a Mallard couple.  Yang thinks that he was adopted as a duckling.  Who knows?  What do you think?  He is quite the beauty.  If only people could be as welcoming to the “different” as these birds.  After all, we’re all ducks.

 

Return to Colebrook Reservoir

Two years ago, Yang and I made our first trip to Colebrook Reservoir on a brisk Halloween afternoon.  What a treat!.  After at least a year of drought, the old Rte. 8 was completely clear and dry of the water.  We even saw part of the “ghost bridge” and the stone walls marking the boundaries of farms in what had once been a community displaced by the formation of the reservoir.  That day, we saw our first slate-colored juncos of the season, while the fall colors were still in bloom.  (Check out an earlier blog on our adventure here).

We came back last year, after an extremely rainy summer and discovered just how quickly a reservoir can fill up!  Not even a trace of the road we traveled between a slope of boulders and the water.  We were lucky the parking lot wasn’t swimming!

Ah, but 2022 brought another summer drought – and maybe the only good thing about the dearth of precipitation was that the way at Colebrook became so much clearer – though not nearly as clear as two years ago!

So, here’s my report, with photographic evidence!  On a gorgeous September afternoon, we were able to take the road (old Rte. 8) down from the parking lot for a bit of a stroll, until the inundation of the low road cut us off.  Were we daunted?  Not we two Yangs!  We scrambled over 1/8 to 1/4 of a mile of boulders flanking the waters.  You can get a bit of a picture from this photo, though you can’t see quite how steep the slope was – it was too hard to take pictures and scramble at the same time!

 

Where the road rose on higher ground, it was clear of water.  Unfortunately, there were gaps of low lying road that were inundated.  So, we managed to circle around the submerged road through rock-strewn mud flats, where we saw all kinds of fauna tracks:  deer, lynx, big herons.  We also saw some neat flora, as well.  I was taken with these nettles, some of which were accompanied by red berries.  Anybody recognize them?  We kept an eagle eye out for ticks!  Also, for fellow MSTKies, we did watch out for snakes.  None sighted – not even in the water.

It was fascinating to see how the wash of waters over the past few years had covered what was left of some of the road with gravel and how the flooded areas created islands of what had once been  roads.  Yang and I were both struck by how torn up the exposed blacktop had been since the last time we’d walked this road.  When we went through a stand of trees, we found some big trees down that we had to climb over.  No riding our bikes here the way we did two years ago when we had returned the day after Thanksgiving.

Last time we were here,  we had walked out to a highway bridge from the 1950s that crossed a stream emptying into what was originally a river (now the reservoir).  There was even a jetty to walk out on a little further along.  Well, at least the bridge was still there, but water was almost even with it.  Still we had a nice walk there and a little beyond, until the road dipped and the water filled in everything.  As you can see, we weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the bridge.  The area seemed to have become the playground for female and juvenile male Common Mergansers.  These ducks were having a grand time strolling about, splashing, and playing in the water.

Speaking of birds, Yang was disappointed not to see any Juncos (though it’s a bit early).  Nevertheless, he more than made do with the many water birds we saw.  Across the waters were Great Egrets, and on our side we saw several interesting types.  On the left is one of the Spotted Sandpipers we saw, though we usually saw only one at a time.  Maybe it was the same one a few times over?  We also saw this Greater Yellow Legs.  It might have been a Lesser Yellow Legs, but we didn’t have anything with which to compare him.  Less than whom?  There were plenty of Cormorants, too.

This was a pretty scene of the shore across the reservoir.  I really enjoyed the view.  Too bad we won’t be able to go back this year when the colors really go full-on autumn.

Of course, this is my favorite view.

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you’ll pardon me while I duck out now.

Late Winter Birds, Far and Near

These waning days of winter have given Yang and I some fun bird watching, whether at home or away.  For instance, Yang went for a stroll one day on a canal that runs perpendicular to the Blackstone River and sighted some interesting ducks and the peripatetic Kingfisher.  So, the next day, I had him take me back there. Sure enough we saw some swell birds.  Yang got some really nice shots of a pair of hooded mergansers.  At first we thought they were both females, but I noticed that one had a distinctive long, pointed tail sticking above the water, as well as a fluffier brush of feathers at the back of the head.  I suspect that one was a juvenile male.  We either had a Mom and her teenage son or a Cougar duck.  Who can tell? Enjoy the pictures!

 

I also got to see the Kingfisher, a male.  I heard his excited chatter way down toward the end where the canal ran into the Blackstone.   I kept my eyes peeled until I saw a blob of white way ahead in a tall tree over the waters.  Training my binoculars confirmed my suspicions, bringing into focus a magnificent male Belted Kingfisher.  Yang came up and got some shots with the binoculars he could attach to his cell phone.  We had a great time watching His Majesty swoop down into the water, skimming along to fly off with his fishy dinner.

Further from home, we visited Forest Park in Springfield on our way to lunch in Montague.  This turned out to be the mecca for Common Mergansers. We saw tons of them in one of the ponds.  They were shy guys, as whenever we got  close to the shore, they paddled off to the middle of the pond.  Yang did get some nice pictures of them, though.  I love how the males gleam white, their green heads almost black.  Their head feathers in the back are far smoother than those of the male Red Breasted Mergansers.  In both these types of Mergansers, the females are beautiful, with their Rita Hayworth-red locks! Yang loves the ducks’ red beaks.

We also found some American Black Ducks enjoying the same pond as well.

Unfortunately, a nice swim almost ended in a trip over the dam! Can’t you just hear his wife yelling, “Dam/n!” Her husband responding, “Don’t you cuss at me . . . Whoa!!!”

 

 

 

Closer to home – as in  the bird feeders next to my house –  we’ve been seeing some nifty birds, old friends and new.  The Mockingbird and the Redwinged Blackbirds are back.  Would you believe that even in the snow, the Robins have been scooting about for at least two weeks?  Here we have a Robin and a Downy Woodpecker chilling (literally with all the snow)  in a tree outside my sun porch window.

I must say that this Robin loves his/her? suet.

 

We also had the pleasure of this Red Bellied Woodpecker’s company. Since it’s a female, it wouldn’t be the one who was stunned after hit our sun-porch window.  We brought him in in a box and let him warm up for about an hour then set him free. Whoosh!  He was in great shape and off to the races.  We see him and his mate here quite a bit.  They’re also big suet lovers.

 

Now, here some of our other visitors.  There are cheeky Goldfinches,

 

 

 

 

caring cardinals,

 

 

 

and perky Downy Woodpeckers.

 

Bring on the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks!

 

Adventures with Waterfowl at Silver Sands Beach

Yang and I went to the beach last week when we had some warm weather– in New England, in winter,  you can call 40 degrees warm. It started out as a trip to Tea with Tracey in Connecticut for tea (obviously), but since the day was so sunny and “warm,” Yang suggested that after tea, we head to nearby Silver Sands Beach to see what birds might be visiting.  I think he felt bad for me because we were the only people at Plum Island the week before who didn’t see a Snow Owl. Anyway, once we got there, we were NOT disappointed, with a special guest star appearing that neither of us had ever seen before!
As we approached where the waves broke on the shore, we were delighted to see Herring Gulls mixing and mingling with Brant Geese.  The gulls I’d seen many times before.  However, I’d only seen Brants twice previously.  They were not afraid of us and let Yang take lots of photographs.  Here are some neat ones we saw of them along the shore.
When the Brants took to the water, they proceeded in well-ordered convoy fashion.  You’d almost think they were heading to Britain with Lend-Lease weaponry, on the watch for Nazi U-Boats.
Maybe they had air support from the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.  I think some gulls might even have been acting as the Armed Guard.

We also saw some old favorites, American Black Ducks.  Here are two in conference.

 

 

 

Over here is another guy just chillin’ on a rock.  Maybe he felt he’d be chillin’ too much, literally, if he joined his pals in the ocean.  What do you think?
Then, there was this lonesome stranger.  Yang and I spotted a white dot in the ocean.  We almost dismissed it as yet another Hooded Merganser, but Yang had second thoughts and trained his binoculars on this guy.  Well, what do you know?  A duck that neither of us had ever seen before.  He was a study in art decco black and white, with a whitish Presley pompadour swept and puffed up off his forehead. His yellow eyes contrasted with a black pupil.  Even his pink beak had symmetric black patches on either side! Then, when he dived, there was that long, slim tail flipping up.

What could he be?  A Harlequin Duck?  A funky Woodduck? A pintail of some kind? My guess was an Oldsquaw – and darned if a peek in my Peterson’s and a look on-line didn’t prove me right.  Now, some people don’t like the term “squaw” in his name, feeling it’s offensive.  So, considering that yellowish white pompadour, could we rename him an OldElvis?  Too soon?
Anyway, like our new friend, I’m going to take a dive and say, “so long!”

 

Lobster Rolls, Waterfowl, and Joan Bennett: What an Adventure!

At the end of the last week, I’d come down with a head cold!  Too much heavy-duty activity and book promotion, I guess, in cold weather.  Anyway, after lots of rest under the medical supervision of Rosalind and Natasha,  I felt well enough to join Yang on a little adventure to Connecticut.  First stop?
Lobster rolls, cole slaw, and french fries at Bill’s Seafood in Westbrook.  Yum!  That lobster has loads of cold-fighting protein, right?  Though there weren’t the usual osprey and laughing gulls and various ducks, we did see this neat cormorant circling the deck, then landing and arching his wings the way cormorants love to do- very vampirelike.  I think he saw himself as Count Cormorantuala.  I forgot to get my own pictures; however, here’s another photographer’s depiction of that favorite cormorant stance.
I did manage to get  some nice shots from the rest of our journey.
Next stop?  Rocky Neck, where you can see the fall colors are still going, even if some trees are a bit denuded.  In fact, the drive down treated us to some lovely golds, burnt oranges, saffrons, and burgundies.  Just in the parking lot was this lovely tree flaming into orange.  Yang especially loves multicolored trees, where the foliage morphs from green to yellow even to orange. This tree gives us orange, crimson, and burgundy!
If you look to the marshes, they are bordered by more foliage-enhanced trees.  Those marshes are circled by a trail and some lookout platforms, which have afforded lots of views of many different types of aquatic fowl.  this time, we didn’t see a lot, but we did sight some old friends:  black ducks; mallards, hooded mergansers (the speedboats of the duck world), and the Great Egret.  It was the latter we got some nice shots of.  In fact, as we walked the trail and paused on a bridge, we were able to get rather close to this fellow without him flapping a feather.  Rather, he had quite a time for himself fishing.  What a beauty, right?  As we were leaving, we actually passed seven of them all chillin’ together in another marsh, right near the road.
Ah, and then there was a stroll along the ocean and a nap on the rocks as I could hear the waves lapping those rocks and feel the breeze dancing around me.  It’s so nice just to let go!
Our final stop, after a wonderful ride down winding country roads, framed with glowing foliage in the sinking sun’s light, was to the cemetery where Joan Bennett rests.  We  found three bouquets of yellow roses, a small painted stone with a sweet message, and an arrangement with a patriotic theme, happily showing that our Joanie is so fondly remembered. Well, Joan certainly was a patriot in the best sense of the word.  Five of her forties films had her joining the fight against the Nazis, she went on bond selling tours, she was a member of the AWVS (American Women’s Voluntary Service), and she spoke out for protecting people’s civil rights.  So, it was our pleasure to pay our respects.  We tried to clean her Mom’s grave stone, but couldn’t do much.  Another member of our Joan Bennett FB group had done a beautiful job of cleaning Joan’s grave earlier, however.  Maybe Joan and my Mom can have a cup of tea and a cigarette together up in the Great Beyond.  You never know!  Just watch out for those Singapore Slings, ladies!

 

 

Cormorant Image:  https://www.macfilos.com/2017/09/15/2017-9-11-cormorants-reconsidered-birds-of-ill-omen-get-makeover/

Return of the Eiders, or You Get Down from a Duck

Every year, Yang and I make a pilgrimage to the Cape to check out the migrating ducks.  Usually we make the trip in mid-January or early February, not far from my birthday.  This year, we went on January 15th, and we weren’t disappointed.  We saw ruddy ducks, hooded and rust-breasted mergansers, a red-throated loon, swans, etc.  However, at first I was a little let down because I didn’t see the annual flock of eiders bobbing on ocean waves.  That  disappointment disappeared as we moved further along the beach trail.
Yang and I saw some dark specks floating on rough seas not far from a jetty.  The sun was in our eyes at first, so even with binoculars, we weren’t sure what we were seeing.  Then, we got out to a place with better lighting, and there they were:  my pals the eider ducks!  I’m not sure if we are going to that jetty to see them  every year or if they’re returning to get a peek at us!  Anyway, it was a delight to watch them  carried up and down by the waves, even swimming into a little cove of the jetty.  As you can see, we were able to get pretty close.
A couple of duck were giving us the once over in these shots!  Right in the center of the picture.

Especially interesting, I had never noticed that the males have a white stripe down the back of the black feathers on their heads.  I’d also never noticed  the greenish/yellowish/grey patch at the bottom of that black cap, either.  Click on the photos here to get a closer look.  Every year it’s something new.  Do you think they noticed something different about Yang and I this year?
Significance of the subtitle:  Remember the old joke?  “How do you get down from and elephant?  You don’t.  You get down from a duck.”  Eider down, right?

 

Enjoy the ducks in motion: