Category Archives: mergansers

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.

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:

Sharon and Yang’s Secret Place

Way back in the ’90s, when I was first married and either working on my dissertation or teaching part time at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, Yang and I had a place we liked to visit that we called “The Secret Place.”  The name didn’t quite fit because we would  run into my students canoeing by  or other  walkers in nature.  However, “The Secret Place” was not crowded with people and a little hard to get to.  In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never think of going there.  So what is this secret place and how did we ever find it?

Well, without giving away too many secrets, I’ll explain.  We’ll go to the second part of the question first.  Yang and I lived in the Mansfield/Wilimantic area in Connecticut while going to UConn.  When driving one of the yellow-line-divided roads (no route number), we’d often pass over a bridge that let you look down into a lake made by a dam, with an abandoned asphalt road running alongside.  It looked like such a cool place to walk, so Yang did some map snooping and found the road to take us there.  That road in and of itself was almost a secret:  a right that intersected the main road at such a sharp angle that taking it was almost like hooking a U-ie (non-New England translation: making a sharp U-Turn.). That brought you onto an old paved road tunneling through trees on both sides, a road slowly crumbling on the edges and being submerged by encroaching woods.  A steel gate prevents vehicles from going more than about 1/2 mile down the road, but pedestrians are welcome.  At one time this had been a route with houses following a river, but  building  the dam not only turned the river into a small lake but ended the status of the street.
The asphalt does continue through the woods and opens up along the body of water, ending in the dam.  I have so many fond memories of coming here when the wild roses were blooming through the woods along the road, chickadees, titmice, and even Baltimore Orioles were flitting through the trees and brush, and all kinds of water fowl sailed along the lake, sometimes putting in at the many coves.  I’d come here with Yang in all seasons to relax in nature, and even sometimes took a blanket and whatever books I was reading for my orals or dissertation and did my studying chilling in nature.  What a wonderful place!  But moving to Worcester and finding new places there and around the Northeast to explore, Yang and I put our thoughts of “The Secret Place” on the back burner – until the first week in March, when the good weather made us determined to explore something so old it was new again.
After a tasty breakfast at Bagel One in Windham – still the best bagels and cream cheese in my book! –  we drove on down to find our Secret Place.  This was not easy  since we hadn’t been there in so long – and that entrance really hooks back from the road, making it difficult to see.  But we found it!  Our excitement grew as we drove down the old paved road through a tunnel of winter- denuded trees – it doesn’t take much to excite us.  We found that metal gate and were surprised to see a sign calling the place a park – but a park with no name.  I guess the state of Connecticut wants to keep it secret, too, sort of.  We slipped through the gate and strolled in the sunny cold down the old road and found ourselves fascinated by stone walls and trees nature-crafted into twisted forms, which we’d never really noticed before.  The bare bones of wild rose bushes tangled through the brush, but later in spring we knew they’d be bursting with sprays of white and soft pink tiny blossoms.
We emerged out of the tree-hugged road to see the lake sparkling silver-blue in the cold March sun.  In days of yore, you couldn’t always follow the asphalt to the damn at the end because flooding would cover the road.  You could still see the ghost of floods past in the scallops of dead plants and small debris across the road – nothing impassable, though!  So, today, we were able to travel all the way to the dam, across an old bridge built in 1927.  A place where in summer we would sit and watch fish and turtles take their leisure in the waters.  And today, those waters sloshed over and under sheets of ice, hosting a variety of waterfowl:  swans, golden eyes, mergansers, and the ubiquitous sea gulls!
SONY DSC
The state has also now cleared and marked trails here  that you can take through the woods.  We circled back to the car over a roundabout route around coves (more ducks!) and up and down ridges.  But they haven’t give the place a name.  maybe they want to call it a “Secret Place,” too – but with well marked trails.  Late spring and summer should  bring us more beauty when we return – but, “Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody!”
Here are some other neat shots:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duck, Duck, Horned Grebe – and a Loon!

January and February have become a tradition for us to go bird watching for ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds.  This year has been an exceptionally good one for such adventures.  We always head to the Cape and the Shining Sea Trail around my birthday for one of our biggest forays.  This year we were not disappointed.  Once more, we saw a large flock of Eider Ducks rafting on the rough January seas.  The weather was so cold one of my knees started to seize up!  Nevertheless, we saw a large flock that included the brown females, mature males startling in their contrast of black and white feathers, and the juvenile males that tended to a gradual graying into white in a less striking contrast.  Did you ever notice that Eiders have a beak reminiscent of Bob Hope’s ski-slope schnozz – no disrespect to Eiders.
Swimming separately in the same bay were other interesting aquatic birds.  Here are a pair of Common Golden Eyes.  I thought they were Ring-Necked Ducks at first; but, no, they are Golden Eyes.    Anyway, they were fun to watch surfing the waves, diving for lunch, and popping up goodness knows where.  We also had the good fortune to catch sight of a Horned Grebe.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  He also was a little charmer with his unexpected dives and equally surprising reappearances.  I hope these guys caught some snacks – pace to the Atlantic fish.
We scooted over to a pond in Falmouth and got a gander (sorry, couldn’t resist) at some Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and a Swan.  Here’s a group shot.
Here’s a flotilla of Hooded Mergansers. Just click on the photo to get a clearer view.

Our next adventure was at the Charles River in Needham Heights, where we saw not only Mallards but the Common Merganser.  This guy was so beautiful, with his green/black head and contrasting pure white chest and underside.  Also on display were more Hooded Mergansers.  I love to watch these guys.  Where the other ducks and geese serenely loiter across the waters, these guys surge along like mini speed boats, white crests proclaiming their presence!

 

Third stop:  Rocky Neck, Ct.  Here we saw quite a few interesting water birds.  Once again, the proud and speedy little Hooded Mergansers powered their way across the marsh water.  We also saw several other types of birds as well.  There were Gadwall Ducks, Blue Herons,  gulls and even a Common Loon.  The Loon was not in this same marsh, but in the ocean, in a cove by the jetty.  Many of these critters were pointed out to us by two lovely people who were also birding fans.  Thanks to their kind advice!  Check out some of the images below.
A closeup of the Hooded Merganser.

The Gadwall Ducks.
                                 The  Loon

 

Who you lookin’ at?

A different type of Loon. The Sharon Bird on her migratory peregrinations in search of feathered friends at the beach.  Note the winter plumage.

Cape Cod: Winter Vacation Haven for Ducks!

Saturday gave us a brief break in the frigid January temperatures, so we made haste to the Cape for some bird watching along one of the shore rail trails.  We’d come here about the same time last year, give a take a couple of weeks, and made some splendid sightings, thanks to  the migration habits of ducks. Coming earlier this year proved smart, for we saw even more of some of the beautiful winter vacationing ducks we’d seen last year.

Of course the traditional mallards were there.  Here is a lovely couple we saw serenely paddling about a marsh pond.  We also sighted some more exotic types:  Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Redbreasted Mergansers, American Black Ducks (and the Mottled subspecies), Wood Ducks, and Swans.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough for pictures of those unique sorts.  Still, this close up of the male mallard that Yang took captures his (the duck’s) brilliant emerald head feathers.

 

 

 

 

We also got some wonderful pictures of  of the rather unique vacationers.  There were loads of Eider Ducks. Last year we only got  pictures of a pair of Eiders, but this time Yang got several great shots.  First, we saw a few males floating near the shore.  The contrast of their white and black feathers is gorgeous.  Could they be art deco ducks? They certainly didn’t seem terribly camera shy when Yang snapped their pictures.

 

Later, we saw the eiders in a flock of males and females in the water.  The females are dark brown with a beautiful white band just above their beaks.  It looks like the shadow roll that race horses wear.  We had quite a number to see.  We also saw large groups of Common Golden Eyes and Great Scaups.   What I found especially interesting is that the flocks of two or three different ducks would all be grouped together, floating nonchalantly along, no one fighting for food or ascendancy.  I wish people could get along so well.  But who knows what the ducks got up to once my back was turned.   I especially like this picture of the male Eider and the male Common Golden Eye just chillin’ together.

After almost two hours of enjoying the fresh sea air and checking out the ducks, we found that the temperature was dropping.  So, we hopped in the car and proceeded to the Dunbar Tea Room for lunch – and some great tea!  People may love the Cape in the summer, but in the off-season, it can be a bird watcher’s delight!

Remembering the Birds of Winter

I had originally wanted to post these pictures much earlier – like back in Winter when Yang and I took them. However, the semester has been brutal, and I just didn’t have time to do all the editing necessary. So, here they are!

 

The weekend after my birthday, there was a slight warming spell, so Yang and I made an expedition to Falmouth. After a hearty tea luncheon at the Dunbar Tea House – love that Ice Wine Tea! – we did some bird watching on the nearby rail trail.  In one of the ponds, we saw the beautiful swans above.

 

Also in this pond, we were able to see a flock of Mergansers.  Here is one chap swimming solo, with his lovely feathery mane.

 

 

Later, I was surprised to see a whole flock of males and females swimming happily in the ocean.  I never realized this duck was an ocean as well as fresh-water critter!  You’ll have to forgive the fact that the photos are a bit blurry.  It’s not easy to get near these guys – especially with a cold ocean separating you. Still, if you click on the picture, you’ll be able to get a decent look at the ducks.

 

We also saw some of the ever-popular Mallards.  A happy pair celebrating an anniversary, no doubt, with an afternoon out on the ocean. These ducks are pretty common around New England, so I normally wouldn’t photograph them.  But they posed so beautifully, Yang couldn’t resist. Also, some of my other bird-loving followers might not have these guys in their necks of the woods – or ponds.

We also saw a pair of Eider ducks.  I know they are a little blurry, but, again, there’s that pesky ocean in the way.  Do you think the Eiders are funky enough to want to get down?  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

 

 

Once again, the Megansers, just because I think they are so cool!

 

 

 

 

And, in a different pond, more swans!

But here’s where things get really weird.  Driving through the town of Falmouth, we had to stop for some feathered pedestrians.

So why did the turkey(ies) cross the road? We’ll never know.  They were in way too much of a hurry to stop and answer questions. They just wouldn’t talk turk . . . No, I can’t say it.  One bad pun per post is enough for any reader to suffer!