For the Birds: GBBC and divers

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pair of Ring-necked Ducks rest at a pond in Darien, March 2014.

Here is the latest For the Birds column.

I decided to stick to the woods behind my house for the Great Backyard Bird Count. I could have gone off to some nearby birding hot spot to try to log more birds, but I decided to stay put and “bird my patch.”

The action was fairly slow but not terribly so. I didn’t find any out-of-the-ordinary species, but I did get a lot of the common ones. I got my chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and American goldfinches. A small flock of pine siskins came to the backyard just as I was wrapping things up. I was glad it arrived for the count as this bird has been a regular visitor all winter.

The highlight of the count for me was checking out the beaver pond at the end of the trail that begins behind my house. The pond was mostly frozen, probably about 85 percent so, but the open water that did exist on the far edge held a lone male hooded merganser and nine ring-necked ducks.

Did I say nine? I meant to say 12. No, make that 13. When getting a precise number of birds is important, such as when doing a bird census like the Great Backyard Bird Count, it is important to check and double check the diving ducks.

When I first looked at the ring-necked ducks, I counted nine. I moved along the edge of the pond to change my angle and suddenly I counted 12. I watched for another minute and another duck popped up its head to make 13. I watched carefully for another couple minutes and the number stayed at 13.

Ring-necked ducks are one of the more common diving ducks we see in New England during the winter. Diving ducks are the ones that, true to the description, dive underwater for their prey such as fish and crustaceans. The other types of ducks are dabblers and they simply tip up and stick their heads in the water in their search for food.

Most of our very common ducks are dabblers. Mallards, black ducks, wood ducks and teal are all dabblers. The divers include species such as the mergansers, bufflehead, goldeneye, and, as mentioned, ring-necked ducks.

Dabblers are sometimes difficult to count because there can be so many of them they tend to crowd each other out. But at least you can always see them. They don’t “disappear” underwater.

When you approach a pond and see a flock of divers, you never know whether you are looking at all of them or not. Not that it would have made a whole lot of difference in the grand scheme of things if I had submitted 12 ring-necked ducks, or even my original count of nine, for that matter. But, of course, I was trying to be as accurate as possible so I’m glad I was able to submit the correct number.

All in all, it was a fun count with a decent number of species. How did you do? Feel free to send me an email and let me know.

For more information and international results of the Great Backyard Bird Count, click here.

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