For the Birds: Ice sends the ducks south

Photo by Chris Bosak
Red-breasted mergansers may be seen throughout winter on the ocean or Long Island Sound.

There are always two ways to look at something.

I don’t remember what it was advertising, but I recall an old television commercial wherein one guy says: “Camping? I hate camping. There’s nobody around.”

The next guy on camera, within the same friend group of the first guy but unaware of what he said, says: “Camping? I love camping. There’s nobody around.”

I guess it all depends on your personal preferences and motives.

I thought of this the other day when I drove by a pond and saw people ice skating on it. I was happy for those people as they got to enjoy a fun winter hobby, but I couldn’t help but think that I would much rather see the pond unfrozen and providing a place for ducks to rest.

As I have mentioned several times before, ducks are my favorite type of bird to watch, and a frozen pond, lake or river isn’t going to have any ducks. To make matters worse, even if the water thaws, the ducks that were previously seen there have likely moved well south only to return in the spring.

No offense to the skaters, hockey players, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and ice anglers, but give me an unfrozen pond any day. I get it. This is New England, and those frozen activities are part of the culture and history of the region. I am happy people get to enjoy their hobbies.

It just makes me think of that commercial and how people can see things differently.

There is a solution, however, for people like me who want to see ducks in the winter. It takes a little more effort, but it is well worth it. Simply head to the ocean or Long Island Sound, which remain unfrozen throughout our New England winter.

For the most part, the ducks will be a little different from the ones we saw on fresh water before the freeze. Wood ducks, ring-necked ducks and common mergansers are not likely to be found on the ocean or sound, for instance.

Replacing those ducks will be species such as eiders, scoters, scaup, long-tailed ducks and red-breasted mergansers. Common and red-throated loons are also likely to be found but will be in their drab winter plumage.

Bufflehead and goldeneye are a few species that may be found in both habitats.

Hooded mergansers, one of the more common ducks found on fresh water before the freeze, are not likely to be found far from shore on the ocean or sound but can be spotted if smaller bodies of water remain open nearby. Brackish tributary rivers or marshes are good places to find hoodies this time of year.

Of course, any open fresh water found in the winter, while other waters are frozen, has the potential to be a gold mine for ducks. A large lake with an open pool in the middle, for instance, is a great place to look for common mergansers, ring-necked ducks and other species. A section of a pond’s edge kept open by a stream or river flowing into it is another potential hot spot.

Nature provides for those wishing for frozen water and those wishing for open water in a New England winter. Sure, it’s cold, but why would anybody want to live anywhere else?

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