For the Birds: In the world of mallards

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Mallards sit on a branch overhanging a pond in New England.

Mallards sit on a branch overhanging a pond in New England. Photo by Chris Bosak

 

For just a moment, I was in their world.

As I stood there I could see nothing but branches, sticks and stubborn brown leaves that refused to fall off the low trees. Then I crouched like a baseball catcher and there they were: a flock of mallards taking a mid-day break in the tangled trees growing out of a small pond.

Normally mallards would not make for a memorable birdwatching outing, but this time was different.

A fairly busy road was no more than 50 yards away, and my car was about 50 feet away, but I felt as if I was visiting the ducks’ world. The area was thickly wooded and a dark canopy of towering branches hung over the pond’s edge, adding to the feeling of seclusion. It was as if the world was reduced to the woods, the mallards and me.

It was a neat sensation, one that I’ve experience only a handful of times before — usually in extreme northern New Hampshire.

It was the way the mallards acted. They didn’t flee when my feet crunched the crispy leaves as I approached. They didn’t plop into the water and swim away slowly when I crouched for my view. They stirred only slightly as I settled in for a closer look and found a more comfortable position. (The catcher’s stance lasts only so long these days for me.) Most importantly, the mallards didn’t approach me looking for a handout. That definitely would have ruined it.

I watched as the mallards simply went about their day. The average person would have been bored silly in about 30 seconds, but I was fascinated.

A drake had the best seat in the house, hogging a gnarled tree all to himself. Just off to the right was a leaning tree with half a dozen mallards sitting next to each other. Four of them were sleeping, heads turned around with their bills nestled into their backs — eyes closed. The two wakeful mallards paid no attention to me. At least eight other mallards occupied trees or branches in the same area.

Looking back, it would have been even more memorable had the birds been wood ducks or hooded mergansers — both of which were also at the pond that day — but I can’t complain about the mallards. Besides wood ducks or mergansers would have been long gone at the first snap of a twig.

Another drake swam onto the scene. It bypassed the crowded leaning tree and tried to join the male that was sitting alone. Big mistake. The duck leaned forward, hissed and snapped at the newcomer, shooing him away. It found a place nearby to roost.

A minute or two later, one of the hens left the crowded tree, took a few graceful paddles through the shallow water and climbed aboard the gnarled tree with the ornery male. The male shifted slightly, but let the hen stay. After about three minutes, the drake’s charitable mood changed and he nipped at the female, sending her away.

The mallards’ mid-afternoon break outlasted mine. I was already late for work and, knowing that, the feeling of being in a different world faded away.

It was back to the real world. But I had the dirty pants and muddy shoes to prove that I had been elsewhere.

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A few hoodies to end the year

Photo by Chris Bosak A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Here’s a nice male Hooded Merganser I spotted at a pond in Danbury, Conn., on the second-to-last day of 2016. Goodbye 2016. Let’s see what 2017 brings us.

Happy New Year and thanks for supporting http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com in 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Hooded Merganser swims in a pond in Danbury, Conn., Dec. 2016.

What do Pied-billed Grebes eat?

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pied-billed Grebe catches a fish in a pond in Danbury, Conn., November 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Pied-billed Grebe catches a fish in a pond in Danbury, Conn., November 2016.

Pied-billed Grebes eat a variety of aquatic foods, such as crustaceans, insects and amphibians. Oh, they also eat fish, as you can see from this photo I got last week at a small pond in Danbury, Conn.

Now the next question … why is it called a Pied-billed Grebe?

The word “pied” means having two more colors. This grebe’s bill is silver/gray and black in the summer.

 

Latest For the Birds column: Ducks are finally here

Photo by Chris Bosak Hooded Mergansers swim in a small unfrozen section of water at Selleck's/Dunlap in Darien, Conn., in Feb. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Hooded Mergansers swim in a small unfrozen section of water at Selleck’s/Dunlap in Darien, Conn., in Feb. 2014.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

For me, “duck season” starts with the first sighting of something other than a mallard, wood duck or black duck.

This year it started in late August when I saw a lone hooded merganser in the small pond at the end of the trail that runs through my backyard. I’m not sure if it was an early migrating duck or if its territory is nearby, but it certainly marked an early start to duck watching season for me.

Of course, several weeks passed before my next duck sighting, but now it appears that duck season is finally here for real. The weather certainly is fitting for duck season. The other day, I stood on the shores of a lake watching a flock of common mergansers. The temperature was in the low 30s and a whipping, cold wind stung my ears. In other words, things could have been worse.

The “typical” start to duck-watching season goes something like this: The leaves change colors and a few hooded mergansers and ring-necked ducks show up on area lakes and ponds. Large flocks of common mergansers congregate on larger lakes and reservoirs.

As the season progresses, small ponds attract goodies such as green-winged teal, gadwall and American wigeon. Larger lakes attract more and more common mergansers as well as bufflehead and a goldeneye or two.

Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean follow a somewhat predictable schedule as well, with brant showing up rather early, followed by beauties such as common and red-throated loons, grebes, goldeneye, long-tailed ducks, red-breasted mergansers and scaup. Eider are common on the ocean, but not so much on the Sound.

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One more Wood Duck photo (I promise)

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Wood Duck swims at Wood's Pond in Norwalk, spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Wood Duck swims at Wood’s Pond in Norwalk, spring 2016.

I’ve already done two posts about the Wood Ducks I saw the other day. Here’s one more of a female Wood Duck. They are beautiful in their own right, even if the male Wood Ducks grab all the attention with their fancy plumage.

Latest For the Birds column: Wood Ducks show a tame side

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.) and The Keene (NH) Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck mother swims with one of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck mother swims with one of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

The Mallards were scattered along the grass and I didn’t think twice about it. I’m used to Mallards being tame and not walking away, or even flinching, when someone draws near.

With many Mallards, even with babies in tow, they show little or no fear of humans. In fact, many even welcome the approach of humans as the ducks hope to get some food.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Wood Duck mother swims with two of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Wood Duck mother swims with two of her babies at Woods Ponds in Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

But in this particular flock of ducks, two females and their babies quickly retreated to the nearby pond. These ducks weren’t Mallards at all, but rather they were Wood Ducks. Two female Wood Ducks and their babies were “hanging out” with the Mallards in the grass near the pond before I pulled into the parking lot.

While the Mallards in the group, which consisted of most of the birds, did not even bother to wake up from their midday nap, the Wood Ducks’ instincts told them to retreat.

But the scene was still extremely surprising to me. First of all, you don’t always see Wood Ducks hanging out with Mallards. And, second of all, Continue reading

Wood Ducks in the snow

Photo by Chris Bosak Wood Duck drakes swims at Woods Pond in Norwalk, Conn., during an early April snow fall, 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Wood Duck drakes swims at Woods Pond in Norwalk, Conn., during an early April snow fall, 2016.

Another early-morning snow fall swept through parts of New England on Monday morning. Many people, I’m sure, cringed at the sight of more snow. As usual, my thoughts turned to photographing birds in the snow. It was an especially dark morning, but I managed to find and shoot some Wood Ducks at Woods Pond in Norwalk, Conn. Wood Ducks are Continue reading

Next up, the Green-winged Teal

Photo by Chris Bosak A Green-winged Teal drake swims in a pond at a cemetery in Darien, Conn, March 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Green-winged Teal drake swims in a pond in a cemetery in Darien, Conn, March 2016.

Just like I was lucky to find a Northern Pintail a few weeks ago, I was lucky earlier today to find a Green-winged Teal drake. It was hanging out with a small flock of Mallards at the pond at Spring Grove Cemetery in Darien, Conn.

I’m loving this winter seeing all these not-too-frequently seen ducks.

The photos did not turn out as well as the pintail photos, but they are acceptable, I suppose. The teal was not as close as the pintail and Green-winged Teal are much smaller than pintails. In fact, Green-winged Teal are among the smallest duck we have in New England. Just like the pintail, Green-winged Teal are not frequent sightings throughout much of New England. They certainly aren’t rare sightings, but are not seen as much as species like Mallards, Hooded Mergansers or Wood Ducks.

It’s a beautiful, little duck, though. I love the shade of green on a Green-winged Teal. I also like the hint of green they show on their speculum (wing) when sitting on a pond. In flight, the speculum is fully exposed.

The bottom photo shows the size comparison with a Mallard. Notice how much larger the Mallards is.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Green-winged Teal drake swims in a pond at a cemetery in Darien, Conn, March 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Green-winged Teal drake swims in a pond at a cemetery in Darien, Conn, March 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Mallard and Green-winged Teal swim in a pond at a cemetery in Darien, Conn., March 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Mallard and Green-winged Teal swim in a pond at a cemetery in Darien, Conn., March 2016.

More shots of that Northern Pintail drake

Photo by Chris Bosak A Northern Pintail swims in a small pond in Danbury, Conn., Jan. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Northern Pintail swims in a small pond in Danbury, Conn., Jan. 2016.

Here are some more shots of the cooperative Northern Pintail I spotted in a small roadside pond in Danbury, Conn., the other week. It’s a beautiful bird and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one so close. Enjoy the photos and thanks for your support of http://www.birdsofnewengland.com

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