Sunday, January 19, 2014

Local Waterfowl—2014 Style

Waterfowling on the Red Cedar and Grand Rivers has been fantastic this year so far.  Both high diversity and high numbers are present, and because of this I have been fortunate to see all kinds of waterfowl within easy walking distance of my house.  Just for fun, here is a list and some photos of the seventeen (!!) species of waterfowl that I have seen in the past month, as well as a review of three of the areas I like to visit.

Here's the list with high counts:
  • Canada Goose: 1,174
  • Mute Swan: 5
  • Wood Duck: 1
  • Gadwall: 1
  • American Black Duck: 63 (!!)
  • Mallard: 982
  • Canvasback: 1
  • Ring-necked Duck: 5
  • Lesser Scaup: 1
  • Bufflehead: 8
  • Common Goldeneye: 10
  • Hooded Merganser: 1
  • Common Merganser: 6
  • Red-breasted Merganser: 8
  • Pied-billed Grebe: 1
  • Horned Grebe: 1
  • American Coot: 1
Not bad for a shallow inland river!

There are a few areas that I check for waterfowl.  The first is usually Kreuger's Landing.  There is often a goldeneye or two to be seen, and it is a great place for Pied-billed and Horned Grebes in the winter months.  Recently, a stunning drake Canvasback has been hanging out at the landing, allowing amazing point-blank looks.

The amazing drake Canvasback at Kreuger's Landing!
The second spot, Potter Park, is just a quarter-mile walk from Krueger's Landing.  The river here briefly narrows, widens, and narrows again, twice bottlenecking all of the river's water.  This creates currents swift enough that there is always a nice long stretch of open water, no matter how cold it gets. For this reason, this is the best stretch of river to find diving waterfowl.  Earlier this month, for example, I was thrilled when two consecutive visits to Potter Park rewarded me with amazing numbers and diversity of diving waterfowl.  These consisted of a Lesser Scaup, four Buffleheads, three Common Goldeneyes, five Ring-necked Ducks, an American Coot, and, best of all, all three mergansers: one Hooded, five Commons, and three Red-breasteds.  I couldn't believe that I was seeing all three of them on a shallow river two miles from my house!

Common Mergansers
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Mergansers and a Common Goldeneye. 
Potter Park is not only a great spot for diving ducks, it is also often host to the rivers' largest concentration of dabbling ducks.  This month, it has hosted particularly amazing concentrations: the last time I visited, I counted an incredible 643 Mallards.  These huge Mallard flocks always contain several more-uncommon dabblers. There are always a few American Black Ducks, of course, but that time I was amazed to count 33 of them on the short stretch of river!  Most of them were part of a large Mallard flock near the second wooden bridge.  Farther upstream, I found a female Gadwall standing on the ice with a flock of 150 Mallards.

THIS is why they are called Black Ducks.

The third place I stop is Moores Park, where turbulent waters downstream of a hydroelectric dam combined with the hot water outflow from the Otto E. Eckert Power Plant ensure that there is always an area of open water.  The birds that take advantage of the turbulent warm water below the dam are almost all Mallards, Canada Geese, and a few Black Ducks and Mute Swans.  There are always a dozen or so "Manky Mallards"—including a few awkward individuals that never fail to draw a snicker from the amused observer.

One of the cuter domestic Mallards at Moores 
Park—a tiny Dusky Call Duck
My family and I like to call this guy the "Punk Rock Mallard"!
(Cayuga Mallard)

Despite the almost complete dominance of Mallards and Canada Geese at the site, every visit turns up something different.  I have found singles or pairs of a surprising number of species: American Coot, Gadwall, American Wigeon, all three mergansers,  Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck and Pied-billed and Horned Grebes.  The feature that makes this place worthwhile is the narrowness of the river, which allows close looks at whatever waterfowl are there when you visit.  

A Bufflehead up close at Moores Park
Red-breasted Merganser
My favorite bird from Moores Park had always been the courting pair of Hooded Mergansers.  Until New Year's Day this year, that is.  That was the day that I had just finished scanning the usual flock of Mallards when I lowered my binoculars and saw something standing on the riverbank, not ten feet away from me.  It had a stunning color palette.  It was tiny and very cute.  I could not believe my eyes—it was a drake Wood Duck!  I feasted my eyes for at least ten minutes before finally coming back to reality.  An adult male Wood Duck is a sight to behold at any time of year.  But seeing one on a mid-winter day, when the rest of the world is colored by hues of gray and brown, was mesmerizing!


In the next few days, I intend to thoroughly explore the rest of the Lansing River Trail by bicycle, and hope to discover some more exciting waterfowl.  I'm planning birding along the river in and near MSU campus, the confluence of the Red Cedar and Grand Rivers (where there should be plenty of open water), Lindberg Drive (which probably provides views of the river not accessible from Potter Park), and a few other places.  I will post again if I find anything cool.

Good ducking, everybody!

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