rotating banner

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Duck Days of Winter

The sun blazed over the horizon as we sat huddled against the cold at the end of Johnny Mercer’s pier. Normally it’s a place you would scarcely give a second look. But every winter the pier is home to a large flock of Common Loons, which makes it a prime spot to scan for the rare Pacific Loon. In fact, the loon in question had been seen the previous day, which made sitting in the cold early on a Sunday morning all the more appealing. The day was shaping up to be gorgeous, which presented a problem for us birders – rather than staying close in by the pier, the loons were already far out to sea, making further identification impossible. Oh well, at least we were able to amuse ourselves with some obliging Ruddy Turnstones that ran around the pier nipping at bits of old fish.

This one kept running away while staying out of the perfect light... pretty sure it was mocking me.

After our failure at the pier, we decided to travel a scant mile down the road to check out the jetties that line Masonboro Inlet. At first it seemed like we were sunk – we arrived at the middle of high tide, and the low stone jetty was underneath several feet of water. I thought there’d be no way the little ducks would stick around, but sure enough the call went up that a trio of birds were riding the swells next to a pylon. Sure the light was bad, and the constant up and down motion made photography difficult, but there’s no mistaking the three little Harlequin Duck we saw that morning. Plus there were Great Cormorants and Purple Sandpipers on the nearby rocks, it’s like we were birding in the northeast or something!

Yeah, I know I used this last week... but it's my only decent shot!

As the day had been set aside for chasing rarities, we immediately headed for the Black-chinned Hummingbird I mentioned in last week’s post. But I’ve already gone over that bird in great detail, so after getting our bird we left for the nearby Oleander Memorial Gardens, a nice little cemetery that ordinarily wouldn’t seem too great for birds. Just, somebody had seen a Mottled Duck there recently, and as obligate chasers, we had to check it out. Upon arrival however, we found the pond filled with American Wigeon, Gadwall, and even a large Mute Swan, but no Mottled Duck. A couple of the nearby American Black Ducks had very yellow bills, but nothing could quite match our quarry. A single drake Redhead mingled amongst the other waterfowl, standing out like a beacon amongst a sea of relative uniformity.

I don't see Redheads nearly enough. Also, the ducks are nice too.

The day was almost up and we had to get going back to the Triangle, so we decided to check just one more spot – Greenfield Lake, a small recreational area near downtown Wilmington. We’d been hoping to find an Anhinga, but the rare winter visitor never materialized amid the dross of Ring-billed Gulls and nearly-domesticated Mallards. Among the Mallards, however, and not feet from the raucous park-goers, a pair of American Black Ducks made themselves right at home. Apparently they’d taken to the flock of Mallards during their wintertime interlude and found the plethora of free bread appealing. Normally it’s a species that’s pretty skittish, so it was nice to finally see them up close and personal.

Photography is actually incredibly difficult when your subject is less than three feet off!

The awesome black ducks couldn’t make up for the fact that we were Anhinga-less, even after trying to turn every other cormorant into something better. The sun shone low in the sky as I rolled up my sleeves to cope with the mid-70s weather. On a nearby bridge, we watched a beautiful male Great Egret, his plumes already grown in and his lores turning green. If that’s not a sign that spring is almost upon us, I don’t know what is.

No comments:

Post a Comment