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During the first half of March, I witnessed a greater-than-usual number of migrating ducks here on the southern end of the pond, starting with small groups of Common Merganser and Hooded Merganser, followed, in order, by flocks of Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, and the regal Ring-necked Duck. All were diving ducks. For a bird-watcher, it was a feast, culminating on March 13th and 14th with peak overlap among the various species. Then the numbers declined, but slowly. As of this writing, in early April, most of the Buffleheads and quite a few Ruddy Ducks are still on the pond.

In the captions, I’ve taken liberty with the word, “flock,” for only partial flocks are shown. Rarely am I able to photograph an entire flock. Invariably, when I spot a big one — that is, big enough to plausibly contain most or all of its members on the pond — it’s too far out on the pond for a decent photo. Only small groups do I ever see venturing close. Among those, the Buffleheads have come near most often this spring, so they dominate the slide show.

When I count distant flocks through binoculars, I remind myself that at any given moment some individuals may be under water foraging for food, others may be off exploring a remote corner of the pond, and yet others may have left to be replaced by new arrivals. By its nature, a flock remains fluid.

Occasionally, some ducks appear on the pond that keep their distance from others of their species. Some, like the Hooded Mergansers this year, come and leave in a series of small groups without ever forming a flock as we think of it. Do these exceptions reinforce the idea of a “flock” or weaken it? Perhaps the best we can say is that flocks are more coherent among some species than others, or more coherent at some times rather than others.

With those caveats in mind I’ve roughly estimated the peak flock sizes this spring as follows: Common Mergansers 12, Buffleheads 16, Ruddy Ducks 20, and Ring-necked Ducks 12. I don’t have a count for Hooded Mergansers, as I only saw a few at a time, as I explained above. These are educated guesses, after weeks of watching, and may be low. After their meager showing last year, I was glad to see the Common Mergansers make a slight recovery.

In late March, I glimpsed a Wood Duck pair, but they were too far off to photograph. Every spring, faithfully, they put in a brief appearance. Last year, I was lucky enough to take some photos of them perching in a nearby tree.

This past winter I was surprised to spy migrating ducks on the pond, usually just a few at time, and staying for only a few days at a time. Perhaps it was the warm winter that threw off their timetables.

About the photos: Ducks are sociable creatures; they enjoy the company of their own kind, and occasionally that of other waterfowl, too. This spring was no exception, ushering in a peaceable kingdom. Here are a few details about the photos:

In three photos (on the left side) a small Bufflehead hen or Ruddy Duck hen lingers among the larger Ring-necked Ducks, or follows a single Ring-necked Duck around. The smaller hens are opportunistically waiting for bits of edible matter that the larger diving ducks bring up when they surface. All the small ducks do this (as do the gulls).

In one photo (on the right side) a Bufflehead hen stretches her wings. Despite its small wing size, a Bufflehead, with its rapid wing beats, can lift directly off the water, and reach flight speeds of up to 48 miles per hour. The smallest of diving ducks, it is among the fastest of waterfowl.

In the slide show, the photos appear in the order taken. The image quality is mixed, for the ducks were often distant, and the lighting conditions were mixed in March.

Yes, the Mute Swans, the Double-crested Cormorants, and the Great Blue Herons have all returned, as well. Yes, they too are migrants, but this is their summer home; they’re not just passing through on their way to breeding areas in the north, as the ducks are. More importantly, they didn’t make a newsworthy “splash,” this spring, with their greater numbers, as the ducks did. Finally, I left them out because this post was overly long already. I hope to remedy this omission in the future, if and when photos become available.
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Related: Ring-necked Ducks, Common Mergansers*.

 

In the years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen and photographed only a few Ring-necked Ducks — two pairs in 2009, and one pair in 2011. So, it was with surprise and delight that last week I witnessed a small flock, about a dozen, visiting our southern end of the pond.

A few came close enough for me to photograph. The photo here is of two pairs, the hens leading, with the drakes following in their breeding plumage (Oct-Jun). Off-season, the males are similar to the females in appearance, but with a dark head and breast.

The least observable feature of the Ring-necked Duck is the ringed neck. Cinnamon in color, it is often hard to see in the wild.

There’s no shortage of distinguishing features, however: a peaked head, a white ring around the tip of the bill, a fine white border around the male’s bill during breeding season, and a prominent “spur” pattern where the side joins the breast, white on the male during breeding season, and pale on the female. The male’s eyes are pale yellow, the female’s brown with a white ring.

The Ring-necked Duck is a medium-sized, North American diving duck. It’s a formidable migrant, some vagrants having been seen as far away as Central America and the British Isles.

The photo was taken on March 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm.

Note: During the first half of March this year, I witnessed more migrating ducks than usual on the pond. In another post, I hope to report more completely on this gathering most fowl, but I thought the Ring-necked Ducks deserved a special shout-out, for appearing in such numbers, and reminding us of Woody Allen’s famous dictum that, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

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Related: Lesser Scaups, March Migrants 2013.

 

For all the investments of time, energy and money that have been made over many years to preserve and improve Hardy Pond, little is known about the water body itself.

In March 2012 there was a massive die-off of small, Bluegill sunfish. At the time, someone at Windsor Village, a rental community on the eastern shore of the pond, reported a “small” fish kill to MassWildlife. As a result, the interagency task force that investigates big fish kills took no action.

Fish kills due to natural oxygen depletion (anoxia), though common other times of year, are almost unheard of in the spring, say the experts at MassWildlife. When large die-offs do occur in spring some human complicity is assumed.

No testing was done at the time of the die-off, so we can only speculate at to the cause(s). Anoxia is a low level of dissolved oxygen, and is high on the list of possibilities because only one fish species was affected. But what could have caused anoxia?

The city is now taking matters into its own hands. Under the leadership of Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, and with the support of City Councilor Edmund P. Tarallo, a program of regular testing will be initiated this spring.

The testing will be performed by Lycott Environmental, Inc., and administered by Michael Chiasson, Director of Consolidated Public Works. (His department also contracts with Lycott for the herbicide treatment every spring to combat invasive weeds in the pond.)

According to Director Chiasson, water samples will be collected from two locations “following spring melt and/or rain events, and [again] immediately following a rain event in July/August 2013.” The two rounds of samples will be tested for the following:

  • Alkalinity
  • Nitrogen, Ammonia (NH3)
  • Nitrogen, Total Kjeldahl (TKN)
  • Nitrogen, Nitrate (NO3)
  • Phosphorus, Total
  • Salinity
  • Solids, Total Dissolved (TDS)
  • Temperature
  • Dissolved Oxygen
  • Transparency
  • MBAS (Surfactants)
  • Coliform, E.Coli
  • RCRA8 Total 200.7 (metals)
  • Solids, Total Suspended (TSS)

I asked Mr. Chiasson about the relation of testing to public policy. If some results lie outside the normal range and are judged adverse to a healthy pond ecosystem, would Lycott identify them and suggest a policy response? He emailed back what I felt was a thoughtful answer:

Based on the results we are going to determine if we want to keep the same program for 2014 or change it up a little. Typically the results are given with what the normal parameters should be. At this time there is nothing in this project regarding what [is] to be done to restore the pond to healthy living if needed. We [first] needed to get a baseline for what is going on in the pond. I think after we have some data we can look and see where we go from here.

That is a pragmatic approach to a complex subject. I welcome it and thank him for sharing it. I look forward with interest to the first results this spring.

Update March 17, 2013 – The Case of the Missing Water Birds: After the big fish kill of March 2012, the many, clamorous gulls and the few, imperturbable Double-crested Cormorants all disappeared from the pond. It was eerily silent except for the geese, when they were here, and about a dozen resident Mallards. Days would go by with nary a water bird in sight. I wondered if the loss of a food source were the cause. Then, after several months, the missing birds began to trickle back. That’s strange, I thought; the Bluegills couldn’t have recovered this quickly; they spawn in the spring. Then it dawned on me that the birds may have been driven off by whatever poisoned the Bluegills, if indeed they were poisoned. Or, perhaps it was simply the stench of the rotting fish in the water that impelled them to go.

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Related: Mono Lake*, Dead Fish*.

 

⬆︎ Slide Show: Click any image to open slide show. Click on the “X” at the top left, or hit the “ESC” key to return.
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These dead coneflowers against the snow are one of my favorite subjects. Two species are planted here, both belonging to the genus Rudbeckia. At the right end are the graceful remains of Goldenrod.

I leave the stems standing in the fall, knowing that every winter they will arrange themsleves differently, and bring new pleasure. For earlier arrangements, see Two Winter Gardens*.

These are color photos, but the first and last could easily be mistaken for black-and-white. The white background is new snow on the pond ice. The images were captured over a five-week period in 2013. In the slide show, they are displayed in the order taken, with the date and time noted under each.

Photo 2. I shot on little notice when a late afternoon sun suddenly set the snow aglow, and threw the stems and their black ball heads into sharp relief. It shows the middle of the garden.

Photo 3. I took while still groggy with sleep. I had to push myself, but the effort was serendipitous. An hour later I looked out, and all the snow had melted from the stems.
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See related post: Coneflowers II, Two Winter Gardens*, Coneflowers*.

 

The ebbing daylight succumbed quickly to semi-darkness. Meltwater sheeted the ice, reflecting fire sticks of light from the rental community across the pond. It was a surreal blend of day and night.

During summer the giant complex is screened by foliage, mercifully.

The date was February 19, 2013, at 5:34 pm. Click the image to view it full screen, and click the back arrow to return. Cursor over for its description. Enjoy!
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This view was taken from my window on the morning after the great blizzard of February 8-9, 2013. It looks northeast toward nearby Smith Point.

The new snow hugs the ground in luminous mounds. The little cove, layered in ice of pewter-gray, bears the tracks of an early morning visitor. All is quiet at 8:30 am on February 10, 2013.

The long, gradual tonal transitions, all the way from pure black to pure white, make this photo “sing.” It is rich with fine detail, except in those few areas where highlights are “blown,” conveying how blindingly bright the scene was.

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