Thu Mar 2023

March Migrants 2013*

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.