Saturday, May 05, 2012

Waterfowl Migration Winding Down

Ring-necked ducks taking flight

With the arrival of May the spring waterfowl migration is winding down in my area.  It all began back in late February with the snow geese and tundra swans arriving at Middle Creek and by early March buffleheads, lesser scaup, and common mergansers were on the local lake.  The mild winter had failed to freeze the lake so there was not the usual ice to impede their early arrival.

By early April these species had moved on and were replaced with hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks, horned grebes, along with the resident mallards and wood ducks.  Last weekend a flock of ring-necked ducks were still on the lake.  During my visits yesterday and today I failed to spot them.

Common Loons

The loons arrived during the second week of April with the numbers peaking last weekend when I spotted at least four individuals.  I photographed this pair yesterday but today was unable to spot a singe loon.  More loons may arrive yet however I will not be surprised if this is the last I will see them this spring.

Common Loon, winter plumage

As the loons pass through our area both the breeding and winter plumage can be seen with birds of both plumages being seen in nearly equal numbers.

Loon in flight

Check out how the loons feet extend well beyond its tail apparently acting as its rudder in flight.  The loons legs are positioned far back on its body; perfect for diving but useless for walking on land.  A loon causes a considerable commotion taking flight as it must patter for well over one hundred yards to gain enough speed to become airborne. 

Seldom have I observed a loon return to the lake once it takes flight.  Typically the loon, once in the air, will circle the lake a number of times clockwise gaining altitude with each pass.  After three to five passes it will be high in the air while I watch it passing over the north end of the lake soon becoming a mere speck above the horizon before disappearing completely.

Red-breasted Merganser

The female and immature red-breasted mergansers are the last to leave.  I have never observed mature males later than mid April however hens and immature males will stay well into May, sometimes as late as the last week.  I photographed this female stretching her wings yesterday after she had emerged from fishing underwater.

Female Red-breasted Mergansers

The mergansers were very actively fishing yesterday and diving frequently.  I enjoy watching these birds when they encounter a large school of baitfish.  The birds will go from swimming with their heads underwater to running across the surface when suddenly the entire flock will dive.  Where moments before a flock of ducks were swimming, only swirls on the water remain.  A few moments later heads will begin popping up some distance from where they dived and the search for fish will resume.

Many of the diving species such as the loons, horned grebes, pied-billed grebes, and redhead ducks will dive to evade intruders however while they dive to feed, the red-breasted merganser when pressed to closely take flight.

While the waterfowl migration is winding down the spring song bird migration is heating up.  Just this week I spotted my first hummingbird, cat bird, and spotted sandpiper for the season.

For more Critters of all Kinds
visit and join in at


Elaine said...

Lovely post! I love the lighting in the last two of the Mergansers. Nice work!

i beati said...

I could sit and watch forever and did n=any times in Canada

Montanagirl said...

Enjoyed this post. Very nice photo line-up. I've been seeing Loons at a local lake as well. Last year they were still here in late September.

Anonymous said...

What amazingly lovely shots.

Roan said...

Those mergansers are amazing. Very nice selection of critters and beautifully photographed, as well.

Lois Evensen said...

Fabulous pictures, as always. The last two are exceptional!

Dianne said...

the flight shots are so clear, and so wonderful