It’s relatively easy to identify ducks on water because they look like the pictures in the field guides.
Even when the female is boring, the male is usually colorful as shown in this pair of American wigeons (Mareca americana). He’s the one with a green nape, white crown, white butt, and black tail. The black and white features are unique, even from a distance.
But in flight it’s another story. Here are three American wigeons in the air. I’m stumped!
Why are they so hard to identify? Because we see two body parts that aren’t visible when they’re swimming — bellies and underwings. Who knew that wigeons have white bellies?
The best way to identify ducks in flight is by using black-and-white drawings. This Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brochure is the closest thing I’ve found online: Ducks at a Distance. See pages 50-51.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
The wattled jacana looks pretty strange but that’s only the beginning.
Though related to shorebirds Jacana jacana has a wattle on his face like a chicken, and very long toes that are longer than his ‘nose’ (beak).
His toes are long because he spends his life walking on floating vegetation, a habit that’s given him the nickname “lily-trotter.” When his footing is submerged he looks like he’s walking on water.
The jacana’s social life is even stranger. Like a phalarope, a female jacana mates with multiple males and never takes care of her young. She lays four eggs in a floating nest but it’s up to one of her mates to incubate the eggs and protect the young after they hatch.
Weirdest of all, the father bird doesn’t incubate by placing his belly against the eggs. Instead he puts two eggs under each wing and keeps them warm against his body.
Later, when the newly hatched chicks are too small to walk alone, he tucks the chicks under his wings and walks away with them. Their little legs dangle beneath his wings. Click here and look closely at the photo to see what I mean.
Female wattled jacanas are larger than males but the birds otherwise look alike. How do you identify a male wattled jacana? Because he’s babysitting.
Here’s a father with a chick in the background. If you can’t see the chick, click on the photo to see the original that has a box around the chick.
Native to Panama and South America, the wattled jacana is strange in many ways.
Ducks, grebes, coots and loons are migrating north through western Pennsylvania this month. It’s time to get outdoors and see them before they’re gone.
Here are just a few of the species reported in Butler and Westmoreland Counties last weekend, photographed by Steve Gosser during spring migration 2011 to 2017. If you like Steve’s photos, check out the opportunity below to see his presentation in Clarion, PA tonight, March 14.
Above a male bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) comes in for a landing. Notice how pink his feet are in March!
Below, a redhead (Aythya americana) stretches his wings while ducks and geese sleep in the background.
SCROLL DOWN TO SEE UPDATES.
This week in the space of 40 hours — Feb 14, 4:30pm to Feb 16, 9:50am — the Pittsburgh region received 2.5+ inches of rain. At first it flooded creeks and streams. Now it’s in the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers.
Since I live near the Mon River I went down to Duck Hollow to see what it looked like. In video below from Friday morning 16 Feb, the island of treetops in Thursday’s photo had disappeared.
Today (Saturday) the rivers are even higher and I don’t have to visit them to find out. The PennDOT traffic cams tell the story.
In Downtown Pittsburgh there’s a stretch of I-376 westbound called “The Bathtub” that dips into the Mon River flood zone. Last month it was the site of exciting river rescues when two people drove their vehicles into it as the water was rising. Click here to see a Live Video of the rescues.
This morning The Bathtub is full, as shown in before-and-after photos from the PennDOT traffic cam: Yesterday (Feb 16) on the left, today (Feb 17) on the right, both at 7:20am.
The Allegheny is flooding, too, at the 10th Street Bypass.
All of this is “Minor” flooding in Pittsburgh per the National Weather Service. (Flooding on the Youghiogheny River in Sutersville nearly reached the “Major” stage last night. It’s receding now.)
Later this morning I’ll go down to Duck Hollow and see what’s up. The water’s up for sure!
UPDATES: Saturday Feb 17 & Sunday Feb 18.
The Monongahela River crested around mid morning on Sat. February 17 and started to go down a little by noon. 17 Feb 2018, 9:30am: I saw small fish swimming in the parking lot! Two Canada geese float by beyond the guardrail.
No parking today!
17 Feb 2018, 12:11pm: The water has started to recede, though not by much.
18 Feb 2018, 6:00am: The Bathtub on I-376 and the 10th Street Bypass are still closed due to flooding. The water is about 1/3 to 1/2 gone.
Though the birds are anxious to get home they wait for winter to break its grip, moving only as far north as open water and fields without snow cover. They look for open water to rest at night and visible food in the fields.
It’s always hard to predict when waterfowl numbers will reach their peak at Middle Creek but this year must be especially challenging. This winter’s hot-and-cold weather has created thick ice, then open water, then ice again. The snow geese have come and gone and come again.
PA Game Commission counts the geese and swans every day and posts Thursday’s count on their Migration Update page. The latest report on February 8 says:
Snow Geese: 50,000
Canada geese: 5,000
Tundra swans: 2,500
Since the last update, the majority of the snow goose numbers have returned and seem to be holding there.
Even though I saw lots of snow geese and tundra swans at the Snow Goose Festival in California I still want to go to Middle Creek. I like to arrive at Willow Point before dawn and watch the snow geese leave the lake after sunrise in an explosive burst. Then the tundra swans put on a beautiful show.
Tundra swans get in synch on the water before they fly. They swim together, bob their heads, and hum “whooooo” as they go. Near the moment of takeoff the flock swims in line, bobbing their heads frequently and humming loudly. And then they’re off!
Watch them prepare for takeoff in this video from Wisconsin.
Later this month I’ll go see tundra swans on the move.
What attracts so many ducks and geese to the Central Valley? It’s obvious from the air. The land is flooded with shallow ponds (rice fields) and wetlands.
In winter a million geese come to stay: greater white-fronted geese, snow geese, and some Ross’s geese. Ross’s geese look the same as snow geese but they’re smaller and hard to pick out. At the Festival I learned an easy way to identify a Ross’s goose in flight: Look for an obviously small goose in a V of snow geese. Ta dah!
The most plentiful duck in winter is the northern pintail, far outnumbering all other species. Scanning the thousands of ducks at Llano Seco, the majority were pintails with American wigeons and northern shovelers mixed in. Mallards were rare.
In January the flowers bloom because it’s the rainy season. These pipevine flowers were in Upper Bidwell Park.
At Lime Saddle we hiked near the flume, a man-made canal that bypasses Lake Oroville reservoir. Because I’m from the East, California water rights are strange to me. Just as in the early days of cell networks when each carrier erected its own tower, water-owners in California build their own watercourses to separate their water from other uses.
What do you do with a stale loaf of bread? Do you feed it to the birds? Uh oh! Did you know that bread is bad for birds?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to poison them. It’s just that for birds bread has no nutritional value. They’ll fill up on it instead of the food that’s good for them.
Bread is junk food for birds. So are crackers, chips, french fries, donuts, cereal and popcorn, to name a few. These foods are especially bad for ducklings because their little bodies have special nutritional needs.
Since the birds won’t control their own junk food intake, you shouldn’t feed them bread. This isn’t an edict from the Food Police. It’s just common sense because …
If you’re the only person feeding the birds you can give them good food all the time (see list below) and feed bread sparingly as a junk food treat and it won’t cause trouble.
But at places where lots of people are feeding bread to birds, your bread adds to the problem. Here’s an visual example. Do you recognize the spillway at Pymantuning?
On the day before the “bomb cyclone” hit Massachusetts my sister-in-law, Barb Lambdin, sent me two photos of the frozen ocean at West Dennis Beach, Cape Cod. Intrigued by the coming storm, I asked her to take more photos when it hit.
The photo locations are part of the story:
Before the storm: West Dennis Beach on the ocean side.
During the storm: Corporation Beach in the protected middle of the bay shore.
BEFORE THE STORM:
Above, the ocean was so calm on 3 January 2018 that ice had formed in flat sheets and blue-green water ponded on top.
The waves were small and slushy (below). Barb calls them Frozen Margarita waves.
DURING THE STORM:
On 4 January it was too windy and dangerous on the ocean side so Barb went to the bay side at Corporation Beach. The two photos below were taken at high tide.
Keep in mind that this is the calm side of Cape Cod yet the waves are high and about to flood the parking lot. I have never seen waves break at Corporation Beach!
Sidney and Bette are “expecting.” Today may be the day.
Sidney and Bette are African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), members of a critically endangered species that lives in a colony at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. The birds nest in burrows or under bushes so the Aviary has provided a special cubbyhole for the pair that’s equipped with a nestcam so we all can watch.
Here’s the action up to now, described by the National Aviary:
Penguin parents, Sidney and Bette, laid two eggs on November 7th and 11th. The first egg is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18, and the second egg is expected to hatch between December 18 and 22. If all goes well, the chicks will eventually join the National Aviary’s current colony of 20 African Penguins. This is the fourth set of chicks for Sidney and Bette who have had 6 chicks together at the National Aviary (not including these two)!
It’s quite a privilege to watch African penguins nesting. There used to be 4 million of them in 1800 but now there are less than 25,000 pairs in the wild. When these eggs hatch they’ll be a significant addition to the population.
Click here or on the screenshot above to watch the African Penguin Nestcam at the National Aviary.
Will today be the day? Only Sidney and Bette know for sure.
UPDATE on Dec 17: First egg hatched on Sat December 16. One more egg to go.
UPDATE on Dec 20: Second egg hatched today. Two cute penguin chicks!