WHAT THE QUACK IS THAT? A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BIRDER

As Forrest Gump opined: “Life is like a box of chocolates….you never know what you are going to get.”

Now that the weather appears to be turning toward spring, I have resumed my nature walks along Little Neck Bay and the Long Island Sound. The area has a wide diversity of birds and slowly I am learning how to identify songs and calls in an effort to hone in on a potential photo subject.  As I have mentioned before, the art of bird photography requires a great deal of patience and luck.

This day I was not off to a good start. I started out mid-morning, not ideal for birding – birds are most visible after sunrise, but I usually catch a good number of sightings no matter what time I head out.  Unfortunately the skies and the trees were empty as I made my way to the bay.  Once I started to trek along the water’s edge I did start to see the usual suspects in water – gulls, Canada Geese, mallards, and some sparrows twittering in the surrounding brush.  However, I was looking for new subjects so I kept on going.

Then in the distance I thought I saw a bird, end up with its face under water.  It was far offshore so I tried to capture it with my zoom lens.  This is what I saw:

Not a bird, but rather a rusted buoy.

No worries.  The beauty of a nature walk along the bay is that there is always something of interest – landscapes and waterscapes,  people walking/playing with their dogs, hopeful fisherman on the wharf and more.  And, if one is patient (always) maybe something new.

And there they were – swimming way back in the marsh area, ducks that were to me, quite strange-looking. Away I went clicking a few photos, hoping that I could catch a few good photos given the far distance. Here are the results:

 

 

 

So, what the quack are these?  Turns out, they are Northern Shovelers. They are fairly large ducks, about the size of a crow but their most distinctive characteristic is their bill – very long and wider at the tip.

 

The Shoveler is classified as a dabbling duck.  Dabbling ducks inhabit shallow waters such as marshes and unlike diving birds, they feed by tipping up with their tails held above the water rather than diving. Shovelers, true to their name, forage by skimming the surface of marsh water for seeds, plants, grasses, and weeds and even small crustaceans and insects,

When taking flight, they spring into the air instead of running  across the water until enough momentum is built to take flight.

Take a close look at these unusual bills, courtesy of the internet:

Male

Female – no comments, please about her mouth being open:

Those filaments look a lot like the baleen found in whales which serve a similar filtering purpose.

As wonderful as it is to see these birds, their appearance in my area  is actually due to climate change pressure. The main breeding grounds run from Alaska south through western Canada and much of the western United States.  It migrates south for the winter:

According to climate models this duck species is projected to lose 75 percent of its current summer habitat by 2080. As a result, the ducks are now migrating to more and more areas of the United States. Hopefully they can adjust to the changes as it would be a tragedy to lose such a unique animal.

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