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Monday, November 2, 2009

Duck Time

It's been a little while since I was down at Lake Ontario, so I guess I missed some of the autumn waterfowl build-up, but build-up they certainly have. As usual the bulk were Long-tailed Ducks. I didn't attempt to count them, they stretch to the horizon and beyond; many thousands. Amongst them I picked out 44 Surf Scoters, a few White-winged Scoters, 50 or so Common Goldeneye, 3 Red-throated Loons, 100 Red-breasted Mergansers plus a few small rafts of Greater Scaup. On Burlington Bay the Scaup were dominant. I didn't count them either and they were too distant for me to bother allocating them to species, but certainly 2000 or 3000, with smaller numbers of Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck and Redhead thrown in.

Adult Long-tailed Ducks actually have four different plumages each year (winter, spring, summer and autumn), a result of undergoing three moults. These photos of four different Long-tailed Ducks illustrate some of the seemingly myriad plumage variation seen at this time of year - when the birds are either in 'autumn' plumage, 'winter' plumage or transitioning between the two (these photos were taken on December 3rd 2008).

To be honest, the more I try to work out what age and sex they are, the more baffled I become. I would have thought the one above was a male judging by the long grey scapulars, but if females have bluish bills and males have pinky bills, then this must surely be a female. I know that in some duck species, older females can start to resemble males, so perhaps this is an example of that phenomenon and it's actually an adult female?

This one also has quite long pointed scapulars and a couple are also grey. It has the male type bill colouration and a few black breast feathers starting to emerge, so perhaps a 1st-winter male?

These two both seem to have female type bluish bills, although the bird above has some grey colouration on the scapulars and an overall darker brown appearance, so perhaps an adult. The bird below is the only one with no grey on the scapulars at all, a 1st-winter female? Tricky.


This one is just itchy.