A couple of weeks ago we went camping to a small lake a few hours drive from home. This is one of my favourite places to watch birds because the lake has shallow, marshy edges that attract many different species of ducks and other waterfowl. The location also makes it easy for me to practice photographing birds; the marsh was so close to where we were camped that the ducks were only a few metres away from me as I sat at the picnic table with my camera.
Ring-necked Ducks (second photo) and Lesser Scaups (first photo) are both striking, black-and-white patterned ducks that often came close enough for me to get good photos. The “ring” that the Ring-necked Duck is named for is faint and reddish and usually hard to see, but the bold white ring on this duck’s bill makes it easier to recognize. The male Lesser Scaup, on the other hand, has a bluish bill and black and white speckles on his back. Lesser Scaups are one of the most abundant diving ducks on North America, but both they and Greater Scaups (which breed in the Arctic, and are also found in Eurasia) are declining.
The duck that we probably saw most often was the Cinnamon Teal (above), but my photos of this duck ended up being the most disappointing. Cinnamon Teals are small, cinnamon-coloured ducks, and while their plumage may not be as flashy as that of the other ducks in this post, I find them beautiful nonetheless. They typically feed with their heads partially below the water on plants and invertebrates (unlike the other ducks in this post, they do not dive), and in all of my photos, the Cinnamon Teal is either in a position like the one above or partially obscured by vegetation. How is it that birds so often seem to strike a perfect pose only when they are behind a branch or a piece of grass?
However, my favourite duck of this trip was the Ruddy Duck (above), partly because I had never seen one before, and partly because these are probably the craziest-looking ducks I have ever seen. The males have startlingly bright blue bills (the blue is much brighter in person than it is in my photo), white faces, black heads, and reddish bodies, and they often hold their tails vertically. Male Ruddy Ducks also put on an elaborate courtship display, inflating the air sacs in their necks, striking their bills against them, and making clucking sounds. We were lucky enough to see a bit of this, and while the female Ruddy Ducks present didn’t seem overly impressed, I certainly was.
While I would usually describe myself as more of a plant person than a birder, I’m still thrilled to be able to observe birds and their behaviour and to discover species that I haven’t seen before.
What interesting birds have you seen lately?