Late October waterfowl

These female Mallards moved off from a group of about 50 female Mallards that have been sunning themselves on the skinny beach near the cut-through at the island in the lower lake. The big group is making a bit of Long Lake history. A group like this hasn’t been seen at least in the dozen years we’ve been on the lake. The group sits, splashes about, dabbles around, and just generally does all things duck all day long. Very weird. It seems like they should have someplace to go by now.

These three seemed to be practicing their yoga asanas. When the females are in the water that cobalt blue patch isn’t seen. Nice of this individual to stretch enough to give us a good view.

Mallards are very vocal ducks, especially the females. In fact, they are one of very few ducks that actually quack.

The adult Loons left the lake in September, early September we believe. And we’ve decided not to worry, but there seems to be only one adolescent loon left on the lake. The sibs hung out together, for the most part, in the first weeks after mom and pop flew south. But now we see only one. One of the chicks was a bit smaller and we’re hopeful this one is just playing it smart, bulking up for the long flight south.

On October 14th, this adolescent approached our kayaks within about 15 feet. Steve took his photo. We paddled into Ghost Bay and this guy paddled in too, calmly floating near us, diving, and then resurfacing close by. We’ve not heard any vocalization. I guess when there’s no one to talk to, a loon just keeps their own counsel.

We will worry if this guy isn’t headed south in the next 2-3 weeks.

Common Mergansers are back on the lake. As with the Mallards, we are seeing only females. We’ve been seeing them in small groups swimming in the shallows. They dive and come up with mostly major sloppy stuff spilling out of their bills. Or they come up empty. For no reason we can discern, they are prone to episodes of water scooting.They flap their wings, flap their feet, rise up just a few inches off the water, and scoot ten or fifteen feet. They are the slapstick comedians of the waterfowl world.

This trio of females was a real surprise. They are Surf Scoters. They aren’t rare. But we’ve never seen them on Long Lake. From a distance, we thought they were American Black Ducks. But then those two white patches on the sides of their heads caught our attention. And then we noticed their spectacular large bills. A Surf Scoter’s scientific name is Melanitta Perspicullata, which basically means Black (duck) Spectacular. Someday I hope to meet a male Surf Scoter. His bill is even more bulbous than the female’s. And, instead of dull gray, his bill is white, yellow, and red, set off by a white forehead outlined in black. Now that’s spectacular!

Mallard brood


This is a mother mallard and her brood in Ghost Bay. Anas platyrhynchos. Out of the water, the hen’s speculum is very clear. It’s that band of metallic blue wing color, edged with a bit of white. Well, the blue is clear anyway.

The mallard hen builds a nest near tallish wetland plants or under a shrub. Actually, mallards are quite adaptable and in cities they may even nest in a flower planter. The hen scrapes around a bit, lays her eggs, and then puts grass, reeds, and leaves around her to make a rim for the nest. It will be lined with soft down feathers. The clutch of between 9 to 13 eggs will take around 30 days to incubate.

The male mallard’s role in all this is pretty minimal. Only the hen sits on the nest. Only the hen looks after the ducklings. The male drake heads off to join a flock and sort of just hangs out and molts. Before the fall migration, his bright courting feathers will be replaced with dull brown feathers–his eclipse plumage.

The ducklings are out of the nest and into the water within one day of hatching. They won’t be able to fly for about two months and they will stick close to their mother until then. In the early days they are so small that big fish or snapping turtles will find them a tasty morsel. On our lake they might also be lunch for a Bald Eagle.

By mid-July, the ducklings have grown so much that it’s not easy to distinguish them from their mother. I think that’s mom bringing up the rear. By about 10 weeks, the young ones will leave the family group to join a flock.