Some people say you can tell winter is coming by the drop in temperature, the snow on the ground, or the Christmas lights going up. I, however, look for the ducks! It’s a good time of year to keep your eyes open for all the different ducks passing through the GTA on their way to warmer climates.
A friend and I went to the lake to watch the hooded mergansers, hoping to take some great shots. We were there at 8 a.m. and pumped up knowing that with our hats, mitts, winter coats, boots, and tough-as-nails attitude we could handle a little cold in exchange for some beautiful birds. Not five minutes later we were running back to our car, frozen solid and ready to call it a day. Luckily a little bit of coffee, a lot of heat, and some good conversation kept us from leaving. Half an hour later we were back outside enjoying the sights of several female mergansers bobbing for food and running away from amorous males. We didn’t last long, but it was definitely worth the persistence.
Last week I went down to Rouge Beach to see what birds were passing through. In just over an hour I spotted common mergansers, a green-winged teal, several Gadwalls, a few buffleheads and more. The green-winged teal was on my list of birds that I have struggled to get a good photo of. This was finally my day. For some unknown reason, this very small duck, notable for the large green patch leading backwards from the eye, was in the mood for a photo shoot. I finally got several great shots of him swimming, diving, and going about his ducky business.
What’s nice about getting pictures of ducks – and all water fowl – in the colder months is that as the ponds, lakes, and rivers start to freeze over, there is a limited amount of space for them to swim and feed. If you find a patch of open water, just wait there and the ducks will come to you. Keep your eyes open this time of year for northern pintails, with their long tails and elegant necks, bufflehead ducks, with distinctive calls and fluorescent colouring, Gadwalls, which wiggle their tail feathers with their partners in a weird duck-dance ritual, and northern shovelers, with the largest snout you might ever see.
I hope you will follow my lead and head down to the water and look closely at the different types of ducks. Remember, even if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it might not be just another duck.
Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer – naturephotosbyann.blogspot.ca