Well below freezing temperatures greeted the nearly forty birders on Sunday December 9th for a walk around the ponds and landscape of the middle Emerald Necklace. As we began I mentioned that a Mandarin Duck that was present in one of the water ways in Central Park, NYC currently that was getting a lot of national press lately had been seen here five years ago.
This male Mandarin Duck, seen to left of it’s cousin a male Wood Duck, hung out on Leverett Pond with a flotilla of Wood Ducks for several weeks in winter 2013
It too had been declared an “escape”, an Asian duck that had wandered from someone’s private property and therefore not countable for birders life lists. Still pretty fancy to see though.
Because of constant freezing temperatures in the last two days much of Leverett Pond was iced over, but we found pockets of open water and they were full of waterfowl. Resident Canada Geese and Mallards predominated, but as we scanned the collection other species were identified, including these:
Two male and one female Ring-necked Ducks showing,-not a ringed neck- but a white ring around their bills, diagnostic of the species. How did the taxonomists get that wrong?
Like many of the duck species that appear here only in winter, these ducks breed in the upper US and southern Canada.
Then we spotted our target species for this pond, the beautiful Wood Duck:
How handsome can a duck be?
Wood ducks began being seen on this pond at the turn of the century and since then their numbers in winter have greatly expanded. One experienced local birder who was along for the walk said he counted close to 100 Wood Ducks here about five years ago and breeding was documented in this busy urban area for this usually skittish species in 2015:
A female Wood Duck, left, and her 6 ducklings on the edge of Leverett Pond, August 9, 2015
The female of the species, while more subtile in coloration, is equally beautiful:
Female Wood Duck
Our birds today were mostly sleeping, but later began to move about:
Two female and a male Wood duck on the move
Hard to get enough of these beauties. While we were scanning the duck population I noticed a bird in a bare tree at pond’s edge:
Belted Kingfisher male, without the brown breast band of the female
This was our best unexpected bird on the walk and was a lifer for some. He sat for us in the tree, occasionally diving into the pond for a fish, for ten minutes made his rattling call several times.
Just as we were about to leave Leveritt Pond and head up to Jamaica Pond a keen-eyed observer spogtted a solitary male of a species we had missed; Hooded Merganser
Male Hooded Merganser
We were about half way through the time for our scheduled walk, but it turned out we had seen most of the birds that were going to show up. On our way through Olmsted Park we did have a good look at a Red-bellied Woodpecker
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker; in the female the red does not extend up to the head from the nape
but otherwise it was slim pickings until we arrived at Jamaica Pond. Even there we had to walk some distance to locate two new duck species for the list:
Three Ruddy Ducks; the male is on top.
Our view was not very close, but this duck’s sillouette is distinct enough for a positive ID.
Stiff-tail is the nickname for this small diving duck, and for good reason.
There were two female Buffleheads at the far edge of the pond, barely visible and identified because I had seen these two on my way to the walk closer up so I was confident of the ID
Bufflehead female showing a clear white cheek against a black head
The male of this species really outshines it’s mate
Striking white and black markings on this male Bufflehead.
Over the years I have seen over 30 species of waterfowl on these two ponds; today was not very productive. But overall most of the group stayed until the ned, and were pleased with the lovely ducks we did find.