Winter Rx: Ducks

Oh how I struggle in the dark season! Is it hard for you, too? The insects that fascinate me and fill my days with wonder in the spring, summer, and fall are absent. The shorter days entice me to spend far too much “cozy time” in my pajamas drinking coffee and eating…um, unhealthy food. You may have noticed that I haven’t written here for a while; that’s more evidence that I’ve been struggling to find anything positive to say.

The understated beauty of a female Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)

But I’ve made it this far and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can do this! The foot of snow that fell on us earlier this month is melting quickly, and the next two days will be warm enough to make it all go away. There’s been a lot of sunshine in recent days, and that is a HUGE help for anyone who has trouble with depression in the winter. The vernal equinox is on March 20…so close I can almost taste it. (By the way, I’d forgotten the difference between an equinox and a solstice, so I looked it up. You might want to refresh your memory too, here. Basically, equinoxes are in the spring and fall, and solstices in the winter and summer.)

Today I needed to renew my kayak registration at Maumee Bay State Park, so I decided to stop at the nearby Bayshore Fishing Access area on my way home. This is a spot on the western edge of Lake Erie (in Maumee Bay) where there’s often open water because of the warm water release from a nearby power plant. Birders flock to it in winter because it sometimes hosts thousands of ducks at a time.

Wait, what? Kim went birding?! I know, it’s been a loooong time since I’ve done this. My love of insects and native plants has erased nearly all interest in watching birds over the past few years. But today it was time to get back up on the birding horse. Wait, that sounds weird, like maybe I was planning to saddle up a Sandhill Crane colt. (But I am heading to Nebraska next month to see the massive migration of Sandhill Cranes, so you never know what might happen there….I’m told that what happens in Kearney stays in Kearney.)

Redhead males in pursuit of a female who is clearly trying hard to outswim them

In my previous life as an obsessed birder, I’d normally take several hundred photos while watching ducks. But this time I wanted to enjoy them in a different way, and I took only a couple dozen photos. Also, there was a cold wind blowing off the lake, so I didn’t stay long. It was a mostly-peaceful scene, except for the groups of male Redheads in pursuit of females. I always feel bad for the females in these amorous avian amalgamations; as you can see above, she’s racing to get away from their aggressive attentions. (A more talented writer than me wouldn’t feel the need to point out the awesome alliteration in that sentence, but I’ve tickled myself with it!)

Three species here: (l to r) Redhead, Canvasback, and Greater Scaup
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

I only saw this single male Common Merganser today, but they’re always fun to watch as they dive over and over in search of small fish. Another pleasant find was the Common Goldeneye, with its lovely eye and cute white cheek patch. (Click the picture to get a better look.)

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), from my archives

These gorgeous ducks spend the breeding season in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Here’s an interesting bit of info about their nesting habits, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “Goldeneye chicks leave the nest just one day after they hatch. The first step can be a doozy, with nests placed in tree cavities up to 40 feet high. As the female stands at the base of the tree and calls, the downy chicks jump from the nest hole one after the other and tumble to the ground.” If you’ve never seen videos of ducklings jumping from their tree nest, I encourage you to watch this one from PBS…it’s incredible.

I’m happy to find that I can still enjoy birding, and that it helped me get through one more day of winter. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself back out there searching for more open water along the shores of Lake Erie after the warmer temperatures coming up this week.

But I still long for my six-legged friends! I was a little bit sad yesterday when I had to remove a 50-foot elm tree in my yard, mourning all the insects that were undoubtedly dying as the tree was chopped up. And that’s probably why my brain conjured up a tiny insect dream snippet last night. It felt like the dream only lasted a few seconds, but I was standing in my garden and noticing that it was suddenly and unexpectedly spring and I was surrounded by all sorts of insects! I jumped for joy and ran toward the house to get my camera. And then woke up. What a teaser of a dream that was. But oh my gosh, that feeling!!!!!

15 comments

    • Yes, a new lens is always a motivator, Brian! But even a new lens wouldn’t get me out these days…I’ve become much less tolerant of frigid temperatures in the past few years. I need it to be above freezing, at least. Thanks for reading!

  1. Oh my, the baby ducks plunging from nest to ground in that video! So glad you shared that link, Kim!

    The last two years I lived in Idaho’s mountains, I noticed a pair of Canada geese about 30 feet up a Ponderosa Pine that had broken off years ago. I thought they must be resting on their migration and was amused because I’d never seen a Canada goose in a tree! A birder friend pointed out that Canada geese and other water fowl often have nests in trees and the chicks have to drop to the ground shortly after hatching. At least the chicks in the video had a nice, soft landing spot! And I imagine their bones are still soft and pliable, unlikely to break. Nature never ceases to amaze.

    It has been a long winter here as well, but I’m starting to see and hear more bird activity among those that winter over (chickadees, crows, jays) and that buoys my spirits. I love winter, but by February, I’m ready for spring (and hoping for a short mud season). This will be my first spring in Vermont, so extra exciting!

    • Yes, I bet it’ll be exciting to compare the season in Vermont to the one in Idaho. I’m also uplifted when I hear birds start to sing in February — the other day my resident cardinal pair were singing and calling to each other. That gives me hope that spring is really coming!

  2. Kim-I feel the same way that you do about winter. I, to, am an insect photographer and we have had long, grey and wet winter here on Vancouver Island. Today, however, I saw my first two bumblebee species so that lifted my energy level. I am also in the process of converting my front yard to native plants and reading your blogs is one of the things that inspired me to get going on this project.

    Lynda

    • Lynda, how exciting that you’ve got bees flying now! And thank you so much for telling me that I helped inspire you to plant natives in your yard. I think you’ve just made my day!

      • It was photographing insects that me realise how many varieties of native pollinators weren’t visiting my existing garden. I am looking forward to seeing what will show up once all the new plants get installed although I know it will take 2-3 year to really see the difference.

      • Yeah, it takes time. When I started my native garden a few years ago, I also began documenting all of my insect visitors on iNaturalist so that I can try to discern any changes over the years.

      • That is a good idea-I have been posting to iNaturalist for a few years already and am almost up to 4200 observations-not all insects though. Today I saw 3 fly species and a member of the Psyllidae family.So, things are coming to life around here.

  3. Liked your post except for the picture of the ladybug. We’re still killing 15-20 of the invasive Asian lady beetles a day, and it’s mid February. Many more on warm days. We inadvertently step on them on a rug sometimes, and they stain. The rest are on the walls and windows. Can’t figure where they’re coming from. Are they breeding inside? What the hell do they eat inside, if they eat. How long do they live? It’s quite disturbing, and killing them is not something we enjoy doing, but if we didn’t, we’d be overrun with them. We even put natural deterrents like lemon or mint around the windows in the fall. Any answers would be appreciated.

    • Enjoyed seeing the ducks. So pretty. I bet you are getting spring fever going back to birds which you can find all year but the bugs are hidden away till it becomes warm again. Enjoy the next two warm days we are promised!

    • Hi Bob. I doubt I can tell you anything you haven’t already researched for yourself, but I definitely sympathize. I’ve read so many stories about massive infestations of Asian lady beetles, and nobody seems to have found a good solution. These beetles are in your home because it’s a warm place to survive the winter. They enter in the fall through any tiny space they can find, so the experts advise sealing up any gaps in outside caulking, making sure your window screens are secure, and sealing any openings around vents, light fixtures, etc. You might want to take a look around your attic and basement, if you have them, to see if you can find where the beetles are clustering to stay warm. Maybe you can eliminate a lot of them at once that way.

      Otherwise, I think you just have to wait them out until the weather is warm enough for them to survive outside again, unfortunately. (Well, there are chemical options but there are health risks to you.) In the meantime, a vacuum is a quick way to suck them up without getting stained by their smelly secretions. Just make sure to empty the vacuum outside right away so they can’t crawl back out.

      As for what they’re eating, they go into diapause and don’t need to eat much during the winter. I’d imagine those that become active on warm days won’t live long if they can’t find food. But they can survive by eating other small insects that might be in your walls, attic, or basement. Their lifespan is usually only a few months, but some can live up to three years.

      Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

  4. Birds? Now you’re talking my language!! I enjoy all your posts, except spiders, but I just love birds. And I immediately noticed that massively impressive alliterative phrasing you used! Well done. I’m actually working on a blog post about ‘Wintering’ which is also a book I just finished reading by Katherine May. I really enjoyed it, though summer is the season I find most challenging here. In winter I come alive. But I think that is more about the weather and hot weather drains my energy. Nice to hear from you Kim, keep well.

I love your comments -- talk to me here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s