Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week

January 17, 2021 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, which means that John Avise has some photos of Faux Ducks—those species of waterfowl that people think are ducks but aren’t. Your job is to guess the species after looking at the photos below. You’ll find the answer, along with John’s Faux Duck Fax and a range map, below the fold. Captions are John’s; click photos to enlarge them:

Individual swimming:

Non-breeder showing its webbed feet:

Bird in flight:

Another bird in flight:

Juvenile standing:

Drying its wings:

Breeding adult on nest:

Showing blue gular pouch:

Dorsal view:

Head portrait:

Nesting colony:

Typical natural habitat:

Click “continue reading” for the ID, Fun Faux Duck Fax, and a range map: Continue reading “Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week”

New Year’s Duck (from PCC[E])

December 31, 2020 • 2:45 pm

It’s been a weird duck year in many ways: Honey’s return followed by her kidnapping of an entire brood (Dorothy’s); Dorothy’s re-nesting and raising of six healthy ducklings; my having to capture an entire brood before it was killed by Honey, then sending it to rehab; a woman trying to release three huge, flightless, and domesticated Rouen ducks in the pond (she was stopped by me); and then the late-season arrival of dozens of mallards, accompanied by three wood ducks (Aix galericulata): Frisky, Blockhead, and Ruth.

When I stopped feeding them, they left, and for a while there were no ducks. Now, when the pond is largely frozen but we have a bit of open water, one to six ducks visit the pond every day or so. When there are only a few, I will feed them, as they’re obviously overwintering in Chicago, like many mallards this year. (See Greg’s post, just before this one, about mallards overwintering farther north.)

Today we have one hen, whom I’ve named Quackers because she quacks plaintively when she sees me. She’s been here two days, but had five companions yesterday. I hope she’ll leave, but she seems comfortable for the time being, despite most of the pond being covered with ice. I give her plenty to eat, as she needs fuel to keep warm.

Here’s Quackers being a Dali duck (that’s what we call ducks who hang over the edge like Dali’s watches):

Quackers is in good shape and, from the pattern on her bill, is clearly not Honey:

Quackers swimming and eating her duck pellets. That water is wicked cold, as I discovered when I put my hand in it the other day, but ducks are well insulated. They also have countercurrent blood flow in their legs and feet so they won’t lose too much heat. Note the footprints:

Duck footprints all over the ice and snow:

On the soft snow, you can see impressions of the whole foot:

On the ice, where the webbing doesn’t leave an imprint, you can see impressions of the three weight-bearing toes:

And just to reprise some highlights of the season, here’s Frisky canoodling with Ruth:

And Honey with her supplemented brood (I believe you can count all 17 ducklings here):

A bit older. She raised seventeen this year, only half of which were hers:

And that’s it for 2020, folks. I’ll be back tomorrow, but posting may be light as your host rests on the holiday.

Christmas ducks

December 31, 2020 • 2:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

On Christmas Day, I went down to the harbor in Racine, Wisconsin, and saw a male and female pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) amidst a group of Canada geese (Branta canadensis).

Canada geese and mallards, Racine harbor, Wisconsin, December 25, 2020.

Canada geese were migratory in this part of Wisconsin when I first moved here (1992), disappearing for a month or two at the height of winter. In even earlier times, they were not even breeding here, just passing through on the way to and from their more northern breeding grounds. Now they are year-round residents, with pairs setting up breeding territories starting in February-March. (On the campus of the  University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the nesting sites are atop buildings, a shift from the ground nesting habits they had in the 1990s.) They join up in flocks after the breeding season, frequenting open water (as at Lake Michigan, shown here) and farm fields, which have unharvested corn and other food supplies. I’m not sure what has caused them to stay year round, but the local increase of development– leading to higher temperatures (heat islands), more open water, year-round lawn grass growth in some areas, and more handouts from people– along with global warming– leading to higher temperatures in general– may be contributing.

As I approached to get a picture, I realized there were many more mallards than a pair– 17, in fact, among the 23 geese. Also, the mallards were much more apprehensive about the approach of a person on shore. As you can see, they are all streaming away, while the geese remain serenely contemplative.

Canada geese and mallards, Racine harbor, Wisconsin, December 25, 2020.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 31, 2020 • 8:00 am

Please send in your wildlife photos, as the tank is distressingly low.

Today we have two sets of photos from Joe Routon-one of ducks and one of plants. Ducks first, of course. Joe’s captions are indented; click photos to enlarge them.

A few years ago, when we were in India, we were surprised to see these ducks being herded down the river. Our guide explained that they were part of a duck farm.

This link, sent by Joe, tells about duck farming in India, which calls them “reasonably intellectual birds.”

The second batch:

On my daily social-distancing, mask-wearing walk, I always take my camera, in search of something beautiful to photograph. In this world of ugliness and unrest, I need something that makes me feel good.

Dead leaves are not the first things that come to mind when you think about beauty. But, in my search for things to photograph, I started noticing them. Here are a few of my photos of dead leaves as art.

It’s not a leaf—it’s a seedhead, but I’m including it because to me it’s art in its purest sense. It’s Clematis vitalba, also known as Old Man’s Beard.

Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week

December 27, 2020 • 8:00 am

Once again we have John Avise‘s weekly Mystery Faux Duck: a series of species sometimes mistaken for real ducks but aren’t.  Have a look at the photos, guess this week’s species, and then go below the fold to see if you’re right. You’ll also see a range map and learn some stuff about the bird from John (his captions and description are indented; click pictures to enlarge them).

Side view of non-breeding adult:

Frontal view:

Juvenile showing just a hint of red on the throat:

Slim bill angled slightly skyward:

Paddling furiously:

Rare sight of bird resting on land:

Very rare sight of bird walking on land:

Head portrait:

Another head portrait:

Click “continue reading” to see the ID, John’s Fun Faux Dux Fax, and a range map: Continue reading “Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week”

Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week

December 20, 2020 • 8:00 am

Once again biologist and bird maven John Avise presents us with a Faux Duck of the Week, and your job is to guess the species. After perusing the photos, make your guess and then click “continue reading” to see the ID, some Fun Faux Dux Fax, and a range map. Click on photos to enlarge them.

This species, though it won’t help you guess, is one of John’s favorites. Many of you will be able to recognize it! John’s captions, as well as his facts below the fold, are indented.

Adult in breeding condition:

Another breeding adult:

Adult in non-breeding plumage:

Dorsal view:

Young bird:

Using one foot like a rudder:

Head-on view:

Showing legs far back on body:

Agitating the water to attract fish:

Click “continue reading” to see the species, some info about the species, and a range map. Continue reading “Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week”

Sunday’s Faux Duck ‘o the Week

December 13, 2020 • 8:00 am

John Avise continues his series on “faux ducks”—those birds that many people think are ducks but aren’t. Your job is to guess the species after looking at the photos. You can check your answer afterwards by going below the fold, where you can find the ID, some of John’s Fun Faux Duck Fax, and a range map. John’s captions are indented; click photos to enlarge them.

Adult frontal view:

Another adult side view:

Dorsal view:

Twisting neck:


Non-breeding adult:

Oil-soiled bird showing reflection:

Clark’s (right) and Western (left) Grebes:

Showing aggression against Western Grebe:

Adult (with fish) and juvenile

Click “read more” for ID, Faux Duck Fax, and a range map: Continue reading “Sunday’s Faux Duck ‘o the Week”

Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week

December 6, 2020 • 8:00 am

John Avise continues his series on “Faux ducks”, waterbirds that look like ducks but aren’t. Your job is to guess the species, and, if you can’t, learn it. Below the fold is the ID as well as some of John’s Fun Faux Duck Facts and a range map. Ok, ready, set. . . guess! (Click photos to enlarge them.)

Adult resting (note the foot position):

Adult swimming:

Rear view:

Frontal view on a cloudy day:

Pair preparing to run across the water:

Rare sight of bird on land:

Flock on open water:

Head portrait:

Head-on portrait:

Click “read more” for the ID, fun duck facts, and a range map: Continue reading “Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week”

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 5, 2020 • 8:00 am

Thanks to the several readers who topped up my photo tank. Do keep this site in mind as you accumulate good photos, and remember that “street photography” and landscapes also count as wildlife.

Saturdays are potpourris, when I display the photos sent by readers as singletons or as a small titers. Their captions and IDs are indented.

First up is a photo by Christopher Moss.

The Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus) have returned, and flocking with them are some waxwings. I noticed, without paying much attention, that the waxwings had rather reddish caps, and only after staring at one for some time as it recovered slowly from flying into a window, did I realise in my dull brain that I was looking at a Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus), rather than the usual Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Here is one:

Three waterbirds from Mary Barbara Vance Wilson:

Here are photos of three waterbirds, seen in W. B. Nelson State Park near Waldport, Oregon, December 2.  My favorite is a “faux goose,” the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).  It uses its hooked beak to catch fish. The orange, hairless throat, the gular pouch, is homologous to the pouch of the related pelicans.
Female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). The species is sometimes called the hammerhead because of its crest.  Mergansers are real ducks but unusual because the bill is slender with serrations that help it catch slippery fish.
The male Gadwall (Mareca strepera) looks plain, but if the camera focuses just right, its small-scale patterns are impressive. 


From reader Markus Helenä we have red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). Photos were taken in Leenankuja, Espoo, Finland by Marukus’s wife Tanya:

And astronomy photos from Terry Platt, Berkshire, UK:

Here’s a couple of shots of Comet NEOWISE that I took last July. The comet first appeared in the twilight on the 12th of July (as seen from Binfield, UK) and passed closest to Earth around July 23rd. Both pictures were taken with a 70mm lens on a Nikon D7200 DSLR and are exposures of about 5 minutes. A small ‘tracking mount’ was used to correct for the rotation of the Earth.

Friday ducks (and starlings)

December 4, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Things have been pretty quiet at Botany Pond lately, and, as temperatures dropped below freezing, parts of the pond have been covered with thin ice. That hasn’t stopped some ducks from coming by, though. For more than a week we’ve been graced with four ducks, though “graced” might not be the right word for a bonded drake and hen who are Evil Ducks.

First, though, the nice ducks, a heavily bonded pair of hens named Cate and Tilda (after the actresses) who were here until yesterday. They were never more than a few feet apart, and swam together constantly. They look like first-year hens, and might be siblings from one small brood.  They seem to really like each other, and when the Evil Ducks (below) drive them apart in the pond, they quack until they find each other again.

I love this pair, and until this morning fed them twice a day. I’ve now stopped the feeding as it will get cold and I don’t want them around when the pond freezes over completely.

They would sleep on the water, too, which to us would be ungodly cold. To them it’s not bad. Here’s one taking a snooze on the float:

Sadly, two days ago Cate flew away, leaving Tilda alone with the Evil Ducks. I wonder if Tilda misses her.

And the Evil Ducks. The Drake is Eskimo Pie, named because he liked the cold water. A few days after he showed up—about ten days ago—he was joined by a female, and they’re clearly a bonded pair now.  We first called her “Mrs. Pie” because we hadn’t thought of a name, but now she’s named Pumpkin. Eskimo and Pumpkin: the Pie Family.

The Pies are evil because they’re always chasing the other ducks: Tilda and Cate until two days ago, and now Tilda as the sole hen. They make her life miserable, never leaving her alone when they can see her. When I fed the bonded hens, I’d get them into the channel and toss them food, all the while driving off the Pies, who were incessantly trying to get over to the food. It was rough—part of this stressful duck year. Here’s Pumpkin trying to cross the sidewalk to get to Tilda’s food. She is deceptively sweet looking, but she’s a demon.

Lagniappe: On December 1, and on several days since then, starlings have been swirling around my office window. In fact, they are to be seen all around the university, engaged in murmurations that, because they’re not in the evening, seem to have little to do with roosting for the night. Here are the shapes I see flitting by my window, back and forth, as I work. Who knows what’s going on with these birds?