Saturday, April 12, 2014
Day of the Ducks!
I hadn't intended to visit the park today. I spent the morning preparing my taxes only days before the deadline. But only minutes after I finished filing them, I got a call from my good birder friend Ron. He was heading to the east side of Palmer Lake Park as another friend of ours (Larry) was there and seeing a variety of Waterfowl including Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal and Redhead to name a few! Since I've never positively seen a Redhead before, I quickly changed and hopped in the car to head over. Wouldn't you know it, the Redheads took off before I got there! From the granite bench overlooking the water on the east side we could see a few other Ducks, though they were quite a ways away. Ron was getting some decent photos as his lens can reach the moon. I snapped this photo of some Northern Shovelers that flew over us, but for the most part I wasn't getting any good photos with my mere 300mm lens and I knew I would need to get closer. So after walking a bit and eventually parting ways, I decided to drive over the west side and hike over to what I call the "Duck Pond" on the southwest corner of the park. Right off the bat I spotted a pair of male Buffleheads and this is a species I've only seen one other time at PLP! I decided I would hike in on the woodchip trail as it would be quieter, and then find a place along the water to sit and wait for them to come closer. And boy did they ever! It took quite a while but eventually the pair came close enough for me to catch some fantastic photos. Buffleheads are small diving ducks and when they would come back up to the surface they would have beads of water clinging to their backs. Though I've seen Buffleheads before in other places, this may have been the closest I'd ever been to them. I had not before fully appreciated what beautiful birds they are! Their head reminds me of a "pie-chart" with 1/4th of the pie colored pure white. But amazingly the other 3/4ths have an iridescent quality and can appear blue, purple and green in the right light. I had a lot of fun watching these two guys. Then, to my surprise another small pair of ducks caught my eye along the shoreline. I couldn't believe it but they were Green-winged Teal. Though I'd seen one through my binoculars earlier with Ron and Larry, this pair were most definitely in range of a photo! This is a species I've not previously witnessed at Palmer Lake so it was quite special to see them up closely. I spent nearly 2 hours watching the pair and hiking back and forth to opposite ends of the Duck Pond attempting to get better photos. Finally after a long time I had secured a spot only feet from the water's edge while the pair were behind some tall weeds off to my right. They came right out in front of me a few different times and I will tell you the male is one beautiful bird! Numerous times I also got to hear the male vocalize which was a series of "peeps" that alternated between a lower and higher tone. I thought it sounded much more like a songbird than any kind of duck. When making this sound his head generally appeared more puffed up or "tufted" than his usual "slick-backed" look. Once or twice I could see his head feathers appear to sort of drape off the back of his head. As for the female, she was drastically different and drab in comparison. I really only identified her by her behavior of hanging out with the male the entire time. And if not for her much smaller size, she would have appeared pretty similar to a hen Mallard. The only other things I noticed was that she appeared to have a wide neck at the base, and possibly a darker bill. Teal are "Dabbling Ducks" which mean they don't dive for their food and spend a lot of time with their heads lowered and bills in the water. It was hard to catch a photo of them when not in this position! Oh I forgot, but earlier with Ron and Larry, I also saw Blue-winged Teals. I caught only this one photo but at least I saw them. It was quite a good day and here is a total list of birds we saw (including a few other "firsts of the season!"): Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Wood Duck, Tree Swallow (first of season), Northern Flicker (first of season), Hairy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, Bald Eagle, American Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Osprey (first of season), American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Pied-billed Grebe and Great Blue Heron.