Thursday, April 3, 2014

New Waterfowl Species (For Me Anyway)

I love nature! Being in the woods, or by a lakeside or pond makes me feel more alive than in any other experience. Something you might not know about me is that I love birding. I come by it naturally as it was something my mother and I did at a very young age. We always had several bird feeders by our door wall; mixed seed, suet, hummingbird, and thistle feeders. I would sit at the kitchen table and every time a new bird landed on the feeder my mom would quiz me. "Ok, how about that one?" she'd ask. If I didn't know its name we would take out her large Audubon Book of North American Birds and browse through the beautiful illustrations of all the colorful species. We'd find the bird and put a Post-It on that page with the date. As I got older, I expanded our love of birding by adding other types of feeders to our yard; Oriole feeders with citrus smelling nectar and grape jelly. I also discovered meal worms and made a peanut feeder for Wood Peckers.   

My love of birding doesn't really make its way into the farming blog that often, but it's definitely something I've always enjoyed. I used to do a feature here on the blog call Wild Wednesday where I would share different photographs of animals, birds, insects, interesting plants or mushrooms that I discovered while on a nature walk.

After we moved, I got away from Wild Wednesday because our lives were so saturated with interesting farming experiences that I had more than enough subject matter to stick with farming...But honestly, I miss it. Nature really is a large part of my personality and for a long time I've felt like something's been gone from my very soul. Not that I don't go out in nature anymore, it's just that I'm not quit as submerged as I used to be while living in the woods. Our little pocket of forest was so saturated with creatures that it felt like I was making new discoveries everyday. And it was even more interesting to note that as the surrounding area became more developed, (a subdivision went up close by; many trees were cut down, large homes were built, roads were paved, etc.) that the occurrence of new wildlife became more and more common. It was bittersweet really. While I enjoyed seeing these new animals on our property, like our first beaver, a pileated woodpecker, a grey fox etc. it was obvious that these animals were being squeezed together in some of the last pockets of woods left for them in the area. Or at least that's my theory?

In a way, a selfish way perhaps, I was glad that in the last few years I was able to experience a surge of wildlife before I left the woods and moved to the prairie.  

But rather than mourning my woodland experiences, I'm going to try to embrace the creatures of the meadow. We now see Sandhill Cranes and Red-winged Blackbirds, I photographed my first Black and Yellow Garden Spider, many varieties of snakes and my latest discovery is two new waterfowl species that I can add to my mothers well worn Book of North American Birds.

I apologize for the terrible photos but we were parked on the edge of a bride photographing what I thought were loons! We were on our way home from a friends house visiting their new baby lamb when I saw a large type of black and white waterfowl with a prominent pointed beak swimming in the thawed water of a frozen lake only about a mile from our house. "Zach!" I shouted. "I think I just saw a bunch of loons!"

I had never seen Loons this far south, but I thought perhaps they were making a stop on the way to their breeding grounds further north. We couldn't easily turn around in the car and the sun was setting so I knew I wouldn't get a good look.

We decided that we would let it be for the night and hopefully the "loons" would still be there the following day.

And they were. Only, after taking some rather distant photos and a good look through my binoculars, I realized these were not Loons at all. But I wasn't sure what they were?

So while I was disappointed that I didn't see a Loon, I was intrigued to identify this new species. Turns out, after browsing around the Michigan Audubon website and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that these are in fact Common Mergansers.You can see that the bodies are much whiter than a Loon, even in the loon's winter plumage. Also the females (If you look really close) have the slightest red-brown tint to their head and the hint of a crest in the back.

After looking through more of the photos I took at the bridge, I noticed this little pair of Lesser Scaups, which is also a new species for me.

Here is a Common Merganser with a male Hooded Merganser (Lower Right) which we used to have on our pond at the other house. 

Here's the same pair of Lesser Scaups with a Canada Goose above. This lake also had a good collection of Wood Ducks and Mallards. I'll keep visiting the lake and see if I can get some better photos to share.

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