Thursday, January 31, 2013

'Hi there, sailor; come here often?'

Merganser duck and Bonaparte's gull
 Or some such question from the merganser duck seems to shock a wide-eyed Bonaparte's gull.
Doug Billings shot this wonderful photograph while up at camp.
Mergansers are our most-common duck. They are often seen in groups of 6-12 ducklings plus the hen, swimming along shorelines. If frightened they skitter across the lake's surface until they have grown their flight feathers.
A lot of people don't know that the minnow-eating merganser, with its legs farther back on its body than ducks like mallards (better for swimming) nests in tree cavities. In fact, there are a couple of hens that nest each year right in the large quaking aspen trees in camp.
They nest in old holes made by pileated woodpeckers, anywhere from 30-40 feet from the ground.
How they can fly into the hole without killing themselves is a miracle. I've only seen it happen once. The hen kept flying through the trees, narrowly averting disaster with tree trunks until finally, she headed right toward the hole, full throttle. Then, with just feet to go, she flared her wings, put feet to the edge of the hole and fell right inside.
The Bonaparte's gull is a new resident to the west end of Red Lake. These small, tern-like members of the gull family first showed up about 10 years ago during a late-spring snowstorm. Some stayed for the summer and now we have a small population of nesting birds. They are more common on the Prairies than Northwestern Ontario but I understand there has been a population living downstream of Red Lake on Gullrock Lake for a number of years.
They too eat minnows and can be seen swimming back and forth along the shorelines pecking at unseen prey.
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