Northern Shovelers, 11/8/17

I’ve never done a species-specific bird post, have I? In the interest of doing something new, I’ll be focusing on just one species I saw yesterday. Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are the most well-known and most frequently seen waterfowl in southern Wisconsin. Others are not quite as common but are still seen regularly here. One such bird is the northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata).

From a distance, they are easily recognizable by their white and cinnamon plumage, but their most striking feature at a closer range is their comically large bill.

Two drake shovelers
Three drake shovelers and a hen

If you asked me what I think the most beautiful duck is, I would respond with a list topped by northern pintails (Anas acuta) and wood ducks (Aix sponsa). I would not think to put northern shovelers on that list. Yet, despite their lack of elegance, there is something charming about them. The warm cinnamon and deep green are captivating colors and I love the golden eyes of the drakes. But, of course, it’s that giant bill that wins me over. It makes them look awkward but in the most endearing way. Perhaps “adorkable” is an appropriate word.

Just look at those little weirdos.

They can be seen in the Madison area any time of year, but I have the most sightings of them during migration. In early winter, they are one of the birds that hang around at Babcock Park in McFarland, sometimes in a very large flock. During spring and fall I have seen them on many ponds in the area.

Stricker’s Pond, 11/1/17

A new month, a new overall feel. This past week of more autumnal weather has rendered the landscape looking a little bleaker. Sure, some color hangs on, but it just looks more drab outside. It feels more like late fall too. Today I had a brief birding break at Stricker’s Pond, and the wind was whipping across my face as cold November rain threatened to fall.

Yet, the birds and I still spend time outdoors. The birds have no choice but to do so, and neither do I if I want to see anything beyond the typical backyard visitors. The pond was not as flush with waterfowl as it can be in the fall but there were a few species on what first looked like an empty plane of water. Aside from the Canada geese (Branta canadensis) the first species I took notice of were hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), followed shortly by ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis), a common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and a northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata).

I noticed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) mixed in with the geese. Great blue herons will stick around later than other migratory species, but it still looked out of place on this chilly day. Another summer bird hanging out was an eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) on the north side of the pond.

Great blue heron and Canada geese
Eastern phoebe

The woods had less harsh air than the open areas and was a more comfortable part of the walk. There I found three sparrow species: white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis), a fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca), and a dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). White-throated and fox sparrows are mostly migratory species in this area, but juncos are a winter bird, though this one may have been making its way through to locales farther south. The sparrows were hard enough just to get decent looks at and I didn’t get any pictures. Oh well, I’ll get one of a fox sparrow someday. The trees were gorgeous though, and the oaks in particular were beautiful as they peak later than many of our other trees.

Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)- brown with a touch of warmth

My full eBird checklist can be found here.