Mirabile dictu! Warm enough today to actually venture more than 100 feet from the nearest hot chocolate emporium. With temperatures hovering around –10 C in the past few weeks — and, of course, wind chills making it seem another 10 degrees or so colder — it was not fit for man or beast…In fact, it has been so cold the only men outside were those that absolutely HAD to take their beasts out for nature’s call.
A few days ago, when we were still in the early January deep freeze, I ventured as far as the AB parking lot, and walked out to the tips of the boat launch area. The wind was whipping at me so hard I couldn’t see — it caused tears to pour down my face. Forget about taking any photos. My eyes were so wet I could barely see the scene, let alone my camera. After saying hello to a few of my feathered friends, I gave up and hustled back to my car and thence home to warm up.
But today it was a different story. The deep puddles in the parking lot and boat launch piers made for wet walking, but were welcome anyway. A warming trend. Hurray! And this one long enough to actually make a difference. Today I was actually able to take a few shots before my freezing fingers made depressing the shutter button an impossibility.
There was lots to see. My first delight was seeing a pair of hooded mergansers quite far out in the Coatsworth Cut.
There was the usual flurry of herring gulls, of course, shrieking, squawking and skydiving over the parking lot as a well-meaning but misdirected woman proceeded to completely ignore the signs (not more than 20 feet away from her, warning visitors to not feed the birds. She had gone to the local bread factory store and purchased a carload of hot dog buns to feed them.
Thanks to the January thaw, the solid sheet of ice that had covered most of the Cut has broken up, leaving a scattering of ice floes drifting in the glittering water. Some lazy gulls took up residence on one such ice carpet near the piers (top photo) and further out, mallards had a rest on the ice, too.
Back at the boat launch, the mallard ducks were happy to get in on the free provisions being provided by the woman. Even our swans, Penny and Tycho, glided in to get some bread.
But the afternoon held a surprise. Besides the usual hundreds of mallards, I saw a couple of American black ducks (Anas rubripes), which are very close relatives of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). In countless walks at the bay I have only seen a few black ducks. Perhaps I haven’t been looking closely enough.
The black ducks seem to have very different personalities than their mallard cousins. They’re so timid compared to the forthright and brazen mallards! They seem to be the poor drab wallflowers at the duck dance.
I kept my eye on one black duck that kept losing out in the feeding frenzy. Just when he got close to a chunk of bread, a bunch of mallards would muscle him out of the way, even nipping at him to get him to drop the bread. In the photo above you can see two males and one female mallard pecking at the black duck. It looks like the drake at top right was successful in winning the bread. Guess the timid black duck is Ashbridge’s new underduck.
Further out in the Coatsworth Cut, the bay ducks ignored the commotion of the wheeling, screeching gulls fighting for the free meal. I saw goldeneyes, the hooded merganser pair previously mentioned, long tails, buffies, American mergansers and a huge throng of mostly ring-billed gulls sitting out on the ice floes.
Another day of fine feathered-friend watching. I hope it stays mild for a few days more!