Retirement has allowed me to explore much more of my extended backyard this spring migration season. I live in SE Michigan in the Detroit suburbs, but have extended my outings to the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, east of Toledo. My primary focus has been Maggie Marsh, which I was already familiar with. (I wrote a Maggie Marsh Bucket last week and I’m still working on the bird-focused follow up. There’s just *so* many birds!)
I’ve also been fortunate to have made new birder friends, some of whom are much more familiar with the region than I am, and to have gone on Detroit Audubon Society sponsored field trips. They have introduced me to new areas, which in turn is introducing me to new wetland birds.
This area of Ohio was once covered by the Great Black Swamp. Almost all of it was drained and most of that used for agriculture. This was the fate of the land now covered by Howard Marsh, which was previously a working farm. It is now part of Metroparks Toldeo. Ohio purchased the 1,000 acre property in 2008, and restored it to a
functioning wetland, [that now filters] runoff water before it reaches Lake Erie and provides important spawning habitat for fish and stopover habitat for a variety of birds.
Howard Marsh is a birding hotspot, particularly known for waterfowl and shorebirds. Over 230 species – more than half the known species ever recorded in Ohio – have been documented on birding websites, and include many rare and unexpected visitors during migration. Trumpeter swans, a variety of ducks, osprey and an array of songbirds are typical sights, with occasional visits from sandhill cranes, bald eagles and pelicans.
My first visit to Howard Marsh was less than two weeks ago, on May 24th. One of the first sights I was treated to was a bird that has often graced the pages of the Daily Bucket, but was a lifer for me: The Black-necked Stilt.
Just down the road was another lifer: the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Two males were displaying to females and charging each other. In between, they were focused on scarfing up insects in the grasses.
But the main contest was between two Blue-winged Teal drakes. First, some background on this gorgeous bird.
The Blue-winged Teal is among the latest ducks to migrate northward in spring, and one of the first to migrate southward in fall.
The Blue-winged Teal migrates over long distances. One individual banded in Alberta was shot in Venezuela a month later. All About Birds.
Their range extends from Alaska (summer breeding) to Brazil (winter). All About Birds.
Blue-winged Teal eat aquatic insects such as midge larvae, crustaceans, clams, and snails as well as vegetation and grains. Laying females eat mostly protein-rich animal matter. In winter, seeds such as rice, millet, water lilies are the predominant foods….
Blue-winged Teal feed by dabbling—dipping their bill into the water, submerging their entire head, or tipping up to reach for prey or vegetation deeper underwater. They dive rarely. Like many ducks, Blue-winged Teal have a range of exaggerated motions that they use as displays. Often male will make these displays while oriented to the side of the female he is courting. They include pumping the head up and down, dipping the head under water rapidly, and tipping up or dabbling in the water with body feathers raised.
Blue-winged Teal are the second most abundant duck in North America, behind the Mallard. Populations remained stable between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Their numbers fluctuate between about 2.8 million and 7.4 million birds, mainly as a response to water conditions, with drought causing populations to fall. All About Birds.
The onset of courtship among immature blue-winged teal often starts in late January or early February. In areas south of the breeding grounds, blue-winged teal are more active in courtship during the spring migration than are most other ducks.
Despite this early start, Blue-winged teal are among the last dabbling ducks to nest, generally nesting between April 15 and May 15. Wikipedia.
The young leave the nest within a day of hatching and can swim and find their own food immediately. The female continues to protect and tend them for a few weeks, but she leaves them before they are old enough to fly, which happens around 38 to 49 days. Birdweb.
And now for the main event, as a photo story.
The Daily Bucket is a nature refuge. We amicably discuss animals, weather, climate, soil, plants, waters and note life’s patterns.
We invite you to note what you are seeing around you in your own part of the world, and to share your observations in the comments below.
What’s up in nature in your part of the pond?