It seems you don’t get lucky being in the right place at the right time twice (on successive days, anyway). The shoreline was quiet on Vadnais lake yesterday because all the ducks were out in the middle of the lake, even though I was the only hiker around (I think). Waiting behind shrubbery next to the shore didn’t fool them either; none approached any closer than 500 feet away. Mixed in among the Ring-necked Ducks was an assortment of Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and Mallards.
The Mergansers seemed to be floating around in pairs or couples of pairs, while the Ring-necked Ducks were a large floating mob of males (see previous post, Nov. 16).
Hooded Merganser males really are striking birds, with that white crest on the back of their heads, and the black and white stripes on their shoulders and wings. I wish I could have photographed them closer to me, and with the light coming from the other side, so I’ll substitute the photo from Wikipedia.
The female can erect her head feathers in a similar crest, but it is a brownish one instead. The photo of the two females below illustrates how different the head shape can look depending on what feathers are flat or erect. One female looks like she lost the top of her head.
These small diving ducks are very short-distant migrants, moving south from their breeding areas in southern Canada and the U.S. to any open water where they forage for aquatic insects, crayfish, and small fish. Like Wood Ducks, they prefer to nest in tree cavities, and may even use old Wood Duck nests. Chicks then have to launch themselves out of the nest, which might be 70 feet above the ground, to follow their mom to the nearest pond.
A recent “Duckumentary” on PBS Nature has wonderful video footage of this behavior in Wood Ducks.
Small, tightly-grouped flocks of Common Goldeneye on Vadnais lake kept far away from shore in the middle of the lake, and also separated themselves from the multitudes of Ring-necked Ducks and Mergansers.
The video below provides a better look at the differences in plumage between males and females and the courtship behavior of the male — a maneuver that looks like he is trying to relieve a neck cramp! (Scroll ahead to at least to 0:54 where there is a better close-up image of the ducks.)
Like Mergansers, Goldeneyes dive to find aquatic insects, crustaceans and molluscs to feed upon. They are also a tree-nesting species, but will use the cavities created by broken limbs, and that makes them vulnerable to both nest predation and parasitism (eggs laid in their nest by other species). Birders in Scotland have put up nest boxes to attract Goldeneyes, which has helped expand the population of these ducks in Europe.
These ducks breed in northern boreal forest (taiga), primarily swampy coniferous areas, all across Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, but, in North America, migrate south to open lakes and ocean shore throughout the U.S. during the winter. They were a common bird I saw along the California coast in the winter.