Rice Creek is one of the tributaries of the Mississippi that enters the river right in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis. Flowing through a small chain of lakes, it then drains into a marshy wetland with a fairly fast-flowing creek meandering through it. The entire wetland has been designated a regional park encompassing more than 6000 acres. Although it was actually named for one of Minnesota’s first U.S. senators, it turns out that this area was where the Dakota Sioux harvested wild rice. In fact, the Sioux name for this area translates to “wild rice river”. So it is aptly named.
I found a spot along the creek where I was hidden from view and could watch the ducks browse the submergent vegetation along the shoreline of the creek.
A male Blue-winged Teal floated down the creek right in front of me. Their speckled body plumage is quite attractive. The white stripes in front of their eyes make them easy to recognize at a distance.
Blue-winged Teal are some of the longest distance migratory ducks, some of them coming all the way from northern South America. They are dabbling ducks, like Mallards, and this pair was working the submerged vegetation right along the side of the creek.
Frontal view of the male Blue-winged Teal showing his white eye stripes. The female looks enough like a mallard female that she would be easily mistaken for one.
A handsome couple. They might stick around this area to breed, or perhaps they will fly north to the Canadian lakes.
The creek winds through wooded areas with deep pools where the ducks congregate. The tree on the right that overhangs the creek is a favorite hunting spot of a Belted Kingfisher, which I flushed twice without getting a single photo. Next time!
A small group of Hooded Mergansers were diving for fish in the deeper and quieter pools of the creek.
Areas around fallen logs seemed especially good hunting grounds for these small divers. Mergansers hunt with their eyes open under water. Transparent “third eyelids” pull down over their eyes to act like goggles to help them correct their underwater vision.
Males more often flashed their hoods at each other, rather than at their accompanying females, perhaps a sign of aggression.
“Hoodies” were one of the first migrants to arrive back in this area this spring. Perhaps these birds will stay in this area to breed. There are quite a few dead snags with previously excavated nest holes along the creek for them to use.
I love the striking colors and black and white contrasts of this little duck. (This photo is actually from the New Orleans zoo; I have never been lucky enough to get this close to a wild bird.)