Our shores abound with wonderful wild creatures we more often see in wintertime, and species we can view better because the trees are bare. The duo of male American Wigeons are still here, as are the pair of Pipits. I watched yesterday afternoon as the Pipits flew away from the beach in unison, and then returned together about twenty minutes later to continue to forage in the seaweed and sand.
It’s easier to catch a glimpse of a Downy Woodpecker pecking and a wasp nest in the tangle of thickets when viewed through naked limbs and branches.
The Harbor Seals are seen almost daily. One day last week 24 were present!
A sleepy-eyed female Common Eider was peacefully resting on the beach. I know she was okay because on our way back she slipped back into the surf.
And that’s our Charlotte, my favorite wild one, and ever at the ready to go exploring. After we get dressed in the morning she chortles, “Now I’m ready for action Mimi.”
For the past week or so, a duo of male American Wigeons has been spotted foraging along the coastline. They dip and dabble, close to the shore, and are eating sea lettuce and seaweed.
Male American Wigeon eating sea lettuce
Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead, the punky male flashes a brilliant green swath across the eye and has a beautiful baby blue bill. The males were are also colloquially called “Baldplate” because the white patch atop his head resembles a bald man’s head.
Oiling their feathers (called preening) and constantly aligning the feathers keeps the ducks both afloat and aloft.
Notice how the water forms beads on the duck’s breast, a sure sign the feathers are well-oiled. Ducks have a gland at the base of their tail called the uropygial gland (you can also say preen gland or oil gland). The preen oil creates a protective barrier that prevents the feathers from becoming waterlogged.
I like to think of the American Wigeon as both spunky and punky. Spunky because of the way they bounce back after diving in rough surf. Punky because of their occasionally holligan-like behavior.
Last year when first encountering American Wigeons I didn’t understand why the Mallards were so aggressive towards the Wigeons, snapping and nipping at the pair whenever they got too close to the Mallard’s meal. Now I see why. American Wigeons often feed alongside other ducks, especially diving ducks such as Coots. The Wigeons opportunistically snatch away the aquatic vegetation the divers pull up although, our two travelers were quite amicable and while feeding together, not in the least hoodlumish toward each other.
Watching the ducks tumbling around in the rough surf while casting about for food is a site I won’t soon forget. It was beautiful to see the Wigeon’s surf dance but also a window into their daily struggle for survival. I marveled at the ducks’ resilience. Roughly a third of migrating birds that winter each year in the mainland of the United States do not survive the journey.
The pair has not been since that morning foraging in the choppy waves. Perhaps they took a cue, of winter weather yet to come.
For many weeks during the late winter and early spring of 2017, a male and female American Wigeon made Rockport their home, and now we have had these two feisty boys. I wonder if the Wigeon’s winter range is expanding northward or if we are merely a stopover on their southward migration. Most of the migration occurs further west and south so I think we are pretty fortunate to have this dynamic duo visiting our shores.
There is much to chortle about in this latest Cape Ann Winged Creature Update. Early April marked the arrival of both Snowy and Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Great Blue Herons. Osprey pairs and evidence of Osprey nest building can be seen wherever Essex Greenbelt platforms have been installed. Northern Pintail and American Wigeon Ducks are stopping over at our local ponds on their northward migrations while scrub and shrub are alive with the vibrant song of love birds singing their mating calls. Oh Happy Spring!
Ospreys Nest Building
Northern Mockingbirds Singing
Female American Wigeon
Gadwall (center), Male Pintail, Mallards, Male and Female American Wigeons
A small duck with a big personality, the little male American Wigeon flew on the scene, disgruntling all the Mallards. He darted in and out of their feeding territory, foraging along the shoreline, while the Mallards let him know with no uncertainty, by nipping and chasing, that they did not want him there. American Wigeon was not deterred and just kept right on feeding.
Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead, the pretty male flashes a brilliant green swath across the eye and has a beautiful baby blue bill. They are also colloquially called “Baldplate” because the white patch atop his head resembles a bald man’s head.
Male American Wigeon and Male Mallard
According to naturalist and avian illustrator Barry van Dusen in “Bird Observer, “In Massachusetts, they are considered rare and local breeders, uncommon spring migrants, and locally common migrants in fall. They are also fairly common winter residents in a few localities. Spring migration occurs in April and fall migrants arrive in September with many remaining until their preferred ponds freeze over.”
After looking at the range map below, I wonder if our little American Wigeon has been here all winter or if he is a spring migrant. If you have seen an American Wigeon, please write and let us know. Thank you!
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Female American Wigeon (above) image courtesy Google image search