These two images of a Male and Female Common Goldeneye are from early winter. I am going through past images because all of my spring photography trips are cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Common Goldeneye (Bucephalus clangula) is a beautiful, readily recognized little duck. In spring and summer they breed in the colder parts of the United States in upper Michigan, Minnesota and Canada. Goldeneye are cavity nesters. They frequently lay their eggs in abandoned woodpecker holes, natural tree cavities or nest boxes. In winter they retreat to the warmer areas of the United States in saltwater bays and ice free deep lakes. The Goldeneye is one of the last ducks of the season to head south. They migrate in flocks and are very fast muscular fliers.
The Common Goldeneye has been nicknamed The Whistler because of the loud whistling noise their wings make as they fly.
As I drove around Merritt Island in Florida, the dark clouds and increasing rain seemed to put an end to any bird photography for the day. When I saw a woman with a big lens pointed out into the marsh, I obeyed one of my rules of bird photography which is to always try to spot what someone else is photographing especially if they have a long lens. I pulled over and searched hard with binoculars to find this Wilson’s Snipe. It was well camouflaged and very nearly invisible in the marsh in the pouring rain.
The Wilson’s Snipe hides extremely well. It is a pudgy little bird with an extremely long beak which it uses to probe in the mud for food. It was only in 2003 that it was named Wilson’s Snipe after the American Ornithologist Alexander Wilson. This snipe was previously thought to be a subspecies of the Common Snipe which lives in Europe not North America. The Common Snipe (which I have never seen) has seven pairs of tail feathers and the Wilson’s Snipe has eight. I read that and laughed because who counts the tail feathers? Once I started reading about Alexander wilson I discovered he has quite a few birds named in his honor. Wilson painted and published American Ornithology, a large volume of work in the early 1800’s. Wilson’s painted illustrations of birds became the inspiration for James Audubon. His paintings of birds are incredibly detailed and beautiful. After looking at some of the plates of his book, I could see who counts the number of tail feathers! I learned a lot about this bird and Alexander Wilson because I stopped in the rain to see what the woman in front of me was photographing.
I persevered in adverse conditions and was rewarded with these images of a beautiful but difficult to find bird. I also learned about a famous birder and artist from the past.
The American Avocet is described in most bird references as elegant. They are so unique with their upturned long bill. The tip of their bill is very sensitive to touch and enables them to find food in mud flats as they swing their bill from side to side. The American Avocet during non breeding season is black and white with a grayish colored head. During breeding season the head turns a beautiful rusty color with a black and white body. This pair of breeding adults seems to be flying in perfect rhythm as they make their way across a shallow pond in Delaware.
The Northern Pintail is an elegant long tailed dabbling duck. They are very unique in North America with their long slender body and long pointed tail. The Pintail has a long neck and is very fast and agile in flight, nicknamed the “Greyhound of the air”. The Northern Pintail male and female are very different with the female a very plain brown. The male has a bright white breast, chocolate brown head and gray body with a very long tail. They are Dabbling ducks, which means that they feed mostly on the surface of the water instead of diving underwater for food. They “up end” to use their long necks to reach aquatic plants underwater with their tails in the air. They maintain this dabbling position with their head down by paddling their feet in the water. I sure am glad I don’t have to eat in that position with my head under water and tail in the air!
The Mute Swan is apparently an introduced species from Europe to North America. They are one of the heaviest flying birds and can weigh 30-32 pounds! I found this adult with four cygnets swimming behind him or her at Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge. These babies can’t fly for five months so the adults better plan ahead so the family can get out before the water freezes!