By Brit Geiger
We drove up from Brooklyn to our house off the Tremperskill on Saturday, March 21st to take our social distancing to another level. On Sunday morning, when I looked out the dining room window at the pond that sits about 150 yards away, I was happy to see a group of more than a dozen ducks. They were too far away to see very well even with my binoculars, but I could see they weren’t just a flock of Mallards; all of them had bright white spots on their heads and white on their bodies.
At first I thought “Buffleheads?”, but when a few of them got close I could see they had a brown line at the waterline, and the females had a brown crest. Consulting my bird books, I discovered they were “Hooded Mergansers”!
Thinking I had completely solved the puzzle, I took to pulling out my binoculars every time I walked through the dining room. On Wednesday, a pair came right up to the rock dock located on the nearest shore. I could plainly see the male’s white chest with the two black lines down the sides of it. My identification was clearly correct. The Hooded Mergansers seemed to swim in pairs, male and female, and there were at least 4 or 5 pairs. Every day they fed close to the shore where I could see them easily, diving under water and reappearing after close to a minute. They were a delight to watch.
Farther out on the lake were another 6 to 8 ducks with white on their heads, but at the waterline their bodies were white, not brown. They couldn’t be Hooded Mergansers, even though they fed like them, by diving under the water. But they were too far away for me to see their heads clearly. Were the white spots on the front or back of their heads? I just couldn’t tell. I’d just have to wait until they got closer.
On Thursday afternoon, as I walked into the dining room LOOK, there were two ducks with white at the waterline close in—by the rock dock. Quickly I lifted my binoculars to see: a beautiful pair of Common Mergansers, the male with a deep green head and the female with a large brown crest. They were bigger than my friends with the large white dots on their heads. They also didn’t stay around long, as Thursday was the only day that I saw them.
On Friday, two pair of Mallards arrived to join the party. They came close to shore with the Hooded Mergansers, but my friends with the white spots on their heads and the white at the waterline were still elusively far away.
Finally, on Sunday the wind and my luck, changed. Now those mystery ducks were coming closer to the shore and finally I could see that those large white dots were on the back of their heads; yes, they were the Buffleheads I had mistaken the Hooded Mergansers for in the first place. What a delight to finally see them close up.
But wait, suddenly in the midst of them there was another group of seven larger ducks; they look like Mallards, but there were no green heads, no males, or no males that look like Mallards. And how likely is it to have a group of seven ducks with no males among them—not likely. So back to the bird books, and I concluded they must be Black Ducks. Just in time, because just like THAT they were in flight!
So, in the space of one week we’ve had five kinds of ducks on the pond: Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Mallards and Black Ducks. Did I mention there were also two Canada Geese who seemed to be extremely happy to munch on the lawn when they weren’t swimming in the pond? I love the Spring!~