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Ducks Feeding on Clear Creek

October 15, 2016
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Cormorant Rookery, Clear Creek, Spring, 2016

Clear Creek, which once out of the mountains, runs from Golden through Arvada and Wheatridge before tumbling into the South Platte just north of Denver. Along the way it feeds a number of artificial lakes (near Anderson Park and Lowell Ponds) and Jim Bakker Reservoir (Between Tennyson St. and Lowell Blvd). These are wonderful places to watch bird life and there is plenty of it. Earlier this Spring there were avocets, a large cormorant nest (near Ward Rd.). Closer to Jim Bakker Reservoir and Lowell Ponds, ducks, herons. About a week ago, (Oct. 8), having noticed a large concentration of ducks feeding at a pond,  I stopped along Tennyson just south of the railroad crossing and the entrance to Jim Bakker. Pretty cool.

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Redhead Ducks – Audubon photo

These guys are serious. I’ve gone by different times of the day and there they are – 40 or 50 of them, maybe more – diving down every minute or so, and coming back up not far from where they went down.  Different kinds of ducks, mallards, geese but as my ability to concentrate on only a little at a time, I focused on a special pair and then hurried home, opened my birding book (Kaufman’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America) to behold photos of what is called “a redhead;” Yep, both a male and female. It’s a diving duck which “often dabbles in shallow water” – which is what it was doing along with all its other duck-like relatives – feeding on whatever grows at the bottom of that shallow pond, to fatten up for the coming winter. “Seen in small numbers in most areas, but huge flocks gather in winter on lagoons along Texas coast.” These sociable ducks molt, migrate, and winter in sometimes-huge flocks, particularly along the Gulf Coast, where winter numbers can reach the thousands. Summers find them nesting in reedy ponds of the Great Plains and West. From what I could tell, among all of them there was only one pair of redheads among the lot I was looking at. When I went back the next day to find them, the redheads were gone, who knows, maybe to Texas. Perhaps some day I’ll those huge flocks in South Texas.

Today (October 15), among the vibrant autumn colors of mid October in Denver, I went back to the pond, sitting down, as I like to, right next to the “no trespassing” sign to check out the duck neighborhood. Who’s in the hood today? No redheads, but some Canadian geese, butts up their heads mining the shallow bottoms for …hmmm, who knows what? – vegetation, fish, I don’t know. But it appears that the bottom of this pond is rich in food life for ducks and geese that they have yet to exhaust. There were others though – a large group of ringnecks and a pair of what I’m pretty certain were  buffleheads, two males and a female. The buffleheads  stood out, their colors quite striking. After a short time, the three of them took off and in a circular flight, left the pond.

The ringnecks numbered several dozen. Kaufman describes them as favoring “sheltered waters more than most divers” and often found “in small flocks on small

Ringneck ducks, Lowell Ponds, October 15, 2016

Ringneck ducks, Lowell Ponds, October 15, 2016

tree-lined ponds in winter” which sounds about right. If you look carefully you can see the rings on their bill – a pretty sure sign that these are indeed ringnecks. They have a big fall migration during which, like the redheads, they often form into immense flocks, congregating, among other places in Minnesota in the fall where they feed on wild rice. They tend to live 15-20 years.

Then there were the buffleheads. They appeared to be more nervous about my presence than the ringnecks and kept moving to the far side of the pond before they finally flew off – a lovely site I might add to see them in flight. If Kaufman’s birding book is correct, the three I saw were in transit from their summer homes in n. Canada and Alaska where they breed. Buffleheads are amongst the last waterfowl to leave their breeding grounds and one of the world’s most punctual migrants, arriving on their wintering grounds within a narrow margin of time. They tend not to congregate in large numbers and are, perhaps like the three I was looking at, particularly wary of predators, human or otherwise. In fact they have a system

that I think I saw. While several dive for food, one stays above water watching as a sentry! Buffleheads are hunted and are considered a game bird. In contrast to many other sea ducks that have declined in recent decades, bufflehead numbers have remained relatively constant. Habitat degradation is the major threat to this bird, since they depend on very limited coastal habitat on their wintering grounds, and very specific habitat in their breeding grounds. Although buffleheads do use man-made nest boxes, they still need the forest habitat to thrive.

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Bufflehead pair in background

One Comment leave one →
  1. margy stewart permalink
    October 16, 2016 9:04 am

    Love these descriptions! How wonderful to be in the midst of so much life. So much to learn from!

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