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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Common Goldeneye and our 3 Mergansers

[John Dillinger Park and Belle Isle, Detroit River. Detroit, MI. Feb/March 2014]

The Winter of 2013/2014 will be remembered as one of the most bitterly cold, snowy and interminable winters on record -- resulting in the freezing over of 92% of the Great Lakes surface water. The consequence of this is that any area of free flowing water becomes irresistible to waterfowl lucky enough to find it. But, even hardy ducks have struggled to find enough food this winter.

Our 2 venues -- John Dillinger Park in Detroit and Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit river -- both afford an excellent opportunity to observe some signature waterfowl species at close range; including this delightful mix of species highlighted by Common Goldeneye and all 3 species of mergansers found in the US:
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Common Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Canvasback
  • Redhead
  • Horned Grebe
  • Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye seen in the Detroit River

Common Goldeneye is one of 3 Bucephala (literally "bull headed") species -- all are diving ducks: Common and Barrow's Goldeneyes and Bufflehead. 

Common Goldeneye (male)

Goldeneyes are found in Boreal forests of North America, Russia and Scandinavia. They are classified as "Least Concern" yet, unfortunately, about 200,000 perish every year due to hunting.

Common Goldeneye (female)

The female common goldeneye is a beautiful chocolate brown. It is a cavity nester and reuses nesting holes made by large woodpeckers.


The Bufflehead is our smallest duck. Also a cavity nester, it benefits from holes dug out by the Northern Flicker. Its name comes from a contraction of the term "buffalo head".

Common Merganser (female) seen in the Detroit River, Belle Isle

Another global duck, the Common Merganser is a breeder in a wide swathe of the Northern regions, cutting across Europe, Asia and North America.

Common Merganser (male) seen at John Dillinger Park

The Common Merganser drake is stunning in breeding plumage --  it has a glossy green head, white body and black highlighted wings.

Common Merganser (male)

Red-breasted Merganser (female)

Our 2nd merganser, the Red-breasted, has a similar range as the Common. However, it tends to winter much farther South than the Common with a distribution extending all the way to Southwest Florida.

Red-breasted Merganser (male)

Red-breasted Merganser (male)

The male Red-breasted Merganser shows a crested green head (looking almost black when seen out of the sun) and has finely patterned flanks.

 Hooded Mergansers seen off Belle Isle

Our 3rd and final species of merganser is the Hooded. This is an unmistakeable duck with a flamboyant crest.

 Hooded Merganser Drake

  Hooded Merganser Drake

  Hooded Merganser female

Even the female is striking in brown; the prominent crest very much a distinguishing feature.

Unlike the other two mergansers, the Hooded Merganser is the only duck to be exclusive to North America.

Although they have a serrated bill, the Hooded Merganser is not classified with the "typical" mergansers and is placed in its own genus of Lophodytes.

Canvasback (male)

Canvasback (female)

Other waterfowl observed included Canvasback (above).

.. and Redhead. Both these ducks are exclusively American.

Both Canvasback and Redhead were observed with Lesser Scaup (another American diving duck):

Lesser Scaup (female)
Lesser Scaup Drake

Lesser Scaup

And, finally, a Horned Grebe in winter plumage -- also observed in the Detroit River and headed North.

This species is known as the Slavonian Grebe in Europe.

Finally, a couple of common birds we overlook:

Mallards are the most common duck in North America. In direct sunlight, the colors of the drake can be stunning:

 .. and, the most common gull observed was the Ring-billed Gull:

March is when waterfowl migration gets underway and this is a great opportunity to observe not only global species like the Common and Red-breasted Mergansers in passage but also uniquely American waterfowl such as Redhead, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and the stunning Hooded Merganser.

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