The first week of this spooky month has been incredibly interesting. There have been ups and downs in terms of birds and weather. But it is shaping up to be an incredible month of migration.
October has brought with it a sizable increase in ducks flying east. Mainly these are “aythya sp.” or redheads. However, there are still good numbes of greater/lesser scaup in these flocks as well. The dabbling ducks like american wigeon, northern shoveler, northern pintail, mallard, and gadwall are also being seen more regularly. Loons are diminishing in numbers from the last week, but are still flying past in fairly high numbers, and red-throated loons have become slightly more prevalent in the region. The season total for waterbirds is now over 15,000 individuals, and I expect this number to continue ballooning.
This past day, October 6th, there were so many flocks of waterfowl flying that it was nearly impossible to count and identify them all by myself. Often times I had to move on from a flock of 40 birds within a split second to track down another one, then another one, and another one. The first 2 hours of the count saw more than 2,000 waterbirds fly past. This was a spectacular sight, frantic, overwhelming, and beautiful all in the same breath. Less than 10% of these flocks fly close to enough to make out hardly any detail in plumage, but occasionally a few groups or redheads would come within the “Goldilocks zone”. Hidden within this group of redheads was the closely related canvasback. This bird is much more uncommon than the redheads to the region and is best identified by its sloping head, smoother flight, and more elongated profile. This was lucky for me to find as it is rare that I can thoroughly pick through each individual in these large aythya flocks.
White-winged scoters have arrived! These stunning birds had their biggest day in early October, tallying almost 90 individuals. They were seen flying high, low, medium-high, medium-low, and everywhere in between. On one of these days, a young photographer came eager to capture these beautiful birds. I always promise that the birds will fly-by, but it is hard to promise that they will come close enough for good photos. However, this time the scoters willed themselves nearly over-top our heads and allowed for some breathtaking views and great photos.
This next week should provide some more large flocks of ducks, loons, and geese. The best time to see these birds is around 30 minutes after sunrise when the lighting is just starting to get good. This has already been a great waterbird year, and I’m hoping that maybe it will turn into a record year. We’ll have to wait and see.