20220307-RNR-bosak hooded merg1

A digiscoped photo of a hooded merganser in New England last week.

March is a good time to look for ducks, assuming, of course, there is some open water.

I took a short drive the other day to a large reservoir and found that the water was still largely frozen. There were plenty of open spots, however, and one, in particular, caught my attention. I saw mallards from a distance and zeroed in to see if anything else was lurking there.

The mallards I had seen were not mallards at all but a pair of American black ducks. Male and female black ducks resemble female mallards from a distance with their overall bland coloring and similar size and shape. A closer look revealed the black duck’s darker coloration. Male black ducks also have a yellow bill, similar to a male mallard’s bill. The females of both species have duller bills.

To complicate matters, black ducks and mallards often interbreed, especially in the Northeast, so hybrid individuals may be in the mix as well.

There were plenty of mallards in the open water as it turned out. They seemed to be the most active of the ducks. Many of the ducks were sleeping, but the mallards would often fly from spot to spot or swim quickly across the pool. On more than one occasion, a mallard photobombed one of my attempts to get a picture of another duck species.

I was hoping to see wood ducks and the pool of water did not disappoint. As is often the case, they stayed close to the heavily vegetated shoreline and did not venture out into the open water.

Ring-necked ducks were the most plentiful species with a few dozen representatives. Male ring-necked ducks are handsome birds with black (somewhat iridescent) heads, backs and chests, and gray sides. They have bright yellow eyes as well.

Even their gray bills are interesting with black tips and white rings. They do have a brownish ring around their necks but it’s very difficult to see. I’ve always thought ring-billed duck would have been a better name because the ring on the bill is very obvious, but hey, who am I to question such things?

A hooded merganser pair shared the open water as well. Usually, these scenes in March hold more hooded mergansers, but this time there were only two of them: a flashy black, white and rusty brown male with his more drably colored mate.

I used the opportunity to try digiscoping for the first time in many years. Digiscoping is using a spotting scope as a camera lens. It takes a special adapter to attach a camera or smartphone to the scope. I can’t even claim to have had mixed results in the past, only poor results. I wouldn’t say I knocked it out of the park this time, but the results were better than usual at least. Practice, practice.

As long as open water persists, migrating ducks will be around for the next several weeks. Let me know what you see out there.

For the Birds runs Mondays in The Sentinel. Chris Bosak may be reached at chrisbosak26@gmail.com or through his website www.birdsofnewengland.com