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Monday, November 12, 2012

Waterfowl: Before the Water Freezes

November is here, and frosty nights are no longer the exception: they’re the norm.  Our lakes and ponds are beginning to freeze, but before their liquid surface disappears, late-migrating waterfowl can still be encountered basically anywhere around central Vermont.  Unusual ducks could be coming soon to a pond near you!

Long after many birds have already left or passed through Vermont on their journey south, some species of waterfowl actually peak in November and our largest water-bodies are revolving doors for ducks and geese this time of year.  Even some mediocre-sized ponds can harbor rarities in November.  Here are some water-birds that are frequently seen this month:

Long-tailed Duck, 11/17/10, Berlin Pond, Berlin, VT

Long-tailed Duck, formally known as Oldquaw, is most numerous in Washington County in the third week of November.  This species is an uncommon but almost-annual visitor to Berlin Pond, and has already been sighted this month on 4 ponds in Washington County (the bigger the pond, the more likely they’ll visit). 

Hooded Merganser pair, 4/12/11, Berlin Pond, Berlin, VT
Hooded Merganser is a fairly common breeding species in Vermont, but is most numerous as it migrates through the county this month.  The stunning breeding-plumage of the male can be observed year-round.  Their clean-white hood is erected as they court females on their southward migration.

American Coots with Pied-billed Grebe, 11/15/11, Berlin Pond, Berlin, VT

Coot are an unusual visitor that are more closely related to Virginia Rail than to ducks.  While they haven’t been sighted in Washington County yet this fall, they are most likely to occur in November, so keep your eyes peeled for this black-bodied, white-billed bird.

Ring-necked Duck (male), 4/21/11, Berlin Pond, Berlin, VT

Ring-necked Duck reaches its peak in Washington Co. in November, and when viewed well, looks far more like a "ring-billed" than a "ring-necked" duck, which readily distinguishes it from all other ducks.  An uncommon breeder in Vermont, this species is easily observed at Berlin Pond most days in November, as long as there is open water.

Common Goldeneye (male & female), 3/4/12, Shelburne Point, Shelburne, VT

Goldeneye can be found all winter long on Lake Champlain, and until the smaller inland lakes freeze solid, are a good winter potential anywhere in the state from November on.  Keep an eye out for this arctic-breeding species throughout the month.

American Wigeon, 11/7/11, Berlin Pond, Berlin, VT

Always expect the unexpected, as nearly any species of duck that occurs in Vermont could show up in November.  On 11/7 last year, an American Wigeon appeared at Berlin Pond for just a single day, observed and photographed by 2 lucky birders.  This is currently the only fall sighting for this species in Washington County, but that could very well change in the next few weeks.  Keep a close eye on your local pond, because some cool and unique birds are still passing through as winter is hot on our heels!

Text and photos by Larry Clarfeld

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