Every winter we get a few birds hanging around our area that are fairly rare but which appear as singletons with some regularity. For example, harlequin ducks, beautiful birds from the far north that usually winter off the rocky Maine coast, can be seen off the Cape in several locations almost every winter. There may be one or two that spend a good part of the winter by the canal jetty each winter and there always seems to be at least one seen at Nauset or Coast Guard Beach. I have seen them in both locations each winter for at least 10 years but just the one or two.
King eiders are another northern duck that seems to make a yearly appearance here on the Cape in the winter. Most often seen with the flocks of eider ducks in or around the Cape Cod Canal one can sometimes be seen off the outer Cape beaches or off Sandy Neck, which may be the same one seen by the canal. That’s a king eider smack in the center, hanging out with his common eider buddies.
Some years I spy one but for the last few years when a king eider has been reported at the canal I have missed it. This year reports have been coming in over the last few weeks that a very accommodating king eider drake was being seen daily by the herring run on the Wareham side of the canal. The weather was rough and I was busy and I enjoyed everyone else’s photos. Until yesterday. Yesterday we were heading to New Bedford so we had a chance to stop and see the bird.
As everyone else had mentioned, it was indeed, right there and easy to spot. I do not have a fancy camera so you can see how close the bird was. If you’re so inclined, go see it. One of these days it will leave but for now it seems quite content to hang out eating shellfish and crustaceans which are abundant in the canal, especially along the rocky jetties.
Winter is a great time to dust off your bird books and learn a little more about the ducks that we see here each winter. In the summer we have very few kinds of ducks here, mostly mallards, black ducks and a few wood ducks. But in the winter we have lots of ducks, both the dabblers, which, well, dabble and mostly for vegetarian fare and the diving ducks that dive for fish or shellfish. These winter ducks nest much farther north than here but come south for open water, warmer air and a steady food supply.
One of the more common birds we see here each winter is the common eider. They arrive in huge flocks and settle into various areas around Cape Cod Bay wherever they can find good eating, which for them means good mussels. Smaller groups hang around the south side and in some of the protected harbors but you can find thousands and thousands of them in the bay, often around the canal entrances.
Another common winter visitor that can be found in both fresh and salt water areas is the red breasted merganser. They are often sporting punk “hair-dos.” These are fish eaters and if you get a close look you can see they actually have serated bills, all the better to catch quick moving fish.
Buffleheads are some of my favorite ducks. They are small and perky and have the amazing ability to silently disappear and reappear without warning. Now you see ’em, now you don’t….They can easily be found in ponds but also in protected salt water beach areas and marshes.
One of our most lovely winter visitors is a dabbler called a gadwall. These ducks are shy, as you can see in the photo–they are trying to leave me behind as quickly as possible! They have an elegant plumage, almost like a tweed coat. Look for them in large flocks of ducks in ponds or marshes. Not uncommon but shy, so you have to be quick to see them.
I’ll add more ducks over the next few weeks but this will get you started if you haven’t already been enjoying the winter duck show.