Each year, the members of the Lake Erie Bird Club conduct a waterfowl trip throughout the Chautauqua County area. This year's trip was held Saturday, Nov. 8, starting at the Dunkirk Pier.
While the trip serves many purposes, such as the opportunity for members in attendance to observe and learn characteristic field marks for easy identification, the trip also is meant to study the current status of the waterfowl in our county. The collection of data helps determine the health of the species, as they are identified at approximately the same date each year. The information also provides a glimpse of the environmental conditions of many of our waterways and marshes where these birds congregate as they prepare for the fall migration and winter season.
There are 49 species of birds included in the definition of waterfowl that frequent the county's borders. In my use of the term waterfowl, I refer only to the birds identified as loons, geese, swans, cormorants, grebes and ducks. The definition will not include all other aquatic habitat species we have in our county, such as shorebirds, herons and bitterns, as well as others.
Photo by Dick Miga
Above: An eager crew of Lake Erie Bird Club members ready to embark on a waterfowl-observing journey.
At right: Ring-necked Ducks. Below, from left:
Probably two of the most familiar to most local residents are the Canada Goose and Mallard Duck. These birds have had an interesting history in our nation's growth, as historical records have shown. Both are common and abundant, and have provided a generous food supply to early settlers as well as hunting trophies to local hunters. This group of birds is among the most popular. The attractive plumages of many appeal to visitors of wildfowl collections and to watchers of wild birds in general.
Other significant sightings reported by Joanne Goetz, who compiled the data for the group, were Hooded Mergansers, Common Mergansers, Bufflehead and Ring-necked Ducks. Also observed on the trip were Ospreys and Bald Eagles.
The Canada Goose is a highly gregarious bird, associating with others of its kind. There are approximately nine races of this bird, with some speculation by taxonomists that there could be some further splitting of this species. The Canada Goose is a common resident throughout most of North America, and is classified as an abundant species and highly sought-after bird during the hunting season. This bird is strongly attached to its home area and is known for its life-long pair bonds.
The Mallard is another member of this group also known to probably everybody reading this column, and is a member of a group of ducks referred to as "dabblers," by virtue of its feeding habit of tipping up in a shallow area of water and feeding on plant material. It is probably the most widespread and abundant member of this group.
Moving to some of the more uncommon members of the waterfowl group, we occasionally see the elegant Hooded Merganser. I consider this bird one of the more attractive ducks we see in our county. It is fairly common all year, along with the Mallard, with the exception of late August to mid October, when it is probably experiencing a period of dormancy during the molting process.
Another member of the Merganser family - the largest - is the Common Merganser. It is similar to its cousin, the Hooded Merganser, in the fact that it, too, is observed all year, with a short period of absence during mid to late September and early October, but not as long a period as the Hooded. The Common, once called the American Merganser, has an interesting habit of plunging beneath rushing currents of water when it encounters an ice flow or some other obstruction at the surface.
The last member of this group is the Red-breasted Merganser, which prefers to hunt in groups. It, too, is an all-year bird, with two periods of not being reported in the area - late June to early July and the first three weeks of September. This particular group of mergansers seems to prefer to hunt in company, sometimes forming large groups and diving simultaneously to capture prey in its serrated bills.
The little Bufflehead, sometimes called "Butterball," is normally observed from the first week of October to the first week of May. There are no summer reports of this bird from our county. The last bird to be covered is the Ring-necked Duck. This bird is found from mid-September to late May, with two summer reports, one in mid July and the other in late August. It breeds from Alaska to some sections of northern New York.
Please submit topic ideas, questions as well as photos and reports of any sightings to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to me at 38 Elm St., Fredonia, NY 14063. Thank you.