Friday, November 29, 2013

Searching for Newton's Eurasian Green-winged Teal

As I mentioned in the last post, there was an eBird report from Ryan M. from this past Monday indicating that a drake Eurasian Teal was found at Newton City Hall. Because Green-winged Teal (American) and Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) are clunky names for the purpose of writing, I'll just refer to the later as the Eurasian Teal (known as the Common Teal to the rest of the english speaking world). See the post from last year about the recurring Eurasian Teal for background, pictures, and discussion on identifying the different Green-winged Teals.

Hooded Merganser Pair at Newton City Hall
Ok enough with semantics. A Eurasian Teal was seen and I wanted to find it. So in between cooking yesterday, I went to Newton City Hall to go searching. I got excited when I saw a pair of Mallards and a pair of Hooded Mergansers (phone and binocular pic), but my spirits dropped as I slowly began to realize that there were no teals, nor did Bullough's Pond have any birds on the water in my quick glance. Fortunately, a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets was quite entertaining to watch (full checklist here). I was starting to get really worried that the recent dredging had turned the marshy, weedy, birdy City Hall ponds into the poor habitat reflecting pools they were intended to be by Fredrick Olmsted (who also designed the Emerald Necklace). Green-winged Teals love marshy habitat that is now absent from City Hall and I was worried that we had improved away the Teals.

Hermit Thrush in Cold Spring Park
On my way home I even drove through Newton Cemetery to scan the ponds, but again just turned up Canada Geese, Mallards, and Hooded Mergansers.

I couldn't give up yet. So this morning I headed to Cold Spring Park and at 8:45 this morning it was quite cold. And so most of the ponds were frozen. I did manage to track down a flock of 12 Mallards in one of the streams, but no teals were to be found. I did hear a Brown Creeper and saw a Hermit Thrush, but interestingly, there was another thrush, that didn't have as much red on the tail as I was expecting. But given the time of year, that is the most likely option still (let me know if you have any ID thoughts and full checklist here)

After Cold Spring Park I just couldn't give up on the Eurasian Teal yet. With ice on the ponds, I thought that the ponds at Newton City Hall might just have enough current to keep them open. So I headed back there and was so disappointed when the grounds crew had leaf blowers cleaning up the park. No way any duck in their right mind would still be around. I walked up to one of the foot bridges and heard lots of junco call notes while movement on the water caught my eye. Ducks - teals - horizontal white stripe - Eurasian Teal! I couldn't tell if his lady friend was an American or Eurasian type, it might be possible to tell females apart, but it is still very challenging. I kept my eyes on the pair before a native Green-winged Teal drake joined them. They all headed to the farthest North pool nearer the leaf blowers before they disappeared. I don't think they flew off, so I wonder if they were hiding in the outflow culvert that leads to Bullough's Pond.

Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) at Newton City Hall
I was relieved to think that the pond dredging hadn't completely put off the Eurasian Teal, though I wonder if he will stick around the same amount without the marsh. And I am calling this The Eurasian Teal, because I'm increasingly convinced that all of the sightings within the area are probably the same individual. His primary haunt is Newton, and has been seen every Winter (Nov-March) since he was first sighted in Cold Spring Park in 2009. So this is the 5th consecutive year that there has been a Eurasian teal seen between Concord and Newton with only one year where he wasn't seen in Newton. But at no point in time have there been two Eurasian teal sightings on the same day at different locations. In fact there are times when he disappears from his usual Newton location for a few days and has a brief sighting elsewhere. Here is a quick list of eBird sightings for Eurasian Teals within at 15 mile radius.

2009 January. A Eurasian Teal sighted at Cold Spring Park.
2009 March 13. A sighting in Sudbury
2009 March 16 - April 4. Repeated sighting at Cold Spring Park. (There were also 5 days were he was absent in March which corresponds with a single sighting at Great Meadows NWR on March 25.) There was also an article in the Newton Tab about the bird.

2010 Jan-Feb: Repeated sightings at Newton City Hall
2010 March. Several sightings at Nine Acre Corner in Concord.

2011 March: Several sightings at Nine Acre Corner in Concord. If I remember this was a particularly harsh winter and all the local water was frozen, so its not too surprising that he wasn't seen in Newton or earlier in the year.

2012 Nov-Dec. Repeated sightings at Newton City Hall. (Again there was a stretch of time the bird was absent while a few sightings turned up on the Charles River by Norumbega Park which, if my memory serves, corresponded to a cold snap and ice on local ponds.)

2013 (so far) Nov. Two Newton City Hall sightings.

Green-winged Teals (European Drake and unknown female)
Newton City Hall
Now that I feel good saying that this is indeed the same individual, The Newton Eurasian Teal. I just looked up Green-winged Teal lifespan and see that 20 years is the average lifespan, so it is certainly possible that the Newton Teal could keep returning to us for a while. We will just have to keep looking for him. If he has any breeding success then we should also think about the possibility of hybrid Teals. Hopefully I'll get a chance to go see him again this winter and we'll be able to find him in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Exotic Duck Chase: Mandarin Duck at Leverett Pond

Mandarin Duck
Last week on Massbird there was a flurry of posts about a Mandarin Duck drake that was spotted at Leverett Pond in Brookline. Mandarin Ducks hail from far Eastern Asia (including Japan, Korea, China, and Russia) and have never been known to grace our continent as a vagrant. Therefore the assumption is that all Mandarin Duck sightings are individuals that have escaped from captivity and indeed there are two known breeding populations in in the states ( North Carolina and California) that have been established from escaped birds. Sadly though their wild populations are greatly reduced as much of their habitat has been developed.

I have only seen two Mandarin Ducks before, and these birds were in Newton. A pair of Mandarin Ducks were actually housed in a gardening / landscape exhibit in the mall in the Winter of 2010-2011. While not wild, I was struck by how beautiful they are and how similar they are to our native Wood Ducks! The females are remarkably similar and then more and more I was able to see similarities the longer I observed the drake.

This initial encounter made me quite excited to have the chance to see a Mandarin Duck in a more realistic environment. Not to mention it had been observed in the company of a flock of more than 30 Wood Ducks, which would be a spectacle in and of itself. So, Monday morning with temperatures in the teens, I took the T to Brookline Village in search of this exotic duck.

When I arrived at the pond, much of the pond had a thin crust of ice. Fortunately the outflow was clear of ice and contained a large number of birds: Mallards, American Black Ducks, Canada Geese, a few Wood Ducks, even a Double-crested Cormorant, and a statuesque Great Blue Heron who tucked her head away trying to stay warm. A small knot of gulls were standing out on the ice, while Red-tailed Hawk flushed a flock of ducks from the center of the pond and they all circled off. I kept working around the pond and found the typical passerines in the trees and brush. Soon I ran into another birder who was saying she had just seen the Mandarin Duck but it just took off a few minutes ago and she pointed North. What luck. I wished I had been able to drag myself out into the cold a little earlier. As we were talking a flock of ducks landed on the pond and so glimmer of hope returned.

Raft of 36 Wood Ducks

I counted 36 Wood Ducks in the center of Leverett Pond but no hint of the Mandarin Duck showed itself. I took a few moments to enjoy the spectacle of the Wood Ducks and decided to head back down the Muddy River, the direction the Mandarin reportedly flew, on my way into the city.

I peered into every corner of the "river" as I kept walking and turned up Mallards, Canada Geese, Black Ducks, and 3 hooded Mergansers. Firmly in the Riverway section of the Muddy River I checked out an area where I had seen a Wood Duck in the past, but no luck. So I carried on to the foot bridge and peered around the corner, when the water exploded. Three ducks flushed flying away crying "jeet jeet jeet", but one of the ducks had a bright white face and pick bill, it was the Mandarin Duck! He had been hanging out with a pair of Wood Ducks. The two males circled off to the South leaving the jittery female still calling in the pool. Not very chivalrous.

Mandarin Duck with Wood Ducks
So I turned around walking South back to Leverett Pond and was finally able to see the Mandarin Duck where he was "supposed" to have been from the start. While he was further away, he also wasn't flying away allowing for great views. He truly was stunning. While the large white facial crescent, orange "beard", and raised orange feathers on his back that make up a "sail", he was much brighter than the Wood Ducks despite the similarities.

Walking in to work, I was then thinking about how long this Mandarin drake will be here with us. If he makes it to spring if he would pair up with a local Wood Duck. Though any crosses seem unlikely as Mandarin Ducks apparently have a different number of chromosomes despite the fact that Mandarin and Wood Ducks are the only species in the genus (Aix). Maybe he will stick with the local Wood Ducks and he'll be a local fixture for years to come, similar to the Eurasian Teal that frequents Newton in the winters (see last years post).

Speaking of the Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) that has spent the last few winters in Newton.... he is back! I just saw an ebird report from Newton City Hall. I am looking forward to going to find him again. Maybe that will be my next post...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

White-winged Scooters at Chestnut Hill Reservoir.

I stopped at Hammond Pond and Chestnut Hill Reservoir on my way to work mid-day. My first stop at Hammond pond I was excited to find the first Hooded Mergansers of the season. Two crisp males and a female were working the far shore. I was also hoping for some Ring-necked Ducks, but I didn't see any. There were plenty of Mallards though and a Great Blue Heron. Among the gulls, one appeared to be different that the others, but they all flew off before I had a chance to turn my attention their way. The full list of birds from Hammond Pond can be found here.

Pied-billed Grebes, American Coot, Double-crested Cormorant
 My next stop was Chestnut Hill Reservoir. I was excited to see that the water was littered with birds. Mostly they were more than a hundred Ruddy Ducks in small rafts. And there were quite a few gulls, including Ring-billed, Herring, and Greater Black-backed. Also it was fun to see a number of American Coots that have returned as well, while Pied-billed Grebes and Double-crested Cormorants were present (how many species can I fit in a picture...). When I got to the tip of the peninsula I found Mallards and a single American Black Duck, but out on the far side were 3 dark ducks that I couldn't make out. I even tried to take a picture to enlarge on my camera, but still no luck. When I got to work though I loaded the pictures on to the computer and was surprised that one of them had a small white spot in the center of the head (bird on left, click to enlarge picture), they must have been White-winged Scooters! Not a common bird around here, they have been seen once before at the Reservoir and twice migrating over Millennium Park. Fortunately I saw that two other birders had also seen the White-winged Scooters before I was there, making me feel more confident on the ID. I also saw that I missed a female Green-winged Teal (eBird list with pictures of scooters and teal). But the White-winged Scooters were quite a treat. The full list of birds from Chestnut Hill Reservoir can be found here.

White-winged Scooters