When it comes to identifying ducks, I am woefully inept. For that matter, most water birds are mysteries to me, though there are a few exceptions. Like Mallards.
And American Coots, which were one of my mother’s favorite birds.
I confess this flock confused me at first, because I am not accustomed to seeing American Coots in such numbers. I usually find single individuals scattered among flocks of geese or gulls, rather than an entire flock all on their own.
I was bemused by their tight formation. Were they alarmed by something beneath the surface of the water? Were they trying to stay warm? Or is this normal behavior, when American Coots gather into flocks?
In order to identify a water bird that isn’t a Mallard or an American Coot, I need several clear photos and a prolonged session browsing Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website. That’s how I learned two new ducks on Wednesday.
Ring-necked Ducks have distinctive rings around their bills, much more easily seen than the faint, reddish rings around their necks.
And Redheads are not the only ducks with red heads, but it seems they are the only red-headed ducks with gray backs and black-tipped blue bills.
Two new ducks should add up to a fulfilling walk with my camera, but, inevitably, each discovery is accompanied by elusive riddles. For every bird that strays within my camera’s reach, many others stay too far away to capture in enough detail for identification.
For example, I’m reasonably certain this is a loon, but which species of loon?
And a rather nondescript pair of ducks teased me with glimpses of white wing patches.
That might suggest Gadwalls, but what about the hint of a collar?
These photos simply aren’t clear enough. Another entry for the “Unknown Ducks” folder in the archive.
Sometimes the photos are clear enough for identification, but only just so. Wednesday’s walk added a new pair of Belted Kingfisher images to the archive, but one photo is out of focus and the other is underexposed.
As with everything else I attempt, success is rare and fleeting. Near misses and utter failures are far more common. It all adds up to happiness, though, because misses and failures mean I get to try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that…