June 18, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 31 March 2011 13:15
Patrice Gillespie of Wilton knows how to prepare for spring.
“I begin keeping my good binoculars in the car at this time of year,” she writes.
“In my travels, I check the surface of Horseshoe Pond near Wilton Town Center for spring migrating ducks. Today [March 22] there were several pairs of Ring-necked Ducks frolicking on the pond, along with a few pairs of Hooded Mergansers.
“One male Merganser was quite close to the small road that follows the pond’s western edge and dead-ends near Wolfpit Road. He was really breathtaking, with his black-and-white striped back, chestnut sides and impressive headgear.
“I’ve been by that pond earlier this spring and saw (without my binoculars) what were probably the Wood Ducks that often frequent the southern end. A short detour into that little road is often more than worthwhile, birding-wise, especially during an otherwise dull excursion amid suburban traffic.”
More common are Mallards, which seem to show up on even the tiniest of ponds and vernal pools — hence, they are often nicknamed “puddle ducks.”
Erik M. Abrahamson of Ridgefield, who provided the picture, has seasonal wild Mallard mates, “who return every spring to my old farmland irrigation pond/frog pond to feed. They are very punctual during the first week of spring; snow or no snow.
“My frogs (Spring Peepers and Bull’s) woke up one day early on March 16, and the Mallards always arrive a few days after the frogs start singing their evening songs. I am not sure if the Mallards eat the frogs, but they have a seemingly endless feast if they decide to partake alongside the hawks, coyotes, raccoons, snappers and snakes I already have feeding on these frogs.”
Speaking of Mallards, one day last week I had a bit of a surprise. A few days earlier we had had that wonderfully warm day when it reached 70 degrees, and, that evening, the “peepers” started their choruses. But within a day or so, the temperature was back to winter standards, and the nights were quiet again.
But one morning last week, I was out for a pre-dawn walk along a road that passes a small, wooded pond. It was 34 degrees and totally dark, but as I approached the pond I could hear two frogs peeping at one another — infrequently, but steadily. And mixed in with their songs were the quacks of a pair of Mallards that had arrived on the recently thawed pond.
I was astounded that frogs were peeping at two degrees above freezing and surprised that ducks were quacking in the dark.
Maybe it was my flashlight that set them all off.
As for Erik’s speculation about what the Mallard’s were eating, it probably wasn’t frog — but could have been.
Mallard bills are designed for eating plants, and ducks of all sorts are largely vegetarian. However, they can and will eat insects, crustaceans, worms, and mollusks. Some observers have reported them eating frogs, but their beaks and their general demeanor — hardly stealthy — are such that catching wily frogs would not seem easy for a Mallard.
Annual Meeting, Connecticut Ornithological Association, including Dr. Alan Brush on plumage chemistry and color, Dr. Daniel Klem on preventing bird-window collisions, Blair Nicula on storm-blown seabirds, Saturday, April 9, 8/9 to 4 p.m., $15/$20, Chapman Hall, Middlesex Community College, Middletown, ctbirding.org
Spring Migration Bird Walks, Saturdays, April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, May 7, 21, 28, from 7 to 8:45 a.m., free, Audubon Greenwich, meet in parking area on 613 Riversville Road, greenwich.audubon.org, 203-869-5272
Migration & Early Spring Migrants, workshop, Saturday, April 16, 9:30 to noon, $12/adult, free for kids, RSVP required Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, 203-869-5272 x230, greenwich.audubon.org
“First Sundays,” bird walks open to all ages and skills, at Greenwich Point, with Meredith Sampson, first Sunday of the month, through May, 9 a.m. sponsored by Wild Wings, Inc., Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, 203-637-9822.
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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