Spring has sprung: Waterfowl are on the move

If you’re waiting for the March 20th vernal equinox to get outside, then you’re about a month behind one of the most dramatic natural phenomena to sweep across the northern hemisphere.  Waterfowl are on their way. From the tropics, Gulf Coast, California wetlands, Chesapeake Bay, Louisiana: they haze the nighttime airport radar as they migrate toward their summer homes. The prairie states and provinces, arctic tundras and coasts will be inundated with throngs of ducks, geese and swans that spent the winter in the lower 48.

A flock of Canvasbacks seeks out open water on Lake St. Clair.

By the last week of February the first northbound Northern Pintails and Tundra Swans are chasing winter away from the lower Great Lakes.

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta, male
Northern Pintail on the Detroit River

Tundra Swans; Cygnus columbianus, Yukon Delta NWR, Alaska
Courting Tundra Swans

This is an exciting time of year for birders and photographers. We get to observe the beautiful and unique courtship behaviors of birds that are here for only a brief period. Wigeon and Mallard whistles, Pintail and Teal trills, Canada Goose honks and Tundra Swan whoops fill the air.

If a “real” winter has preceded this migration, many of these early migrants can be jammed into just a few ice-free areas. This makes photography of these wary birds much easier. By scouting and planning for a predawn arrival, photographers can set up for some rewarding images. Tired migrants and birds preoccupied with finding a mate can provide for some great photo opportunities. Often several male ducks will give chase to a female in an incredible courtship flight full of amazing aerial acrobatics.

Buffleheads, Bucephala albeola
Seven male Buffleheads try to impress a female with their flight skills.

Paired birds show affection and make for great images too.

Redhead, Aythya americana, male & female
Redheads in love

I wish spring and fall were a few weeks longer.    Get out now and enjoy it!


~ by David Stimac on March 8, 2013.

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