More Frozen Fowl


Red-breasted_Merganser_ice
Literally…  This female Red-breasted Merganser was in big trouble.

In my 20+ years photographing waterfowl in southeastern Michigan, I’ve never seen so much ice and so many birds this desperate for food. I don’t know why some birds’ bills get so iced up while others escape it. I do know that when your mouth is frozen you can no longer hunt or eat. This was evidenced by a number of dead and dying ducks floating by me on the St. Clair River a few days ago. The bird above tried to shake that ice off unsuccessfully.  Another’s head kept slipping off her shoulder as she succumbed to this incredibly hard winter.

Redhead_ice_dead
A dead male Redhead floats by, it’s bill encased in ice.

“Why don’t they just fly south?” is a question that comes up often.  When you’re starving to death you’re not really in good shape for a flight that may have to cover several hundred miles. Migration is a weird phenomena. In some cases the birds that breed furthest north fly further south than birds that summer 1,000 miles to the south of them. Perhaps certain populations of arctic and northern prairie birds have evolved to winter in the Great Lakes while other groups dig for the east coast. There are benefits in spending the winter further north. These birds don’t expend energy to migrate as far as others, and they have a head start on the spring migration and nest sites on their breeding grounds. I’m not a biologist and this is speculation, but there is evidence to back it up if you look into it. The good news is that most birds are surviving, but I’m pretty sure they’re underweight and reproduction will suffer.

Long-tail_blur
Long-tailed Ducks over the predawn St. Clair River

Long-tailed_Ducks_sunrise
More Long-tails

The heavy ice cover on Lake Huron has forced tens of thousands of Long-tailed Ducks into the St. Clair River. If you live in southeastern Michigan and haven’t made the trip to Port Huron to see this, well, I don’t know what to say. The masses of birds, steam and ice are incredibly beautiful.

Canvasback_Zebra_mussles
A female Canvasback with a load of zebra mussels.

There are fantastic close up views of many birds that are usually well offshore.

Redhead, Aythya americana, male, St. Clair River, Michigan
A male Redhead dries off after a series of dives.

RB_merg_portrait
Male Red-breasted Merganser

Greater_scaup
Male Greater Scaup

Horned_grebes
Horned Grebes taking a break.

Long-tailed_duck_ice
A rare shot of a male Long-tailed Duck out of the water.

Long-tails are some of the toughest birds on earth, living in icy conditions for much of the year. They can dive to depths of at least 200 feet! Unlike any other North American waterfowl, they have two distinct seasonal plumages and the amount of variation in winter birds is amazing. Plus they sound friggin cool!

Here’s a particularly pale and beautiful female Long-tail.

Long-tailed_duck_female

Thanks for taking a look. I hope to get out after some White-winged Scoters next week.

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~ by David Stimac on February 14, 2014.

4 Responses to “More Frozen Fowl”

  1. On Feb 18,2014
    Mike Champagne talked about your photography at his 7P bird meeting last night. I brought up your blog on the port huron findings who talked about.
    He and his wife drove there to look at waterfowl this past weekend. He did not bring up the bird mayhem, other than they saw long tailed duck as your pics also shown as well. I said you had pics on the lon tailed ducks, which he wanted to see !!!

  2. I live in Algonac, on the East end of the North channel. I have to say that never, in the 16 years I’ve lived here, have I seen so many dead ducks. At this moment, I can count five in front of my house alone.

  3. I’d like to subscribe to this blog but so far my efforts have not succeeded.

  4. My god is that heartbreaking. I had no idea. A very powerful image.

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