|Diving Ducks -- Lesser Scaups and a Canvasback in the Lower Chain of Wetlands|
The ebb and flux of such places make them poor for fish or general recreation so they go ignored. It's a long twisting walk into these places, fraught with underbrush, deep water crossings and large mats of flood borne snags. The intricate, perplexed and treacherous mazes to humans serve as prime feeding grounds to ducks.
There are still a few older Dallasites who can remember and talk of a time when the great trees once towered here and the bottomland floor was dark and a carpet of fallen leaves in winter. This stretch of bottoms had been largely clear-cut generations before, creating a convoluted mess of small trees fighting for the sunlight, with greenbriar and understory strung between them like concertina wire.
|Iced over pond without a name in the Great Trinity Forest|
|Dog sniffing hog wallows on the shore of a pond in the GTF|
Most though are places where feral pigs trudged single file across the haunted ridges and deep into the dark hollows the night before. Where beaver tracks and the branches it hauled down beaver slides still smell of the animal's musk.
The change from vast open expanses of windswept chains of wetland cells to the sheltered hardwood bottomed thick woven stands of marsh dictate the duck species one might find. The harsh conditions, the cold, the wet and the traverse of some impossible circumstances only add to the reward when many of these ducks come within a near arms reach. The remoteness of such obscure places puts much of the wildlife here off their guard. A human would be the last thing they would ever expect to see.
|Male Lesser Scaups|
Categorized by region, duck migration routes, called flyways are well known. There are 4 major flyways on the continent. The Atlantic Flyway is associated with the Atlantic Coast. The Mississippi Flyway comprises the Mississippi River region and associated rivers. The Central Flyway consists primarily of the Great Plains states, Texas and New Mexico. The Pacific Flyway includes the region from the Rocky Mountains west to the Pacific Coast.
|Mouth of White Rock Creek and Trinity River January 2014|
Some of the most elusive, small and some of the most colorful ducks are the Divers.
|Shovelers, Teals, Mergansers, Pintail, Scaups, Wigeons round out the crowd of ducks representing the divers and dabblers at Little Lemmon Lake|
For instance, the Scaups and Ring-Necked ducks are most likely to be found just west of the old Sleepy Hollow Country Club in old stock tank ponds. Canvasbacks due to their food preference are mostly seen on the back side, the east side of Wetland Cell G.
Diving ducks typically frequent large,lakes, rivers, and coastal bays where they plunge underwater to feed on fish, shellfish, mollusks and aquatic plants. The large, broad and webbed feet of these ducks, with their strongly lobed toes, act as paddles. In addition, the location of their legs set far back on the body and their relatively small wings help improve diving efficiency.
|Male Bufflehead Duck making a takeoff run across Wetland Cell F in the Lower Chain of Wetlands|
|Male Lesser Scaups in Little Lemmon Lake, Joppa|
|Sleeping Ruddy Ducks, part of the Stifftail diving duck family in the Lower Chain of Wetlands|
The remaining diving ducks found migrating through Texas include the buffleheads, hooded merganser, common merganser, and ruddy duck.
|Rare sighting, Female Common Merganser at White Rock Lake, January 2014|
A shortage of suitable habitat and little traditional use of those habitats are the primary reasons diving ducks are not common in most of Texas, except for coastal areas. Historically, except for the major rivers, there were not very many large bodies of open water in North Texas. Therefore, diving ducks used the major rivers for migration corridors. A few pools in these river systems with abundant aquatic foods were used as staging (resting) areas during migration. The recent creation of man-made reservoirs in Texas for municipal water supply, flood control, and power station cooling has expanded the traditional migration patterns of some diving ducks.
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
|Female Lesser Scaup with snail at Little Lemmon Lake|
Diving ducks, commonly called pochards or scaups, are a category of duck which feed by diving beneath the surface of the water. They are mainly found in the northern hemisphere. To aid in their swimming under water for food, diving ducks tend to be denser than dabbling ducks and their legs placed further back on their body. They are ungainly walking on ground and their takeoff for flying is labored. Unless really frightened, the diving ducks make a hurried swim away from trouble rather than take flight. The slow casual drift away from a predator or human is the hallmark of many diving ducks.
Canvasback Aythya valisineria
|Male Canvasback on the backside, east side of Wetland Cell G|
|Female Canvasback left, two male Canvasbacks right|
The adult male canvasback is one of the largest of the diving ducks, reaching a weight of about 3 pounds. The bird’s name comes from the delicate, wavy pattern of lines and dots over a pale gray and white background, resembling an artist's canvas. The male, known as a drake, has a red rust-colored head and neck and a black breast during breeding season. In the off season, he closely resembles the female, which has a tan head. The wedge-shaped bill and bright red eyes are other distinguishing features
The canvasback is one of the largest ducks in North America, and this diving duck is a pronounced visitor to Texas lakes and even coastal bays in winter. Easily distinguished by its sloping profile, this duck is unmistakable from any other.
Ring Necked Duck Aythya collaris
|Ring Necked Ducks feeding in heavy flooded brush|
|Male Ring-Necked Duck aka Ringbill|
|Female Ring-Necked Duck|
A great swimmer, the Ring-Necked Duck can forage to depths of up to 50 feet in search of plant and animal fare. Ring-Necked Ducks are mainly vegetarian, typically about 2/3rds of their diet consists of seeds, aquatic weeds and the like. These ducks do supplement their diets with insect larvae, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans like crayfish.
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
|Male Bufflehead with colorful head feathers makes a dramatic takeoff run on the waters of the Lower Chain of Wetlands|
|Male Bufflehead in the Chain of Wetlands|
|Male Buffleheads fighting|
|Male Bufflehead coming in for a landing, notice the wider foot stance than other ducks and the far rearward legs compared with other species|
They are agile swimmers, fliers and divers, and can take flight directly from the surface of the water with only a small space to take off, unlike other diving ducks that require a longer runway to build up to flight speed. They often forage in groups, diving together while leaving one sentry at the surface of the water.
|Male Bufflehead starting a signature dive into the water|
|Male nearly totally underwater with only a tail to see. Female watches from behind|
|Female Bufflehead keeping watch on the surface while the rest of the flock is submerged|
|A male Bufflehead navigating through a sleeping raft of Ruddy Ducks|
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
|Female Ruddy Duck at Wetland Cell G|
|Male Ruddy Duck|
The ruddy duck is a small, stocky diving duck 12-16 inches in length with a wingspan of about two feet. It has short, stubby wings and a long, stiff tail that it often holds straight up. The male has a chestnut body; a black crown; a white face; and a wide, bright blue bill. The female is grayish-brown with grayish-white cheeks with a black line running across the side of her face. When it is not breeding season, the male looks similar to the female, and his bill turns grayish-black.
|Male Ruddy Duck|
The Ruddy Duck is found along the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Coasts north to British Columbia , Canada on the west coast, and New England on the east. It is also found inland to Missouri from the Gulf Coast. The ruddy duck has also been introduced to Europe and can be found on the British Isles and continental Europe to some degree.
Female ruddys, are plainly colored birds with a line or two crossing the face. These birds are part of a sup-group of ducks called stifftails. A stifftail uses its specialized tail feathers for steering underwater in search of food. Stifftails rarely get about on land and like most waterfowl, they sleep on the water.
|Ruddy Ducks sleeping on the water at the Chain of Wetlands, Dallas, Texas|
Ruddy Ducks don't look like much in non-breeding plumage. Given a couple months, the male will develop a signature blue bill and red highlighted feathers. The polar opposite of Ruddys, a bird always adorned, is the Hooded Merganser.
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
|Hooded Mergansers in Wetland Cell F|
At the turn of the last century in the Southern United States, Hooded Mergansers were largely overhunted. In some areas, fish farmers and anglers hunted hooded mergansers because they felt the ducks destroyed the fish populations in those areas. Today, however, they are not a prized sport species. Habitat degradation is now a more pressing concern for their conservation. River channalization, deforestation, and agricultural practices have caused an increase in loose sediment and turbidity, reducing the available habitat for the Hooded Merganser. Not too many in the Dallas area, seeing them is a rarity.
Hooded Mergansers feed in clear water habitats, such as forested ponds, rivers, streams, and flooded forests. Their primary foods include aquatic insects, fish, and crustaceans.
|Hooded Mergansers in the floodway near Downtown Dallas, the Dallas Convention Center arches can be seen in the background|
|Hooded Mergansers headed south towards the I-30 bridge and I-35 exit|
Interesting to see, given some time and some habitat, what will fly into what is one of the largest urban areas in the United States.