Tuesday, October 30, 2018

late Oct 2018: The waterfowl are here!

On 14 October, a Pomarine Jaeger was reported about 100 miles northwest of here. No, I didn't go haring off on a 200-mile bike ride to find it (birding is not my only job this year, after all!). But I did tour around the north end of French Island the next day to scope out Lake Onalaska, just in case the jaeger was moving down the Mississippi. Alas, no jaeger. While birding that day, I saw perhaps 200 ducks around the lake, and I was wondering when fall waterfowl migration was going to get going.

Well, the next morning, I went to one of the same spots I'd visited the previous day... and about 100,000 ducks had arrived overnight! I counted (roughly) 30,000 of them that were within scope range, sampled that group for species IDs, and estimated the numbers of the rest based on the blurry smudges that I could see way out on the lake (no hope of identifying most of them). It was quite a spectacle. The majority were Canvasbacks, with a good variety of other divers and dabblers as well. Incredible to think that they had all arrived in just one night - a night when the radar was showing relatively low migration activity! There are still tens of thousands on the lake as of this morning, though there's been some turnover in the species.

Photos can't really do justice to something like that, especially when the birds look like a long line of black specks on the water... but here are some views from when a Bald Eagle (or two, or twelve) was flushing flocks on 18 Oct.

I've been waterfowling at least a couple times per week since then, but most of the ducks stay too far out for really good scrutiny. They know exactly where the no-watercraft/no-hunting zone is!

But I did FINALLY find my FOGY Horned Grebe (#234)!

(...with apologies for the terrible photo.) I'd been shocked that I hadn't seen one this spring. However, eBird tells me that this is the first one I've ever recorded in La Crosse County, so I must have only seen (or at least reported) them up at Trempealeau last year, despite my impression that they are fairly common around here during migration.

But the best duck was definitely a Surf Scoter (#235) last weekend!

Also bad photos, but identifiable, especially if you're willing to take my word that there was no white in the wings when it stretched a couple of times. This is only about the 8th Surf Scoter ever reported to eBird in La Crosse County. I actually lucked into one last year, too - I was slightly less shocked this time, but it still wasn't something I could count on finding this year. This bird was among only about 65 ducks on Neshonoc Lake, which was a much easier group to pick through than the tens of thousands on Lake Onalaska! But no sooner had I seen a "scoter sp." than the whole flock took off, and I was so upset! But then I looked again, and no, it hadn't been the whole flock that had left. Five Ruddy Ducks were still there with the scoter sp. that proved to be a Surf (and then a few dabblers came back). It was a great relief to be able to get a positive identification, because a "sp." doesn't count on the list!

Meanwhile, there were Dunlin on the Upper Mississippi bird cam yesterday. I can see the webcam's solar panel from shore, but there is no hope of getting an identifiable Dunlin in my scope from there... and no other shorebird habitat to be found (except maybe that tiny beach by my office). Sigh...

Waterfowl migration continues for the next month or two, and you never know what will turn up here. I'll be looking for more rare seaducks, any loon other than Common, and Snow Geese whenever I can get out. Plus, it's the right time of year to start searching for those darn Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, Northern Shrikes, and Short-eared Owls again!

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