Posts Tagged With: vischer ferry

Ring-necked why?

Every birder in North American asks the same question: If the duck has a bright ring around its bill, why is it called Ring-necked?


I don’t see any ring there!

I’ve heard lots of theories – it’s a hunter’s bird-in-hand fieldmark, some other duck was already called Ring-necked – but no one seemed to know the truth. Until now!

In an article in Birding, the ABA journal, Rick Wright solves the mystery*. He dug through obscure volumes in dusty libraries until he found Edward Donovan’s early-1800s description of the type specimen, the bird from which the species description is derived, and discovered…

…nothing about the bill. The hard-to-see chestnut collar is the only good distinguishing mark. So what happened to Donovan’s duck’s bill? He painted and described the bird from a poultry market specimen, not a live bird, so it might have been damaged either in hunting or on its way to market. Not knowing any different, he depicted it with a plain blue-grey bill.

Here it is, in all its dull-beaked splendor:


Poor Edward Donovan. Scoffed at for centuries as fabulously unobservant, vindicated at last.

Last week at Vischer Ferry, I saw something amazing. A small flock of Ring-necks preened and displayed close to shore and in perfect light. And believe it or not, one male with his head held high and neck fully extended actually had a clearly-visible contrasting dark red collar between the glossy purple neck and his black chest. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime sight, and of course I didn’t have my camera!


Top photo via WikiMedia Commons.

*Birding, Vol. 46, May/June 2014. Sadly, visible only to ABA members.



Categories: Bird photos, vischer ferry, waterfowl | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

King of the Pond vs the Demon Duck

I don’t visit Vischer Ferry much during the summer. But as the days get shorter the clouds of mosquitoes thin out, and once again I can check the paths for migrating birds.

It’s not just that fall plumage warblers are harder to tell apart, but the thick foliage only allows frustrating brief glimpses of birds in quick motion. Nevertheless I was able to find a half-dozen warbler species: Black-and-white, Canada, Magnolia, American Redstart, Blue-winged, and Common (should be Ubiquitous) Yellowthroat. And for all the pictures I took, I don’t think I got one feather in focus…

Some people say Roger Tory Peterson’s one error was labeling that plate ‘Confusing Fall Warblers.’ It sets up an expectation of difficulty that is, with a few exceptions, exaggerated. It might have been more accurate to say ‘Fall Warblers: Easier than silent sparrows!’ Or ‘You want confusing? Check out shorebirds!’

Waterfowl are a lot more cooperative. This Great Blue Heron stood like a sculpture framed in green.


At a nearby reservoir, male Wood Ducks were transitioning into nuptial plumage. This fellow’s blue-green iridescent wings caught my attention, but it’s his eye that makes the picture.


I’d never noticed that furious crimson eye so clearly before. Probably because full breeding plumage is so stunning!


This was taken a bit later in the season last year, in October. For some reason he had formed an attachment to a female Mallard and escorted her all around their little pond.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, ducks, herons, vischer ferry | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

That dorky birder look, now with added eyepatch!

Birders are not exactly fashion plates at the best of times: zip-leg pants, faded tshirts advertising festivals past, floppy hats and those vests with big pockets. Leave it to me to find a way to make birding look even dorkier!

Look fast, these are the only selfies I’m ever going to post:

Now, before you start laughing, (OK, before you fall off your chair, at least) there is a logic behind this. I’ve noticed that when using a scope for long periods, like trying to ID shorebirds, keeping one eye squinched shut got tiring after a while, and that  eye took time to focus right again. So by having it covered, I can keep the eye open. It’s much more relaxing that way.

There are drawbacks, of course — on a day like today, the covered eye is melting in the heat, and it can be hard to focus right away in the bright afternoon light. I have to remove my glasses to put the patch on so when I want to switch to binocs there’s some fumbling around. And of course there’s the snicker factor.

But we’re birders! We wear our khaki with pride! Why not add that ever-so-stylish buccaneer touch to our outdoor wardrobe?

I refound the Little Blue Heron today, but it wasn’t being cooperative for photography. It wandered in and out of cattails and loosestrife, preening and fishing. When it sighted a fish, its whole body became nearly horizontal, and the head and neck swayed like a charmed serpent while the eyes and beak remained locked on target. A few moments of this dance, then pow! and swallow.

Here’s one of the many Great Blue Herons at Vischer Ferry today.


I think this feather is from a Great Egret. What you can’t see in the photo is the delicate motion of the afterfeather, the soft tendrils that tremble at a breath. No wonder they were de rigueur for decades in a lady’s trousseau.


ETA 9/19: I’m not dorky, I’m channeling David Bowie!

Not a birder, AFAIK.

Not a birder, AFAIK.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, Tools of the trade | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Little Blue Heron, 9/1/13

The word went out this morning that a Little Blue Heron was on the pond at Vischer Ferry. I couldn’t get there until evening, but despite such oppressive humidity my glasses kept fogging up, at 6:45 there was still enough light to see an immature LBH moving around.  It didn’t look anything like the birds pictured in the top pictures in that link, being in pure white first-year plumage. So how to tell it from other white herons?

Great Egret is just that — a great big bird, almost the size of a Great Blue Heron. (There is a Great White Heron, a color morph of GBH, but they’re only found in the Florida Keys.)

Cattle Egret — shorter necked and all-over squatter in shape.

Snowy Egret— here it gets harder. Same size. Adults in breeding plumage have the extravagant aigrettes that almost caused their extinction, and black legs with spiffy yellow feet*. To tell young Snowys and Little Blues apart, you have to focus on beak and leg details. Snowys have yellow and black on both, while Little Blues’ are more green/grey.

So, this bird was pure white, smaller than the Great Egrets it foraged near, with distinctly greenish legs and grayish beak. Little Blue Heron, species #200 for the year. It was quite active, flying from perch to water and up again. A flyover Green Heron bothered it enough to make it chase the darker bird away. At last it flew over the trees and out of sight, and I abandoned the towpath to the mosquitoes and the dusk.

On my way in, I spotted this pretty little Milk Snake on the edge of the path. Only about 8″ long, it barely moved as I approached. I think it was full of its latest meal.

Young Milk Snake

Young Milk Snake


*Somewhere in my slides I have pictures of a particularly fearless Snowy Egret in Florida. It walked right up to us on the beach on Sanibel Island, so close that I could get shots of its black toenails.

Categories: bird behavior, Field trip, NYS 2013, Rara avis, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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