In my last post, Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds, I shared some of my recent observations and images from Springbank Park, one of my favourite winter birding locations. One of the reasons I love this park so much is the abundance of waterfowl within it. Those of you that have followed my blog for a while will know that I absolutely love waterfowl and often target these birds specifically during the winter months.
Throughout winter, Springpark Park is home to a wide variety of waterfowl with hundreds of ducks and geese present on any given day, albeit Mallards and Canada Geese are the most prevalent species. When it comes to ducks, a good population of divers can be found within the park from December to March each year. Mixed in with the large flocks of Mallards other dabblers are often present, but locating them requires a keen eye to recognize the subtle differences between the species.
I will be the first to admit that bird identification is extremely challenging and has taken me a significant number of years to confidently identify the number of birds I can. Referencing a quality field guide is something I still do to be 100% positive if required. One thing that has helped me incredibly over the years to assist in proper identification is to look for the subtle differences that separate similar species.
When it comes to waterfowl, the Northern Pintail is my favourite. I find the male’s plumage absolutely stunning while the females, as is the case with most birds, appear more drab but equally beautiful just the same.
On my visit to Springbank Park last week, I spent a significant amount of time scanning the 100s of Mallards searching for other dabblers that may be mixed in. American Black Ducks were easily picked out by their contrasting dark plumage. While I observed plenty of divers on the river including Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and Hooded Mergansers; Mallards and American Black Ducks appeared to be the only dabblers present. As I made my way past the small duck pond adjacent to Storybook Gardens, a cinnamon head and dark bill caught my eye. As I moved closer to the fence, I could see that this duck was in fact a female Northern Pintail. For me, these two subtle differences helped quickly separate this bird from large flock of female Mallards.
This particular sighting was the highlight of my day as not only is the Northern Pintail my favourite duck, these birds are typically much further south at this time of year overwintering in the southern United States. That being said, I always seem to locate at least one Northern Pintail within Springbank Park at some point during the winter each year.
Over the years, I have found a number of interesting dabblers and divers within this small pond beside Stroybook Gardens during the winter months. Northern Pintail, Amercan Black Duck, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, and Common Goldeneye have all been observed.
If you happen to visit Springbank Park throughout the winter months, try not to dismiss all the ducks present as Mallards. Look for subtle differences in colour to differentiate between species. If you are unsure what the species is, make note of these variations whether it’s feather colour or bill colour and look the bird up later in your field guide or favourite bird identification app. By taking the time to look for and recognize these characteristics, you may just add a few new birds to your year or life list.