Saturday, December 29, 2007

Urban Birdwatching


Robb and I live in Oakland California which, by any measure, is a big city. But in the middle of the city is Lake Merritt, a wonderful haven for wildlife. In the winters, the lake is home to a huge variety of migratory waterfowl. It is sort of crazy how great the bird watching is. It is also really wonderful to be able to get up close to nature when we're not feeling up to a lot of travel.

Last weekend, I had heard that there were a few "odd ducks" out on the lake, so Robb and I went out to take a gander. (Sorry.)

The lake is home to hundreds, if not thousands of scaups, and in among them was a solitary Ring-Necked Duck. Mister Ring-Neck is the bird in the top of the photo. It took a sharp eye to pick him out of a fast-moving flock of ducks. You'll notice that he has a darker back than the scaup, as well as a white marking on his wing, and a totally different set of marks on his bill. In this light, you can just barely make out his reddish neck-ring. Usually, this marking is quite difficult to spot.

I think he is a very handsome fellow. He was quite close to the shore, so we got a great look. Do you see how nicely waterproof he is? See that beautiful bead of water between his wings?

This lovely female Redhead was so close that when Robb first saw this photos he exclaimed, "Was she sitting in your lap?" I did not crop or alter this photo in any way.

Also on the lake was a very unusual Tufted Duck. We got a nice look through a fellow bird-watcher's scope, but it was my dumb luck to have left the house with a depleted camera battery, and so I didn't get any photos. We went out looking for him the next day, but failed to find him. The half-dozen other scope-toting birders had no luck that afternoon either but I hear he's still out there. Finding him is really like finding a needle in a haystack.

Though failing to find the Tufted Duck, I did get very close to this beautiful cormorant. It is strange to see them sitting right on the bank of the lake. Not wishing to disturb this impressive bird, I snuck behind a convenient bush and took a few photos. (Again, no cropping at all!)

The lake isn't just home to large birds. There are plenty of sweet little "rubber ducky" sized residents. This little Ruddy Duck is about as cute a creature as you might ever hope to see.

They're fast, too.

And not all the birds at the lake are wild either. People seem to dump unwanted domestic ducks and geese, which then interbreed with the wild populations. Actually, the wild birds do their share of interbreeding and hopefully I'll get lucky and be able to share photos of another Lake Merritt oddity, a hybrid of a merganser and a goldeneye.


ericaflory said...

that ruddy duck looks like hes smilin :)

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Isn't he a cutie!

sugarskull said...

Congrats from a fellow bird nerd! You take great pictures. The only relatively cool (as in not the typical mallard) ducks we get near our home are wigeons. They spend a few weeks in the wash behind our house before heading for their winter home. We also get egrets and herons and the occasional kingfisher. I'm a far better watcher than photographer, though, so I don't usually get good shots of them. I had the great misfortune last winter of watching, though my scope, a kestral land nearby with a bird in his talons. I was all excited until I saw that his lunch was one of my favorite warblers - a common yellowthroat. I'd only seen one of those the whole winter. Needless to say I didn't see ANY after that that.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Love wigeons! The kestrel who caught the common yellowhthroat must have been quite a hunter, considering how relatively small kestrels are!

Ron Sullivan said...

Oh man, what great shots! The ruddy with the cocked head is tooooo cute.

I hope you do get a photo of the hybrid. Heck, I hope I do though it I know won't be as good. We saw him the first year he came to the lake and haven't managed to, since. He's quite a handsome fellow. Wanted to get down there before Xmas but we both got that damned URI and it clobbered us.

Hmmm, I need practice with the new tripod. Maybe we can steal a day after NY.


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