Thursday, February 27, 2014

Long-tail Ducks

With long-term ice all over the country, it seems, many sea ducks which would normally not come to the Ohio Valley have decided this isn't a bad place to spend the winter after all. At least the river hasn't frozen. It's been a birder's bonanza! The reports started weeks and weeks ago about Long-tail ducks being found on the Ohio River near downtown Louisville. When I realized this was not the brown and white duck I visualized (the Pintail), I started making trips to the river on a regular basis, whenever the sun came out. But, no luck for me. A friend went back in the late afternoon one day and said she saw it clearly.
On Monday morning, my friend Del called to say 8-9 of them had been sighted, so I hopped right in the car, morning toast in hand! Fortunately, I found Brainard when I arrived. He found the ducks as little specks with white heads in the middle of the river. With his assistance, I got some good looks with the spotting scope, but they were way too far away for any photos. I confess to borrowing these nice ones from the Internet.
Why would they be so hard to find? We've had a bit of a warm spell the last week or so, and all our snow has melted, along with quite a bit from upstream, apparently. The water levels are very high, and white caps form from wind and current. Most of the dark specks are logs and debris floating downstream. Do you see any ducks in this photo? Look very closely in the lower left, near the tree. You see what we are up against? From this point on the Indiana shore, it is about a mile across to the Kentucky side where the canal for barges comes out.The water is much calmer there, and it's a good place for birding.
The ducks swam along in a line, or rather they floated quickly down towards the dam. One by one, they dove down into the water looking for mussels. The Corps of Engineers only has to keep the navigation channel at nine feet deep, so it's not as deep as you would think here. These Long-tails can dive up to 30 feet. All four gates on the dam are completely out of the water, to keep the logs from jamming up. When the ducks got too close to the dam, they would take flight and go back upstream a bit, to start the process all over. I'll probably keep looking for them, just to see if I can get a photo of my own, but at least I've added them to my Life List!


Grampy said...

Beautiful duck. Well worth the pursuit to view them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information, Kathy. My old Ornithology teacher (circa 1970's) would be upset at the name change. The oldsquaw diving story was one of his favorites. Janet in Etown