Waterfowl in Winter: Dabbling Ducks

The second post in my 3-part series on “Waterfowl in Winter” features two species of dabbling ducks: Mallards and Black Ducks. Unlike the diving mergansers in my last post, dabbling ducks splash around near the surface of the water, often turning upside down, as they forage on aquatic vegetation.


Mallards feeding in a snowstorm


Mallards, hen and drake


Mute Swan guarding open water; mallard hen


Black Duck


Mute Swan and Black Ducks


Mallard hen

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.






Mute Swan in Evening Light

A brief visit to the marsh this evening rewarded me with an opportunity to watch the wild Mute Swan feeding in a quiet pool, highlighted by the last sunlight of the day. Rapidly gaining celebrity status in the area, it gave an encore performance that kept the carload of little kids in front of me amazingly quiet and still!



Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Morning Sun

A quick, mid-morning trip to a nearby marsh proved to be both relaxing and fruitful: photos of something old and something new, in solitude. Once there, I was wishing for more time and warmer field clothes.

En route, I spotted several Turkey Vultures perched high in a deciduous tree, blackish silhouettes positioned between me and the bright morning sun.  The day was warming up quickly and they were growing restless on their perches. Within a few minutes they soared overhead, disappearing high over the swamps and fields to the west.


I was headed for the marsh and ponds where the wild Mute Swan resides. I found it in an old beaver dam pool, feeding, preening and patrolling.


The swan eventually disappeared downstream, walking up over the abandoned beaver dam and slipping into the flooded cattails and pools below. Three Ring-necked Ducks soon appeared along the cattails, two males and a female.


My field trip ended on a good note ….


Song Sparrow

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Invasive Bullies

For the longest time, my perception of Mute Swans was limited to the beautiful, ornamental birds of urban ponds, drifting about peacefully and casting mirror-like images for the viewing pleasure of visitors..Native to Euurasia, they were introduced into the U.S. in the late 19th century for this very reason.


As is the case with many introduced species, the Mute Swan experiment was too successful. Expanding populations of wild, free-ranging birds now dominate some wetland habitats and threaten the natural balance of those ecosystems.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently proposed revisions to its 20-year-old Mute Swan management plan that would impose stricter control measures, to the point of eliminating free-ranging Mute Swans altogether over the next decade.

On April 2, when most of our surface waters were still frozen, I had an opportunity to observe the nasty side of a Mute Swan, behavior that supports the concern of conservationists and the labels of “invasive” and  “prohibited” species.

This “wild”, free-ranging swan had laid claim to about 20 or 30 meters of open water on a small lake. About a dozen Canada Geese were nearby, on the ice, trying repeatedly to access the open water. Geese are powerful birds and can be very aggressive, but they were no match for the bully!


Swan patrolling open water


Swan confronting some approaching geese


Swan showing an intimidating, confrontational posture


Swan patrolling again, now concerned about geese approaching from another direction




Not satisfied with the results of patrolling and posturing, the swan resorted to its last, and most aggressive tactic – physical confrontation

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.


Spring Thaw!

Finally, the ice is melting and the snow receding. The discovery of some familiar faces on a trip to the marsh on April 1 confirmed it: spring is here, and it’s not an April Fool’s prank!


Great Blue Heron – first sighting in 2014



Red-winged Blackbird on a breeding territory in a cattail marsh




Mute Swan at rest on ice

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

The Mute Swan

Sometimes it’s important to just sit and observe nature with no particular purpose. A familiar bird, the local Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), joined me today in that pursuit. I often photograph this individual in winter or early spring (“Ice and Open Water”, 2/18/13), but not at this time of year. I suppose that’s because there are hundreds of options in spring, and an exotic (European origin), semi-tame species isn’t supposed to be a high priority for a nature enthusiast. That said, a Mute Swan hanging out in a natural wetland setting is a beautiful scene worthy of capture.





Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.