Around Our Grounds, January 2020

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Written by Gabriel Ricketts

On January 29, 2020

Winter Waterfowl at Lake Holiday…

Male Bufflehead

During the winter and migration season, there are many species of ducks, geese and other waterfowl that may be found in our community, and being the largest lake in Frederick County, Lake Holiday can host some pretty cool waterfowl. This article highlights some of the more common species of waterfowl you may see during the winter.

The Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) is a small, comical, black and white duck you may see in Lake Holiday from November to April. Male Buffleheads have black backs, white bellies, and are mostly black on the head with a large white patch on the back of the head. Buffleheads are diving ducks, which (as you may think) means that these small ducks dive underwater to obtain most of their food. Because they are diving ducks, it can be quite difficult to keep track of individuals or to count groups of them. Buffleheads often swim around docks, but are most commonly found near natural shorelines.

Male Common Merganser

Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) are large ducks with long thin bills. The males are mostly white with dark green heads and some black on their backs. The females are mostly gray with a reddish-brown head, a wispy crest, and a bold white chin.

During the early spring, large flocks of Common Mergansers congregate on the lake, and it is enjoyable to watch the males fight with each other over females.

Male Greater Scaup

There are two species of Scaup: the Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), and the Greater Scaup (Aythya marila).

Males of both species are mostly black with white sides and gray backs, but can be identified by the greenish head sheen of the Greater Scaup rather than the purple sheen of the Lesser Scaup.

Male Lesser Scaups tend to have more gray on the side than Greater Scaup. Females of both species are mostly brown with white patches in front of the eye. Female Greater Scaups are generally darker brown than female Lesser Scaups. The species can be distinguished by their head shapes. Lesser Scaups tend to have more peaked heads sort of like a crest while the Greater Scaup has a much rounder head.

Scaups are often seen near the more forested part of the lake shore, but many times I have seen large flocks of Scaup near docks.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus) are not ducks. They are interestingly more closely related to Flamingos than ducks. Horned Grebes are small-bodied, short-billed water birds that, during their stay at Lake Holiday, go through two different types of plumage.

The first is their winter plumage; a kind of messy mix of gray, white, and black. The second plumage is the breeding or summer plumage. The summer plumage is a gorgeous combination of deep chestnut on the undersides and black head with flashy pale, yellow crests.

Horned Grebes are another of the many species of waterfowl that dive underwater to obtain food. As Lake Holiday has hosted over 30 species of waterfowl, it would be very difficult to fit them all in this article without taking up the whole newsletter.

If you have any questions on bird identification or would like to be part of the Lake Holiday Birding Club, feel free to contact me at aucupiotyrannus@gmail.com. The club meets every month and is a great way to see some of the amazing birds in Lake Holiday.

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