Thursday, March 6, 2014

Some Ducks and More at AW Marion SP

Spring Break is halfway over, and I decided to go out on Wednesday to make the most of it. I traveled to nearby AW Marion State Park (Hargus Lake to you locals) to hike the five mile perimeter trail and see what I could come across.

The center piece of AW Marion SP is the man-made Hargus Lake. The lake itself was almost all frozen, but a small sliver of open water did exist, and it was here that a large raft of ducks were swimming around. This lake has turned up some good waterfowl species before, including a rare Ross's Goose last year, so it's always worth a closer look. The larger, lone duck at the top of the photo is a Common Merganser, one of the three merganser species found in Ohio. There were a total of four Common Mergansers that I found that day. Common Mergansers are the largest species of duck in Ohio, but are normally only found in winter (They nest farther north). However, according to Jim McCormac's "Birds of Ohio," there was a nesting pair found along Little Beaver Creek in Columbiana County several years ago. But what about the other ducks in the raft?

Let's first take a look at these guys, the Ring-Necked Ducks. Ring-Necked ducks are a very common duck in the winter here. At first glance they look like some type of scaup, but a closer look shows subtle distinctions. They're called "ring-necked" ducks, and so you would think that ring would be a good diagnostic characteristic; however, this ring is basically impossible to actually see unless you're holding the duck. Instead, look for the white ring around the base of the bill. That can ID a Ring-Necked Duck almost instantly and separate them from Lesser and Greater Scaup.

By far the most common duck of the day was the Redhead. The two ducks with red-heads in the front of this photo are, you guessed it, Redheads. Redheads are common wintering ducks in Ohio, and from my experience can typically be found in large rafts of scaup and Ring-Necked Ducks. Redheads are at first glance very similar to the Canvasback, another type of red-headed duck. However, Redheads have a characteristic gray back, while the Canvasback has a near pure-white back. The bills also differ; Canvasbacks have a darker bill that slopes up the forehead while Redheads had a lighter, blueish-gray bill.

The final duck of that day was this strange looking guy, the Northern Shoveler. At first glance, Northern Shovelers sort of appear like a Mallard, but one quickly notices the massive bill that separates it easily from a Mallard. There are other plumage differences between the two, but if you can see that huge bill, then you can ID a shoveler. This large bill is used to filter food from both the water and mud, sort of like a Roseate Spoonbill or flamingo. In Ohio, they are common migrants, which is probably what the two Northern Shovelers on Hargus were in the middle of doing.

There were many other bird species that I came across during the trip, including Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, a Belted Kingfisher, a Northern Mockingbird, an American Coot and more. The species in the photo above is one probably all of you know, birder or nonbirder. It's the ubiquitous American Robin. Many people think American Robins migrate out of Ohio for winter, but that isn't true. Some may, but most overwinter in Ohio in large flocks. There was a large flock at AW Marion State Park working over a scruffy second-growth region for worms.

Winter still has a grip in the hollows of hill-covered Ohio. All the creeks were encrusted with ice at the park, and snow blanketed most of the ground. The only open water in the tributaries of Hargus Lake was located in swift-flowing sections and by small waterfalls which can be found around the park. This is one of the small waterfalls. Ice and snow surrounds it, and some ice is even over the waterfall like a veil. Other finds in the park included a muskrat, some newer beaver activity, and a fallen tree covered in dozens of puffballs. Birds were also singing, meaning spring is here (just not in full swing yet).

Stay tuned for more posts as Spring starts to really kick up. I'll be trying to get out more when I go back to Athens and find some interesting insects, spiders, flowers, and whatever else I can come across!

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