duck

Northern Pintail

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Arlie (A.W.) Schorger, 2018 inductee into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame and author of historical accounts on Wisconsin’s wildlife species, described the arrival of the pintails thus: “The sight of a flock of pintails flying low over a marsh on a March morning renders the observer oblivious to chilling winds. The long neck, long tail and white underparts of the male produce the mirage of a frigate under full sail.” Pintails were called sprigs by early hunters in the 1800s with "sprig" being short for "sprig-tail.

Northern pintail, photo by Monica Hall

Northern pintail, photo by Monica Hall

Pintails, of course, are named for their elongated central tail feathers, which constitute one-fourth of the drake's body length. Pintails are a prairie species and Wisconsin is at the southeastern fringe of their breeding range. Northern pintails have the widest distribution of any waterfowl species world-wide and are also found in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Asia. They migrate long distances and there is a report of a pintail that flew nonstop for 1,800 miles. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated pintail numbers in 2017 at 2,900,000 compared to a long-term average of 4,000,000.

Pintails are the earliest nesting duck in North America and nest farther from water than other ducks. The female likes to nest in an open area with short vegetation. In the Dakotas and Canada pintails like to nest in winter wheat fields.

We noticed the first pintails at Goose Pond this year on March 5 while driving along Kampen Road adjacent to our flooded food plot. As we went by hundreds of ducks near the road rose in a dense cloud. What stood out was a flock of 25-30 pintails; as usual drakes outnumbered hens. There were around 2,000 ducks, including over 1,900 mallards along with a wood ducks, black ducks, and green-winged teal in shallow water feasting on sunflower and foxtail seeds.

Photo by Monica Hall

Photo by Monica Hall

Sam Robbins in 1991 wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife that pintails are common migrants and uncommon summer residents. “Usually sprigs reach most southern areas by March 20th…” With the rain and warm temperatures in late February and early March waterfowl returned to Goose Pond much earlier than usual. Pintails also stop at Goose Pond in fall migration. The highest number of pintails recorded at Goose Pond was our October 25, 2008 observation of 120 pintails.

In 1973, March, Martz, and Hunt estimated an annual average breeding population of 1,300 pintails in the Badger State. Their breeding numbers in Wisconsin have been on the decline since the 1970s and 1980s. The first breeding bird atlas project (1995-2000) contained only one confirmed nesting report – a brood in Burnett County. We obtained a record of a pair that probably nested near Poynette and another possible nesting occurred in Ozaukee County during the first atlas project. After the third year of Atlas II, there have been no confirmed nesting records for pintails in Wisconsin.

Photo by Richard Armstrong

Photo by Richard Armstrong

The pintails are one of our favorite ducks. Sue enjoyed spending many hours carving and painting a full-sized drake pintail in breeding plumage.

This year the water levels are very high in southern Wisconsin and hopefully there will be pairs observed in May and a few broods observed in June. We hope you can visit Goose Pond in spring migration and enjoy the sprigs.  

Written by Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers

 

 

Tundra Swan

Tundra swans arriving at Goose Pond, photo by Linda Pils

Tundra swans arriving at Goose Pond, photo by Linda Pils

Late fall of 2017 is turning out to be an excellent time to visit Goose Pond Sanctuary. The tundra swan migration is well underway and at the posting of this article, about 800 tundra swans are present with their numbers on the rise. These Holartic swans are on a 1,800 -mile fall migration route that began in the high arctic with major stops in North Dakota and the Mississippi River before reaching their eastern destination of Chesapeake Bay. Tundra swans are long-lived birds with a migration route and feeding preferences that match up perfectly with what Goose Pond provides.

Goose Pond covered in arrowheads and muskrat houses, photo by Mark Martin

Goose Pond covered in arrowheads and muskrat houses, photo by Mark Martin

This summer, the pond’s surface was covered with arrowhead plants, and bird watchers wondered: where is the water? The vegetative surge that obscured the view of the water is an annual and important occurrence during summer months for the plant's utility in fall. In October the clone-forming arrowhead plants die back and are harvested by muskrats that pile them into muskrat houses dotting the west pond -- this year, 65 houses in total. The houses provide ideal resting mounds for geese and mallards, and through constant use the birds destroy most of the houses. In this second week of November, only four muskrat houses remain and we expect these to disappear quickly with wave action and waterfowl use. (The homeless muskrats will have to move into bank dens -- but that is a story for another day!)

Now the swans are feasting on an abundance of arrowhead tubers rooted in the sediment at the bottom of the pond. Ideal swan feeding habitat is a shallow prairie wetland covered with arrowheads (sound familiar?). All the swans have to do is to tip over, neck down to harvest tubers. Frequently canvasbacks and redheads are close to the feeding swans, optimistically looking for dislodged tubers to eat. Mallards also like to feed on arrowhead tubers, which gives arrowheads their nickname: duck potatoes.

A "dirty" looking tundra swan, photo by Arlene Koziol

A "dirty" looking tundra swan, photo by Arlene Koziol

Some visitors comment on why some swans are gray or “dirty” looking. These grayish birds are young swans and contrast greatly with the white adults. The young swans comprise 5% of this year’s flock, compared to 6% in 2014 and 11% in 2015. The “Class of 2017” is learning the migration route and in a few years they will be able to lead the flock to Goose Pond. It would be interesting to be able to experience the first fall migration as a young swan on a 1,800 mile long journey with their family. We assume some of these adults have visited Goose Pond for many years.

Goose Pond filled with waterfowl, photo by Mark Martin

Goose Pond filled with waterfowl, photo by Mark Martin

Usually the swans remain as long as there is open water. The 2,000 Canada geese and 2,000 plus mallards pack together with the swans and help keep a small area of open water. There has also been a good diversity of ducks including late migrants such as buffleheads. Other migrating and winter birds seen included two peregrine falcons at one time (one swooped on a duck but did not kill it), a rough-legged hawk, northern shrike, and snow buntings. Sandhill cranes number around 50 and we anticipate that their numbers will increase as well.

We invite you to visit Goose Pond sooner rather than later to see these magnificent birds.   

Written by Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Resident Managers

Banner photo by Linda Pils

Mallard

A special treat in the fall at Goose Pond is to see swirling clouds of mallards above recently picked corn fields.  This was Maddie’s first fall of seeing this amazing sight and she could hardly believe these large flocks were comprised of the familiar mallard!  Mark and Sue have seen clouds of mallards hundreds of time but always enjoy watching them.