Beauty and The Beast! - 07 Mar 2015

Forecasts had called for winds, clouds and snow today. Therefore, I cancelled my planned trip to Port Huron to look for Long-tailed Ducks and instead went furniture shopping. But skies were blue all day, and winds held off, so I took a late afternoon trip down to the Detroit River in Wyandotte to scope some ducks.

As I approached the boat launch at the foot of St. John's Street I spotted a half-dozen Great Black-backed Gulls on the large ice flow in the river. An immature Bald Eagle was among them but flew off just as I parked.  Walking out to the end of the dock I put the scope on the birds and proceeded to digiscope an adult bird as it wrestled with a fish on the wet ice. A Great Blue Heron sat nearby but flew off once it realized that it wouldn't get any scraps.

Another GBBG flew in and attempted to steal the fish but was quickly chased off. I took the opportunity to get some flight shots to show diagnostic features that help ID the bird. Note the white spot at the tip of P10 (primary feather) and the dark gray primaries and secondaries that contrast against the white underwing coverts. Compare with the subterminal white spot on the P10 of a Herring Gull in flight and the pale gray primaries that barely contrast with whiter underwing feathers. GBBG also has pretty blue eyes relative to yellow eyes on the Herring Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

When this particular ice flow moved by I gathered up the scope and headed toward the fence to see if there were any ducks worth digiscoping. I had talked to Pat Rydzewski later in the day and she mentioned that an ice breaker had gone through the river, so it made sense seeing the USA side of the Detroit River relatively open while the Canadian side was still ice-choked.

A pair of Canvasback were sleeping along the pier so I took a digiscoped image through the fence. Someone was keeping an eye on me!

A group of Mute Swans were congregating under the fence next to dock. Among them was a single Tundra Swan! This was most fortunate for me since I haven't been able to get close enough to get nice photos of Tundra Swans. Ever.  What a Beauty!

I took some photos of the Tundra Swan as it preened and waddled among the ice flows. I then spent some time digiscoping the bird from ridiculously close distances. It gave me a chance to get some nice diagnostic images of the smooth, curved bill at the base of the forehead that helps differentiate it from the notched bill at the base of the forehead on the similar-looking Trumpeter Swan. The yellow tear-drops are diagnostic on Tundra Swans and generally lacking on Trumpeter Swans, as well!

As I was photographing the Tundra Swan I spotted a drake Canvasback swimming toward the fence. Possibly it was approaching with the hopes of a handout, because the Mute Swans were clearly looking for one. The Canvasback passed too close to one of the Mute Swans, which took offense, and immediately got attacked. I had a bit too much lens so had to settle for extreme closeups...

For the next several, terrifying moments, the Mute Swan gave the tiny duck a thrashing. It was biting, drowning, and bashing the tiny duck against the ice while it tried to escape. I kicked at the fence hoping that it would release the duck, but the Beast continued its assault. Finally, the little guy was able to break free and scamper across the ice to freedom.

As I followed its retreat I spotted a pair of female Greater Scaup that were swimming in the shadows of the pier and ice flows. The light bouncing off the water made for some nice photos.


Cathy Carroll said…
Your mini-photo essay really makes it hard to imagine how the canvasback escaped the mute's assault. Amazing.

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