Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bufflehead in the woodpile

One of the joys of living on the shore of Lake Superior, Sheriff Steve Martinez will always tell you, is glancing out the front window at breakfast and spotting wildlife paddling by like commuters on their way to work. Yesterday it was an otter that lives up the nearby creek and ventures out into the lake at dawn in search of a meal.

This morning it was a squadron of common mergansers, ducking their saw-toothed bills under the surface as they churned westward. Those two in the background are males, the ones closer inshore are females.

Suddenly a much smaller duck furiously motorboats through the flotilla, as if to grab the choicest morsels first. What is it? The Sibley bird book says a bufflehead, the size of the oblong white patch on its head suggesting a young adult female. Even though the two species are of considerably different sizes, Sibley says there have been reports of apparent bufflehead/merganser hybrids.

Maybe a small scandal of nature is aborning here.

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