Friday, February 28, 2020

Fri-D: Know Them By the sounds of Their Feet

 [The above Hooded Merganser sequence took less than one second, if my Nikon's specs are correct.]

About ten years ago I found myself sitting in a restaurant overlooking a bay on the Gulf Coast, lunching with friends, and a small flock of ducks whipped across the water at fairly great distance. Of course we had our binoculars, but the ducks landed where I couldn't see them. My friend could, and studied them and then reported they took off.
The only two realistic possibilities for a duck flock in April were Lesser Scaup or Blue-winged Teal. (My friend, who shall remain nameless so as not to embarrass someone on everyone's short list for the title of best birder in North America) said he wasn't sure.
I asked, "Did they patter across the surface or go straight into the air?"
My friend stared at me, looking suddenly very sheepish. This is duck 101; pattering equals a diving duck, springing equals a dabbling duck. He'd neglected to notice, though I could tell he was rewinding the tape in his head.
I've been trying to take my earbirding to a higher level, and have begun trying to i.d. birds by the sound of their takeoff. This is mainly because I like to bird at night, and sometimes you'll be next to water or a marsh and hear a bird take off without vocalizing.
Many birders can recognize the wingbeat sounds of a Mute Swan (but can you tell them from Tundra Swan or Canada Goose? Ever think about that?) Woodpeckers have a distinctive thrumming to their wingbeats, Northern Cardinals do to a lesser extent (but more than the White-throated Sparrows that often roost nearby them and flush when you walk by). And diving ducks patter, dabbling ducks don't, goldeneye wings whistle, Hooded Mergansers patter faster and for a longer distance than Bufflehead.. . . sky's the limit.

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