A Taste of Spring

First Groundhog of Spring

On Wednesday the temperature shot up to 10°C. The air didn’t just feel mild – it was actually warm. I headed to Billings Bridge at lunch, hoping to find the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Ring-billed Gulls of the season and maybe a mammal or two. Although the Red-wings hadn’t yet arrived, I had better luck with my other two targets. Ring-billed Gulls were plentiful, both loafing on the ice and flying overhead. I also noticed my first groundhog of the year sticking his head out of the snow. It was such a heart-warming sight that I waited several minutes to see if he would come out of his burrow; he didn’t, but I got plenty of pictures of him surrounded by a blanket of snow.


This is as close as he would get to coming out of his burrow while I was there.

Groundhog emerges

There were hundreds of birds on the eastern side of the Bank Street Bridge. The amount of open water had increased, and there were dozens of Ring-billed Gulls and Canada Geese hanging out with the mallards and black ducks. A male and female Common Merganser and a single male Common Goldeneye were diving in the middle of the river.

I noticed this unusual duck sitting on the ice with a female mallard. He was fairly dark with a striking white bib. At first I thought it was an aberrant black duck, but the bill is dark gray and the head is uniform in colour.

I didn’t see this bird on any of my previous visits to Billings Bridge, though whether he is a true newcomer or had managed to hide that distinctive white bib all this time is just as much a mystery as his parentage.

Walking east along the river bank I was delighted to come across this beautiful male Wood Duck resting on the ice. It is always thrilling to see the first Wood Duck of spring; the males are so beautiful, with their jewel-like colours and bright red eyes. Wood Ducks nest in cavities in wooded swamps, marshes, streams, beaver ponds, and small lakes; look for them in wet areas with trees or extensive cattails. Unlike most waterfowl, Wood Ducks are often seen flying through woods and are equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches. Their broad tail and short, broad wings help make them maneuverable.

First Wood Duck of Spring

When swimming, the head bobs back and forth much like a pigeon’s. Wood Ducks are usually seen in small groups (fewer than 20), keeping apart from other waterfowl. Mud Lake is a terrific place to see these ducks, particularly late in the summer when numerous juveniles have joined the adults.

Male Wood Duck

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2 thoughts on “A Taste of Spring

  1. I wonder if your mystery duck is a Mallard / Gadwall hybrid. For some reason I thought I saw a little Gadwall in him. They can have a lighter patch of white on their neck, but not that much.

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