November 26, 2013
Besides the plummeting temperatures along Hoffler Creek, there is a surefire way to tell that winter is coming – the winter migrants arrive. Sometime in early November I started to notice a peppering of small waterfowl on Lake Ballard that wasn’t there the last time I looked.
The first to arrive were my wintery waterfowl favorites, the buffleheads. These cute, little, chubby seaducks hang out in small groups together on the lake, constantly diving down to gather the submerged cornucopia of Lake Ballard. Someone recently told me they refer to them as “popcorn” ducks because of the way they pop up out of the water as they return to the surface from their dive. They are easy to spot because of the male’s large white patch stretching from eye to eye which seems to grow as they fluff their feathers and shake their somewhat oversized heads.
Joining the buffleheads has been an unexpected cluster of ruddy ducks. This is another compact little diving duck that is characterized by the male’s rust-colored body, a bright blue bill and a large tail often seen upright at “attention”. While our little colony of buffleheads is busy diving and bobbing the day away, the ruddy ducks are usually sleeping on the lake’s edge protected by the overhanging shrubs, saving their activity for the nighttime. These birds did not winter over with us last year so I am curious to see how long they will stay.
Looking ahead, I anticipate more winter arrivals. Last year we saw ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers also sharing Lake Ballard. While not waterfowl, we have recently noted activity from a young bald eagle in the area. Hopefully, he is considering Hoffler Creek as his permanent home. And, in other bird news, the great horned owls have been heard vocalizing at dusk over the last few weeks.
So, I guess it is safe to say that this winter looks pretty promising for bird watching. I hope you will grab your binoculars and come out for a visit.
Don’t forget to take advantage of our monthly Early Bird Walks at 8 a.m. on the second Saturday of every month. Gates close at 8:15 a.m. so don’t be late. No registration is necessary and it is FREE (though donations are always appreciated) December’s bird walk is being lead by the “bird lab” team from Old Dominion University. These walks are a great way to enjoy the quiet of the preserve and see more wildlife before the gates opens to the general public.
Helen Kuhns, HCWF Executive Director