Editor’s Note: Don Lane, Elachee Teaching Naturalist and retired environmental scientist will provide insight, each month throughout 2022, about different environs and species in, and around Chicopee Lake, located in Georgia’s Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, in south Hall County.
Nearly a dozen hard individuals braved freezing temps to participate in Elachee’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) guided hike at Chicopee Lake on February 19, 2022. Birder extraordinaire and retired Elachee Director of Education Peter Gordon led the group on what has become an annual quest to provide local observations for the larger GBBC community program of The Cornell Lab or Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Birds Canada. The group reported seeing some 28 different bird species (see below). Among them, was a variety of waterfowl.
Don Lane’s Journal Entry: February 2022
Viewing Waterfowl at Chicopee Lake
Visit the Chicopee Lake wetland any time of year to view waterfowl. In birding vernacular, the term ‘waterfowl’ refers to duck, geese and swans. Ducks and geese are the most common varieties of waterfowl seen at Chicopee Lake, with Canada geese and mallards being the most prevalent on any given day.
Ducks can either be a ‘dabbler’ or a ‘diver’ depending on how they eat, fly and look. Dabblers ride high along the water sometimes skimming the surface for food; other times tipping upside down with their bottoms straight up in the air. They feed on seeds, grains, plants, insects and worms. Divers ride low in the water and can dive down forty feet or more. They feed on fish and invertebrates.
Dabblers, such as mallards, have feet centered on their body which makes it easy for them to walk on land. Divers, like hooded mergansers (a less frequent visitor to Chicopee Lake), have legs at the back of the body with larger feet for diving and power swimming. It is awkward for divers to walk on land. Most often they dive in water from 1.5- to 6-feet-deep, staying under for 10 to 20 seconds, although they can dive deeper and longer.
To dive, the birds depress their body feathers which squeezes out air and makes them less buoyant. Then, their powerful feet will thrust their arched body under. These waterfowl will use their legs like paddles and will steer with their head and tail. Their feet will ‘paddle’ while they probe the bottom with their bills for food. When they are finished feeding, they will stop paddling and bob to the surface like a cork.
Dabblers’ wings are bigger, allowing them to shoot straight up out of the water. Divers’ smaller wings and compact bodies make taking flight more of a runway-like approach. Their smaller wings and compact bodies need more speed and power to get airborne. Along with fast wing beats, they move their feet across the water until they reach enough speed for lift off.
A dabbling duck the GBBC hikers viewed during their hike at Chicopee Lake were wood ducks. These waterfowl are called wood ducks because they nest in tree cavities. The wood duck’s scientific name is Aix sponsa. It combines words from Greek and Latin. The Greek word, ‘aiks,’ means water bird and the Latin word, ‘sponsa,’ means betrothed. It is said that the wood duck’s plumage is so striking that it looks like it is dressed for a wedding. At one time, the wood duck was so prevalent across the United States it was considered as a possible national symbol.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, hunting and loss of both wintering and nesting habitat from poor forestry practices and clearing of the land nearly caused the wood duck’s extinction. To address the loss of natural tree cavities for nesting, state game departments, sportsman’s organizations and federal agencies began installing nesting boxes which wood ducks readily used. The nesting boxes aided in the comeback of the wood duck.
Reference used in the creation of this blog
GBBC Inventory: February 19, 2022 during Elachee Birding Hike
Great Blue Heron