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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Angling for an American Black Duck

After getting the Long-tailed Duck, I knew I needed to head back to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge soon, as there were four species there that I had a decent chance at getting: Tundra Swan, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, and Northern Shrike. On 11/21 I decided to bike to work via the refuge. It is about 9.5 miles to bike to the Bass Ponds. I entered there and went down the big hill. I looked over the open water for the waterfowl - there were many about, but none from my target species. I also scanned the treetops for Northern Shrike - they love to sit at the tops of trees and scan for prey below.

I wasn't having any luck, so I continued down the Hogback Ridge trail to the Old Cedar Ave bridge area of the MVNWR. Once I got to the Old Cedar Ave parking lot, I decided to head out to the boardwalk. This is a nice boardwalk that gets you out through the marsh vegetation to where you are on the edge of Long Meadow Lake. Just a bit farther out than the end of the boardwalk is an area where birds like to congregate.

I found this area to be full of waterfowl, so I took out the scope and started scanning. I started with the swans - most that are here are Trumpeters, but Tundras can get mixed in with them and I had been seeing reports of up to 10. I moved my scope from swan to swan until I saw that had an orange bill with a thick knob at the bast of it. A Mute Swan! I had already gotten one of them last January, but it gave me the chance at a three swan day! I kept scanning until I found a swan that looked a little smaller and had a shorter neck, which it held a little straighter than the Trumpeters. Then I really focused on the bill and saw a bit of yellow just in front of the eye. This one was definitely a Tundra Swan!

Then I set about looking more closely at the ducks - there were a lot of mallards and after scanning I picked out a few more species: Green-winged Teal, Wood Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. Then, while looking at a large group of Mallards, I saw two very dark duck butts sticking into the air as the ducks' heads were underwater while they fed. I watched until they pulled their heads back up and it was two American Black Ducks! American Black Ducks are much more common on the east coast. They are closely related to Mallards and there is a lot of hybridization between the two, especially when the Black Ducks are this far inland. So, I made sure to look for any Mallard characteristics in these two - there were not any curly tail feathers, no orange bills, and no white around the speculum (the colored patch on the wing of many dabbling ducks). All of those would have been telltale signs of Mallard ancestry, and I was glad to not see them! The black ducks spent a lot of time with their heads under water, so it was hard to get good pics of them, but here is one that should give you an idea of what I was looking at:

A few geese and ducks on Long Meadow Lake including two American Black Ducks
The two black ducks are near the center of the image. The female has her head above water and is facing left, while the male is sticking his butt up in the air.

Then I tried to grab a picture of a Tundra Swan, only to find that the one I had found had gone to sleep with its bill tucked out of sight!

Three swans on the ice, two sleeping with their heads tucked and one standing with its head showing.
The bird on the right is a Tundra Swan. Even without seeing the yellow patch on the bill, you can see indications that that this bird is a Tundra: it being slightly smaller than the Trumpeters, and its neck is a bit shorter (see that the sleeping Trumpeter has a bit more coiling in its neck).

I couldn't stick around any longer for better pictures - I had to get to work! I kept my eye out for any Northern Shrikes as I biked across into Dakota County, but I didn't have any luck. Two new species still made it a really good day!

Mile biked on this trip: 36.9

Miles biked during this time (since the last new bird species): 36.9

Miles biked year to date: 3,223.8

Species count (MN): 234

Species count (overall): 235

My bike birding eBird profile: (Please note that you need a free eBird account to see profiles in eBird)

Fundraising links for the two organizations I am supporting with this green big half year. These causes are really important and they could really use your dollars to do a lot of good!

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