The fall is the time of year when Wren and I take regular walks on the railroad tracks which run along Lake Colby in Saranac Lake in search of migrating ducks and other water birds. But with all of the warm weather and southerly winds we’ve had this fall, the waterfowl migration has been slow to get started. And so our walks along Colby have not found as many ducks as usual for the time of year.
On different days over the past month I found 7 Ring-necked Ducks, 5 Wood Ducks, a lone Lesser Scaup, and a lone Pied-billed Grebe. On most days I was only finding the regular set of 3-4 Common Loons as well as a couple Double-crested Cormorants, a bird I don’t usually find on Colby. But as our recent cold fronts descended from Canada, on one day last week I found 2 Wood Ducks, 2 Lesser Scaup, 3 Mallards, and half a dozen Bufflehead. Things were finally picking up.
This week has still seen its slow days, but I made one of my best finds for Lake Colby a few days ago. As I walked out on the tracks with Wren, I noted four Ring-necked Ducks paddling across the back bay of the lake. Then I spotted a black and white duck with dark wings flying away from us over the main body of the lake. Most of the ducks stay on the backside bay of what some folks call Old Lake Colby, so a duck out on the main body of the lake is worth noting. It was distant, but its shape and dark wings soon made it evident as a Long-tailed Duck, the first I’ve ever seen on Colby. Long-tailed Ducks are much more common on the coast during the cold months and aren’t even easy to find on Lake Champlain, so finding one on Lake Colby was a bit of a surprise. The bird landed on the water a long way off and I was happy with the find but a bit frustrated with myself for having left my scope at home. Such is birding.
The following day I returned with my scope, but there were almost no ducks to be found – just three Bufflehead. So the scope was more of a hindrance to walking than anything else. At least the irony wasn’t lost to me.
Wren and I returned just yesterday in the dark light of an overcast and rainy day to find my best collection of ducks yet this year. Four female Common Mergansers bobbed on the water near the tracks, eventually moving off at our approach. A string of 13 Bufflehead lined the backside of the lake near the bog mat, and I found 2 female Common Goldeneye with them. There were also half a dozen Lesser Scaup which were difficult to see since they were almost up against the marshy vegetation.
As evening came the ducks flew off down one of the arms of the lake – where they usually go as darkness falls. Since the birds at Lake Colby are migrants, the configuration of the avian collection changes from day to day, so I try to get there as much as I can to see what might be passing through. I plan on returning again today.