By Gerry Smith, photos by Lee Ellsworth
Winter is a wonderful time for watching ducks along the Lake Ontario shore. In particular the flocks of Long-tailed Duck in shallow nearshore areas animate the scene. The cacophony of calls coming from these noisy flocks can be heard for great distances. Formerly named Oldsquaw in less aware times, this species regularly winters locally. Found in flocks ranging from a few to a few thousand, they feed on mussels often very close to shore. On days with some wind they ride the waves, surfing above and diving below to feed. Bobbing on the surface they call vigorously much of the time creating a reverberating din.
They nest in the high Arctic, so some are present locally from October through late May. As spring approaches they become even more animated during their courtship. At the same time birds are molting from winter to summer plumage creating an interesting mix of plumages. Usually flocks are northbound in April but many are still on Lake Ontario in mid-May. At that season one may still hear the flocks calling vigorously from far offshore. As one stands onshore watching migrant songbirds from the tropics their calling seems out of place. So visit the inshore shallows of the lake in winter and enjoy this wonderful duck up close and personal.