First new sightings of the year!

Nope, it’s not a painted bunting, and I’m not Switzerland’s ambassador to the United States. As if.

It was, however, nice and cold last night, right here in Shorewood, so the snow and ice on the trail along the Milwaukee River was nice and firm this morning, and just as I approached the river at the very south end of the park, I glimpsed a full-on bald eagle, with white head, white tail, and sharp look in its eye, gliding south over the river about even with the tree tops. That’s definitely a first for me here in the park and perhaps a good sign for their continued recovery. I read that Milwaukee County is “the only county [in Wisconsin] where no active nests have been documented,” yet.

Sadly, with the grey skies we’ve been having lately and that seemingly will never end, any picture I took, even if I did have my camera with me, would have been just a black silhouette against a white background.

The usual crowd of mallards were scattered from there all the way to the north end of the park, and when I turned around to head back south, I spotted a bright white duck with a dark head on the water. I had seen it once before and thought maybe it was a mallard-muscovy hybrid, but it was too far away to get a good look. This time, he was closer to the eastern shore and I managed this shot with my phone.

Happily, it appears I was mistaken, and as far as I can tell, that is a male common merganser. It clearly is not a similarly colored goldeneye or bufflehead because of its distinctly long and narrow beak, which leads common mergansers to sometimes be “called sawbills“. In fact, I read further that “the word “merganser” comes from the Latin and roughly translates to “plunging goose”—a good name for this very large and often submerged duck.”

Anyway, I do believe we have seen a common merganser on the river before, back on July 29, but not a male in such full adult splendor. It appears that we are near the northern edge of their non-breeding range, and it is common enough for them to hang out with mallards in icy water that Cornell Lab of Ornithology even has a video of it from New York, of all places.

Sorry, Carolyn, no ermine pictures yet, but 2021 is off to a nice start anyway, eh?

Published by Andrew Dressel

Theoretical and Applied Bicycle Mechanic, and now, apparently, Amateur Naturalist. In any case, my day job is teaching mechanics at UWM.

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