After 10 weeks in Panama we are now back home, and instead of parrots and tanagers I’m now looking at chickadees, sparrows and ducks. I was actually quite surprised at how few ducks we saw in Panama. I had expected quite a number of our ducks to be wintering in Central America, but it seems that many don’t seem to go quite that far. Blue-winged Teal was the only species of migrant duck I saw.
I have seen 26 species of duck on Arrow Lake over the years. Some, like the Surf Scoter, are rare visitors, but many are seen here every year. In the next two or three weeks, anyone who looks out over Arrow Lake regularly will see a lot of ducks. These are migrants and most will not remain here and breed. Already I have seen American Wigeon, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Green-winged Teal and Mallard. If you take a minute to watch these ducks, you will notice there are two quite different feeding styles. Some species tip upside-down in shallow water and feed on the bottom with their tails sticking up above the surface; others dive completely underwater and may remain below the surface for up to 30 seconds. These two distinct groups of ducks are referred to as the divers and the dabblers. To adapt to an underwater feeding style, the divers have smaller wings than the dabblers. As a result they are not able to take flight quite as easily. You may have noticed that some species, the Mallard for instance, seem to be able to leap up out of the water and become airborne on the first flap of the wings. The divers, however, with their smaller wings cannot accomplish this feat; instead they ‘run’ along the surface of the water to gain a little speed before take-off is possible.
Of the 26 duck species seen here, very few actually breed in the valley. Arrow Lake, with its unstable shoreline and lack of water-side vegetation, is unsuitable as nesting habitat. The only species that does manage on the lake regularly is the Common Mergansers. They are able to cope with changing water levels because they nest in cavities in trees and don’t need shoreline habitat. Mallards seem to make it once in a while too. Probably because some will nest in tall grass well above the waterline. Smaller lakes in the region, Summit, Box and Wilson for example, do support a few species of breeding ducks. Others species that I have recorded breeding in the general area are Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser and Common Merganser. In Creston, where wetland habitat is abundant, 20 species have been known to breed.