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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Masked Duck for the day!
Author: Mike Freiberg

Okay, so today was pretty much a stellar day. My field trip loaded up with 16 passengers to Viera Wetlands at 6 AM and of course we would be trying our butts off for the adult male Masked Duck that has staked his claim on one particular pool. The wetlands were booming with birds including Anhingas, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers,etc. We birded the entrance for a while to get everyone adapted to the environment but wasted no time in making our way to, THE SPOT!" This Masked Duck has been seeing battling for marsh postion with some Ring-necked Ducks and American Coots for a while and it was our time to catch it in action.

We jumped out of the van and all of us proceeded to scan the water for the unusual visitor. I jumped on my Nikon 65mm EDG Fieldscope panning the field. Knowing that Masked Ducks are reclusive creatures with a prehistoric feel, I decided to look intently at the thicker marsh vegetation hoping for some of the deep maroon color the body of the bird holds, to show up. Nothing! I needed a little break from the deep stare into the marshy abyss, so I started scanning through the Ring-necked Ducks and American Coots to see what other waterfowl might be there. There was a bird that was quite different in terms of stature holding it's body closer to the water, however, the bird was facing away from me so I had to wait to get a different angle. The bird turned, only for me to see a spatulate-type bill. My EDG Fieldscope began delivering some excellent true colors enough to see the bill was blue and the body was deep red. BAAAAAM!

There he was! The bird in question low in the water for all to see. I was baffled to see this bird in the open. It's habits have always reminded me of the Sungrebe from south of the border, but this guy was showing off a bit. He chased Ring-necked Ducks away and in turn was chased by American Coots. The black mask was so obvious it didn't take long to ID this dude. Somewhat related to the Ruddy Duck this diver is in a monotypic genus meaning it is the only one of its kind. I learned in November that this bird does not paddle it's feet when attempting to take off but rather flies straight into the air. I got a chance to see and confirm this neat attribute. He dives down deep to get to his primary food source which is seeds and roots of aquatic plants. I have only seen this species once before in Texas, but this was the first breeding male I had seen. Truely a beautiful and exciting bird. He was a life bird for nearly everyone in the group and as a leader, I certainly felt proud of that. Our group was super active with asking questions and spotting birds. Nothing makes a leader more happy than a group that wants to learn. At one point later in the day one of our female participants spotted an American Bittern in it's freeze-stance which takes diligance and patience. I of course had to reward her with a job well done and a hefty high-five. That's what I'm talking about!!!!!

Masked Ducks breed from Mexico all the way to Brazil and in the western Caribbean. It would be nice if this one could have a mate, but he may be waiting a while. Waterfowl was the family of the day which included the next bird in the photos:

Two strapping Mottled Ducks. Notice the clean face, dark eye-line and darker chevrons on the body. The orange-yellow bills are a dead give away. These birds will sometimes hybridize with Mallards, but usually will have a darker face and a black patch on the bill indicating a female Mallard.

Overall, we had 66 species on the day and was really successful. I love my job and feel blessed to be able to experience Mother Nature's handy work.

So the Space Coast Birding & Nature Festival has officially taken flight much like this Mottled Duck. Thanks for reading and I hope you visit back. Cheers and Good Birding from your Nikon Birding ProStaff!

Mike Freiberg grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his family introduced him to the world of bird watching. Over time the hobby grew into a career. He attended Iowa State University, earning a B.S. in Animal Ecology. Mike's summers during college were spent as a biological technician, monitoring breeding birds for Point Reyes Bird Observatory in Eastern Oregon. He also spent five seasons in Black Hills, South Dakota, working for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. As his passion for birding grew Mike decided to travel throughout Latin America, visiting Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela. One of his most memorable birding experiences was the six months he spent in Northeast Brazil performing research on a new species of bird, the Araripe Manakin. Mike is currently the Birding Market Specialist for Nikon Sport Optics. He travels all over the United States teaching bird ID and optics to all who will listen.

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