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Biking for Ducks

Yesterday I biked the eleven miles from my home to Castle Island in Boston and back. I hoped to find some of the first-arriving winter ducks and possibly a Bald Eagle that has been hanging out in Milton for more than a week. My first stop was Turner's Pond and I was delighted to quickly pick out a Wood Duck among the Mallards next to the shore. He was clearly very trusting, and perfectly willing to boss the Mallards around. I always wonder if it's the same drake that keeps coming back or if there's more than one willing to run up to your feet and beg for bread. He wasn't particularly photogenic this time around so I decided to continue on. Meeting with the Neponset River trail, my next stop was Milton Landing to check for the Bald Eagle. A quick scan with just my eyes revealed nothing out of the ordinary, or rather, nothing at all. Not even a single bird. From here until the end of the Neponset River trail I continued to see absolutely no ducks. The river was dead quiet.  Making my way past Morrissey Boulevard I finally began to see some action in the coves of the open harbor. Small rafts of Bufflehead were the first birds I noticed. A pair of Hooded Mergansers and a few Common Goldeneyes loafed with them, hugging tight to the shore of Squantum Point Park. At UMASS I began to see groups of White-winged Scoters far out, and looking out from the Kennedy Library around the corner I finally hit the jackpot. Hundreds of ducks were actively diving in long loose lines including Bufflehead, and White-winged and Surf Scoters and Common Eiders. There were smaller numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, Horned Grebes, Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup.  The ride along the harborwalk from here to Castle Island was easy and fast with the wind at my back. Getting onto the Head Island Causeway around Pleasure Bay I began to look for sandpipers among the rocks. Coming to the usual spot I was thrilled to see seven Ruddy Turnstones probing the barnacles. After a thorough scan with my binoculars I was able to pick out a single Purple Sandpiper roosting among the rocks. The conditions were not ideal for photography as the tide was low and the birds were along the water line, not close enough to the fence for very good pictures.  Scanning the open bay I saw a small pale gull cruising low and dropping down to pick morsels off the water. Obvious white leading primaries identified it as a Bonaparte's Gull. In a quick scan I picked out several more, spread out over the water. The ride back to Milton was hard into the wind, but passed relatively quickly, with less stopping and skipping the UMASS peninsula. A Northern Harrier flying near the National Grid tank was notable. I checked back at Milton Landing for the eagle and was happy to see it perched on a fallen tree by the edge of the river. It was somewhat far off and soon took off in the opposite direction. A full adult, it was spectacular in flight. I couldn't help but stop at Turner's Pond again. The Wood Duck was still present and I was fortunate enough to arrive just as someone was about to feed the ducks. As much as I don't agree with this practice, at least the bread didn't look moldy, and it did allow for some nice shots.

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