An unusual visit from a redhead in Bel Air [Commentary]

I'm always fascinated when I read about "outliers" in bird books and on the web at sites like the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's All About Birds.

Outliers refers to birds that aren't supposed to be somewhere normally but may show up on rare occasions.

About six years ago a snowy owl was photographed along the waterfront in Havre de Grace and some years before a pelican (can't remember if it was brown or white) was spotted in the same area. Neither is common in northeastern Maryland, and I believe at the time we wrote it was extremely rare for a snowy owl to move this far south, unless food was extremely scarce in its normal habitat of northern Canada and Alaska.

One year, we had a pair of hawks nest in a pine tree alongside our property in Fallston that, from all we can determine, were northern goshawks, not generally seen this far south. Two chicks were born. We think these hawks have returned once or twice since, but they appear to be much more secretive, possibly owing to the two to three pair of red tailed and cooper's hawks that have also taken to nesting in the general vicinity.

On the morning of Friday, March 1, I saw a redhead duck swimming among some Canada Geese on the storm pond at Heavenly Waters Park, near the Parks and Recreation headquarters off Tollgate Road.

The Canada geese have been fighting among themselves for territory to build nests on the small island in the middle of the pond, and here was this distinctive looking duck swimming among them, being ignored and vice-versa. (Interestingly enough, one of the great blue herons that frequents the pond was standing along the island shore, oblivious to all the yakking of the geese - normally the herons stay far away from the geese.)

I don't think I've ever seen a redhead before, although I understand both redheads and canvasbacks, which look very similar, were once quite common in this area, particularly during the north-south migrations and especially along the Susquehanna Flats. Today, most redheads migrate along the Midwestern flyway.

I wondered if the redhead planned to stay around. The following Tuesday, March 5, when I walked over to Bel Air from Fallston to come to work, he or she (the sexes don't appear to have distinctive coloring like a mallard and other migratory ducks) was still swimming around in the storm pond. Most of the geese were off somewhere else, so the redhead pretty much had the place to itself.

I tried to get close to the redhead to shoot a photo with my phone camera, but it kept moving away, so I just let it be and watched for a while before heading up the hill toward town.

I didn't walk that Wednesday because of the weather and when I passed by the pond on both Thursday and Friday, there was no redhead, so I guess it was time for this one to move on in search of other redheads.

Last summer, a pair of blue-winged teal took up residence in the same pond and produced four babies. These ducks aren't that uncommon, but I'd never seen them around this or any other pond. They're small compared to a mallard, and it was amusing to watch the tiny babies swim after the mother in single file, especially on windy days, when the water surface was choppy.

Teal are supposedly late arriving to breed because they migrate as far as South America, so it will be interesting to see if any of them show up around Bel Air this summer.

One species that will be in plentiful view in our area this spring is the Eastern bluebird, once all but extinct but thriving thanks to the conservation efforts of many.

Some mornings, half a dozen bluebirds, male and female, can be found flying around and the alighting on the Ma & Pa Trail just south of Annie's Playground, probably looking for food. One morning I essentially followed them down the trail to just before the woods and boardwalk. They would first perch in the small trees along the trail, then swoop down onto the trail itself, looking for bugs, grubs, seeds or such.

On one recent walk from my house to Annie's Playground to do some kite flying, I saw an interesting sight.

The people who live in the house on Connolly Road, just across from the Humane Society have a number of bluebird nesting boxes mounted on fence posts under the power lines that run on one side of their property. On this particular sunny and breezy day, there was a male bluebird perched on top of almost every one of the boxes, like they were waiting for a mate to fly in, or maybe the females were already inside.

I'm told by one of the owners of the boxes that they have to be cleaned out each spring, or the bluebirds won't use them.

As for owls, there are at least three barred owls strategically placed around our place calling out to each other hours on end nightly for the past two weeks.

When it comes to birds, you never know what might be stopping by for a visit. They do seem to find our part of the world inviting.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad