Montana Outdoors

January 17, 2011

The whistling has returned.

Filed under: Birds, Winter — Tags: , , , — montucky @ 3:00 pm

There is a stretch of river not far from my home that I have fished for well over sixty years. For three quarters of a mile the water flows in a nice riffle from a bend in the river to the head of a small rapids. It still contains a good quantity of fine Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brown trout and is fished as well by Bald Eagles and Osprey (both of whom are much better fishers than I). Beavers do their very best to keep the willows along the banks trimmed back so they don’t catch trout flies on the back cast and also dig channels into the bank to provide excitement for those who step into them when they are hidden by tall summer grasses.

Each year at this time one can hear from a good distance a pronounced intermittent whistling sound that I have long known to be associated with the flight of some small black and white diving ducks. A flock of forty or fifty will settle in at the head of the riffle and float down through it, periodically diving down to feed on aquatic invertebrates until they arrive at the top part of the rapids when they take off and fly up to the head of the riffle again, whistling as they go, to start all over again. The rather loud whistling sound is produced by their wings in flight. Only recently have I figured out just who they are.

The river where the riffle is located is about two hundred yards wide and when I’m on the bank the ducks prefer to stay toward the far side perhaps a hundred and fifty yards away. The distance, the facts that they are under water much of the time and they fly very fast on their way back up stream have always made it difficult for me to identify them. They also confuse the issue further by including in their flocks a small number of another species of black and white duck (the Common Merganser).

Thanks to a new pair of excellent binoculars and a couple dozen wild wing shots taken with my DSLR, I finally figured out that they are Common Goldeneyes, one of the last species of ducks to migrate south in the fall and who, as is the case here, will winter as far north as open water permits. I’m glad they have chosen this as one of their wintering places.


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