Who made these tracks?

First, the “things to consider” from the last post are explained:

My tracks are on the water.

The tracks, or splashes, seem to be made by something striking the surface of the water, probably feet. Many creatures live in and around water, otters, beaver, muskrats, even raccoons take a dip every now and then. They all swim but do not walk or run on top of the water, no matter how fast they run. Basilisk Lizards (some call them Jesus Lizards, not to be confused with the rock band of the same name) are light enough and can get up enough speed to skim the surface, but unfortunately they do not occur in our area.

Flying fish, those delightful little fish with elongated pectoral and, sometimes, anal fins that glide above the water’s surface to escape predators, leave tracks similar to the ones in the photo. The fish frantically flap their tails back and forth to gain enough momentum to become airborne. They are amazing to watch, but you can only watch them from a ship or boat on the ocean. They don’t live in freshwater wetlands.

Our quiz creature is not one of the above.

It’s has to be some kind of waterfowl that left those tracks on the water.

My feeding behavior is a clue to my tracks.

Puddle ducks, those that feed by browsing the surface or by “tipping up” to reach the vegetation below the surface of the water in a pond, take flight from the pond in a sudden leap into the air.

Diving ducks typically feed on fish, mollusks, and vegetation well below the water’s surface. Those ducks, along with loons and grebes, coots, and alcids (puffins and stuff) need to run along the surface to get up enough speed for flight. Geese and swans also need a good run to get their big bodies into the air.

Recent posts to this blog might help determine who I am.

I didn’t mention loons, grebes, swans, geese (which do drop in every now and then), coots, or puffins in any of the recent posts. I did mention Mallards and Hooded Mergansers.

A female, a few steps behind our mystery bird (same shot as above, wide view).

Don’t be discouraged, a little deductive reasoning should help you figure this out.

Mallards are puddle ducks feeding on plants and invertebrates on or just below the surface. They take flight by launching straight into the air.

Mergansers dive under the water for fish, tadpoles, and aquatic insects. They have to run across the water to get up enough steam for flight.


Here I am, mere seconds before I made the tracks in the above photos.

what a dapper dude he is!

2 responses to ANSWER to last QUIZ

  1. sarah says:

    Sometimes dabbling ducks take a running start, too! This isn’t my photo, but I have a similar one from a few years ago of a black duck stepping off.

    Separate question: To your knowledge, have wintering Harlequin Ducks shown up in NC? They’re seasonal favorites of mine up North, along with Ruddy Ducks and teals.

    • Greg Dodge says:

      As far as the mode of taking off from water, there’s always exceptions to the rule.
      Harlequin Ducks usually show up each winter on the coast. As you know they’re typically found near rocky outcrops, or jetties, of which there are few in North Carolina. I believe that the only natural outcrop is at Fort Fisher, marine limestone. I would look near piers, jetties, and the Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet which has both the bridge (concrete structure) and jetties.
      If you’re really are into ducks, head down to Lake Mattamuskeet any winter (right now!) and you’ll see many of them, probably not harlequin though, but plenty of ruddies and teal.
      I would also subscribe to Carolinabirds ListServ
      You’ll get emails – 20, sometimes 30 a day – when you subscribe to the listserv from folks reporting their sights from all over the Carolinas. Maybe a harlequin will show up at one of the local reservoirs.
      Another likely spot is in Virginia at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Stop at the tunnel rest area and scan the rocks surrounding the area.

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