Thanks to all who voted in my first multiple-choice style “mystery” post.
The correct answer, garnering 71% of the votes, was a Hooded Merganser!
I spotted these birds on a peaceful early-morning kayak down the Pine River, in Florence, Wisconsin. I was on the relatively wide and slow-moving stretch just below the popular “Oxbow,” taking in the sights and sounds of nature on this undeveloped Wild River, when a bird flew out on front of my boat, splashing back and forth across the river. Between the speed and all the spraying water, I couldn’t clearly see what it was, or why it was doing what it was doing… until I looked over and saw these cute little guys pulling away from the shoreline behind me. I got several (mostly blurry) photos in before Mamma spotted her ducklings and got even more excited! I could almost translate her squawking word for word: “What are you guys doing?! I told you to stay put! You never listen! Get back in the bushes! No, wait, come up here! But hurry, as fast as you can!” And the little ducklings did as she commanded, all four of them getting back to their mother’s safety before the menacing kayaker could cause them any harm.
It’s experiences like these that make every journey down one of our Wild Rivers exciting, even in a year like this one with low water levels. Although I greatly enjoyed watching the fascinating behavior of this Hooded Merganser family without ever seeing another human on my trip, I could have done without the extremely slow-moving water and constant scraping along the bottom. I probably won’t paddle the Pine again until we get some significant rain fall, but I may pull the fishing pole out for some stretched of rapids farther upstream.
Luckily, though, we have more rivers in our small county, and later on the very same day that I saw these ducklings, I found myself on the Brule River, which forms the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. The flows there are much more consistent and paddle-able pretty much all summer long. It is a wider river than the Pine, though, at least below where the Paint and Michigamme flow into it, and just before it becomes the Menominee, which forms the rest of the border down to Lake Michigan. There is one nice little rapids that you can either go around (as my friend did) or through (as I did,
with a little trepidation). If you’re in a canoe or kayak, I would use some caution and planning even on those rapids, but if you’re in a tube, just go for it – it’s a lot of fun! We saw several cool things on our trip that afternoon, despite the fact that it is more developed and we were greeted by homeowners and boaters frequently along the way. One of the neatest was several Common Mergansers along the way – I’ve never seen both the Common and the Hooded practically next to each other like that, and I was surprised at how big the Common Mergansers were, close up – from a distance, I thought they were geese!