Our Migrating Ducks

Cinnamon Teal, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Calif. Male in front, female in back.

Cinnamon Teal, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Calif. Male in front, female in back.

Fall and spring bird migrations are exciting natural phenomenon that occur every year in all parts of the world, as it has been for millenium. Additionally, amid milder climates of the Central Valley in California, the migrating birds reside here in agricultural fields and refuge ponds for the winter.


American Wigeon, male

American Wigeon, male

From November through January there are hundreds of thousands of wintering birds here that we don’t see at other times of the year, especially ducks and geese, but also cranes and other bird varieties. The migratory route in California is called the Pacific Flyway, and the birds travel here from numerous northern locations.


Northern Pintail, Colusa Nat'l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

Northern Pintail, Colusa Nat’l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

Photographed here are a few of the ducks that we are lucky to have visit for the winter. By mid-February they will almost all be gone.


Buffleheads, SNWR; male, left; female, right

Buffleheads, SNWR; male, left; female, right

Ducks such as mallards and coots are here year-round, so they are not pictured here.


There are four migratory routes in North America and additional migratory routes in the eastern hemisphere. See maps below.

Pintails, Sacramento NWR

Pintails, Sacramento NWR

More info:

Pacific Flyway

North American migration routes

General Bird Migration


When they arrive and when they depart varies every year, depending on many factors, especially climate. The bird species also vary from year to year. Sometimes there are larger populations than other years, depending on how successful and/or brutal the year has been.


Northern Shoveler, California

Northern Shoveler, California

Like anything in nature, there are a large amount of variables and nothing is predictable. For me, that’s the true joy of nature.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander


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World Bird Migration Flyways. Courtesy WysInfo.com


U.S. Waterfowl Flyways. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Willow Ptarmigan

Willow ptarmigan, Alaska in August

Willow ptarmigan, Alaska in August

The willow ptarmigan is a short, stocky game bird in the grouse family.  They reside in open tundra and arctic conditions in both the eastern and western hemispheres.


See maps below.


Each year they molt twice. In summer they are mottled brown or gray, in winter they are white.  This gives them camouflage in all seasons.


Denali Alaska, ptarmigan

Denali NP, Alaska. Site where we found the ptarmigan.

Ground birds are vulnerable, so their camouflage is a handy natural defense. They can also fly to escape predators (fox, eagles).


The state bird of Alaska, willow ptarmigan are not found elsewhere in the United States; but are found in many of the Canadian provinces, and other parts of the world.


There are only three species of ptarmigan in the world, and Denali is home to all of them:  willow, rock, and white-tailed.


In Great Britain, Lagopus lagopus are referred to as the Red Grouse; there they do not change seasonal coats.


Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska

Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska

Primarily vegetarian, willow ptarmigan feed on willow, alder, birch, berries, and some insects.  Wikipedia overview here.


A successful species, the willow ptarmigan (pronounced with a silent “p”) is widespread with an estimated global population of 50 million.


You will only see them, however, in the northern hemisphere.



Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska

The heavily feathered feet act as snowshoes, allowing the birds to walk over fresh snow drifts. The plumage is thick and holds in warmth.


We came across these willow ptarmigan in Denali National Park where they blended in perfectly.


There was no one around and the birds were barely visible; but we were on the lookout for them, and had a heyday here.  I was very happy because they were a “lifer” for me.


Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigan in winter. Photo: Robert McDonald. Courtesy kidzone.ws.

They lay their eggs in shallow ground depressions, and in winter will burrow into snow drifts to sleep.


A furry-footed bird that effortlessly changes colors with the seasons, sleeps in snow drifts, and has built-in snowshoes.  Pretty incredible.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus distribution in North America map.png

Lagopus lagopus distribution, North America. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus distribution in Europe map.png

Lagopus lagopus distribution Europe and east. Courtesy Wikipedia.




Amsterdam houses

Amsterdam houses

As the capital and most populated city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is a spirited and unique city.


It is popular among tourists for many attractions:  museums, canals, the Anne Frank house, the red-light district, tulips, and cannabis coffee shops, to name a few.


This is a city of deep history, starting as a fishing village in the late 12th century, developing into one of the world’s most important ports in the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age.  Today the region is a modern metropolitan center and cultural capital with a population of approximately 2.5 million.  Click here for more info.


Façade of the Rijksmuseum as seen from the Museum Square

Rijksmuseum facade, Amsterdam. Courtesy Wikipedia.

There are so many museums it was impossible to see them all in one week. We visited the city’s two most famous museums:  Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.


Other notable museums include:  Stedelijk Museum, the Hermitage Amsterdam, and Amsterdam Museum.


The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1657-58). Courtesy Wikipedia.

The Rijksmuseum is an art and history museum, with an extensive collection of Dutch masters.  There are over 2,000 paintings from the Golden Dutch age celebrating Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and many more masters.  More about Rijksmuseum here.


There is also an incredible art exhibit, including Dutch masterpieces, in the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  It’s free.


The back of the Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Courtesy Wikipedia

The Van Gogh Museum, located near the Rijksmuseum, is the largest Van Gogh collection in the world (pronounced “Van Goff” by locals).


This was an incredible collection featuring the paintings, drawings, and letters of the famous former Amsterdam resident.  More info here.


Amsterdam bridge

Amsterdam bridge

My favorite part:  the waterways.  The canals were built in the early 17th century as an urban planning project.


In addition to the Amstel River, Amsterdam has three main canals that form a concentric circle around the city, from which many other canals stem.


The canal ring area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are 60 miles (100 km) of canals, 90 islands, and 1,500 bridges.  Canal boat tours are readily available and affordable.

Amsterdam airphoto.jpg

Aerial photograph of Amsterdam canals. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Tulips abound at Keukenhof Gardens, less than an hour away from Amsterdam in the town of Lisse.  It is open for eight weeks from March to May, highlighting seven million tulip bulbs.


Amsterdam tourist boat (Athena's waving in background)

Amsterdam boat (Athena’s waving in background center)

Navigating through the city on boat or bicycle, visiting some of the richest art museums in the world, and enjoying the many elegant sites of Amsterdam is a true pleasure.



Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (unless otherwise noted)

Ring-necked Pheasant

Pheasant, California

Pheasant, California

Phasianus colchicus, also known as the common pheasant, is native to Asia, and was introduced in North America in the 1880s.


Due to their adaptability to many climates, and ability to breed in captivity, this well-known and widespread game bird can now be found across the globe. Between hybridization and captive breeding, there are about 30 subspecies.


Ring-necked pheasant, Mongolian subspecies; courtesy Wikipedia

The basis for this bird’s successful proliferation is its game bird status.   Since stone age times, and the Roman Empire too, this bird has been a popular game bird for hunters, for sport and food, then and now.


As a birder, I can never get enough of this exotic bird, and search earnestly for their presence when birding in marshes.  The showy male has a white neck ring and numerous colors, spotted patterns, a bright red wattle, and a long, streaked tail.  Gold, brown, green, purple, white, and red adorn the male; while the female has gold and brown with elaborately patterned markings.


They forage in fields on grain and seeds, and have an expansive diet including fruit, berries, invertebrates, and small vertebrates.  More pheasant info here.


Courtesy Wikipedia

In spite of their kaleidoscopic  colors, pheasant are skillful at hiding in the tall grass.  It is common to hear their call and lifting wings as they move further out of photographic range.  Click here for what we hear.


I also get a thrill out of hearing their cackling call on television shows.  It is frequently used as a general wildlife background sound byte in fictional British mysteries and other movies.  Sound engineers use it to evoke a frightening, mysterious presence.


Whether I am birding in the marshes, or watching British mysteries, two much-enjoyed activities, I am delightfully hosted by this elegant bird.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless noted otherwise

A Toast to The Queen

Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria, Canada

Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria, Canada

Queen Elizabeth II:  United Kingdom’s longest serving monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria on Sept. 9, 2015.


Her reign of over 63 years and 7 months expands 13 UK prime ministers and 12 US presidents.  She became Queen on February 6, 1952 at the age of 25 .


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II