After a long, cold winter, most of the ponds and lakes of the Colorado Front Range are frozen over but the South Platte River, constantly in motion, provides open water for resident and wintering waterfowl. A walk along the River turned up an excellent variety of ducks this morning.
Mallards, gadwall, shovelers and green-winged teal dabbled in the shallows, joined on occasion by the stately form of a great blue heron; a lone muskrat also skimmed across the river before escaping into a stand of cattails. Deeper pools of the main stream and its side channels attracted mixed flocks of buffleheads, common goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks, common mergansers and lesser scaup. A single pied-billed grebe graced the scene, a few belted kingfishers patrolled the river and noisy flocks of Canada geese and red-winged blackbirds moved through the valley. Watching all of this activity from the top of a distant cottonwood, a mature bald eagle basked in the mid morning sun.
As the weather warms over the coming weeks, the ponds and lakes of the South Platte Valley will open and many of these winter ducks will disperse across the Colorado Piedmont. There they will wait out the upslope snowstorms of March and April before departing for breeding grounds across the prairies of Canada and the Northern Plains.