With all the recent rain, I’d hoped that we’d get some of the seasonal freshwater ponds and wetlands that made the Berkeley Meadow such a magnet for exotic fowl last winter. But apart from a truly royal puddle on the Virginia Street Extension, where Mallards were dabbling, the Meadow showed at best some patches of mud and sogginess, but no open water. Much to my surprise, minutes later I found one of those rarely seen species — Green-winged Teal — in the North Basin, feeding in the freshwater channel that Schoolhouse Creek has carved in the southeast corner of the cove.
In the Big Picture, these are not exotic. The Cornell bird lab website says that wintering flocks of these can run into 50,000. Only a few individuals, however, select our location, and it isn’t clear how long they dwell. I saw them on March 4, but didn’t see them again on March 5.
They’re said to be the smallest dabbling duck in North America. On our local water the Bufflehead, particularly the females, are even smaller, but Bufflehead aren’t dabblers, they’re divers.
At first glance, this Teal and its green side-of-the-head stripe can be confused with the American Wigeon, which have been plentiful in the North Basin until recently. The Teal male has that distinctive vertical stripe on the flank, and it doesn’t have a white Mohawk stripe on its head. The Teal female has a sharper and more contrasting pattern on her back than the Wigeon female, a small green patch on her side (which you can see in this video), and her beak is all black or very dark, while the Wigeon’s beak is light except for a dark patch on the very tip.