WATERFOWL

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Although one of the major management objectives of the Lake Woodruff NWR is to provide habitat for migratory waterfowl, numbers and diversity of ducks are rarely very high.   For photography, this is not a prime site - when waterfowl are present, most species are far from the dikes and require extremely long focal length lenses.   There are, of course, occasional exceptions.  Merritt Island NWR in Titusville (about an hour away) is generally much more suitable for duck photography.  Waterfowl begin to arrive in late August-early September (Blue-winged Teal), but peak in numbers in November to mid-winter, and are mostly gone by late March. A few species of dabbling ducks and a diving duck or two are about the best you can hope to see unless you are extremely fortunate.  Geese are not regulars, but one or two show up every couple of years.

Dabbling ducks can be found on larger impoundments and canals throughout the refuge, as well as in the deeper water areas of the marshes; diving ducks are more frequently seen on Spring Garden Lake, where it is visible from the east side of the dike encircling Pool 1.

Geese

 This goose remained near the observation tower for several weeks in winter, 1996, and was purported by most who saw it to be a Ross's Goose, a vagrant western species that infrequently reaches the east coast.  Snow Geese are quite similar in appearance, and have also been seen on the refuge on a couple of occasions, including the winter of 2006-2007.

Dabbling ducks

  Blue-winged Teal are the most frequently seen ducks on the refuge, and during most winters, a small flock can usually be found on Pool 1 as soon as you leave the parking lot. Look among the Blue-wings for other species - female ducks especially are difficult to identify, so find the more boldly patterned males and identify them first. 
A few Green-winged Teal are often present in larger flocks of Blue-wings, but to me they generally seem much warier and more difficult to approach.  Pool 2 south of Jones Island is often a good place to look for larger flocks of dabbling ducks that may include Green-winged Teal.
      Mottled Ducks are another species that are easy to find throughout the year at nearby Merritt Island NWR in Titusville, but seem to appear at Lake Woodruff infrequently.
   A few American Wigeon, or Baldpates, can sometimes be found among larger flocks of teal, or sometimes by themselves.   Depending on water levels, two of the better places to look for the scarcer species of dabblers are in the middle of Pool 3, visible from the south or north side, and the extensive pools and wet marshes of Pool 2 just south of Jones Island.  Female Wigeon are easily confused with gadwalls, which may also be present in small numbers in some winters.
               Like Wigeon, a few Northern Pintails can sometimes be found on the larger, shallow impoundments.
Northern Shovelers are never abundant or even to be regularly expected, but a few are seen most years.  The big, spatulate bill is a great field mark, even in the dully colored females.

Whistling Ducks

Although they are listed on some refuge brochures as being regulars, Fulvous Whistling Ducks are not frequently seen at Lake Woodruff.  I've seen them on only a couple of occasions, and they are not easy to find on a consistent basis throughout central Florida.

Wood Ducks

     Not easily seen, small groups of Wood Ducks are sometimes present in pools of the hydric hammock along the entrance road before the parking lot.  They may also be found where there are nesting boxes in the hydric hammocks along the nature trail north and east of the large pool you first encounter when leaving the parking lot.

Diving ducks

Relatively large flocks (up to 100 individuals) of Ring-necked Ducks can sometimes be seen on Spring Garden Lake from the dike to the east of Pool 1, or can be seen circling the north end the refuge in flight on fall and winter afternoons just before sundown.  Even when seen at close distance in great light, you usually can't see the ringed neck; ring-billed duck would be a more appropriate name.
                 Less common than Ring-neckeds, but sometimes present with them or in the same areas, are Lesser Scaup. They can be distinguished from Ring-neckeds at a distance by the white back of the males - the back of Ring-necked Ducks is dark.
              Flocks of several to a couple dozen Hooded Mergansers are occasionally present in Pool 1 and on Spring Garden Lake.   When present, you can usually see males displaying to the females by raising their big poofy crest.  Though sometimes common and tame in winter around urban bodies of water, these ducks have given me fits trying to get close-up shots of them.

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