Tuesday, April 7, 2009

BLOB IN THE BUSH

Do you recognize the blob in the center of this photo? Well…neither did I. The tree is located on the far side of the river. The light was dim and the snow was pouring down, as it has been doing all day. Blizzard one minute, bright sunshine the next, the ground turning from green to white back to green again in a matter of minutes. I thought the blob looked like a bird—but what kind of bird? Crow or turkey vulture came to mind, though it seemed not quite black enough and too bulky for a crow, and a bit undersized for a buzzard. However, the thick wall of falling snowflakes made such distinctions little more than a guess. I reached for my binoculars. Wow! Definitely a bird—and even though it had its back to me, I could make out enough markings that I thought I knew the identity. Then, for an instant, the snow paused. Double wow! I’d called it right. There was no mistaking my blob-in-the-bush…wood duck! Two minutes later the snow quit entirely and the sky brightened. I got a really good look. Here’s one of the better shots, cropped and enlarged; not great, but you can at least see a few—and only a few!—of this gaudy bird’s amazing colors. Many outdoor folk think the male woodie the prettiest bird in North America. I don’t know I’d personally go quite so far—but then I have my prejudices. Still, there’s no doubt Mr. Wood Duck is a mighty handsome fellow. Rather like a miniature mallard that decided to become a rock star, and let Hollywood dress and colorize him for the part—so long as they promised a wild hairdo and were willing to use the entire paintbox. If you poke along lakes and streams and backwater bayous much, then wood ducks are a familiar sight—though usually when you see them, they’re already “whistling” in alarm and well on their way to hustling somewhere else. It takes a pretty competent stalking job to sneak up on a woodie. Wood ducks nest exclusively in tree cavities (or manmade “duck” boxes). They’re common along the river here because a lot of the big sycamores have hollows in their trunks and larger limbs—perfect wood duck nest sites. I’ve read that woodies occasionally pick a nest hole as much as 50 feet above the ground—and not always smack on a streambank or lakeshore, either. Yet I’ve never found one nesting much higher up than 25 feet—though most of the rivers and streams around this part of the state are lined with ranks of sycamores, so a homemaking-minded wood duck looking to find a suitable nest cavity probably doesn’t have to search far. This is actually the first wood duck I’ve seen along my home stretch of river this year. They usually appear hereabouts anywhere from the middle of March to the first couple of weeks in April; this one is right on time. Last spring, I looked out one morning and saw six wood ducks—three pairs—cruising the pool across from the cottage. In the final shot, a long view, you can see the wood duck in the upper right portion of the image. The woodie is perched about 10 feet above the soggy ground of the island across from the cottage. To the left, is the half-submerged upper half of the old snag which fell a week ago. Good thing the woodie and his mate didn’t pick that cavity-riddled stump for their nursery.

18 comments:

Gail said...

"HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOOD DUCK WOoD IF A WOOD DUCK COULD DUCK WOOD"!! "-)

Oh I am just being silly today - your pictures are amazing - your knowledge of such things mind boggling - I never even heard of a wood duck until I read your post!
National Geographic has nothing on you! :-)

Love Gail
peace......

Carolyn H said...

Griz:

Nice! I think the male Wood Duck is quite lovely, if a little overhyped as the "prettiest."

Carolyn H.

KGMom said...

Your description of your "blob" sent me scurrying to the What Bird website. In addition to fine drawings of birds, this site has the bird calls which can be played easily. What an interesting sound that whistle is.
Thanks for snag update.

Jenn Jilks said...

Very exciting! My kids and I used to love an old Disney movie with wood duck hopping out of their nest at break out time.

Our birds are not happy. Snow all night, for two days, too. The lake has puddled over with slush.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I'm tellin' ya, there's a blog posting in there somewhere!

Nahhh, National Gee doesn't have anything on me…'cpet a boatload of experts, the world's finest optics, more money than God, and those cute yellow borders. (I could maybe change the border color on my blox headshot—whaddya thin?)

Anyway, thanks for that little hot-flash of ego stroking.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

That woodie sat on that limb for three hours! They are amazingly colorful birds, but I'm partial to wrens and white-throated sparrows. And I simply love Canada geese.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

That whistle is generally the first inkling you have when a'stream that a wood duck is anywhere around. You'd think as colorful as they are, they'd be easy to spot—but no. You hear the whistle, a splashing take-off launch, flapping wings…and then, maybe, you see the woodie.

Hey, I put that snag shot in there for you. I did answer your query, but I figured a photo was better.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Snow here too, though nothing on the ground. But doggone! I liked last week's 73 degrees better! April in Ohio.

I remember that Disney shot, or one similar from one of his nature films. I believe it might have been taken by Karl Maslowski, who I knew, and who passed a couple of years ago. Karl was one of the finest nature photographers (movies and stills) around, and I know he did some work for Disney.

It is something how those little ducklings so fearlessly launch themselves from the nest cavity, no matter the height.

JMS said...

Nice find! I remember footage of ducklings leaping from the nest, but I think Marty Stouffer was the photographer, in "Wild America." I loved that series.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

JMS…

Yup, Marty had some amazing shots—of course he kinds blew his reputation with some set up stuff. But he still did really nice work. I think the Disney movie might have been "Vanishing Prairie."

Deb said...

Woodies are beautiful birds. Our state is currently considering designs for a license plate that would benefit wildlife, and I was happy to see a wood duck was on one of the proposed designs. It didn't win the popularity contest though.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Deb…

This wasn't really much of a shot for showing all the colors—but maybe I can come up with a better one later on. Wood ducks are really dazzling when you can see them at their colorful peak.

Rowan said...

He certainly is handsome. I had no idea until a couple of weeks ago that ducks could perch in trees. One morning I was walking by the river with B Baggins and to my amazement I saw four Mandarin ducks land in a tree just in front of me. Of course I didn't have a camera with me! I still don't know quite how they manage to perch with their webbed feet - they must be acrobats.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Wood ducks are really the only ducks around here that regularly perch in trees.

You're right, too, that we're conditioned to expect ducks to be on the water, and other creatures such as cats and woodchucks to be on the land; we don't expect a snake in the closet, a bird in the bathroom, or a squirrel in the car's back seat. I've experienced all five, by the way…all unexpected.

In the place were I lived for a short while before moving here, there were about 100 condo units, three-stories high, behind my place, all surrounding a pond. The roof pitch on these buildings was steep, but any number of big Canada geese would straddle the roof''s peak, a webbed foot on either side, belly on the ridge, and sit there by the hour. There were literally thousands of similar condominiums scattered throughout the community, most with lakes or ponds, and Canada geese were as common as sparrows. Yet this condo's geese were the only ones I ever saw which choose the high, uncomfortable view.

giggles said...

Cool!! Don't think I 've ever seen one IRL...definately not close enough to enjoy their painted beauty...

Had a YS flicker yesterday...another painted beauty to my eyes...

Have a good day!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

This shot really doesn't come close to showing the male woodie's range of colors. They are really spectacular. And as common as they've become, they're not the easiest bird to get a good long look at—and least not in the wild in my experience. (I used to say and think the same thing about seeing blue herons until I stopped by a friend's place near Sarasota, Florida one winter. He had a GBH which liked to fish near his rickety little dock. You could walk to within three feet of where the bird stood in the clear shallows, without spooking it.)

I can't remember (will have to check) whether I've done anything on flickers. I did shoot several flicker photos a while back. They are pretty birds, indeed—and being regular ground feeders, rather odd-behaving for woodpeckers.

The Weaver of Grass said...

So your old snag is still holding on Scribe - maybe part of its root system is still attached.
I had never heard of a wood duck but must say he is mighty handsome (it is the he isn't it - the girls of all the bird species are usually the drab ones (thank goodness it is not like that with humans - I have just bought an apple green coat and can't wait to wear it!!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Yes, the water is down 2–3 feet today, and the old snag is high and dry, if a bit soggy. Actually, the part you see in the water in yesterday's shot is the upper half; the snag broke in two when it fell. This wasn't a really high rise in the water level, though, so it could still get washed away.

The male wood duck is indeed the fancy dresser, while the female wears drab. (When you are on the nest, sitting a clutch of eggs, better to be less visible to a prowling predator; in fact, let the male cruise the pool in gaudy colors, drawing the eye, becoming the target.)

My photo is nowhere close to being a good one for show the male's wide range of colors, though; if you really want to see a wood duck in full splendor, look here: http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/WoodDuck.htm

Did you pick up that apple green coat on your recent shopping trip to Northallerton, on the day you wrote so temptingly of Betty's?