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.