Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mind on Ducks

[19 American Wigeon, 6 Northern Pintails, 4 Northern Shovelers. Forget wing patches and such; each of these species has a very distinctive silhouette. Photo taken from the hawk watch platform today. Click to enlarge.]

It had been a week since I last visited Cape May, and ducks have really started filling in the ponds down there. This is one of my favorite parts of fall in Cape May, and winter, too. Hordes of dabblers, a few divers, flushing now and then in response to a Bald Eagle flying over, which is what happened when I took this photo on Sunday. If you want to work the silhouettes in the photo, maybe for starters pick the center left duck with the skinny neck, long back half (not just the tail), and pointed tail. Compare this Northern Pintail hen with the American Wigeon above it or Northern Shovelers below. Also check out the very long, pointed wings on the bottom right bird, another pintail. It's true that every duck can not only be identified, but sexed and aged by the markings on the spread wing alone - check out the USGS pages on the subject. But I've encountered too many weathered duck hunters who, without optics, called out distant birds correctly to think examining plumage fine points is the way to approach ducks. Size, shape, behavior, location.  I've almost quit carrying binoculars locally, and this is why - you don't really need 'em most of the time.

Ducks on the brain. . . blame my Chessie, Boonie. Who, when wet, still smells like that skunk, by the way, but who also has been making some remarkable retrieves, with the south zone opener only a week away. Someday I'm going to write a ballad about that dog:

The legend lives on, from Cape May on down,
Of the big dog they call Daniel Boonie.
Boone, it is said, never gives up on a duck dead,
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
[acknowledgments to Gordon Lightfoot and his Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, an all time favorite song.]

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