Eyes open

Eyes open.  This is the command I always follow in my wanderings through nature, through rurality, through urbanite mayhem, through the world at large.  I never know what spectacle will be around the next tree or around the next building, let alone what could well be so small as to fit in the next footstep.

So I look.

Last weekend as I meandered about the lake with eyes open, an opportunity arose to see and photograph something I’d never seen before.

A male northern pintail (Anas acuta) in breeding plumage standing on the lake's shore

The northern pintail (Anas acuta) is a duck, but not an ordinary duck in the sense of being from one place or another, whether it be North America or Europe or Africa or—in essence—any single continent.  Instead, this species occupies the entire northern hemisphere: all of North America and all of Eurasia.  It can be found anywhere north of the equator.

This particular male happens to be wearing the breeding plumage, and being ready to mate offers a spectacular scene.  With white stripes extending up the neck and down the beak, striking black vents, and long pointed tail, he certainly is a dashing dabbler.[1]

Having never before seen such a creature, I followed it along the shore as it swam with a mated pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

A male northern pintail (Anas acuta) in breeding plumage swimming with a mated pair of mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos)

Called a gregarious species, something I found out only later when I had identified the little winged beast, it comes as no surprise that he spent a great deal of time with and amongst the mallards, American coots (Fulica americana), and other waterfowl.

A male northern pintail (Anas acuta) in breeding plumage swimming with a male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) and some American coots (Fulica americana)

I spent nearly an hour watching this fellow.  He loitered about with his mallard cousins, and he came ashore several times giving me the opportunity to see they’re as agile on land as they are in water given their legs are more closely aligned with their center of gravity.  I forgot about the camera entirely for a great deal of the encounter, lost wholly in the joy of seeing something new, of feeling that sense of profound discovery that so often comes with remembering a simple tenet: eyes open.

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[1] For those not familiar with the northern pintail, it is a species of dabbling duck, so called because such fowl upend on the water’s surface (leaving butts in the air).  This allows them to graze beneath the surface.  These ducks rarely dive.  It’s of note that mallards are also dabbling ducks.

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