Tag Archives: northern pintail (Anas acuta)

Farewells – Part 1

The mockingbirds sing and display, their aerial ballets worthy of the finest stages across the globe and their diverse songs reminiscent of the finest works of Mozart.  The first purple martin arrived yesterday, a vanguard leading the way for many others to follow, and soon they will fill the days with profound beauty.  The merlin waded into the crystal river and began its long swim northward, putting behind it this cold season in the south and setting its eyes on love to be found in another place and at another time.  The mourning doves pour upon the sunrise their woeful dirge until my eyes water at the sadness of the sound, yet to them it is not sad but joyous, a plaintive call that seeks to warm the heart of another.

Even as more snow is forecast next week, nature prepares her children for the season that is to come.  An eclectic celebration of dance and music.  The building of nests and the starting of families.  The putting on of fine colors and patterns, the best dress available, the finest suit.  And her migrating offspring begin their journeys.  While many will leave, many more will arrive.  Yet it is the farewells which cut us deeply, not the hellos.

So in honor of the endings that now beset us and the beginnings they foretell, I offer this brief series in celebration of the lives with whom I’ve shared a brief moment this winter, the faces that will now pass into memory as new faces take their place.  And because I believe no life is complete without reading it, I will include the divine words of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet alongside the beauty of that which even now passes into history.

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.

Yellow-rumped warbler (a.k.a. myrtle warbler or Audubon’s warbler; Dendroica coronata) perched in a bush (2010_02_06_049418)

It was but yesterday we met in a dream.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched on a branch (2010_02_06_049331)

You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.

Brown creeper (Certhia americana) climbing the side of a tree (2010_02_07_049537)

But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.

A mated pair of northern pintails (Anas acuta) swimming in the bay (2010_01_24_048844)

The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched in winter reeds (2010_01_12_048009)

If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.

Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) standing on a submerged log (2009_12_20_045591)

And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky.

— — — — — — — — — —

For those looking to fill your weekend not with farewells but with hellos, I turn your attention to these delectable blog carnivals.

Friday Ark #283: Steve ushers critters aboard the ark throughout the weekend, so visit now and visit often.  Through Sunday you will find a growing collection of marvels both great and small.

I and the Birds #119: The Cult of Birds: I cannot recommend enough that you visit Laura’s edition of this bird carnival.  She is someone I look up to as a writer, a naturalist, a feeler of emotions.  Her edition of this celebration of all things winged is the preeminent presentation that should not be missed.

An Inordinate Fondness #1 – Inaugural Issue: A man for whom I have developed a sincere admiration and great fondness, Ted MacRae offers up the inaugural edition of a carnival celebrating the largest group of animals on the planet: beetles.  His passion manifests clearly in this festival, and he sets the bar high for future versions that no doubt will struggle to meet this standard.


[1] Juvenile yellow-rumped warbler (a.k.a. myrtle warbler or Audubon’s warbler; Dendroica coronata)

[2] Subadult cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

[3] Brown creeper (Certhia americana)

[4] Mated pair of northern pintails (Anas acuta)

[5] Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

[6] Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)

Winter visitors – Part 2

Quiet.  Even at this hour, it blankets the world around me.

Feeble sunshine winks through wisps of cirrus as a distant star lingers over the horizon.  Soon it will cast no more light except what bends and bounces through the atmosphere.

A male redhead (Aythya americana) swimming in White Rock Lake (2009_11_15_039836)

Nightfall comes soon these days.

Overhead, silently as though nothing more than apparitions of the mind, three American white pelicans glide effortlessly, their wings slightly bent to slow their momentum.  They come to join their brethren at the lake for what the season brings.  Shadows against a sky dimly lit by dusk, they do not speak and do not waver.  Soon they will rest with familiars in a place wherein they are protected, welcomed, enjoyed in their natural state.

A crisp, autumnal cool front passed by recently.  The air feels dry as it brushes my cheek with soft caresses promising winter’s impending arrival.

A male northern pintail (Anas acuta) sleeping near the shore of White Rock Lake (2009_11_15_040011)

And in the week ahead, my beloved friend seems perched behind falling leaves and a landscape turning bare, for even though the hour is late, cooler temperatures now prevail—though cooler only than yesterday and last week and last month, but not cool enough yet.

What can I say but from my love of such things comes great joy.

The brisk touch of icy fingers born on northerly winds…

Air cleansed by squeezing hands wrought of arctic intent…

A male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in White Rock Lake (2009_11_14_038655)

Huddled masses of humans seeking every bit of sunlight in which to stand, afraid of what shivers shade might bring…

The smell of cold, even by Texas standards, that rests sweetly on the tongue…

Visitors from far off places blessing me with their arrivals, their taking shelter here from what besets their homes elsewhere…

A white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) perched in a tree at White Rock Lake (2009_11_14_038971)

Trees shed their summer clothes in favor of the stoic dress of winter, bare limbs standing like skeletons against brief days and long nights…

The rustle of leaves carried to and fro tickles my ears…

These things and more carry beauty to the very heart of me.

A female dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) foraging on the ground at White Rock Lake (2009_11_01_036852)

This is my season, this season of cold, this season of change.

A song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched in reeds along the shore of White Rock Lake (2009_02_03_006432)

Let winter come.  Let Nature bring her chill upon the land.  I’m ready.  I’m wanting.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] A male redhead (Aythya americana).  He and his mate arrived early one morning under the cover of heavy clouds.  Less gregarious than their scaup and mallard cousins, the two ducks remained far out in the middle of the lake and visited the shore only briefly.

[2] A male northern pintail (Anas acuta).  Never have I seen a female pintail at the lake, though one or more males often spend winter here.  A truly global species, pintails occupy the entire northern hemisphere as one vast population with no known subspecies.

[3] A male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).  Before autumn gives way to winter, he will be joined by many of his friends, both males and females, and the group of them will mingle with coots and ducks and cormorants and pelicans and a host of other waterfowl and shorebirds who overwinter at White Rock Lake.

[4] Though I recently covered many of the sparrow species visiting for the season, the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) was not included.  These birds, like spotted towhees and brown thrashers, spend a great deal of time rummaging through dense brush and thickets, hence they aren’t always easy to photograph—though they certainly are easy to hear.  I lucked out when this one perched high in a tree and sat patiently while I tried to snap a few photos.

[5] Another sparrow species not covered in my previous entry is the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis).  Juncos are in fact sparrows, though unlike most of their brethren they lack the typical sparrow colors and patterns.  Their clean markings and small size make them a delight to see.

[6] An additional sparrow that overwinters in Dallas is the song sparrow (Melospiza melodia).  Their soft call and distinctive song fill the marshes and reed beds around the lake.


Loss becomes the world, the empty gallows within which so many find themselves hanged, and into that shadowy world plethoras soon will fall—if they haven’t by now.

A male northern pintail duck (Anas acuta) floating on rippled water (20081025_14075)

Our species rejuvenates itself upon the suffering of others, the wishful thinking of extinction that we will upon those we call alien, different, unwelcome.

A male swan goose (Anser cygnoides) swimming toward shore (20081101_14169)

What fiends we humans are; what devilish behemoths we pride ourselves in being as we wish unforgivable suffering upon others while continuing our assault on the world at large.  We take and we steal, and all the while we pride ourselves for the anguish we visit upon others because—let’s be honest—the invader is not us, is not we ourselves, but it is some other thing, some other hate-filled monster that we can all revile.

House sparrow?  Check!  But let’s ignore the fact that the house sparrow is doing what nature made it to do, and it’s only sin is to take advantage of the opportunity we humans have given it by way of introducing the species to alien places both far and wide.

European starling?  Check!  In honor of Shakespeare’s writings we deluged the world with this creature, but now we hate it, wish upon it all manner of death even unto the suffering of the world, and we pretend we ourselves have no hand in its fate, have no responsibility for its presence in the places we call dear and sacred.  Damned be the starling!  And let’s pretend we are not to blame for extinctions the starling never could imagine, let alone accomplish.

Shall I go on?

A male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) floating near shore (20081127_14926)

Whatever life reflects for us to see, our innate desire to be better than all else blinds us to that truth, and we are left wanting, desiring for the end of that we deem lacking.  We are better, we think, and we visit upon so many others a profound hate that witchery could never challenge our desire for death.  And upon the valley of destruction that we ourselves wrought, nothing exempts us from this belief: We are not to blame for the horrors we visit upon this planet; we are not responsible for nature’s response to our invasion; and we are not accountable for the ends we visit on all others, especially those whom we proclaim as invasive even as we destroy wantonly and blindly.

A male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) floating near shore (20081127_14963)

I see my own reflection and find it repulsive.  The weight of my forefathers ends for me the will of passion made manifest for Nature’s children, my kith and kin both past and present opening old wounds too long ignored by the brethren of my species.

We hate.  Such is the nature of our kind.

We defile.  Such is the nature of our kind, yet we pretend the fault lies with others.

We destroy.  Such is the nature of our kind even as we ignore our participation in the destruction of our world, even as we hope no one will notice the dichotomy of our petty disgust cast upon the very creatures we claim to adore.

We are the opposite of our reflections: We see in ourselves the best of what the universe hates most.  We claim pride in what humans destroy, calling ourselves protectors of the natural world even as we visit upon it the most dastardly stewardship.

Blame others.  That is what we do best.

Take responsibility?  Never!  For no evil can possibly be the cause of our actions…  Right?

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] A male northern pintail duck (Anas acuta).

[2] A male domestic swan goose (Anser cygnoides), probably Chinese.

[3] A male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos).

[4] A male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).

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.

— — — — — — — — — —

[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.