Tag Archives: wood duck (Aix sponsa)

For the birds

Close-up of a male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing on the pier (2008_12_07_001566)

I had a dream once.  For the birds, I might add.

I dreamed I discovered a new species of warm-weather penguin.  They were native to North America.  And the reason they had gone unnoticed until now was because they existed in only one place: my patio.

And since my patio is private, the penguins had been left to their own devices.

But how had I not seen them before now?  Well, in the dream my patio was a veritable jungle, with grass growing directly from the smooth concrete floor, tree branches sprouting from the fence railing and joists and latticework, and all manner of ivy and understory growth filling the area.

Yet it wasn’t just the penguins that I discovered.  No, it was much better than that.

In the dream, I rolled over in bed and looked out the windows that line the wall.  This is not at all unusual in the real world as it’s something I do all the time.

Nevertheless, the scene outside the windows was unfamiliar, all green and growing and wild, although in the dream this seemed perfectly normal, and as I watched, much to my delighted shock, a penguin hopped up from behind tall grass and settled near the window into what was no doubt a nest.  (In truth, in the dream I seemed not to notice what brought the penguin to the window, although I knew inherently that it was a nest.)

And as I watched the bird and became increasingly excited, somehow knowing this was a new species, a most unusual thing occurred—as if seeing a penguin on my patio in the middle of Dallas, TX, was not already unusual.

The penguin settled into its nest even as a capuchin monkey knelt down beside it and began petting it.

So you see, beyond the discovery of this new penguin species living right here in Dallas—right here on my patio—my dream also included the discovery of a heretofore unknown colony of North American capuchin monkeys.

But it gets better!  These discoveries, as marvelous as they seem, were made even more miraculous by the apparently unusual friendship between the two species.  A relationship not seen anywhere else on the planet.  Except on my patio.

And henceforth, my patio was always surrounded by observers and explorers, all interested in these magnificent discoveries and whatever other secrets the jungle of my patio might yet contain.

Most agreeable to me was that I never had to get out of bed to make any of the discoveries, nor to report them, nor to realize how these finds brought all manner of curious people and scientific types right to my home.  In point of fact, all this happened without me ever having to leave the comfort of my own bed.

Now, I wonder what Freud would say about all this…

A Male wood duck (Aix sponsa) standing posing on the lakeshore at sunset (2009_04_10_014839)

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  1. Male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
  2. Male wood duck (Aix sponsa)

Evening stroll

I see them walking along the boulevard, evening sun hanging low in the winter sky, long shadows stretched toward darkness in the east.

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) walking toward the lake shore (2009_04_10_014501)

She window shops, sometimes walking ahead as her excitement pulls her forward, eyes settling on the next shiny bauble, hopes reaching for the next sparkling trinket.  And he, always watchful, always protecting, speaks quietly to her, reassuring her that he is near, that she is safe.

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) walking toward the lake shore (2009_04_10_014504)

They are but one couple, two pedestrians in a sea of pedestrians, commoners finding the day’s last bit of warmth to wrap in as evening approaches.  The street has the feel of a carnival, a festival of life bubbling over on itself like boiling water spilling from a pot.

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) walking on barren ground (2009_04_10_014508)

I watch them with the fascination of a child unwrapping gifts.  I scarcely can look away from such a handsome couple, yet it’s more than her subtle beauty and his flashy confidence.  Something about the unspoken passing between them, the constant secrets that bind them together in whispers, the safety and comfort they exude even in the face of the city’s hustle and bustle.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) walking on barren ground (2009_04_10_014511)

It occurs to me as they draw near that perhaps my surreptitious observation has not gone unnoticed.  Several times I see him looking in my direction.  Is he looking at me? I wonder, Watching me watch them?

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) walking toward me (2009_04_10_014515)

Then she turns and walks directly toward me.  He follows.  Have they seen the man across the plaza who has been watching them so closely?  Have I been clumsy with my eyes, let them linger too much?  I fidget, avert my gaze, try to settle my view elsewhere, and all the while I think it makes me more obvious.  I would have been better served had I simply shifted my eyes a bit, glanced by them at someone else, looked at a tree with expectation, watched the fountain as it splashed water against the sidewalk.

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) walking up a hill (2009_04_10_014523)

Then just as suddenly, she turns and walks across the road.  He remains with her, both elegant and unhurried in the face of civilization’s sense of busy.  Cars drive by, the sound of footfalls echoes in the air from all directions, voices carry into the looming night, yet through it all these two, these marvelous, beautiful wonders, never let themselves be caught up in it.  Their stoicism is comfortable, a warm blanket in winter, and they wear it without a pompous bone in their bodies.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) talking (2009_04_10_014540)

They reach the other side of the road very near where I sit.  As they begin to turn the corner and disappear from sight, he glances back, looks right at me, gives a brief tip to his hat, and says, “Enjoy the evening, sir.”  Then he flashes a brief knowing smile before vanishing around the corner.

And I’m left with only the retreating sound of her heels on concrete to remind me of what was.

[pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) seen at White Rock Lake]

Some flew this path before

The crystal river flows south these days.  Winged ones swim from home and hearth toward winter vacations in warmer climes.  Some journey to the end of the river while others find respite along its shores.  I watch some dive in and leave, not to be seen again until next year; I watch others arrive from upstream who only stay until spring; and I see those who do not travel the winding path of the migration flow, but who instead live all year upon the banks we call home.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) in breeding plumage as he floats on still waters (2009_02_13_008550)

Unlike most birds, ducks molt twice per year: once in late summer to early autumn as they don their breeding plumage, then again in late spring to early summer as they dress in eclipse plumage.  This male wood duck (Aix sponsa) has just finished putting on his breeding best, and the result is what I consider to be the most beautiful duck plumage on the planet.  Though this species lives here all year, wood duck numbers grow dramatically in winter as northern populations move south.

Two juvenile ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) arguing atop a light post (2009_02_13_008370)

Two juvenile ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) disagree about how many birds can comfortably sit atop the light post.  Along with a variety of other gull and tern species, these birds spend winter here before returning to homes that don’t get as hot.  Only the interior least tern lives and breeds at White Rock Lake in summer, though many gull and tern species visit regularly; those numbers grow dramatically in winter.

An Eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) perched in a tree (2009_04_16_015208)

Eastern kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) live and breed here, but as most other flycatchers do, they must head south in winter lest they starve for lack of food.  Yet even as innumerable insectivores like these move away, others fill the void—for our weather limits but does not prohibit insects in winter.

A clay-colored sparrow (Spizella pallida) sitting in an evergreen tree (2009_05_04_017996)

Clay-colored sparrows (Spizella pallida) stop only to grab a meal and some rest, then they wade back into the airborne river and swim southward.  For them, deep South Texas is as far north as they will stay in winter.  This one nibbled on evergreens with some friends before taking flight.

A female barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) standing on the side of a bridge (2009_05_04_018028)

This female barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) no doubt will return in spring to mate and nest.  Perhaps she will return to the same bridge where I found her, a footbridge under which barn swallows brood and raise young every year.  In spring they will fill the air with song and aerobatics.  For now, however, they drift on the currents that move steadily away, always toward warmth, a mass of life following autumn’s progression toward the spring that lies just beyond the equator.

A male common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) rustling his feathers (2009_05_04_018317)

This male common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) stood on the pier and rustled his feathers as if shaking off the gloomy prospect of migration.  This species is a yearlong resident, though populations further north move here in winter to escape the colder weather.  By December at least two grackle species will fill the mornings with noise and antics, hundreds of them perching along overhead wires at nearly every road intersection.  And when they move to find food, they move en masse in a boisterous cloud that would embarrass whole flocks of European starlings.

A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) perched on a branch (2009_05_17_019847)

Like their eastern cousins, western kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) thrive in the warm months that provide bountiful invertebrates for flycatchers.  But the buffet dwindles as cooler weather prevails, hence the kingbirds take flight and join the army of life heading south.  They will be gone only until spring when autumn filters into the southern hemisphere.  I already miss their voices.

A female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched in reeds (2009_05_31_020987)

Not a day goes by when I can’t see a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).  This female watching me soon will be joined by more of her kind who arrive on the crystal river and come ashore to overwinter with friends.  In the coming months these birds will fill every reed bed around the lake, a cacophony of life filling the dormant winter browns with vigorous antics and delightful song.  Many faces will join hers, and walks around White Rock Lake will proffer scenes like this multiplied a thousandfold.

[more migration photos coming]


nathalie with an h said repeatedly she never sees anything more exciting than ducks when she visits White Rock Lake.  Of course, one need understand she considers any creature to be a duck if it has wings and is located near water—let alone if it’s touching water.

But seeing ducks is anything but mundane, especially when this area proffers such a wide variety of these feathered beasts.

A male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) standing in green grass craning his head around to look at me (2009_03_21_013630)

A male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos).

A female mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) floating in calm water (2008_12_07_000525)

A female mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos).

Blue-winged teals (Anas discors) swimming in a marsh (2009_03_21_013790)

Blue-winged teals (Anas discors): one male and two females.

A male American wigeon (Anas americana) quickly swimming away (2009_02_01_005718)

A male American wigeon (Anas americana).

A male ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) floating at the lake on a sunny day (2009_02_22_010825)

A male ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis).

A male northern shoveler (Anas clypeata) swimming along a creek (2009_02_15_009858)

A male northern shoveler (Anas clypeata).

A male gadwall (Anas strepera) swimming leisurely on a sunny day (2009_03_08_012774)

A male gadwall (Anas strepera).

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) swimming in a group (2009_02_15_009427)

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola): Two males and two females.

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) floating near shore (2009_02_03_006549)

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).

A male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming away from shore (2009_02_03_006875)

A male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) floating in a creek at sunset (2009_02_13_008558)

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa).

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) swimming in a creek at sunset (2009_02_13_008550)

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa).

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[1] I did not include photos of feral domestic populations (e.g., Muscovies, domestic Indian runners, etc.).  Neither did I include photos of the various hybrid species living here (mostly mallards crossed with various other ducks).

[2] This is but a sampling of the species found at the lake.  Indian runners, northern pintails, black-bellied whistling-ducks, ring-necked ducks, green-winged teals, canvasbacks, redheads, cinnamon teals, greater scaups and many other species can be found depending on the time of year.

[3] Most of these pictures are of drakes (male ducks).  That’s because the females of many species greatly resemble female mallards—with a few minor differences, I mean.  The northern shoveler female is smaller with a spatulate bill; the blue-winged teal female is smaller with bill color and minor plumage differences; and the list goes on.  The diversity of the species is best represented by the males given their varied displays; only the careful observer would realize the differences presented in images of many females.

[4] The title “CM DUCKS” is from this silly word game I learned many moons ago as a child.