Tag Archives: wood duck (Aix sponsa)

Let them sing

In songs I cannot hold I feel the world touch me.  In places I cannot go I find myself wandering through a landscape of music.  In voices familiar I find unknown friends.

Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) singing from a tree branch (2009_03_08_012482)

I cannot deny the totality of my failure.  More always can be taken.  I have no escape from that palpable lesson of loss.

A drake wood duck (Aix sponsa) calling out at sunset (2009_02_13_008525)

Yet I find that dark moment at least partially illuminated with the brightness of song, a chorus of voices innumerable and vast.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) calling out from the treetops (2009_02_03_006168)

Like carolers some bring their gifts right to my door, yet others I must seek out like opera.

A domestic greylag goose (Anser anser) honking as it swims by (2009_02_03_006504)

The calls of life surround me, blanket me in a warmth that permeates the darkest cold.

A domestic Indian runner (a.k.a. Indian runner duck or runner; Anas platyrhynchos) quacking at sunset (2009_02_03_007053)

Standing witness to this musical legion balms the open sore of failure and begins healing the wounded self.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) singing from the bushes surrounding the patio (2009_01_31_005332)

It’s somewhat like taking alms from the universe.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) calling out (2008_12_07_001616)

Yet I feel no shame in receiving this charity, this gift from those who have it to give.

A male northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) singing from a treetop (2009_02_20_010310)

Let them sing.  And let me lose myself in the singing.

For even today the needful, lonesome calls of mourning doves filled the shadowy hours of dawn, and I let my eyes climb the tree outside the patio as they followed the plaintive calls to those offering their voices to the chill morning: a pair who had already built a nest in the outer branches.  This can help.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

[2] Wood duck (Aix sponsa), drake

[3] Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), female

[4] Domestic greylag goose (Anser anser)

[5] Indian runner (a.k.a. Indian runner duck or runner; Anas platyrhynchos), domestic breed

[6] Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

[7] Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), male

[8] Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), male

The magic hour

With the sun already slipping below the horizon, I packed up my gear and headed out the door for the minute or so walk to the lake.  By the time I reached Sunset Bay, all but the last vestiges of sunlight had vanished and what little remained offered nothing more than the soft, warm glow of a distant fire reflected in the clouds.

Yet something magical happens at dusk, at that time after sunset but before darkness settles in completely, those precious and scarce moments when the world seems torn asunder with night full to the east and day grasping at its final seconds to the west.

The orange embers of day faded quickly as I approached the shore.  A chill settled over the land, a quick cutting of the air that seemed hurried to reclaim from daylight all that it could touch, so I pulled my jacket a bit tighter about me.

Cool winds slid over the water and rushed ashore.  The bay offered no protection.

I considered turning back, going home.  What possible opportunities rested in dark times?

Then an armada of shadows came near such that I felt I could reach out and grasp their lightless forms.

A covert of American coots (Fulica americana) swimming near shore (2009_02_13_008288)

At first I believed them to be alike, creatures of one form forever clad in the dark armor of dusk, yet my feeble human eyes grew accustomed to failing light and with that newfound strength, I began to see a menagerie of ghostly figures.

Some danced in pools of reflection that captured day’s end and sent it back heavenward in ripples of color.  Some took flight on ethereal wings and floated effortlessly on air.  Some walked the earth with the likeness of corporeal substance.

A rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) walking toward me (2009_02_13_008300)

All shapes and colors materialized, wisps of smoke manifest in fleshly forms, whispers from the dark only dreams could create.

How soon I realized the bewitched armies of dusk were on the move.  Battalions and regiments and squadrons and fleets took shape from what moments before had been the empty evening.  And finally the horn players appeared and sounded the trumpets of advance.  The march had begun.

A brown domestic swan goose (a.k.a. Chinese goose or African goose; Anser cygnoides) floating just offshore (2009_02_13_008307)

Up from the depths and out of the sky came hordes of spirits in guises both familiar and alien.  Whether from the cold or fear, I could not escape the tremble whose skeletal fingers ran down my spine, the specter of death in the face of such monstrous beauty as took shape before me.

Cloaked in white save the crimson of her face, the high priestess of this gathering flitted upon the breeze to a station nearby where she glowed as though capturing all light and bringing it unto herself.  All around her dimmed in her presence.

A white female Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) standing quietly (2009_02_13_008462)

Then the sky became one with the lake, a powerful act she wished into being without the slightest gesture, and upon the water’s surface the heavens fell.  What hues!  What patterns!

The magic she wielded summoned yet more demons, yet more powerful beings, yet more fantastic works of the gods.  And where the elements beckoned to her call and became one, the waters parted for the royal court who would this night stand before the armies of dusk and bow to the god and goddess of royalty.

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in the shallows (2009_02_13_008503)

A hush seemed to fall.  I found myself holding my breath and wondering.  Would I survive this encounter with those of this other world, this place betwixt the realm of light and the realm of dark?  What hides such power from the witnesses of life?  What was yet to come?

Even then they arrived, the royal guards whose voices chase away devils and whose approach sends challengers fleeing.  With them they ushered in the last inhalation of the hour, and then they exhaled the mystic thought that chased the day away.  And the light hurried over the horizon.

A ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) enjoying the sunset (2009_02_13_008419)

Then they came.  I tried not to look, tried not to meet their gaze.  My attempts were futile.  My humble soul could not refuse the deities who slipped between worlds and ruled the dusk.

First the god-queen who herself was made of light and shadow and all that exists in between.  She floated from place to place, a body in the guise of spirits and a soul in the guise of flesh, and she took her place where land and sea and air joined as one.

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) paddling slowly close to land (2009_02_13_008560)

In her eyes I found eternity, the burning depths of the universe filled with stars and conquest, her reach forever and her will undeniable.  Yet even she knew subservience.  I saw a goddess bow her head, and in that instant I revered what was to come.

And finally, the god-king.  Eyes of crimson rage and fiery passion, cloaked with colors no being could imagine, the order of all that is became apparent while in the presence of such power.  He seemed to draw strength from the worship that flooded over him, from the absolute knowledge of all those gathered that he was the first and would be the last, that he breathed life into the cosmos for his own entertainment, that he demanded unwavering trust and unflinching allegiance.  The sanctity of the encounter grew as I realized trepidation followed heartfelt devotion: this shadow cast felt such ardor for their gods, such deference.  They would follow them unto the end of time and would sacrifice their lives for them.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) drifting in the lake with full breeding plumage on display (2009_02_13_008554)

Only the hour that is neither day nor night could contain such magic.  Only dusk could give stage to beings such as these.

I watched as they marched onward, a legion vast before which all fell, a countless army of shadows before which a wave of triumph washed over the land and brushed aside all challengers.  I watched as the god-queen and god-king empowered the innumerable to unstoppable success; they vanquished all who stood in their way.

Then the last drop of light fell into the cupped hands of the world.  Nightfall…

I shook myself lose from the imaginings that had filled my mind.  I still wanted to take pictures.

Ah, but the day had ended, dusk had been eclipsed by dark, and I stood at the shore of Sunset Bay where I had begun my walk.  I hadn’t even lifted the camera from my side.  I felt there was no sense in trying after night enveloped the area.  I turned and walked home.

Only the next day would I discover the memory card full of pictures I never took, of creatures I never saw, of encounters I never had.  Only the next day would I again wonder about the armies of dusk.  Only the next day would I ponder an encounter with gods made of shadow and light, of armies before which light itself would retreat.  Only the next day would I wonder…

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] A covert of American coots (Fulica americana) swimming near shore.

[2] A rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) walking toward me.

[3] A brown domestic swan goose (a.k.a. Chinese goose or African goose; Anser cygnoides) floating just offshore.

[4] A white female Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) standing quietly.

[5] A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in the shallows.

[6] A ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) enjoying the sunset.

[7] A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) paddling slowly close to land.

[8] A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) drifting in the lake with full breeding plumage on display.

Why birds?

When I began the process of purging my photo collection, essentially sweeping away the past to make room for the future, I started with birds, something you’ll see in this post and others to follow.

But why birds?

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) molting into eclipse plumage (20080628_08107)

Good question.

I have a lot of bird pictures.  Yet that’s not really the answer to the question.

A complete albino rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) walking into the grass (20080628_07967)

I think I began with birds since our avian friends offer a mix of challenge and ease that results in a veritable bounty of images.

Then again, perhaps I complicate matters when a simpler answer would more appropriately address the question.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) with a small fish in its bill (20080614_06582)

While I could say it’s because I love birds almost as much as I love insects, even that would not provide the full truth of why I started with our avian friends.

A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched in a treetop (20080518_05644)

It all boils down to this one fact: it’s winter.

A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) in the grass (20080426_04903)

Even here in North Texas, winter means an end to the bounty of arthropods and flora and reptiles and a great deal of nature’s many wonders.  Most trees are left stark and barren along with the vast majority of plants as they wither into their cocoons of hibernation or death; cold-blooded creatures fade with the passing seasons into a frigid slumber or the end of their generation; insects and arachnids shrink away beneath the blanket of the first killing freeze; and ultimately most of the beauty I so enjoy disappears under winter’s cloak.

Yet birds thrive, at least where I live, and their numbers and kinds explode as residents leave for warmer days and nights at the same time migrants arrive trying to escape colder temperatures to the north.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched in a tree (20080426_04717)

So expunging historic photos of birds came naturally since, right now, I’m snapping a lot of bird pictures.

It’s no more complicated than that.  Besides, I have yet to go through the arthropods, plants, mammals and reptiles that comprise the remainder of my collection.  Rest assured they will have their time in the spotlight.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) who’s molting into eclipse plumage.  He wanted to know who and what I was, but his curiosity never won the battle it waged with his sense of self-preservation.  Instead, he followed me along the north shore of White Rock Lake, always staying near enough to keep an eye on me whilst simultaneously being distant enough to feel safe.

[2] A complete albino rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia).  I have seen partial albinism, incomplete albinism and imperfect albinism in rock doves (along with many other creatures), but this was the first time I ever saw complete albinism in this species.  It foraged and flocked with the dule, yet it stood out like a lone redwood tree in a hayfield.

[3] A snowy egret (Egretta thula) with a small fish in its bill.  This beautiful creature spent the morning wading in the shallows of Sunset Bay looking for something to eat.  I watched it miss more meals than I could count.  Just when I felt the poor thing would go hungry, it caught a small fish and enjoyed the fruit of its labor.

[4] A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos).  Perched in the top of a tree under which I stood unaware of its presence, this marvelous parent watched me intently as its offspring fledged a few steps away.  I absentmindedly moved toward the child, and it was then the dutiful guard made its presence known with a sweeping dive at my head coupled with the scream of a marauder moving in for the kill.  I snapped the photo as I moved away.

[5] A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater).  On a cloudy day and from quite a distance, I felt certain this was nothing more than a sparrow (albeit a large-than-normal sparrow).  Bad lighting can often hide the difference what is and what isn’t.  I walked away from that moment feeling she was something else entirely, something boring, so I was thrilled I took the photo as it brought into focus what I had really seen.

[6] A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus).  I watched this individual and one other as they performed their magical aerial ballet in the light of sunrise.  Catching insects in flight is neat enough on its own; doing so with that flowing, unbelievably long tail creates an altogether different image.

quack quack waddle waddle

A male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) resting in the shade of a tree (20080701_08858)

This male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) gave me more than a few looks as I knelt in the shade of the same tree under which he was trying to rest.  He seemed rather vexed by my presence.

A juvenile, female wood duck (Aix sponsa) floating atop waters colored by a cloudy sky (20080628_08009)

As curious about me as I was about her, this female wood duck (Aix sponsa), a juvenile, dilly-dallied about the shore of White Rock Lake so long as I stood there snapping photos.  Her friends and family remained in the area but showed less interest in me, very much unlike this little girl who came closer and closer and closer without ever letting her eyes rest too long on something other than me.  The cloudy sky above dropped just enough light to make for a brilliant backdrop upon the water’s surface.

A close-up of a female muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) (20080920_12156)

I have a special place in my heart for muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata).  Having grown up with them as members of the family, I can’t help but be endeared by them now that decades have passed.

This female caught preening in the early morning light of Sunset Bay cared little for my intrusion upon her morning ritual.  She watched me only when I came too near, but otherwise she went about her business with little regard for my presence.

And I was thankful for her tolerance…

Looking right smart

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) standing near shore (20080412_03264)

I nearly missed this male wood duck (Aix sponsa).  Standing atop a log near shore, I walked by him—TWICE!—before I ever noticed his fashionable self.

Keep in mind I was focused on the ground taking snapshots of flowers and insects…  But still!

And the moment I took notice of his presence and stopped?

He made good his winged escape.

I would have been better off pretending I didn’t see him and surreptitiously photographing him as I walked by; instead, I halted and turned in his direction.

Some times I can be so daft…