This is the most challenging time of year for duck watching. But it may be easier than one thinks to bump into a wolf in the forest.
We’ve been exploring the western side of the north-central part of the state, in and around Itasca as far west at Tamarack Wildlife Refuge, where we saw several fine herds of tamarack clustered in the usual low flat areas they prefer.
Duck watching this time of year is very hard. In the beginning of the season the males are in full bloom. Females found near males are almost always of the same species. (Unless the male is a mallard. They do not discriminate.) So you can use the male and female view of the species to narrow it down and it is never hard to identify the ducks. A little bit later in the year there are ducklings with females, and you don’t see the males very often. For some species, the males have gone into the woods. For others, they may have actually started to migrate early. In any event, the females are easy to spot because they are more or less tethered to miniature flocks of miniature ducks, and as they are fully mature females, they look just like they are supposed to in the bird book.
Over time, the number of ducklings goes down, thankfully, or we would be living on a planet with ducks piled all the way to the moon. One might wonder where all those ducklings go. Well, they go here.
By the end of the season, the very small number of ducklings that remain have become “mature” in that they are not any longer dependent on their mothers (or crèche keepers) and are off on their own looking rather adult. But the problem is, they are looking rather adult what? Yesterday we saw a duck alone on a pond in a remote woodland west of Itasca and had a hard time identifying it. The duck was floating around with it’s bill in it’s chest sleeping. After several minutes, he finally woke up enough to stretch his head and we could instantly see that he was a wood duck. Not recognizing a male wood duck may sound rather absurd, and you might wonder why I’m even admitting that. It’s a little like looking up at the night sky when the fully lit-up Goodyear Blimp is going by and not being sure which were the stars and which was the blimp.
But a male wood duck born this year and not yet fully mature almost looks like a female teal or something. Especially when it is curled up on the pond sleeping at some distance.
It happened today again, at a small pond off the main road at the Tamarack Nature Preserve. We think it was a female gadwall (though it looked a lot like a whistling duck), but it did not quite hit all the points. Then we realized …. oh, right. Immature female gadwall duck. That works.
A very large number of nighthawks seem to live among the Tamaracks. We saw no fewer than three flocks, all active mid afternoon.
And back in the dense old growth forest that our cabin is in, but just on the other side of the narrow Lake we are on (Itasca) we came across wolf scat. As I poked at it, revealing a nice piece of enclosed bone, I suddenly realized that it was quite fresh. Fresh enough that I checked over my shoulder.
There were no visible wolves. Just ducks. But then, the wolves are always invisible.