With the last of the ice melted from lakes and reservoirs, waterfowl has been on the move north. I popped over to the Wallkill NWR the other day to see what was shakin’. Used to having the place to myself, with perhaps one or two other cars; I was stunned to find the parking lot full. I squeezed the car onto the grass and stomped off to the other side of Liberty Loop. The weeds, reeds and grasses that hide the ponds during the summer were thin and for the most part wind-blown. There were Song Sparrows on every high seed head tuning up their rusty voices. A shimmering mirage of Snow Geese circled the fields to land with a large flock of Canada Geese gorging on tender new shoots. The ponds themselves were loaded with Mallards, Pintails and Green-winged Teals. The resident Red-tailed Hawk sat on the wires and a female Northern Harrier coursed back and forth. The muskrats were swimming between lodges and turtles were sunning themselves. The marsh is feeling the change of seasons.
Mrs. H. was going about her business but keeping close to the Mister after such a hard migration. The usual rigg-raff was in the neighborhood of course, but that was to be expected in NJ. What she had not expected, afer all off this time, was a blip in her martial bliss. And she most certainly did not expect it to come from Mister H’s roving eye.
When a beautiful alluring Oldsquaw started hanging around; she paid her no heed. She was gorgeous, it’s true, but Mrs. H. knew what Mister H did not. Ducks that completely changed their look in winter were not to be trusted. She had often wondered what they were hiding from. Why the disguise? She snorted to herself; with that ridiculous long tail, it wasn’t even much of a disguise. She watched the Oldsquaw out of the corner of her eye. A tiny voice murmured in her head. “Pale ducks have more fun.” The first tendril of jealousy wrapped around her heart.
Then to her horror, she noticed Mr. H, actually looking at the pale beauty too. She had thought that Mister H only had eyes for her. Her opinion of the entire Oldsquaw species changed in an instant. How dare that hussy try to intrude!
Mrs. H. flew into a rage. After all she had done for him: the long flight; the nest building; bringing up the ducklings by herself. How dare he look at another female. What to Mr. H. had only been an idle glance, had tightened the tendril of jealousy of his mate. Mr. H. had seen a side of her that he had not known existed. He hastily reassured the Mrs. that she alone reigned in his affections. She had the dark beauty that he preferred and he vowed to himself that even in the secret recesses of his heart he would never think of her as dowdy again. The Oldsquaw flew off once the fighting started. She had merely been separated from her clan after a particularly long dive.
Tranquility restored; the H’s paddled off resume fishing.
Anytime you go birding in Albuquerque you need to include the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in your circuit. It is close to the downtown and offers a view of a wetland in an otherwise water-starved landscape. The Visitor’s Center has cement wings with peep holes that extend from the main building giving a view of the main pond and a glass-walled observation room that provides up-close-and-personal looks at the waterfowl. There are also various trails around the pond and down to the river.
The main attraction the day I was there was the ducks. Lots and lots of ducks. There were American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Wood Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Lesser Scaup, Coots, Redheads and Canada Geese on the pond and Sandhill Cranes in the field on the drive up.
BUT, the craziest thing was a coot that was struggling to eat something in the water. We all watched it fascinated. It was whitish and floating. I thought it was plastic until one of the naturalists came in and told us it was a bullfrog, long-dead, killed by a muskrat. The coot had been working it for a while. Um, slimy putrid frog-legs would not be my choice, but then I’m not a coot.
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