Posts Tagged ‘mallard’

On the riverbank

June 6, 2010

It’s a sunny spring morning on the riverbank, and the birds are spectacularly busy.

Barn swallows zigzag overhead or swoop in long arcs over the water as they snatch insects from the air. When they bring their catch to the nests high in the eaves of the bridge, a cacophony of cries rings forth as their young clamor to be fed.

Red-winged blackbirds trill incessantly from the reeds of a little shoreline wetland and flash their scarlet epaulets as they patrol their territory. Occasionally I hear two of their other voices, a petulant chk-chk-chk and a clear, piercing whistle.

The Canada geese are not disturbed by my presence, but a black duck takes flight, its fast-beating wings taking it low over the water and out of sight upstream. With my binoculars, I pick out a mother mallard leading two fuzzy babies to the bank, the male following alertly.

A dusty-brown mockingbird strolls along a grassy area with its extra-long tail angling up and down as it forages. I get too close, and it flies off, showing the bright white bar on the underside of each dark wing. From a tree it entertains me with a series of polyglot phrases.

On the branches of a dead shrub, two sleek gray catbirds touch bills and then separate, one rummaging through the dry leaves, the other studying me inquisitively. I notice, for the first time ever, the patch of reddish-brown at the base of the catbird’s tail. It lets me get close enough to take a photo. The other one calls gently, not the rasping meow I usually hear but a soft, endearing mew.

A great honking comes from downriver, and I go to see what the geese are up to. I know the superabundance of Canada geese makes them rather a nuisance, but I am fascinated by these beauties. Two couples seem to be having a spat. One pair drifts coolly away. The others retire to the shallows to preen, ducking their heads to throw water over their backs, nuzzling their own flanks, stretching their elegant wings. A single goose comes too close, and one of them rises up to chase it off.

I’ve noticed that geese rarely fly short distances except when they lift themselves over the water to dart at an interloper. Otherwise, they prefer to swim or walk, I suppose because it must take a lot of effort to get those big bodies off the ground or the water. Today, however, there’s something I’ve never seen before. Atop a tree bent over the water sits a goose, about 15 feet up. A challenger flies up and chases it away, taking over the high post. It sits there surveying the 30 or so comrades noodling around below, spread out across the river. Suddenly it honks and flies down at one individual, for no reason that I can detect, and then joins the group to float among the sparks of reflected sunlight, and all is peaceful for a while.

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Ducks and drakes celebrate spring

April 9, 2010

I don’t know about the bees, but the birds seem to think spring is here – at least the ducks are in an amorous mood.

Since my discovery of Coles Brook, I’ve taken to doing my laundry in River Edge, around a corner from the brook’s meander towards Hackensack. While the laundry is drying, I wander along the stream, taking note of the level of trash and the clarity – or not – of the water. As I was heading back to the laundromat last week, I heard a commotion coming from the stream, and a loud quacking overhead.

At the edge of the stream, two mallard drakes were fighting. They wrestled and flapped, on the bank and in the water, the female sticking close, almost touching them. Eventually, one of the males climbed onto the back of the other one and held him underwater. When he let go, the loser flew off upstream. The winner promptly followed him.

I looked around to see where the quacking was coming from. A crow, seated on top of a pole, was making strangely duck-like noises. It shut up soon after the drakes disappeared.

The female mallard swam around in the shallows, reared up and flapped her wings, climbed onto a wheeled board stranded in the water. When the victorious male returned, they swam together, the female in front. They did a little preening, a little bill dipping.

A great honking announced the arrival of a pair of Canada geese, which settled onto the water just around the bend. It’s hard to say whether the prospect of being interrupted pushed the male to pounce, but a few moments later, he darted at the female, climbed onto her back, grabbed the nape of her neck in his bill, and for half a minute or so, they wriggled. Then he slid off and released her neck.

They dipped their bills in the water, swam to the shallows and preened. The female put her head underwater, probably seeking a snack, while the male remained alert nearby. I suppose he was guarding his woman against his opponent’s return.

The geese swam idly past, paying little attention, but I was delighted to have witnessed wild duck love, right in River Edge.