Region’s just ducky for watching waterfowl

December 7, 2008 at 8:07 pm Leave a comment

Scudding across the water, a small flotilla of ridiculous-looking, yet beautiful Northern Shoveler ducks followed each other as they dipped huge spoon-shaped bills for bottom muck that they stirred with their paddling feet.

Seeds, bugs and tiny mollusks were on the menu at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Warwick.

This is just one of a gaggle of local places where you can watch the quackers, honkers and hooters — the fall-early winter lineup of ducks, swans and geese.

They waddle. Some stick their rumps in the air and heads in the water. They socialize with their kind like affectionate boats. They are simply fun to watch.

“What’s not to like about ducks?” says state Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Biologist Pat Vissering. Yet, why watch a duck? Or a goose? Or a swan?

Well, they’re colorful — like the flashy rainbow-colored wood duck. They’re cute like the small, tail-up-in-the-air, blue-billed ruddy duck.

And they’re circus-worthy showoffs, like a flight of mute swans colored flame-orange by the Wallkill’s setting sun making a flaps-down landing.

Including rare birds, we’ve got four kinds of wild geese, 27 kinds of ducks, and three kinds of swans around here.

Happily, one of the handsomest ducks (the males) is also the commonest — the kid-friendly mallard, with green head, white band on throat and dark cinnamon breast (both sexes sport a flashy blue wing bar showcased by white piping).

Mallards are habitat squatters — they’ll stick around and skid across the ice, scarfing human handouts and looking for wild seeds. Plus, they’re the original parents of a big chunk of domestic ducks.

But the big viewing attraction of ducks, geese and swans — they’re BIG. You can see them easily on small ponds. Big water requires binoculars, so put those on your Christmas list. Make that telescopes, if you want to scan waterfowl on reservoirs and the Hudson River, and even distant points at the Wallkill refuge.

Waterfowl also have brains: Listen to West Point Natural Resources Manager James Beemer. West Point did a roundup of Canada geese problem birds (poopsters) and tried to relocate them.

“In a day, the geese would be coming back (on their own) in reverse order that we drove them, walking single file down the shoulder of the road like we would expect ‘military geese,’ ” says Beemer. Geese deciding to return to base? Think about that.

Here are a few answers to recent reader duck-goose-swan questions.

Why don’t these birds get frostbite?

Because they’re equipped with a heat-transfer system that keeps their feet supplied with just-warm-enough blood to ward off the cold.

Why do geese honk?

Scientists think these are “contact calls” — like squadron leaders directing wing pilots to keep formation. And it could be a sort of “Are you OK, and where are you?” signal.

How long will the waterfowl stick around?

“Every year it seems to me that more and more (wild) waterfowl are playing the odds (about ice and shorter days) and moving South later and later. Maybe they’ve read the material on climate change?” says DEC Hudson River Naturalist Tom Lake.

Here’s a few go-to waterfowl spots: the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Warwick; Brown’s Pond in New Windsor, between Mount Airy and Riley roads; the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area in Sullivan County; the Hudson River and the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County.

For celestial swans, look at the constellation Cygnus the Swan now in the sky, says SUNY New Paltz astronomy instructor Tom Crepet. Seems the ancients watched waterfowl, too.

Wayne’s World: Times-Herald Record


Entry filed under: Get Wet, Natural Waterfront, Region. Tags: , , , , , .

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