Cold Duck

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The east coast of Vancouver Island is unique with its many large estuaries that hold thousands of wintering waterfowl. Because of our usually temperate climate, the birds fare well, as they have access to open water and abundant food.

Traditionally these birds would have fed on estuarial native plants and mollusks available at low tide, and in extreme hard times, the carcasses of rotting salmon. With modern agricultural practices, the birds’ preferred food has been the crops grown in the fields near the estuaries: potatoes, silage grass, and corn. With such a smorgasbord why go anywhere else?060a

Winter is a wonderful time to observe these large flocks feeding and preening, as they are in full nuptual plumage.

Normally you would see a duck or two dabbling around in the water, hidden by the trees and shrubs, but with the unusually cold weather that has moved in this year, the pools are more like ice rinks, and ducks don’t like skating. 003

This puddle is no good for splashing in today.

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The ducks in these fields are mostly widgeon. They’re restless, sensing an approaching cold front, and wondering where to settle down for the afternoon.

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As many as a thousand widgeons grazed in a tight formation that soon denuded the grassy patch they were working on. They flew up and circled on my approach. The farmer might have been grateful for my intervention. The grass he planted for silage for his cows is being cropped just a bit too much to allow it to grow well after such a hard clipping by hundreds of duck bills. If the ducks were more spread out, the damage would not be as significant, but they like to sit close together at the dinner table as they munch a swath through the field.

Heavy snow clouds advance relentlessly. I will never understand how such dark gray clouds can hold white fluffy snow.

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It is late afternoon and the widgeons need to think about safety for the night. They are safer on the water, but so much of it is frozen.
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They find some patches of open water where they can dabble for grit and wet their whistles. Yes, the water is a bit salty but it is a river estuary –  fresh water with just enough ocean water to keep it from freezing over completely. There’s safety in numbers and they certainly do have that. They’ll huddle together through the night and tomorrow it’s back to the feeding fields. Let’s hope they aren’t covered with snow.

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32 thoughts on “Cold Duck

  1. Such beautiful photos – although perhaps not so for the farmers. It’s getting hard for creatures of all sorts. This winter needs to be over with. Even here, it’s been so cold the fish are heading to deeper water and the fishing birds are having a hard time. They’re surviving, but a bit of sunlight and warmth would be appreciated (by us all).

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  2. Geese are worse than ducks, but, either can in only a few hours totally destroy a farmers crop(s). What they don’t eat they crap on and trample it into to the dirt / mud.

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    • Add swans to that list. Around here, the farmers can sometimes get special permits even outside of hunting season to shoot at the ducks and geese to get them to disperse. At least then they aren’t eating in a concentrated area, totally devastating a crop.

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  3. I am fascinated by the name of the duck, and from you description they sound like our Whistling ducks… the word widgeon I’m assuming is there official given name and one wonders why they chose that name… we have the Fulvous whistling duck and you wonder if they could not have chosen an easier name… the photo of the ice on the water (second photo) it’s brilliant…
    Looking on the internet at the entries for this duck they are nothing like our whistlers … fascinating duck though…

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  4. Another informative writing and lovely pictures to go with it. I was happy for the snow today because I wanted the ski hill to open again. Never thought that the birds might not like my slant on the weather. It was tough getting back after 2 weeks of delightfully warm, sunny days.

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  5. So lovely impressions! Some of them look like they could have been from the mecca of birdwatching in Cley! 🙂 I’m impressed, Anneli.
    Greetings from the Rhine Valley
    Dina

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