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?
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.
This puddle is no good for splashing in today.
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.
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.
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.