Yesterday, on a rare sunny day I was coming home from town when I had to make a quick photo stop. The mist and cloud formations across the bay were ominous, warning of the next weather system coming in.
*Warning* Wet camera lens was an ongoing problem.
I turned the camera back towards town. The spread of the clouds stretched along the far hills. In the water is a long row of posts that has been there ever since I can remember. Not sure what purpose they once served, unless it was a navigation guide. The posts still stick out at high tide and warn boaters of the bar.
As you can see below, some posts still show in places where the bar is farther below the surface, and the trunk of a long-dead tree is hung up on the gravel. This is not where you want your boat to end up. Seagulls and a heron sit on the log like sentinels warning of hazards to navigation.
After a slightly deeper stretch of water, the bar comes up again and continues into the bay. A river flows along the side of the bar that is closest to us (at the bottom of the photo), while the water beyond is a shallow bay that is a mudflat at very low tide. If you want to bring a boat up the river, you need to know where the channel is or end up with seagulls sitting on your hull.
The sandbar is a popular place for birds to dabble and sun themselves. Sometimes you’ll find ducks and geese there; sometimes, like this day, seagulls.
The sun came blasting through the clouds for one last look at me. I clicked the camera as I looked back into its blinding light, knowing I might not see this light for days ahead.
This morning I see that I was right. Looking out my living room window, I saw what was behind those first clouds I saw yesterday – a blast of southeast duck weather.
It’s a good day to stay home while the Captain goes duck hunting.
Winter on the coast is wet,
Wind and rain is all you get,
Sometimes there’s a glimpse of sun,
Just five minutes, then it’s done,
Back we go to wind and rain,
Hope by spring I’m not insane.
Looking out the window this afternoon, I saw huge snowflakes. Or were they leaves? But they were floating so easily, like snow. More and more flakes came down, and yet, not enough to say, “It’s snowing,” and besides, it was just a tad too warm. Something didn’t feel right. I went to investigate.
I picked up some of the “snowflakes” and saw that they were feathers. They kept falling from the sky. I thought of the German folk tale about Frau Holle who shakes the featherbeds (goosedown duvets, in our modern western world) in the sky and makes it snow.
A huge eagle took off from the tree with its dinner in its talons.
I knew from the feathers that the eagle’s meal was a duck. The harsh reality of life and death in the animal food chain always leaves me with mixed feelings. Both are beautiful birds, but why does one have to eat the other? Couldn’t they just eat pancakes instead?
The arrow in the photo below points at the roof of our house, just above the white house on the hillside. From there we can see, with the help of a spotting scope, that the black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) are on the far shore of the bay.
They come here every spring to rest and feed and gather their strength.
We drove around the bay to the beach where the brant are congregating. A friend had told us that the day before, there were many more, and we think some may have left already on their long migration to the north to nest.
They come from as far away as the Baja coast of Mexico, and will go all the way up the continent to Alaska where summer daylight hours are very long and the food is plentiful for raising their young in the short weeks of summer, so they will be ready to make the long migration back south in the fall, to winter in Mexico again.Here, in one of many staging areas on the east coast of Vancouver Island, they gather at first in small flocks, gradually joining up into bigger flocks as they are closer to leaving for the north.
I’ve often wondered how they decide when it is time for the flocks of thousands to lift off and begin the journey. Who says, “Okay folks, it’s time for liftoff”? Looks like plenty of discussion going on here. The widgeon in the background are being kept out of the loop. See them in the background with their pale heads?
If you go walking on the beaches at this time of year, please be sure to keep your dog on a leash. When the brant are disturbed repeatedly, it prevents them from feeding. They need daylight hours and low tides to feed on the eel grass they prefer above most other food. If they can’t feed, their bodies will not have the reserves they need for the long flight ahead. Emaciated birds don’t have healthy clutches and this results in weaker young and lower numbers of brant.
You can do your bit to help keep the brant population healthy. Keep your dogs on a leash at brant time.
In the previous post I told about the newly named “three lame ducks,” the old duck hunters who brought the duck blind they built out to the field. At the time I didn’t have a photo of the blind in its location with the final touches to have it blend in a little. Here it is, ready for action. Probably it will need a stormier day to work better, but for now it can sit out here and get used to its new surroundings.
Since time began, humans have hunted for their food, just as all living species did to stay alive. It wasn’t until animals were domestically raised in huge numbers to provide beef, pork, and poultry, that hunting began to fall out of favour. The masses of meat-consumers don’t want to know about the killing of the animals they enjoy when they sit down to chicken, turkey, pork chops, or beef steak, and hunting came to be frowned upon even as chicken heads continued to roll.
I’m a realist and while I don’t want to see an animal get killed, I know it has to happen so I can enjoy that meat. I’ve had to accept that hunters are not murderers, but providers of my food.
It happens that the Captain has hunted ducks since he was a young man. He braved weather that only the obsessed would do, coming home after many a duck hunt, half drowned, and with icy toes and fingers.
You’ve heard of the old German saying, “Vee get too soon oldt, unt too late schmardt”? Well, just in time, the Captain has decided to improve on his old duck blinds and go for comfort with a newer model. The duck blind will be set up at the edge of a field where ducks often come and go. It’s often a game of “wait a while,” being patient, and keeping quiet and still. It helps if you can be out of the worst of the weather while you wait.
This box built of plywood has a hinged wind flap that will help protect the hunter against some of the worst weather and also help to hide him from the “duck’s eye view.” On calmer days, the flap can be let down.
A door on one end is wide enough to allow a man who is bundled up in old gray Stanfields and raingear to pass through.
The hunter’s mutt has a private entrance. This makes repeated opening of the big door for the dog unnecessary and helps keep the wind out. Also, it allows for less movement that could scare off ducks. This is where Emma would come in with her new neoprene vest on.
These photos are of the unfinished duck blind. It is now painted a neutral colour and will most likely be spray-painted in camouflage colours or be covered with tall grasses to disguise it.
Ducks are smarter than you think. For example, look at the town crier below.
The hardest part was probably getting the heavy box out to the field. It had to be loaded into a utility trailer for the drive to the fields. Three duck hunters, friends for decades, muscled the blind into the trailer. You have to give the old men credit for their successful effort, as one has had his knees replaced, another has had a hip replaced, and the third has a broken leg. That’s dedication.
The first snowfall of the season has dusted the tops of our local hills at last. This year it’s a welcome sight, not only for the skiers, but for the townspeople who have been under a “Boil Water Advisory” off and on for weeks, due to the heavy rainfall and flooding.
The sun even came out for a few minutes to highlight the cool hilltops.
With all the rain that’s fallen here,
We ducks don’t cry, but rather cheer.
But as the chill turns rain to snow,
We start to wonder where to go.
Maybe we will be in luck
And fields won’t turn to frozen muck.
The corn and grain in farmers’ fields
Is filling for the strength it yields
But if it freezes, in our strife
We’ll have to eat aquatic life.