Ducking in the rain

2007 January 21
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — It was 2:30 by the time I’d finished helping friends with their move. The rain was steady, and the temperature was 37 degrees. I went birding.

My first stop was Lakeside Park in Duncanville, a spot I’d been intending to check out for a couple of weeks. I didn’t expect to see any other humans there, but ponchoed fishermen proved me wrong. Aside from piebald park ducks rooting in the mud, three male Lesser Scaup were the only waterfowl present.

They were close, and I enjoyed good looks despite foggy binoculars, noting dark fringes on the flank feathers, pale-tipped bills with narrow black nails, and of course, those peaks on the backs of their heads.

I don’t think Lakeside Park will be the site of Texas’ next great rarity, but I’ll probably visit again.

On the way to Joe Pool Lake, I stopped by Fox Hollow Park on Eagle Ford. A lone male Gadwall mixed with Ring-necked Ducks and more scaup, and a pair of Mallards kept to themselves in the pond’s back corner. The ducks took off in small groups, leaving only the Gadwall, and I headed on to the big lake.

There, the parking lot was deserted. So were the trails and the road along the dam. I squished my way through the mud to the lake shore, where I was pleased to see perhaps 20 Canvasbacks — mostly adult males — among the coots and other diving ducks. One Forster’s Tern flew above the waterfowl.

Deciding I really couldn’t get much wetter, I climbed back up the hill and took the deserted road atop the dam. To be honest, I hoped for a loon, a gull, or even Rock Wren for my trouble. And surely a scoter wasn’t too much to ask?

There were no loons, only loner cormorants, which can get you going until you see that uptilted bill. Small packs of Ring-billed Gulls flew high over the dam, yelping. And I could not find a Rock Wren among the boulders, but there was a sprinkling of Savannah Sparrows.

Then I saw a raptor flying low, just at the edge of the water. Harrier! Excellent. The bird looked gray like a male but browner than I would have expected, leaving me to wonder whether it was a young bird, a trick of the light, or something else altogether.

Just a short distance ahead, I noticed a dark spot in the grass far below — a bird? Yes … another harrier. This one, an adult female, had got some sort of prey item and was busy feeding. I approached carefully, not wanting to frighten the bird away from her meal.

I watched her feed for several minutes, noting that she pulled some good-sized pieces of meat off whatever she was eating. It did not appear to be a small rodent. Apparently finished with the main portion of the carcass, she walked back and forth through the grass, picking at other bits and pieces.

She picked up a long, dark feather — aha, it was a bird. A dove, I theorized, and that feather could have come from the wing. Then I saw two others sticking out of the grass. Squinting through wet and foggy binoculars, I thought I could make out white tips on the dark feathers, consistent with a Mourning Dove’s tail.

I could have been wrong, but it’s the best that I could do. I took one last look at the charismatic harrier, noting details I’d never observed before. Her tail was banded of course, but the bands on the outer feathers were notably paler than those on the inner ones.

By then, I could no longer ignore the burning pain in my fingers, which were not protected from the raw, wet cold. I turned to go.

The Canvasbacks were still near the shore and as I passed I thought, “You must be the swankiest ducks of all.”

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2 Responses
  1. January 24, 2007

    ‘Very nice account – thanks for sharining it.

  2. January 24, 2007

    Nice sighting and nice bit of patient detective work to id the victim

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