Rain fell and our reservoir will last (current analysis) until February 15. Enough water fills the cow tank so ducks feed and socialize.
The longhorn painting hangs above my daughter’s fireplace in Lubbock, Texas.
The Scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because it takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. — Jules Henri Poincare
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[These are primary field notes taken today. Time entered in UTC or Zulu time, i.e. 1759. Post-field note commentary bracketed and italicized.]
Flying Hat Ranch, North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quadrangle map.
1759. 51 deg. F. [Cold enough to start into the field with line jacket, but by the time I got to grove, I shed the jacket, putting it on the fence post.]
1805. Three or more ducks on pond. No identification. Woodpile near pond has been reduced by rain and natural deterioration. Tree limbs and logs have settled in earth. [Erath County has taken the burn ban off. I’ll not burn the pile because it houses several critters. The ducks are three and they make little noise. They paddle to the far side of the pond as I stride by.]
1817. Barbed wire between grove and arena pasture broken, 5 T-posts from the gate, towards the west. Apparent deer tracks on the ground, no sign of struggle, crawling under, deer popped the strand. Fur on ground. Photos taken. [I have seen juvenile deer scoot under the fence; hence, I think they broke it. I looked carefully for signs of an entanglement in the wire, but found none and also went over to the creek embankment to make sure no deer had fallen. I’ll repair the fence later this winter. I wonder if it is deer “fur” or “hair?” According to Scientific American, mammalogist, Nancy Simmons, there is no difference between fur and hair.]
1828. Juniper berries on tree to the east of brick pile. Tree is 20 feet high, 20 feet across at lower crown. Five juniper trees in immediate vicinity. One large juniper 30 feet to east-southeast of the little grove. This juniper is 30 feet tall, trunk is 2-3 feet in diameter. [I had never stopped to count the number of junipers in the small grove, nor estimated the height of the tallest tree. My recent post on junipers has prompted my focus. I thought about picking the berries and consuming them, reenacting my Zuni experience.]
1843. Red oak leaf falls. I think it a floating butterfly. Then I see the red oak. No butterfly. [What tricks our mind plays. I thought for a moment that a Monarch might have roosted and emerged in the sun. The leaf floated like a butterfly, not a swaying back-and-forth manner like a leaf.]
1849. Two burrows near east water gap, one looks inhabited. [Skunk, armadillo? Other?]
1853. Remnants of deer-stand ladder. [I have dismantled all deer stands in the trees that I can find. This ladder will be dismantled soon. I hate it when nails are driven into trees.]
1855. Bull bellows on Dooley Place. [The Red Angus bull bellows. ‘Twould be interesting to take field notes at a certain point for just sound, not images, just sound.]
1858. Harris hawk ascends into tree at about 10 foot level, watches me approach, then flies low out of tree towards north. [I have typed the Harris before. There are two of them that soar and predate in the grove and surrounds. They’ve been here on Flying Hat for two years.]
1908. Scare 4-7 turkey vultures from dead mesquite tree at southwest part of grove. [I hope Ethan Connell has checked the turkey vulture on his Life List in his Peterson’s.]
1917. Flock of Sandhill Cranes overhead, flying north to south, catching wind currents. [When I first heard the Sandhills, I looked too high, gave up and then found them at a lower altitude.]
1930. Turn around at northwest corner of far field and return to house. Star whinnies at me.
1938. White-crowned sparrows fly low in brush about arena at southeast end.
1942. Scare up the resident jack rabbit while searching for stone tool in situ. [I cannot find the stone tool. I do have it located, however, on the GPS and I can locate it later. I had placed a yellow surveyor’s flag at its place, but the elements have blown it down — or possibly, Star.]
1946. At pasture-house gate. [Log entries conclude.]
This morning I was surprised. I drove the F-150 to the grove gate to close it, so as to keep my gelding, Star, from going into the far pasture and gorging himself on new-growth grass. As I passed by the pond, I saw these ducks. Many of you see ducks all the time, but here in North Erath County, Texas, ducks are uncommon until November or December. These ducks made no quacking whatsoever. They plunged into the pond for feeding. I returned about two hours later and took some photographs.
In one of my earlier posts about the American Widgeon, I and my blogging friends spent time identifying the ducks. These guys in the photographs are unidentified. My Peterson’s guide was chewed up by my dog, Yeller, and I have yet to replace it. My Audubon field guide does not have flying profiles or additional attributes for me to say for certain what these ducks are. So, the ducks will be unidentified until I get my Peterson’s guide book re-ordered.
In any case, the ducks have returned to the pond. Can cooler weather and winter days be far behind? The ducks say, No, it’s not far behind!
By the analysis of Jay Miles of Wells, Maine, the featured duck in the last two posts is an American widgeon (Marcea americana) or baldpate species. Several months ago I posted “Gray Sky with Duck,” concerning nine ducks I scared from our pond when I drove down the pasture road after feeding the horses and scattering corn in the grove for deer. After reading my post, Jay commented that he would help in identification of ducks. I looked at his Kicking Bull Gallery website and he knows ducks! He sculpts ducks, he sells vintage and antique duck decoys. He has five lists (each list is several pages) of duck decoys on his website of “Antique old vintage decoys, hunting decoys used in old times past to hunt ducks in the marshes and the sea.” Jay has his ducks in a row.
I wrote Jay an e-mail several days ago asking for his opinion since I was wallowing around in factoring duck morphology. I may know cacti and sagebrush, but I don’t know ducks. Jay responded this morning by e-mail. By this time next year, I will be a bit more versed in duck identification.
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Roger Tory Peterson writes in A Field Guide to Western Birds that the female American widgeon voices qua-ack. I noted this two-part voice pattern many times before as I stood out of sight near the pond’s embankment. I often thought that the duck had been bumped into by other browsers, eliciting a two-part sound of frustration. No, that wasn’t the case despite my attempt at personification. The widgeon winters from southern Alaska to Central America. Its habitat is in fresh marshes, irrigated land, ponds, lakes and bays. Some widgeons, we now know, winter or pass by north Erath County, Texas, and spend time on the Flying Hat pond.
An interesting nexus emerged in my previous posts asking for assistance in identification. Bill of Wild Ramblings opined, so did Laura of A Number of Things, Caralee of Built by Hand Strawbale Housing and Jay Miles of Kicking Bull Gallery. Bill hails from Massachusetts, Jay is from Maine, Laura of London and Caralee of Utah. The five of us that took an interest in the duck are attuned to nature. Caralee added her observations about the difficulty of typing birds in flight — she is working on typing hawks that swoop down upon her. I opened Peterson to pages about duck profiles in flight, something I had never done before. Bill added the difficulty in typing waterfowl and steered me away from it being a Canvasback because of the beak feature. Laura apologized for not identifying, but pointed out that the title of the post, “Typing duck in flight,” made her think of a duck carrying a typewriter while in flight! I find it fascinating that a digital photo of duck taking flight from a Texas pond could provoke a response from Utah to New England to London. We are all curious about birds, and, moreover, the infinite wildness of the natural world.
The Kicking Bull Gallery logo is from Jay Miles website.
Photograph of American widgeon in flight is J. Matthews, March 2011, Mingus, Texas.
Illustrations are from Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, second edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969.
Since so much of our ranch is a Texas Cross Timbers habitat with one large pond, I find ducks most interesting since they have uncommon presence and seasonally come and go. I do not know with graceful skill the typing of these water creatures. I tentatively identify the duck below as Canvasback (Aythya valisineria). Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds states, “A very white-looking duck with a rusty-red head and neck, black breast, long blackish bill.” I am not sure and will correct my identification if anyone can discern factors I have missed. In any case, here is what I regard as a Canvasback. Please let me know in the comment section of this post or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @sage2m if you have an opinion. Thanks for your help and assistance.
March 17, 2011, 1:00 p.m., CDT. Wild Bill of Wild Ramblings blog has opined it may be a redhead duck. The short bill of this duck indicates something other than a Canvasback.
The temperatures rose to 35 degrees and the sun came out, melting the snow about the place. Corrals turned to mud. Meadow Lark, White-crowned Sparrow, and Chickadee scattered away from their emergency ration station in the barn alleyway and I turned Star out so that he could run about the pastures and go to the county road to visit his friends at the Nowack place. I saw deer track along the grove lane and vowed to throw corn near the salt block tomorrow.
Star galloped through snow and mud to the pond and as we both made our way towards the barn, ducks flew upward from their browsing, but circled back to the pond, dousing their beaks, grasping algae and minnow. A west wind blew across the snow and I wore sunglasses to reduce the glare of the sun. After I fed Star, I walked up the hill to the house, strongly striding because cold air filled my lungs and I was content with Winter.
North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quad.
Your habitat, wherever you may be, probably sustains larger flocks of ducks, but I was glad to see these two ducks on our pond once again this Fall.
I walked across the Arena Pasture, diagonally to the road and directly to the pond, quietly edging up the slope and stopping in an area of broomweed in order to take a photograph of the two ducks. I had seen them three days ago and yesterday there were a dozen or so of their acquaintances feeding on the pond. When I finished snapping this photo, I walked on the road and scared up other ducks that were feeding, altogether about twelve. I will be more careful and not frighten them to flight although they rise just enough to clear the cottonwoods and land on Blue Pond, our neighbor’s stock tank to the east of us.
I took this walk after lunch, down to the Grove and around the edges of Salt Creek that has several caches of water, but is not flowing owing to the lack of rainfall. The water caches provide a source of water for deer, raccoon, fox and bobcat, among other species. Birds drink their fill and as they scatter in the trees, I hear their wings slap leaves. I walked, ambled is more like it, for forty-five minutes, taking photographs of foliage.
I came across a species of yucca that I must identify. I think it different from the narrow Pale-Leaf variety we have close to the house. This yucca has broader leaves and its color is a deep turquoise. The turkey bones that Olivia, my granddaughter, and I discovered this summer have been carried off. No feathers of the Thanksgiving fowl remain. What animal would carry off bleached bones and feathers?
I eased into this walk today, relaxed and breathing deeply. Nothing lay ahead of me except my next step, my scan of the ground and sky. I would have liked company, but this solitude was restful and aimless, other than to walk to the far field and turn around to retrace my trail. I could hear the dogs bark back at the house.
Then, I heard them. Sandhill Crane. I looked high and all I could see were the stratocirrus clouds. Their calls are like burbles, water gently falling over smooth stones in a clear stream. Gentle and calming. I could not see them. Their calls faded and I walked back up to the house. I stood for a moment on the back terrace and as I started back into the house, I heard a flock of Sandhill again. I looked up and 2,000 plus feet above me, a flock of crane flew. They could of been higher above ground than that and as I pulled my camera up for my first shot of the season, I could not see them. But I had seen them and they had such a pale-grey, whitish even, underside that it reminded me of the underside of jet planes I see above. Their undersides reflected the clouds below them and I took a photograph of where they had been, aiming their graceful necks towards the southeast and warmer climes.
I shall photograph them soon, but today I could not find them low to our earth for they soared above me and my camera. I heard them. I saw them, but their image I could not preserve en camera today. But I photographed two ducks for our Fall season. What’s the saying, “Sufficient unto this day?” I think so.