Alright, I thought, I’ve done my walking lap, and my woolly coat and gloves are back on the bench now. I’m down to some pretty threadbare leggings and a hoody. So if I don’t start running soon, this nippy feeling is going to blow right past chilly to points more unpleasant.
And then… a sort of “chirp”. High up a tree, ahead of me on the path, and a little to my right. To my slightly muffled ears, poking out the bottom of my orange toque, it sounded a little like the indignant chirrup of a red squirrel.
Only… slightly not.
I have learned – am learning – to pay more attention to the “slightly nots”. The woods doesn’t post a roster listing who is in attendance today. Moving slow and listening fast are the only reliable ways to find out who is around.
I stopped and scanned the trees for the squirrel I’d made indignant by walking past, or anywhere near, his tree. Only it wasn’t a squirrel. Because as I turned in place, a large bird took off. From a perch high up in an oak, about 5 metres ahead of me, along the trail that follows the crest of the hill. The bird didn’t go far though. But instead took another perch, just as high, only a little closer to me, and a little closer to the hill’s edge.
A pileated woodpecker? It was large, and I’m sure I saw a flash of colour on the head.
But… it didn’t land like a pileated. And it was… squat? Can a woodpecker be squat?
I took a step back, literally and figuratively. I tried to stop expecting to see something, and instead see what was there.
And what was there was… a duck??
I squatted down and took a long hard look way up the tree.
And it was, in fact, a duck.
And not just a duck, but a duck with pizzazz. Some exotic escapee. A resplendent rainbow of duck. Colours splashed akimbo all over its little duck head and squat duck body. A squat duck body currently perched high high up an oak tree. A male duck of some kind I guessed, with his elaborate plumage. He made another chirp. And another.
I hunched down in the dirty leaves, no longer feeling so chilly, and took a minute to absorb this unexpected squirrel-chirping rainbow duck.
Just as I’d decided to move along, and let this dollop of rainbow get on with whatever he was doing, he made another much louder chirrup, and then off THEY flew, singing a new song as they went. Not only the male I had been watching, but also… a female! Who had, apparently, stayed sitting quietly on the original tree the male had started from. It seems I had fallen for the oldest trick in nature’s book — with his fancy outfit and catchy songs, Mr SquirrelRainbowDuck had been distracting me. Holding my attention, while his mate, a few trees over, sat entirely in my blindspot.
Well played Mr. Duck. Well played.
If you are a birder, you have perhaps been shouting “IT’S A WOOD DUCK!” at your screen since I first mentioned our squat rainbow friend. And right you are! Confirmed by BirdNet in real time, which I was using to record their calls, and which showed me an exact photo of the duck I was looking at, along with that wonderful ID phrase: “almost certain”. (If you’d like to hear them for yourself, the calls they made were similar to the second last calls in this list, only more intermittent.)
There is no permanent body of water in our woods. But when the wood ducks flew off, they flew towards the creek that winds along parallel to the nearby road. The creek is out of sight from the path, and not connected to our woods — except as the duck flies.
Have a wonderful week folks! And if you want to guarantee some goodness in your week — I recommend stopping everything to google video of fledging baby wood ducks. I promise you won’t be sorry.