First I heard some high-pitched sounds, and then I heard some subtle low-pitched sounds coming from high in the trees. I looked up to try to locate the source and was a little surprised to see a duck flying between the redwood branches!
I couldn't locate the duck again, but I kept hearing the sounds, so I continued looking. Eventually my eyes landed on this:
If you look carefully in the picture above, I think you'll be able to see two ducks: a male and female Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). The male is perched above the female.
The male turned, so here's a slightly better view:
The male and female separated, and kept flying from branch to branch. It was dark among these trees, but below is a decent head shot of the male, and the best image I have of the female. Note the different facial markings — the male with narrow white projections arcing up onto his cheek and neck, and the female with a white tear-drop shape surrounding her eye.
We've never seen Wood Ducks in our yard before. I had lots of questions running through my head while watching them. Were they looking for a place to roost for the day? Were they evaluating possible nest sites? Did they actually have a nest already? Because they were calling the entire time, I even wondered whether they could have young that they were trying to coax out of a nest.
Somewhat surprisingly, Wood Ducks can nest up to 2 kilometers away from water. And if you haven't heard about their remarkable nesting strategy, here's a brief summary: They nest in tree cavities. When the young hatch, the female calls to them, persuading the ducklings to leap out of the cavity. They free-fall from the nest to the ground! Once on the ground, the mother will lead the ducklings to a nearby wetland.
Although I can't be certain, after reading about Wood Duck sounds, I'm wondering if this pair was scouting the area for a nest site. The Birds of North America account describes nest-searching calls: for males, a multisyllable jibjibjib...and for females, a low-intensity multisyllable tetetetetetet. The full description is a pretty good match for the two types of sounds I heard.
Here are two more pictures to document my first time seeing possible prospecting behavior in Wood Ducks.
The male peeking out from behind a large redwood trunk:
And this is an unexpected shot. I meant to take a picture of the landscape, just to show the overall setting. When reviewing the image, I realized that I also captured the male in flight! This is probably going to be challenging, but perhaps you'd like to try to find him before I tell you where he is. I'll give you a hint. His wings are open and his belly is facing towards you (the belly color is buffy). Look carefully and I bet you can find him!
[The male Wood Duck is in the lower left corner of the photo, just below a horizontal tree limb and to the left of the large redwood trunk.]
I have no idea if this Wood Duck pair will return, but if they don't, it was fascinating to listen and watch them even for just one morning!