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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Prospecting

As I was getting ready to leave for work this morning, a different sound in our backyard caught my attention. 

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!

1 comment:

TurtleandHawk said...

Jackie,
I have been following your blog since we met you during fall migration a few years ago. I so appreciate the effort it takes for you to put this together on a daily basis.
This is one of the most amazing blogs- to capture these beings in the midst of this special time of year:)

In Joy,
Bettina