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Year of the Plague 19 – Visit to Lowell Ponds…

May 9, 2020

Wood ducks and ducklings at Lowell Ponds, S. Adams County, Colorado – May 9, 2020

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I had first heard of them some time ago from an unusual source. Ishi, considered the “last Yahi”, the California Native American who came out of the woods more than a hundred years ago and spent the last years of his life in the care of anthropologist A. E. Kroeber, made a recording of “the wood duck story” that went on for a full 28 hours. It was translated in part by T. T. Waterman and partially transcribed. The recordings of Ishi’s voice in Yana remain. Ishi’a retelling of his people’s fable “The Story of Wood Duck” spans 51 cylinders and was said to last more than 24 hours in all. In 2010, these recordings were chosen by the Librarian of Congress for the National Recording Registry, an annual list of recordings deemed to be of vital import to the history and culture of the United States.  Those 51 cylinders of Ishi’s audio recordings were a part of the 148 wax cylinders in which Ishi told stories of his people in his language, a primary source of information about his people.

So I always wondered what wood ducks looked like and why Ishi could talk about them for 28 hours. When I first saw that pair in La Junta, I kind of understood.

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Lowell Pond Wood Ducks…

Went to Lowell Ponds, South Adams County, Colorado, early this morning after Tim McCarthy alerted me to the fact that there were Wood ducklings there. Dan Aykroyd’s line from the Blues Brothers “We’re on a mission from God” came to mind. Knew I had to go.

A cool sunny morning and at 8 am the place was empty.

When I first arrived at Lowell Ponds there appeared to be five or six adults along with the ducklings. Almost immediately all but one female adult flew off – probably because of my presence. A male returned a few minutes later and accompanied the little brew around the western edge of the pond going back and forth among the weeds. At one point the whole family got rather close, within a 100 feet of where I was standing on the southern edge of the pond. As long as I stood still, they didn’t seem to mind my presence but as soon as I moved, the male would get nervous and fly away… and then come back a few minutes later.

A few people showed up, another birder with his binoculars, a fisherman and just before I left after an hour and a half, a young couple with five dogs. In these social distancing times we all well separated from one another although I did share a few words with the dog owners, mentioning the wood ducks and their babies. They knew already – yes, I was told, they’ve been here for a while, seven ducklings in all. But I had only counted five so two had apparently had already not made it.

Until recently, Wood Ducks were not so plentiful here in Colorado. Like other bird species, they have had a rough time of it. In the early 20th century the species was threatened with extinction. Wood Ducks are unusual in that they nest and have their young generally high up in trees. Logging, cutting down larger variety resulted in habitat loss as did hunting. Legal protection and provision of nest boxes helped recovery; many thousands of nest boxes now occupied by Wood Ducks in U.S. and southern Canada.

La Junta Wood Duck couple. April 2019

In recent years, apparently has been expanding range in north and west. This year they seem to be plentiful along Colorado’s Front Range.

They have their own patterns of behavior.

They nest in trees because they cannot dig their own nests and tend to forage for food by dabbling along the shores of lakes and ponds but are also known to graze for food on land. The females habitually return to the same places every year to hatch their eggs during the breeding season along with their mates. Unlike other duck species that tend to intermingle, wood ducks go it alone. I saw an example of this as the female duck in this picture chased off a mallard pair who had gotten to close to her young. They do congregate in groups of their own kind however, but in small numbers, no more than 20 at a time.

Wood ducks are among the more colorful ones in North America, especially the males like the one above behind his mate and the five ducklings. Although like other bird life they have had a rough time of it as a result of habitat reduction, they remain rather common. I’ve seen many photos of them published on social media websites that specialize in birds. But personally my wood duck sightings have been rather rare. My first encounter with them was in La Junta a year ago on a trip to through southeastern Colorado on my way to Quivera National Wildlife Preserve in south central Kansas. A pair was by a pond in that town’s city park. I was quite excited about that. Although others have posted photos of them, especially along the South Platte south of Denver in Littleton, I had never seen wood ducks in the Denver area until two weeks ago.

I had first heard of them some time ago from an unusual source. Ishi, considered the “last Yahi”, the California Native American who came out of the woods more than a hundred years ago and spent the last years of his life in the care of anthropologist A. E. Kroeber, made a recording of “the wood duck story” that went on for a full…. It was translated in part by T. T. Waterman and partially transcribed. The recordings of Ishi’s voice in Yana remain. Ishi’a retelling of his people’s fable “The Story of Wood Duck” spans 51 cylinders and was said to last more than 24 hours in all. In 2010, these recordings were chosen by the Librarian of Congress for the National Recording Registry, an annual list of recordings deemed to be of vital import to the history and culture of the United States.  Those 51 cylinders of Ishi’s audio recordings were a part of the 148 wax cylinders in which Ishi told stories of his people in his language, a primary source of information about his people.

So I always wondered what wood ducks looked like and why Ishi could talk about them for 28 hours. When I first saw that pair in La Junta, I kind of understood.

 

 

 

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