A flock of unidentified birds took me on a wild goose chase this week, but it turned out well. Some “strange ducks” appeared at a neighbor’s yard and were obviously hungry and quite friendly. At first sighting, they were thought to be some sort of wild goose, so I went to investigate. It turned out that the birds were lost Muscovy ducks hoping to find their home, so they were happy to be rescued.
Muscovy ducks are wild in South America, but in this country, they are mostly kept as barnyard birds. Our family once had a pair that we used to take to nursery schools when we were teaching about birds. The male was a big bird with colorful feathers and bill, and he would step out of his carrier and proceed to greet each child sitting in the circle on the floor. After he greeted each one, he would then stand in the center and flap his wings. The children loved him; his name was “MacDonald.” I’ll never forget him!
These large ducks can adapt to cooler climates, even to temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and they can survive even cooler conditions. The domestic breed is not able to fly the long distances that the wild species can. True Muscovy ducks are more blackish. Domestic ones are largely white. Both sexes have colorful bills that can be yellow, pink, black or orange, or any mix of these colors. Both sexes have pink or white wattles around the bill.
Recently, several islanders have asked me about where to see snowy owls. The most likely places probably are on top of our local mountains, but that makes a sighting out of the question for many people. Any walk along the shore gives you an opportunity to see one of these large, white owls from the far north, but you can’t predict when or where. One year, they were regularly seen near the airport in Trenton, and the bird would just sit there on its perch not far from the road and look at you. I haven’t had any reports lately of one doing that now. One year, I had a female sit on top of my house all one day. Females have more barring on their white feathers.
It’s quite possible to find one sitting on the beach with the wind rustling its feathers. The first snowy owl I ever saw was doing just that, and I almost missed seeing it, for it resembled a newspaper being blown on the beach. These owls regularly sit on the ground or a rock. They are exciting birds to see!
Even on cold days, it is worth taking your binoculars and heading for the shore to places where you can see the water and sit in your car to keep warm. Binoculars are a must on these excursions. You also should have a good bird field guide with you. Winter ducks are fun to watch. Right now, you can expect to find lots of common eiders, greater scaup, long-tailed ducks, white–winged scoters, common and Barrows goldeneyes, buffleheads and red-breasted mergansers to mention a few. Along the shore right at the edge of the water and on the rocks, look especially for purple sandpipers. This sandpiper is the only one to expect now. They have a plump, portly look and appear dark purple.
A friend told me of a nice encounter with a kinglet recently. He was moving wood from one spot to another and had a colorful little kinglet keeping him company. This is a wee bird. Both the ruby-crowned and the golden-crowned kinglets live here, and they tend to be quite friendly. Seeing them up close is a treat.
“A fox went out on a chilly night,” so a favorite song of mine starts. I’ve often sung it to my young students. Just recently, I saw a video showing a fox running out on a chilly night over the snow when a snowy owl flew down nearby. For several moments, they did a strange little getting-to-know-you-what’s-going-to-happen-here sort of a dance back and forth and in and out. They both seemed unsure of what to do next, but it was a marvelous event to watch. It ended with the fox running off on his way and the owl sitting there until it, too, flew off. A security camera caught the encounter.
Game cameras set up in your woods or on a game trail can yield some fascinating views of wildlife nearby. A friend in Trenton found a dead deer near his home and was advised by the officials to drag it out into a field and let the wild animals have it. He did just that but also set up a camera so he could see what came. Among the visitors to the feast were raccoons, foxes and five bobcats, mother and young. That was a surprise and a treat to see. In the daylight hours, the carcass was visited by eagles, crows, ravens and smaller birds. Nothing is wasted in nature. The death of one creature means life to many others.