Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

March 10, 2008

A Duck of Goodwill

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:01 pm

  I am soft believer that nothing happens by chance. Please note that I am not firm in this belief, but a solid non-committalist that certain things can happen contrary to mere randomness. Take, for instance, yesterday afternoon when my camera went on the fritz after taking one lousy picture.  Well, O.K., my batteries went dead in spite of the fact I checked them before heading out.  No problem, I bought some new AA’s and was ready to continue. In the process of putting the new batteries in, a tiny little piece of plastic fell out of the battery cover door onto the car floor.  I’d forgotten about that little broken piece – without it, the camera won’t turn on no matter how factory fresh the batteries are. Remarkably, I found the errant keystone fragment next to the accelerator pedal and continued the process. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember how the miracle piece fit back in. I tried it every conceivable (and a few in-conceivable) ways until finally admitting defeat and heading home. I was unable to shoot the cannons with my Cannon!

  The thing is- I was on a deadline.  The magazine editor wanted some crisp high-resolution pics of a cannon monument to accompany an up-coming article. She had to have them NOW.  My high res. camera was on the fritz NOW and I …never mind.  I had one crummy high resolution, but poorly lit, cloudy photo and that would have to do.  I would send it in, they would use it, and I’d have to stare at it the rest of my life.

  Just after resolving to forget the whole thing, the sun burst out and it became a beautiful sunny afternoon.  The crisp sunshine streaming through the window mocked me.  I snatched up the camera and that dog-goned fractured piece of cheap technology and resumed my attempts.  Suddenly, (by this I mean 15 minutes of frustrated manipulating) the piece slipped into place and stayed there. I closed the battery cover and the camera turned on. I was in business. There was still time to make the journey back to the cannons, so I went.

  An hour later, I had taken a whole host of high resolution cannon shots and was re-tracing my homeward route. As I crossed over the Swan Creek Bridge, just before St. Charles Church, I noticed that the creek was frozen solid and that a lone duck was sitting out on the ice.   It was a drake Redhead. The fowl was resting with its head tucked back between its shoulders. Thinking that perhaps it was frozen into the newly formed ice, I curled around into the church parking lot and inched my way along the shoreline up to the bird’s position.

  I admit that I was starting to think that maybe I was meant to see this bird – either to save it or to get a really good picture of it, or something.  I wouldn’t have seen it had I been successful on my earlier trip. As fate would have it (or was it?) the duck stayed firmly in place as I approached over the snow bank.  I adjusted the lens, peeped over the rise, took a blurry shot, and fumbled with the viewfinder while the bird erected its head to full attention.  It shifted around and immediately displayed that it was not frozen into place.  I had one more chance so I took the shot.

  No sooner had the artificial shutter sound completed its tone than the Redhead rose to his feet, skittered over the ice a few yards, and launched into the air. It headed directly east toward the creek mouth and Lake Erie – leaving a few piles of droppings to mark its former position.

  Only upon looking at my resulting picture did I whoop with joy.  I got it! Finally, I have a good picture of a duck to offer you, dear reader.  My previous attempts have been of less than stellar quality.  The Redheaded Duck of Happiness erased all traces of the “plastic incident.” Here’s the picture.  Nice eh? 

  Redheads are medium sized diving ducks on the order of canvasbacks, bluebills and the like. They don’t show up in our area in the huge numbers typical of those other species, but they are always mixed in with their fellow divers. It was unusual that this particular bird chose a solitary roosting spot on the creek ice. It may have been out of sorts, but certainly mustered enough energy to make its hasty escape. Whatever the reason, he waited there for some time until I came along to disturb him.

  This male exhibited the stunningly bright nutmeg-red head that gives these ducks their common name. The intense gaze of the orange eye fully displays a certain indignant sense of at being flushed. This is a bird in full breeding plumage that’ll soon be impressing the chicks out there in the prairie pothole country with his dashing good looks.

  There is one more twist of life affirming irony in this situation. Aside from the cannon monument article, I am also currently working on a piece about an old time decoy carver by the name of Fred Plichta.  One of the nicest examples I have of his work is a 1930 carving of a perky Redhead drake. I’ve been going over it for the last few days in hopes that it would speak to me about the man and his time.

  Here’s a picture of the decoy taken with that same wonderfully flawed camera that occupied so much of my day yesterday. I guess it would be a stretch to say that the spirit of that wooden bird came to life for me out there on Swan Creek, but I’m here to stretch that truth.  The real bird reminded me that they are the vital life force behind the fake ones. The duck came first, then the man, then the decoy (the editor and the cannon monument came somewhere in the middle of that sequence).

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