Water Closet for June 17, 2016
[pullquote]”The Wood duck, Aix sponsa, considered by some to be our most beautiful bird, has a very interesting history.”[/pullquote] Naturalist Fred Gralenski in way Down East Maine has been sending his Quoddy Nature Notes (QNN) to us Stream Teamers every two weeks for years. This past week’s edition is on wood ducks and coincides with observations of these ducks here in the past few days. Donna Bambury, one of the Stream Team’s photographers, finally caught long sought after photographs of these beautiful ducks, which were sent along to Fred who responded with “super photos”. Crackerjack observer and amateur photographer, Fred is a good judge. In his message he asked the old Closeteer if ducklings had been seen here yet this spring. The next morning the Closeteer not wanting to answer “I don’t know.” went to a favorite wood duck haunt along the old Essex Rail Way bed crossing Middleton. Its northernmost two miles in town is flanked on both sides by the wetlands of Boston Brook inundated for the last 16 years by beaver dams. It is a wondrous place of lush water plants and wildlife. At 5:20 AM, within 10 minutes of starting up the trail, in air filled with bird song, the Closeteer spooked a large family of wood ducks in water just off the path. The dozen or more ducklings splashed and crashed into tussock sedges, arrowheads, and reed canary grass to escape the harmless old timer without gun or speed. The clumsy escape in a net- work of watery passages between emergent plants for the flightless youngsters and peenting parents in the air above took less than 10 seconds. The excited, also spooked, observer was delighted; he could answer Fred “yes”. He continued on north marveling at what he had seen. He guessed the dark ducklings with new feathers and no longer down had been out of their eggs three or more weeks. After progressing a couple hundred yards more as his heart rate slowed, a similar wild scene was repeated without parents just down the shoulder below him on the other side of the RR bed. Two seconds before the second frantic rush the parents had abruptly risen, peenting, and flown south leaving their large brood behind. One often sees this decoy action on the part of birds. The Closeteer in his quest thought his cup had runneth over. He could now tell Fred “yes, yes” and alert Stream Team friends and photographers to get up there at first light. Here is Fred’s Quoddy Nature Note that led to the old Closeteer’s finds.
WOOD DUCKS by Fred Gralenski QNN 6-4-16
Do I have a Wood duck nesting in the pond by my driveway? No positive proof yet, just anticipation. I have seen what I hope are parents, but so far no youngsters, and I dare not look in the nest box* for fear of frightening them off. The Wood duck, Aix sponsa, considered by some to be our most beautiful bird, has a very interesting history. In the later part of the 1800’s with the prevailing market hunting both for food and feathers and the pell-mell destruction of bottomland hardwood forests, the future of the wood duck looked dismal indeed. Fortunately, rational thinking prevailed: Forbush (1913) “…It should be saved from the fate of the Passenger pigeon, Heath hen and Wild turkey”; Taverner (Canada, 1934) implored sportsmen to “…confine their shooting to the more numerous species.” Hunting of Wood ducks was prohibited in the United States in 1918, and with habitat destruction somewhat curtailed, the bird population thankfully recovered. Hunting is now allowed with a carefully regulated season, and we birdwatchers are enjoying more opportunities to see wood ducks.
Wood ducks are unusual among ducks in that they have strong claws on their webbed feet and are comfortable perching in trees and flying through forests. Here in the Quoddy region they are migratory and produce one litter per year. In the southern states they can produce two broods per year, and are the only duck in North America that can do so. The female lays 7 to 15 eggs in a sparse nest she builds in a hollow tree or duck box. This is generally near a small pond, but may be as much as a half mile away. When the eggs hatch the female calls the youngsters to jump out of the nest, and there are many amazing videos on the net of this occurring. The diet of Wood ducks is almost anything, especially aquatic, like flies, worms, frog eggs, fish, plants etc. In my pond there is a good patch of Arrowhead (or Wapatoo Sagittaria latifolia). It is interesting to watch the female dig out the tubers of these plants and the satisfied look she has when she munches on a big one. I meant to harvest some myself earlier this spring, but I am glad to share.
Is my pond big enough to sustain a large family of Wood ducks? I wrote away to the Bureau of Natural Resources in Connecticut and they replied that there is no minimum sized pond recommended for Wood ducks. I went to Tractor Supply and they suggested cracked corn for food so I put out a little raft with some of that on it. Something does seem to be eating the cracked corn, but I don’t know what else besides slugs, and I don’t think Wood ducks eat them. And the pond does have its share of predators, as I’ve seen a Broad-winged hawk and a Long-tailed weasel down there, and either of these would like some duck soup. I generally like natural predators, so the ducks, especially if there are any ducklings forthcoming, will just have to learn how to survive by themselves.
Wood ducks are native to North America, but they have been introduced to other countries. Apparently most of these have been tame ducks, but there are some known feral colonies in a few European areas. Even though the Scandinavians don’t want our lobsters, I wonder if they will accept some Wood ducks?
*Stream Teamer Red Caulfield installed a wood duck nest box a few years ago just a couple hundred yards south of where the first family mentioned in the introduction above was spooked. Maybe the family was a tenant of Red’s. He has bird boxes for no-rent-housing all over Middleton.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Mar||Apr||May||June|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.65||4.53||4.06||3.95|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||3.80||2.65||1.71||1.3** as of June 14|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 14, 2016 Normal . . . 36 CFS Current Rate . . . 5.1 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for June
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584