Tag Archives: dabbling ducks

“Sex with Ducks”

Back at the end of May, the music duo Garfunkel and Oates posted a music video on Youtube titled “Sex with Ducks.” See, Pat Robertson apparently once said that if you legalize same-sex marriage, pretty soon people would be having sex with ducks. When I heard that, I immediately wanted to know: which ducks? I mean, it’s hard imagining anyone being attracted to Anas clypeata, but maybe that’s what turns Pat Robertson on. Who knows?

Anyway, the music video by Garfunkel and Oates is very silly, and the song, with its bright bubblegum melody and oh-so-sweet harmonies, is a hoot.

Thank you, Jean, for pointing this song out! And UU Jester, I want to know how this applies to duckies! And, for everyone’s reference, here are some of the lyrics of the song, taken from the MySpace page of Garfunkel and Oates: Continue reading

Three unrelated conversations

The drive up from New Bedford north towards Boston took me through the flat south coastal plain of Massachusetts. Along the highway through the plain, red maples seem to be the dominant trees where the ground is a little lower than the surrounding terrain; white and red oaks, and white and red pines, where the ground is a little higher. The red maples were bright with reds and yellows and oranges; in the lowest ground where I could see there was a swamp many of the trees were already bare. The oaks were still mostly green, although here and there a branch with brilliant red leaves stuck out of the dark green of the oak and pine woods; and here and there I saw a white oak fringed with brownish gold leaves.

I had lunch with dad, and we talked mostly about photography. Dad, who is an avid photographer, has been using digital cameras for the past three or four years. But recently, he said, he’s turned back to using his old single lens reflex film camera, a classic Pentax K-1000. He stood in the window of his condo in West Concord and used four different cameras to shoot the same picture of a sugar maple in full autumn color: three different digital cameras, and the K-1000. He got the film processed commerically, and he printed the shots from the digital camera using the same paper and printer. Then he compared the images all four sources. His conclusion: the images from the film camera had better color saturation and richer reds than any of the digital images.

Photo buffs would probably say that images from a professional-quality digital camera printed on a top-notch printer could surpass the images from commercially-processed film. But that’s not the point; dad was comparing images from cameras he had access to and that he could afford. Forget the photography buffs; dad and I agreed that film cameras are superior. We got into a satisfying discussion of which color film is best, and how both of us would kind of like to get back into a darkroom to print black-and-white film.

Dad had to go off to teach a computer class, so I went birding at Great Meadows. I worked my way down the central dike, stopping now and then to scan the water for ducks. Another birder, a man carrying a high-end telescope, was making his way down the dike at roughly the same pace as I. Somewhere in the middle of the dike, I said to him that I had got some sparrows, and he came down to see. We wound up talking while we waited for sparrows to break cover and come out where we could see them.

He asked where I lived, and I said New Bedford, and he told me about a house that his grandparents had had on Hawthorne Street in New Bedford. I said I hadn’t seen any ducks yet this year on New Bedford harbor, and he said that the wintering ducks had already started moving in to the Barnstable area. He lived down on the Cape during the warm months, and had just moved back up to his house in Weston on Tuesday. He asked how it happened that I was in Concord that day, and I said I grew up in town, and it turned out that his daughter had married a man who was best friends with Steve S—- who had lived down the street from us when I was young.

We finally saw Swamp Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows (and I was pretty sure I had also seen an immature White Throated Sparrow). But most of the ducks we saw were Mallards. “It’s so quiet out here,” he said. “Listen to those geese. I can even hear that tika-tika-tika sound they make when they’re feeding.” He scanned the ducks with his binoculars. “Twenty years ago, you’d see ninety percent Black Ducks and only a few Mallards. Now it’s the other way around. I used to shoot ducks,” he continued. “What I liked was using the calls to bring the ducks, and working with dogs, and being outdoors. I ate everything I shot. But I stopped in 1982, and haven’t been duck-hunting since.” He put his binoculars up to his eyes for one last scan of the lower pool, hoping to see the Pintails he had thought he had seen earlier; and then he headed back to Weston.

I spent another two hours at Great Meadows. I walked way around to the other end of the lower pool, where I did see eight or a dozen Pintails half obscured in the middle of some wild rice. An hour later, up at the sewage treatment plant, I did see a flock of White-Throated Sparrows, along with a Palm Warbler bobbing its tail, and some other sparrows that I couldn’t be sure of because it was getting dark by then.

It was still too early to brave the traffic on the drive into Cambridge. I decided to stop at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. They had moved Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s body back to Concord, to rest beside her husband Nathaniel Hawthorne, from where she had been buried in England, and I wanted to visit the new grave. Across the path, a man was crouched down, taking a picture of Henry David Thoreau’s grave in the dim light; a woman stood next to him watching. I asked if he was a fan of Thoreau, and he allowed that he was. I told them why I was there. The man asked where Louisa May Alcott’s grave was, and I pointed it out.

They said they had driven ten hours to get here today, and I asked where they were from. “London, Ontario,” said the man. And now as I listened for it I could hear the faint accent of central and prairie Canada: the slight differences in the vowels, especially “o” sounds, and the more precise consonants. “We already have snow on the ground up there,” said the woman. “What’s the climate like here?” I said that we used to have snow on the ground for most of three months, but it was definitely getting warmer. “What with global climate change, you’re probably living in the right place,” I said. “Soon your climate will be temperate.”

As we walked back towards town, we wound up talking about North American politics, particularly the way that both Steven Harper and George Bush have strong ties to the religious right. “But it’s a minority government,” said the man. “Canada is still pretty much liberal,” he continued in his soft Canadian accent. “Harper’s going to have to moderate his views or he could wind up facing an election.” The woman added, in what was not quite a non sequitur: “After all, Elton John came to Canada to get married.” I told them I was counting on the Canadians to hold out against the influence from the south. What I didn’t say was that as a religious liberal, I actually do worry about the United States turning into a theocracy of the religious right, and it would be nice to have a place to flee to.


Carol and I were coming back from an evening walk down to the waterfront, walking across the pedestrian overpass that gets you over Route 18. Car horns blared below us, a couple of cars swerved. Carol said, “Oh, no, watch out, little duck!”

A duck was trying waddle its way across the four lanes of hectic Route 18 traffic. It made it, barely, without being hit. The human beings driving the cars may have been cursing the duck, but they had enough sympathy to avoid running it over.

“Let’s go down and see what’s up with that duck,” I said. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t fly up out of the way. Was it hurt?

We hurried down the other side of the overpass. There was the duck, waddling up the cobblestone street. “That’s a Wood Duck!” I said. I couldn’t imagine what a young female Wood Duck, a wary and secretive bird, would be doing in densely-populated downtown New Bedford.

It did not appear to be hurt. It just looked very scared. When it saw us, it headed back towards Route 18. We herded it the other direction, towards a patch of weeds. It almost flew towards the weeds, so we knew its wings weren’t broken. By the time we got up to the weeds, it was no longer visible. I suspect it was hatched this summer, making its first trip south, confused and scared.

“Poor little duck,” said Carol.

“Maybe a little rest and it will be ready to fly,” I said.

Carol started telling me about the movie “Winged Migration,” which depicts the death of more than a few birds during migration. Downtown New Bedford is not a good place for Wood Ducks; I hope the one we saw tonight makes it out alive.

Buttonwood Park

My laundry was in the dryer, and I decided the evening was too pleasant to waste sitting in the laundromat staring at my clothes going around and round. I walked down to Buttonwood Park.

Plenty of people were out walking on the broad sidewalk at the west end of the park: two middle-aged women out for a fitness walk, a tall exceedingly fit-looking man jogging, a little boy riding a little bicycle with training wheels and his father close behind. Two young people stood in the middle of a gaggle of Mallards and domestic ducks at the edge of the pond, and even though they were right next to a sign that said “Don’t Feed the Ducks/ Por Favor….”, they were feeding the ducks. A pleasant-looking woman striding by looked over at them and said (pleasantly), “Don’t feed the ducks, now.” The two young people guiltily said, “We’re not. They’re eating something else.” The latter sentence was true: the ducks were snapping at big, slow, fat insects rising up from the edge of the pond. “They’re eating the bugs,” said the pleasant-looking woman matter-of-factly, and strode on.

I turned left down the road that bisects the north half of the park, ambling along, feeling logy. Two small girls, who looked to be twins, came tearing down a side path towards the road. “Don’t run out into the road!” shouted an adult voice from far behind them. Laughing, the two girls stopped one another, which involved one girl pulling the other girl’s shirt off her shoulder, and the second girl pushing away the face of the first girl. They got disentangled, still laughing, and resumed tearing along the path, coming to a dead halt at the very edge of the roadway (disconcerting the driver of a huge SUV that had fortunately come to a complete stop at the “Stop” sign at the crosswalk). They turned around in order to look back at the woman walking towards them pushing a stroller, and put on their best angelic faces as if to say, “See? We came to a stop before the road!” The angelic effect was spoiled when one poked the other, and the other whispered something back that made them both giggle.

A hoard of Ring-billed Gulls swirled around the edges of a soccer game, screaming and trying to steal scraps of food from each other, but now I am bored by the gulls that scream all night from the rooftops around our apartment, so I walked on by. Besides, I realized that my laundry would be done soon, and it was time for me to hurry back to the laundromat.

How to stay outdoors after dark

This afternoon, I drove out to Concord. In the fields of the old prison farm, a Greater White-Fronted Goose was supposedly hanging around with the geese that usually live there; I wanted to see this resident of the arctic.

There stood the goose, looking odd with its orange bill. I looked at it for a while, and realized I had a little time before dark, so I drove over to the national wildlife refuge a few miles away. I climbed the observation tower there. As I got up onto the observation deck, a boy’s voice said, “Are you a birder?”

I said, “Well, sort of.” The boy was about 12. He was with a man who had binoculars and never used them, but just seemed to be looking at the scenery.

He said, “You see those ducks out there? –what are they? You can see them in the telescope.”

But I already had my binoculars to my eyes, and could see them well enough to say, “Well, they’re probably Ring-necked Ducks.” Then I looked through the big telescope mounted on the observation deck, the same one that was there when I was a boy. I said why I was sure they were Ring-neck Ducks, with that white streak in front of the wings, and the distinctive shape of their heads.

The boy nodded wisely. “Yeah,” he said.

We talked about birds a little bit; the Red-winged Blackbirds were back; ducks were on the move. I asked if he had seen the Greater White-fronted Goose. Behind me, I could feel the man politely rolling his eyes, the way Carol does when she has to endure listening to people talk about birds. The boy was pretty excited to hear about the goose, though he hid it. I told the boy where to see it, but, as is often the case for someone that age, he didn’t have a strong sense of how to get from one place to another. So I told the man, who knew where I meant. The man had a faint European accent; the boy did not.

“We better tell your mother about it,” said the man, which either meant that the boy’s mother was a birder, or this was a ploy to get the boy down off the observation tower.

“Just FYI,” said the boy to the man, as they began walking down the steep stairs, “a Greater White-Fronted Goose is not something you see every day.”

“Not around here, that’s for sure,” I said in parting. The man smiled, a little tightly, but didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t realize that goose had probably flown down here from Greenland.

I wandered over the dike between the two main pools of the refuge, well behind the boy and the two adults. I don’t think his mother was a passionate birder, because they didn’t seem to stop and look at the Northern Shoveler. I took my time, saw a lot of birds, and wound up getting to my car just as the man was trying to get the boy back down off the observation tower and into their car. “Come on,” the man said in his faint accent, “we have to go now.”

Like the boy, I didn’t want to leave. But I had to get back to New Bedford, and with the light fading fast I no longer had the excuse of staying to look at birds. I slid into my car, started the engine and turned on the headlights. When I pulled out, the boy still wasn’t in the car. Maybe he was doing the right thing; so what if it’s too dark to look at birds any more; so what if he was annoying two adults; any excuse to stay outdoors longer.

Maybe I’m getting too responsible.


I walked across to Pope’s Island today, and over to Fairhaven. A skim of ice covers the quiet backwaters of the harbor on the Fairhaven side. And on the water by the Holiday Inn Express parking lot, two big white graceful birds: a pair of Mute Swans swimming side by side. I also saw dozens of ducks and geese; the inland waters must be freezing over, driving the waterfowl to the estuaries and bays, where the salt content keeps the water mostly open.

The swans had the usual arrogant way of swimming that Mute Swans seem to have. They know they’re pretty so humans won’t touch them; they know they’re bigger than any other animal on the water. All the ducks and geese were fairly shy, and swam warily away as soon as I got too close; but the swans didn’t care where I stood. If they were human, I would have said they’re show-offs.

Waterfowl list for birders: 40 Canada Geese; 2 Mute Swans; ~12 Mallards; 56 Scaup (prob. Greater); 38 Bufflehead; 1 Common Merganser.