That’s Just Ducky

Mallard females at rest, preening.

New Oxford American Dictionary: DUCK, noun, a waterbird with a broad blunt bill, short legs, webbed feet and a waddling gate…

That description seems to be a little minamalist. What about the staccato wing beats of a team of ducks flashing with the sunshot last light in front of late day dark storm clouds? What of the soft golden feathers that lay across the back of a Gadwall in fresh courtship colors? Or the flash of green on the head of an American Widgeon? And the colors of a Northern Shoveler in breeding plumage?

American Wigeon and a few Northern Pintails flash in the last light of day

Of course ducks are all of this and more. They are color, motion, flight, sound, texture, life. Finding ducks nearby, for us, is a little problematic, no water. Oh it snows here and it rains but our draws and washes run water for only an hour or a day during a typical year. So we have to travel a bit. There are ducks on the river 20 minutes away, a few Mallards in the fall, early winter, Common Mergansers about the same time frame, the occasional Bufflehead and a few Common Goldeneye during the winter.

Ring-necked Duck preening; Road Canyon reservoir, CO

We stumbled on Road Canyon Reservoir, a small natural lake, enlarged with a dam, creating a narrow longish lake sitting above the upper Rio Grande River, while exploring some back roads in the San Juan Mountains, three or four hours from home. It runs kind of east west so the steep north facing slopes bring heavy timber to the waters edge, dark with reflection, the more gentle south facing hills are open grassy slopes, sometimes visited by Bighorn Sheep. Here too are the fishermen, spread along the shore, quietly still fishing just off the narrow dirt road, seemingly ignoring the rafts of ducks swimming all over this high mountain lake. The ducks seem to ignore them as well.

Lesser Scaup [Aythya affinis] adult females with raft of ducklings; Road Canyon reservoir, CO. This is one of several of these rafts, many ducklings with a few adults keeping an eye on them, and with good reason, a Bald Eagle was keeping an eye on them as well
Lesser Scaup [Aythya affinis] nursery of ducklings, foraging; Road Canyon reservoir, CO

We were gobsmacked by the numbers of ducks here, Redheads, Mallards, Ring-necked, Lesser Scaup, Common Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks and others. Now this isn’t the Central Flyway with a gobzillion ducks and at least that many lakes, this is in the Rocky Mountains so maybe we are impressed because some are a whole lot more than none. Spring here (early summer, elsewhere) finds the surface of Road Canyon nearly covered with flotillas of ducklings with their attendant mothers. For us, this is a delight and it’s enough.

Ring-necked Duck [Aythya collaris] pair resting & preening; Road Canyon reservoir, CO
Lesser Scaup [Aythya affinis] adult with ducklings, hauled out on rock to rest; Road Canyon reservoir, CO