Our Wetlands Return and so do the Ducks!

January 1, 2019 10am.

It is a clear, cold, icy day with the sky above me an astounding blue. I am out in the western area of the mitigation lands, drawn here to find the ducks I have been hearing out where Mill creek overflows. As I approach over the wet and muddy pasture, I can see that the pasture has been turned into shallow wetlands for almost the entire distance to Outlet Creek. The air is filled with the many sounds of different waterfowl. The squeaky toy sound of the American Wigeon always stands out to me, the quacking of the Mallards, the high pitched sound of the diminutive Green-winged teal, and right now I am hearing a lot of loud honking from, what looks like, hundreds of Canada Geese. It is such a pleasing sight. There is something so satisfying about witnessing this, the arrival of all of these different ducks and geese. They are quite busy with each other and in the marshy pasture, eating and interacting as though this is where they have always been. In the mix, I see some Cinnamon teal, and a few White-fronted geese also grazing in the watery pasture. It is reminiscent of the central valley bird refuges like the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, only of course, on a much smaller scale. As I watch, a Northern harrier flies past causing a small ruckus to break out among the flocks, some of them rising up in a noisy display, others staying quiet, frozen in fear. This hawk is not so much a bird eater but seems to be feared anyways. It is tricky to not spook them myself, and I decide to retreat and leave them to their peace. As I walk away I listen to the contented sounds of so many species cohabitating in a relatively small area and wonder about all of the relationships that are present. Are some of these based on the need for protection, the smaller ducks depending on the larger noisier, larger, ducks and geese for warning them about predators, or even for warmth on these super cold nights? What are they finding to eat out there? Where did they come from and how far did they have to fly to get here? Are they the same ducks and geese as last year or their offspring? How can we improve this habitat for them?

It is fascinating to observe these winter migrants who depend on our wetlands for getting through the harshness of our winter climate.