poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘waterfowl

American Black Duck

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On our drives along the St. John River this month, we have tried to identify as many ducks as possible.  There are actually not a lot of species to sort through, but we are just learning.  Among the ducks we have seen this May are the American Wigeon (Anas americana), the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), the Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca), and the American Black Duck (Anas rubripes).  These are all Marsh Ducks, surface feeders of ponds and marshes.  The species in this Subfamily feed by ‘dabbling’ and ‘upending’… delightful words!

One weekend, we watched a male American Black Duck for quite a while.  He flew around a bit, flashing his white wing linings, and then floated slowly along a back passageway through the marsh.  He was very dark brown, with a tan head, a yellow beak, and a bluish wing patch. The best part of the experience was his deep croaking, each croak about a second long, and sounding like a little like an unimaginative bullfrog or two pieces of smooth wood being rubbed slowly together.


The poem below requires a short explanation.  Two months ago, I attended a workshop on climate change at the offices of the North Shore Micmac District Council in Eel Ground, New Brunswick.  I was given a gift afterward, a calendar showing the names of the months in the Mi’qmak language.  The names are beautiful and describe well characteristics of the natural world during various times of the year.  For those of you who do not live in this part of the world, the Mi’kmaq are a First Nations people, indigenous to this region.



Frog-Croaking Moon – Etquljuikús

(Mi’qmak name for the May moon)


under the May moon,

bullfrogs glub-grunk,

underscore spring peeper trill


rasp of a Black Duck

rowing in the reeds



of fir and maple

grown to lean on one-another



©  Jane Tims  2012

‘Ducks’ Ditty’

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On Saturday we took a drive along the St. John River, to see if any waterfowl were braving the cold windy day.  The water is slowly receeding but still above summer levels.  On a miserable day, the ducks retreat to the shallows, away from the exposure of the open water.

There were a few birds on the water.  We stopped for a while to watch five male Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) paddling about.  They stuck together as a group, feeding in the shallows and occasionally ‘standing’ on the water to flap their wings.   This time of year, the female Mallards are on the nest, hatching their young, and the males typically hang out in groups with other males until moulting begins.

I am not good at duck identification, but the Mallard is easy to spot, with its bright green head and the white ring around its neck.  I enjoyed watching them through the binoculars, especially their orange legs and feet maneouvering in the muddy water.

The Mallard is a member of the marsh duck family and a ‘dabbler’.  Dabblers obtain their food by skimming it from the surface or tipping up to submerge their heads so they can feed underwater.

I can never watch dabblers on the water without thinking of Kenneth Grahame’s famous poem ‘Ducks’ Ditty’, from the book The Wind in the Willows.  If you don’t have a copy of the book, have a look at the poem at

©  Jane Tims 2012

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