May 20, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 14 August 2008 14:17
Longtime correspondent John McGinley of Wilton sends along a couple of entertaining observations.
“I spent an interesting hour at the lake in Mead Park, New Canaan, this afternoon,” he wrote a couple of weeks ago. “A Great Egret had just caught an immense frog. He was trying to kill it by both shaking and drowning it. Finally he tried to swallow it — in fact several times. Back to shaking and drowning; four times he tried to get it down.
“The last time he actually got all but the hind legs down. Then with a mighty effort, it all disappeared — only to get coughed up again.
“I thought he’d give up, deciding it was too big. But finally, he gave it one last effort and it disappeared down his gullet.
“Then there was the problem of getting it down the long, thin neck. This took time, swallowing throat motions, extensions of the neck out and back, waiting, and then he did it! I couldn’t see it as a bulge going down; it just disappeared.
“What happened to chewing 20 times before swallowing? Guess I’m just old-fashioned. Must have weighed a ton in his belly.
“I wondered if he could fly. He answered by flying to a new hunting spot as if nothing had happened.”
John continues: “For birders who have never seen one, there are several male Wood Ducks in that pond in their ‘eclipse’ phase. The great color is gone; they look much like the females but for the eyes. Eclipse phase is in the book but I don’t know what it is. Molting? Non-breeding?”
Most male ducks go through a period in mid- to late-summer where they molt their showy feathers and don ones that make them look a lot like females. This occurs in many species, including Mallards and Wood Ducks, and includes a period in which they lose flight feathers and must stick to land or water. Wearing plainer clothing helps camouflage them during a time when they are more susceptible to predation.
The phase doesn’t last long. Because courting among ducks begins in the fall, male ducks soon go through another molt, and begin sporting the showy feathers with which to woo potential mates.
Birds in their eclipse phase are often tricky to identify. Sally and I were kayaking on Long Pond in the White Mountains National Forest of New Hampshire Sunday, and saw a pair of ducks that a friend identified as Wood Ducks. I didn’t believe him at first because, from a distance the male looked so little like the handsome, easily identified versions we see in spring and fall.
“Eclipse,” incidentally, comes from a Greek word that means “failure to appear in its accustomed place” and among its meanings today is “loss of brilliance or splendor.”
“I have a Downy Woodpecker with a high IQ,” adds John. “When the black oil sunflower seed feeder gets jammed up, most birds give up. Not this bird. He starts drumming on the feeder! It loosens the logjam, letting the seed flow freely.”
“Bird-thanks are passed around and everyone eats once more.”
HawkWatch Weekend Festival, bird-themed workshops, walks, games, shows, raptor counting, ‘green’ vendors, and much more, Sept. 13 and 14, Audubon Greenwich and Quaker Ridge Bird Club, 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x239.
Bird Watching Cruises on Long Island Sound and Norwalk Harbor, with Larry Flynn, wildlife conservationist, Saturdays from 7:30 to 10:30, aboard 40 passenger ferry, $20, Norwalk Seaport Association, from Seaport dock, Water Street, 203-838-9444, www.seaport.org.
Bird walks with Luke Tiller, mostly Saturdays at 8 a.m., $10 each; to register, www. sunrisebirding. com/ walks.htm; 203-981-9924, luke.tiller @ gmail.com.
First Sundays, birding at Greenwich Point with Meredith Sampson of Wild Wings, and other guides, meet at the second concession stand, 203-637-9822.
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