The Ohio River has remained high and muddy the last couple of weeks. It’s summer, past mid July when we usually find the river retreated to its summer pool. This approaches the time when the fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the river would be exposed. The little bit of flooding that occurred has displaced more than random logs and debris. I was investigating the riverbank under the railroad bridge and came across an interesting mix of ducks.
Joining the wild, female Mallards with their iridescent blue-violet speculum on their wings was a small group of domesticated ducks. More than likely the river overwhelmed a farm pond somewhere which was the opportunity the domesticated ducks needed to swim away and explore the larger world.
They landed at the Falls of the Ohio and are sharing a vacation together. White and piebald (a mix of black and white) are the colors of domestication. These farm ducks are also much larger than their wilder cousins.
The Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) is our most common species of duck and can be found at the Falls throughout the year. I once stumbled upon a Mallard nest that was built inside a hollow log. When the mother-to-be flushed out of the log, the surprise took a few years off my lifespan! They are members of the duck family known as “dabblers”. Mallards hang out near the zone where water and land meet. They have specialized bills for feeding in shallow water. Mallards prefer small grass and sedge seeds for food, but will also strain the water and mud for small organisms. I have come across other ducks at the Falls of the Ohio that are hybrids of Mallards and domesticated ducks. Many duck species must be closely related to one another because other inter-species hybrids have been documented.
I have also recently photographed an unusual duck for the Falls of the Ohio. On a recent foray to the river I came across this Blue-ringed Dabbler ( Anas azurcephalos) plying its trade at the water’s edge. This diminutive duck is native to the western part of North America and rarely strays east of the Mississippi River. Perhaps it found its way here because of the recent storms that have tracked west to east across the country? Domesticated ducks are not the only birds affected by severe weather.
The Blue-ringed Dabbler is an unusual duck in that it nests in trees or more specifically, in the holes created and abandoned by larger woodpeckers. This formerly rare duck is now on the increase because conservationists have taken advantage of this breeding preference by setting out nest boxes which the Blue-ringed Dabbler will accept. A similar program helped the colorful Wood Duck to recoup its former population numbers.
This is a female Blue-ringed Dabbler identified by its browner coloration and lack of iridescent color on the wings. The dabbler regarded me for a while before swimming off to a deeper part of the river where I lost track of it. I returned the next day to see if I could find this duck again, but it was gone. I get a big kick out of recording bird species that are not a part of the official bird checklist distributed by the Falls of the Ohio State Park. I love bringing these rarities to the attention of hard-core birders who will only accept as evidence good photographic proof or multiple sightings recorded by multiple birders. They can be a suspicious lot and highly competitive. Often bird watchers present themselves as being more interested in what number a particular bird represents on a life list than in the bird itself which seems to me to miss the whole point of watching birds.
Although I never saw the Blue-ringed Dabbler again, I did however, locate a couple of the domesticated ducks I had seen the previous week. They were investigating the waterline in a particularly muddy area. I was shocked to discover the dead fish in the foreground upon downloading my images. I certainly don’t remember seeing this when I snapped this picture. I doubt these ducks will ever find their way to the farm again, but for now…they seem content. I’ll end today’s post with one other image of the Blue-ringed Dabbler that I came across on the internet. It shows a bird in the hand of a conservationist. So long for now!