Wondrous waterways.


JANUARY 5, 2009

It could almost look like the surface of the moon, but the patch of open water glowing with a slight pinkish yellow tinge from the setting sun unmasks the disguise worn by the Scarborough Marsh. I stopped by the marsh on my way home to see if I could find any ducks close enough to the road to photograph. I wanted to share my story today of a great bird watching experience, and wanted a photo of ducks to go along with it. Alas, none were close enough to be captured by my longest lens; nor were the two spectacular birds I saw earlier in the afternoon in Westbrook.

I had spent the morning volunteering at Maine Audubon in Falmouth. A call came in from an avid birder to let the staff naturalist, Eric, know that the tufted duck Eric had spotted yesterday in Westbrook had moved farther up the river, above the falls by the mill. The caller, Lloyd, also noted that a wood duck could still be found among the mallards below the falls. So what’s so special about a couple of ducks? Well, wood ducks are normal summer residents in Maine, but in the winter they go to warmer climes, and aren’t usually seen north of New Jersey. I had only ever seen this striking bird in photographs and had long wanted to catch a glimpse of one in nature. The tufted duck is an even greater rarity. It breeds in northern Eurasia and is an uncommon visitor to North America. There have only ever been five or fewer documented sightings of this bird in Maine.

When my shift ended, I drove to Portland to make a site visit for a photo shoot I’ll be doing next week and then headed out to Westbrook, binoculars in hand. As I walked along the path by the river below the falls, a car pulled alongside me. The driver asked if I had seen the tufted duck. I told him about the report of its new location and said I was going to see if I could spot the wood duck first. The car headed up to the other side of the river as I continued down the path. Hmmm … I only see gulls — ah, there are the mallards — a ton of them. I began scanning them with the binoculars. Mallard, mallard, mallard — I’ll never spot the wood duck — who even knows if it’s still here? Then all of a sudden, I spy a beak that looks different. I focus in and see this very beautiful bird — multi-colored, multi-patterned — what a spectacular creature! After drinking him in for a while, I headed upriver. I found the occupants of the car standing on a snow bank overlooking the river above the falls. As they helped me climb up the slippery mound, they told me they had come down from Waterville, about 70 miles away, for a chance to see the tufted duck. They had found it swimming with a group of four ring-necked ducks and had trained their spotting scope on it. What a lucky break for me! The scope is a more powerful viewing instrument than my binoculars are, so I was able to get a great view of this rare bird.

I almost burst into song — “What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in …” It’s those small, unexpected delights that have a way of making us forget our troubles, to be grateful for the day at hand, and to look forward to what the next new day may hold.

2 Responses to “Wondrous waterways.”

  1. Brenda Stuart Says:

    Kathleen we met last winter at the Scarborough Historical Society, A Celebration in Photography. Do you remember? I just now found your business card and so now we connect again. I really like your blog and have only now discovered how well you narrate the stills. This pink in winter on the marsh creates such emotion and to think that you included it….nice captcha!

    It’s been so cold I haven’t walked the marsh for a very long time. Soon now I think. You’ve crossed my mind many times over this past winter and finally I found the card. Coincidentally this evening I heard the call of the cardinal for the first time this spring. Often it is the little things that lift us up.

    ps I would love to get together with you.

  2. admin Says:

    Hi, Brenda. Glad you’re enjoying my blog. I just drove past the Scarborough Marsh and saw my first egret of the season. Warmer days are sure to follow.

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