Tag Archives: waterfowl

A Hunter’s Journal, Part Two

8 Nov

Friday, Nov. 7
Clear and cold and still. Low Temp +23F 
Forecast called for “south, southwest winds, 10-15, gusting to 25, laying down later in the day.” At Belva Deer south winds are not the best, but they can still be hunted effectively. Thursday, while I volunteered at the Food Pantry, the wind howled out of the North, and the temperature dropped to more winter-like numbers, and the sun was apparent only briefly.
The full moon was day-bright at 4 a.m. and the temperature was a cool 23F as I loaded the two Labs that make up my hunting party for the hour’s drive. As we launched, Ark, Kris, and I became absorbed in the stillness that comes with the changing of the seasons. An eerie mist was rising off the cooling waters, and hanging in tendrils straight up to the moon that made the fact I’d left my spotlight home on the counter meaningless.
As we navigated the flooded woods out of the county’s refuge, I could see with unbelievable detail the point I usually hunt on west and north winds, and we kept to the far shoreline where the forested hills end abruptly at the waterline without fear of ramming a snag as they were clearly visible.
When we got to the bay with the southern shoreline, I sat in the boat for an hour waiting for the slightest hint that the wind would indeed come from the south, if it came at all.
The wait gave me time to soak in the beauty of the moment, knowing that no matter how hard I might try, I’d never be able to convey that feeling to those who’ve never experienced it, and knowing full well that those of us who have don’t need words like these to remind them.
Finally the mist started slanting from the south to the north and I set the decoys knowing that the diver ducks like to land at the head of the flock while the mallards, geese and other puddle ducks prefer to land at the rear. I alw77ays remember at that moment a lesson from years ago, “How would you like to glide in for a landing over a bunch of birds who at any second might pop straight up in front of you?”
But all my strategic placement of decoys and careful concealment of the boat blind were wasted on this morning. Other than three LBDs (a takeoff on the mycologist’s scientific term for unidentifiable “Little Brown Mushrooms) and a lot of crows, there were no birds on the lake.
I can only conclude that the heavy north winds and sudden drop in temperature sent the hundreds of birds I’d seen on Wednesday on their way south. That’s duck hunting in the temperate climes of the U.S. – a here today; gone tomorrow proposition. There is no real reason for birds to stay in the refuge on Belva Deer. Everything they find here is available hundreds of miles south of here except for the cold.
We wrapped up the vigil and were back home before noon with nothing to show for our efforts but a hauntingly beautiful memory of a mirror-like lake bathed in the wash of the moon as spooky mists of warmer times made their escape for the season.
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A Hunter’s Journal 2014

5 Nov

Saturday, Oct. 25
Balmy weather, bright sunshine, brisk south wind
I opened the duck season without firing a shot, or even setting a decoy. I chose to scout the Sedan Bottoms near Moulton, IA, a giant state wildlife management area near the Chariton River flowage.

Friday, Oct. 31
Warm, windy, out of the northwest, bright sun
I finally went hunting for real at Lake Belva Deere near Sigourney, IA. It was really a “flag cutting” trip, but lo and behold, in the spirit of Halloween, a three ring necks fell for my diver rig trick, two of them treated Susie and me with a special dinner – we marinated them in soy and fresh ginger grilled with onions, peppers and mushrooms on ‘fire wire’ gizmos that really make shish-ka-bobbing simple. They were tasty. I got the recipe from Wisconsin hunters in North Dakota when I made a trip to Devil’s Lake with Dave Schwarz back in the late 1990s (98 or 99, I can’t recall.) The motel was full of hunters, and on Wednesday night we all, without any planning or announcement, broke out our grills and favorite recipes, and before long everybody was just roaming around sampling and getting recipes. We did little-duck breasts basted with Good Seasons Italian dressing. It was a hit, too.

Sunday, Nov. 2
Warm temperatures, bright sun, brisk south wind
I walked in for an afternoon hunt at Sedan Bottoms. Saw a few ducks, learned a bit about the lay of the land, and decided that afternoon walk-ins would be the best way to familiarize myself with those wetlands. It was thrilling to walk in, however, the first time since I can’t remember. I came home reinvigorated by the “hunting” without much consideration about success, totals, or lost birds. I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth the effort to drag our pond skiff into the water and hunt from that. I think I’ll check with a game warden and see there are any rules against such behavior (other than common sense. It might be 500 yards to the water at what I call “parking area 2 on my GPS.)

Tuesday, Nov. 4
It rained earlier in the night, low, overcast sky, temperature in the Low 40s, northwest wind, gusting towards 20 mph
Back at Belva Deer I’ve told Susie that if I get the chance to walk Kris Kringle to a down bird, and he won’t pick it up, it’ll be the end of my dream for him. He just doesn’t care about a) hunting and b) being under voice control. He minds, but he hates it, I can tell.
I had low expectations when I got the diver, goose and mallard rigs set and because the water is finally high enough, I got to set up the boat blind for only the second time since I came to Iowa. I hid it behind the spit of a point that I’ve hunted over and over again, shooting an occasional goose or a few divers. Kris really doesn’t give a rip about sitting on the dog deck; prefers to be curled up under my feet – no matter where my feet might be.
Shooting time was 6:17 a.m., and I was in the boat blind and didn’t have my gun loaded as birds started swarming the decoys. It was so dark I couldn’t see them low on the water. I hurried and got the 1187 loaded, as bird after bird dived on me, some diver groups of 20-30 birds, a few puddle duck groups of a dozen or so – who knows what species, there were birds everywhere. After about 10 minutes, I had a flock come into the decoys, obviously not divers, and two flared above the horizon, and I shot one. It hit the water between me and first decoy, and I hurried out of the boat with Kris in hot pursuit. When I got to the water’s edge, I called him to heel, and he came and sat just like a training exercise. I put my hand in front of his nose and told him to “mark” and when he saw the bird, I said, “Kris!” and he tip-toed into the water, reached the bird and gave it a sniff, but it was apparent he wasn’t certain if he wanted to pick it up. “Fetch!” I said with some enthusiasm, and he took it in his mouth – A FIRST! He’d never picked up a dead bird in the past. He brought it back, dropped it and shook. Picked it up and brought it to me. His first retrieve, just 2 months shy of his third birthday.
We got back in the blind and the birds really started decoying, and I shot like I’d never hunted before. I had about 20 shells on board when I started, and by 7:35 I had four birds on the strap and two birds that were down but lost in the tall grass. If I had brought Ark out of his retirement, I would have certainly had a 6-bird limit.
The birds were still flying and decoying, but I was down to my last shell, and a guy can’t shoot at a working bird without having another shell available – what if it was down but lively? A guy can’t waste birds like that.
I even missed birds that had landed in my decoys. I flushed them with my gun 90 percent mounted, and missed my intended target three times, shooting right over the top of him each time. I could see the shot hitting the water. Apparently I never completed the final 10 percent of the mounting process.
We chased two birds that had fallen into the lake and were blowing away from us in the boat. Both were recovered and they were the first Shovelers I have ever shot! The drake looked like an out-sized Blue Wing Teal until his over-sized bill registered on my brain. I initially thought the hen was a Gadwall, but again the noggin gave it away. I found the drake floating near shore several hundred yards down wind of our decoys, and I got out the boat, and took the opportunity to give Kris his second lifetime retrieve. He had to be encouraged to get out of the boat, but once in the water he “took his line” and tip toed over to the bird, sniffed it a few times and came home without it.
My final bird was a beautiful drake Mallard who came to the decoys with wings set, feet down and died right in the kill slot of my decoy setup. Even that close to shore, I would probably have to go get him with the boat, but I walked Kris to the water’s edge, gave him the line and he went into the water, and, when the bottom fell away, he swam to the bird. The drake was dying, but could still paddle a bit, and Kris wasn’t certain at first, sniffing of the bird as it tried in vain to escape, and, finally, at the command “fetch,” he brought it back to me, held it all the way to me, and presented it, just like a training exercise!
But there is absolutely no appearance that he takes any joy or even real interest in the bird, the swim or anything. He got back into the boat and immediately crawled down to sleep on a decoy bag at my feet.
The birds created a reef about 200 yards down wind and in the middle of the lake, and worked my decoys and the reef without any real break for about an hour after that. It was thrilling to me.
Tomorrow I’m going back. There’s no reason to expect those birds to be there. They are obviously newcomers and while tomorrow will be windy, it’s supposed to be sunny and 60. I’m taking Ark with us. Susie is adamant that I give Kris every opportunity for the light to click on for him, and I’m hoping a little competition from Ark might just do it.
But I’m no longer thinking this is going to work out. He makes a great buddy for taking walks in the woods; he’s a loving and lovable pet, but I don’t think he’s ever going to hunt.

Wednesday, Nov. 5
Balmy west, southwest wind around 10; high cirrus clouds, marking the front that’s moving in left the day partly sunny
I now call Susie the “lab whisperer.”
The ripple generated by the breeze that greeted us an hour before shooting time at Belva Deer went completely flat just as legal shooting time arrived. We had ducks aplenty in the decoys up until then, but with no motion (I didn’t set the jerk line as the decoys were moving so nicely…) the birds cut us a wide berth for the next thirty minutes or so, then the zephyr got back on the job, but by then there were several hundred birds building a raft out in the middle of the lake, and that was tough competition.
It felt strange to have Ark in the boat again. At age 12, he’s been retired for several years, but with a predicted high temperature of 60, I thought he could handle a little work, and it really paid off. Susie, who has always been great with bird dogs but who has never hunted over one, is adamant that Kris Kringle just needs experience to “catch on” to what is expected of a duck dog in my boat.
When a hen Blue Bill came out of nowhere and landed in the kill slot between the diver and puddle duck rigs, I decided that training a Labrador was the overriding purpose of the morning, so I shot it.
Kris was asleep on the dog deck, but Ark was on watch, and hit the water at the shot (he was really steady to shot when he was a puppy, then my lack of training skills overpowered his fine breeding) and Kris came to life to watch. The pup immediately put two and two together, and decided he wanted to join the show, but couldn’t figure out how to exit the boat into the water – He’d never done that before except in training out of the pond boat in our yard!
He finally overcame his reluctance to jump in just as Ark turned the back corner of the boat with the bird. For the first time, Kris showed interest in a bird, albeit a bird in Ark’s control, but interest all the same.
When I got the bird in hand, I showed it to Kris. In previous instances, he had shown no interest or excitement in close proximity to the bird, but this time, he sniffed and licked a bit, his tail sending all the right signals…
We sat through enough close call, no sale, episodes that Kris lost his new interest in sitting up and watching, and curled up to sleep on the deck while Ark maintained his vigil.
I remembered Ark as a young pup. He too had often slept on watch in his early years, but that all ended on foggy morning on the Columbia River. I could hear the geese above, but the pea soup made visibility impossible. I finally figured it was the same for them, so I started calling, and much to my surprise a pair of geese, wings locked and necks craned, sailed through my decoys. I was so taken aback that my strategy had worked, I failed to even pick up my gun.
Talk about sleeping on the job…
But the next time I heard the birds calling, I responded and was ready when the goose appeared like magic. I folded him up neatly, but his momentum carried him over a small spit of land, so his crash into the water was heard but not seen.
Ark came out of his slumber, of course, but couldn’t see anything on the water. I lined him up on the end of the spit, and sent him. When he got to the end of the grass, I whistled him to a stop, and he took my “turn left” signal as I blew the two-short-note peeps that mean “back!” in his whistle training, and he responded. As he headed around the end of the spit, I saw his ears perk up and he shifted gears, and I knew my boy had just “handled” to his first goose retrieve. I was higher than Kilroy’s kite, I can tell you.
So we sat for about an hour, and then a flock of 20 or 30 Bills made the now familiar downwind sweep of our set, and then, at the extent of the body of water we were set up on, they turned left just as all the rest had done before them, but instead of climbing for altitude and skedaddling down the lake, these guys stayed right on the water and bee-lined it to our rig. I was ready, I thought, but man oh man those Scaup are fast!
I started to “pop up” out of the blind when they were some sixty yards to the north of the decoys. When I cleared the blind upright, they were on me! By the time I got the gun mounted, they were past me, and as I swung after the closest bird, I was shooting due south! But for a change I must have gotten the gun all the way up and swinging, because the drake Bill folded cleanly… into dense shoreline grass and weeds.
But I was buoyed by having my Ark on hand, so we got out of the boat and the old boy got active as I called out, “Dead bird! Find him!”
This is a game Susie never ceases to enjoy with the boys. She locks them in the bathroom, hides Milk Bones around the house, and then, with a great deal of excitement, she cheers them on with “Dead bird!” “Hunt dead!” and the like until one or the other finds the treat.
This has always worked on our dogs (We got our first Lab in 1969, and she’s done this game over and over.) Kris too likes the Milk Bone game, but he has shown no interest in applying his interest to other pursuits.
On this morning, however, a page turned in our young Lab’s story. While Ark immediately put his nose to the wind looking for a sign from the “dead bird,” Kris started quartering through the thick cover! I’ve had him do that many times as we walked and practiced upland hunting, but he’s never found anything. On this day I watched with amazement as his ears perked, his tail went into overdrive, and his normal long-legged bound was replaced with a more animated and erratic stop-start-turn-stop-start cadence as he tried to sort out the story his nose was telling him. I held my breath. He suddenly went stiff, and I saw a hint of indecision. “Kris, fetch!” I barked, and he immediately plunged his head into the thick grass and came out with a nearly dead drake Lesser Scaup – his first, in my opinion, actual retrieve!
He brought it right to me, and there was animation in his body language for the first time. He was proud, really! I let him carry the bird all the way back to the boat before calling him in. He gently gave up the bird to hand, and I really laid the loving on him, you can be sure.
I found it interesting that Ark made no advance toward Kris while he was carrying the bird. I have always been surprised at Ark’s willingness to accept Kris to his home. My other older dogs, when we brought a puppy home, read the writing on the wall and made it obvious they’d kill the little nipper first chance. Not Ark. He has been like a much older brother or a youngish uncle. He plays with Kris from time to time, but mostly he ignores him.
On this morning, I choose to believe that in some way he understood this was a big deal in a young dog’s life, and gave him center stage.
When we were back in the boat, and the wind had dwindled again to nothing, Kris went sound asleep. I sneaked a biscuit to the old boy, and after he had crunched it up, he poked his head through the blind door and nudged my hand. I showed him it was empty, and he positioned his ear right where I could scratch it the way he likes best… I think we shared a moment.
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The Lovelorn Mallard

16 Feb

When the lure of the Red Drum (red fish) called to us this winter, we went to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. There was a familiar “deep South” feel to Grand Isle and surrounding environs, with their elevated homes and businesses, lush green “winter” look and the contradiction of grand homes and estates on one side of the navigation canal and the shotgun homes and trailers on the other.

It brought back memories of our short stint in Natchez, Mississippi. It was a great period in our lives. Our children were the only white riders on the school bus, and while they were treated nicely by the other children, they took away a real awareness of what it means to be a minority in America. None of the other neighborhood children attended public schools, and thus did not ride the bus.

While we were there only a short time, it was a learning experience in a whole new world out there.

Hunting ducks in shirt sleeves on Thanksgiving; it was the “early season.” And there was a quail hunt that allowed me to win a regional writing award for my newspaper.

But as the drive to the Gulf provided me with plenty of time for nostalgia about our time in Dixie, one part of that story kept haunting me, and that was the episode of the lovelorn duck.

Our home in the Natchez Trace Estates consisted of a nice home, some outbuildings and a portion of a 2 to 3-acre pond; one of series of ponds that snaked through the subdivision. It was pleasing to find out right away that a hen and drake mallard pair called our pond home. We arrived in fall, just before hunting season up north.

In those days, Susie stayed home to help the rest of us settle in, and she had turned her elementary education background full force on our family. She exercised her bulletin board decorating skills without fail at every holiday opportunity. She had boxes and boxes of appropriate materials for any holiday Hallmark could think of.

Then she read about wild mallard duck eggs for sale at a local feed store, and she began a hunt for an incubator so our kids could watch the miracle of birth up close and personal.

All she needed were some duck eggs, and as the hunting season wound to a close in late January, the pair of mallards on our pond answered her call. The hen just started laying eggs willy-nilly around the yard. Susie collected them and placed them in the incubator.

This all tied together the morning we discovered that an owl also called our neighborhood home, and it had in fact attacked the drake mallard. I learned of this wildlife tragedy as I came home from hunting Louisiana’s famed Catahoula Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The kids met me as I backed the duck boat into the car port, excitedly describing the headless drake and wondering what had happened to it.

I explained again the natural events of predator and prey, and, as usual, they pretended to understand, but still felt sad for the drake.

The next day, I got a double-barrel taste of the sadness when I came home to hear about the hen. Susie had a pent-up day’s worth of anecdotal evidence that the hen was grieving the loss of a loved one, just like we would in similar situations. I don’t believe in personification with animals. They’re animals, and I love them as they are, I don’t permit myself to give them opposable thumbs or the ability to weigh options and select a course of action. I love Bambi as the fantasy it is, nothing more.

To a busy editor without much of a reputation for sympathy, this was just column fodder, and that weekend I wrote about the tragedy that we were witnessing as day after day the hen appeared to mourn her departed partner.

On the last day of the season I hunted, and when I got home, on a whim, I tossed a drake mallard decoy into the pond near where the two live birds had spent so much time loafing together.

The hen was fooled completely.

She was so excited she couldn’t leave that decoy alone. She preened in front of it; dived under it to come up in the mallard version of the Missionary Position, but it was unrequited in every possible way.

She would literally swim in circles around it for a time, quacking and even moaning before flying off in a huff only to come back over and over again with the same results.

This went on for two weeks, and the editor couldn’t resist updating the readers on these very human-like conditions being displayed by a mallard hen in our pond.

Then a sympathetic reader who had the ability plus a romantic turn, showed up on February 14 with a wild mallard drake he’d captured. He’d trimmed the bird’s flight feathers so it could move around without much danger that he’d fly off.

The hen happened to be in the next pond down the street when this obliging gent explained his intentions to Susie, then proceeded to pull the bird out of its cage and toss it up so it could glide/fly down the slope of lawn to the water. As it lit, it let out its amazing “qwik, qwik” call that seems so soft yet carries so far.

The hen heard it and came flying over the levee, spied the newcomer and with a series of welcome “hey, hey, hey” calls lit right next to the drake. He noticed her, too. After a series of flirtatious head bobs, they apparently reached some mutually agreeable conclusion, and started swimming side by side off to the part of the pond where the shoreline was less maintained… the mallard equivalent of “get a room?”

Suddenly the hen stopped and looked back at the decoy swaying on the breeze, and then, with a “don’t ever say I didn’t give you a second chance” approach, she circled the decoy twice, clucking at it. Again, the non-responsive phony stayed mum.

Then, with an almost audible “sniff!” she pecked that decoy right in the middle of the back so hard it bounced on the end of its cord and sent ripples all around the pond. Then she regained her composure, shook to get every feather in its proper place, and with what was obviously a new swagger to her tail feathers, caught up with her new beau and sailed away to matrimonial bliss.

Post Script.

While that final scene with that decoy made one last entry in the newspaper, it wasn’t the end of the story.

Susie and the kids, with the help of the incubator, brought off a clutch of two baby mallards – a hen and a drake. (Yes, you can sex wild birds easily at birth: the hens have orange bills; the drakes have olive green bills otherwise they are identical in their appearance.)

Meanwhile, the newly weds wasted no time on their own, actually building a nest in the tall weeds and one day some time after our pair emerged they paraded their own clutch up and down the pond.

The incubator’s chicks had gone swimming the first day, but they imprinted on Susie who took them down to the water while natural born chicks imprint on their mom. These critters feed themselves, clean themselves, and are in every way imaginable, self-sufficient from birth. Chick starter on the porch for the Balcom clutch proved to be a big hit with the wild bunch, too, so pretty soon it was possible to open the front door and find all the babies and two adults in the yard.

Susie’s birds had to be coaxed into the water at first, but then they were more often out there swimming than crawling all over her and the kids in the living room.

Interestingly enough, while the mated pair had no problem mixing our hen baby with their brood, the drake would have nothing to do with our drake baby. Our little guy was ostracized from all the group swims, preens and bug hunts. The tiny hen who was his clutch mate stayed with him, choosing her birth-partner over the adults and other babies.

And, when it finally came time for our babies to abandon us completely to live with the wild birds full time, it was heartbreaking to see the wild flock packed around and under the hen and drake as the sun went down, while our babies were 10 feet away, silently living alone.

The final chapter was written one night on the wings of death as the owl took our baby drake; left the body and took the head as is their want. Within hours, our baby hen was just another part of the wild brood.

Years later, it was great to be back in the sun and warmth the South offers during February. It is a great place and a great time to be out there, enjoying the wildlife lessons available to anyone who takes the time to observe and learn.

Wood Duck Wonders

9 Jan

Wood ducks have always captured my imagination out there.

They’re weird little creatures from the hen’s white eyeliner and mournful cry to the drake’s fantastic colors so easily hidden to the human eye until they explode off the water.

And, they frequent water that holds trout. For an angler they’re often a fulfilling side show to an evening chasing trout.

They nest in trees, and as their populations declined decades ago from the dwindling number of hollow hardwoods in the North Country, they became a cause célèbre for the outdoors set.

Before long the countryside was littered with little boxes nailed to trees for the specific purpose of fooling a hen woodie into mistaking the box for a hollow tree. We’d staple a piece of hardware cloth inside below the fake hole in the tree to help the chicks climb out and we felt good about helping the species.

But there are still hollow trees, and you can count on a woodie hen to find them.

Once, I came home from a trying day at the office to be greeted at the door by a beaming wife who couldn’t wait to tell me about the excitement of the day: A clutch of wood ducks hatched right in our front yard!

From a hole some 30 feet up the tree, they came one at a time plummeting to the ground, bouncing up in the air like fuzzy ping pong balls as they hit. Each was then met by the hen who hurried them into the shrubs by the porch where she would call some more until another came hurtling down to join the flock.

Really? Oh, yes, she assured me. She had the details flat: “There were 12 chicks, and when the 12th one joined the parade, the hen marched them right across the street to the neighbor’s swimming pool where they had their inaugural swim! The whole thing took more than an hour for all the ducklings to get up the courage to make that suicidal leap!”

Last seen, she told me, the wood duck family was marching up the street to the city land that held the water tower and not much else.

I was shocked. Not so much by the vivid recounting of this magnificent outdoor experience enjoyed by my wife and young daughter. No, my real shock came that all the time that was going on I and my full camera bag were 6 blocks away with nothing better to do than edit copy on one of the slower news days of the year.

It was a sore point for some days following that, but Susie has always been supportive of my being out there, and one oversight shouldn’t diminish her many other fine qualities. At least that what she tells me even 30 years later whenever I bring it up…

But there have been other wood duck sightings in which I did participate. Like the spider web event.

It had snowed lightly the night before I found myself floating the Owasco Inlet in Upstate New York. As was my custom, Susie would drop off her car at my take-out point, then we’d drive upstream and I’d launch my little boat, decoys, etc. at the bridge. She’d transfer the truck back to the take-out point and go home.

Not every guy’s wife will do that kind of thing at 4 a.m. on a Sunday; at least that’s what Susie says even after 30 years or every time I bring up missing the great front-yard wood duck hatch.

Any way, that morning, I drifted down to an ox bow bend where I had a farmer’s permission to set up decoys and shoot from his bank. It didn’t always produce great hunting, but that little spot provided some fantastic late-season memories.

That morning was a nice, quiet seat in the outdoors. About 10 a.m. I decided I’d had enough quiet, and picked up to go home. Going home would take me through the black-water swamp that marks the beginning of the south end of Owasco Lake. No matter what the season, it’s dark in there, and in the winter there is usually a pretty well-defined undercut bank in places.

As I was rowing and drifting down the river, I noticed about 25 yards ahead of me a beautiful spider web completely etched in the snow from the previous night. While the snow had all melted out in the open, I thought, here it was left untouched by the warmth of the sun. I decided to row over and get a better look.

As I approached it, it started to move away from me! That’s when I realized that it wasn’t a spider web, but a drake woodie with his top knot all spread out, and its white streaks of feather resembling a garden spider’s nest!

And then there was the disappearing hen event.

I was fishing Fish Creek in Montcalm County, Michigan in the early 1970s. I’d just come home from the service and was enjoying reacquainting myself. Fish Creek was a hidden jewel in those days with a healthy population of eye-popping browns.

I was looking for one of those giants when I noticed a hen woodie coming down the river at full speed, and then seemingly she disappeared. A few minutes later, I noticed her again, this time she flew upstream, outside the streamside brush, banked left and then, as she flew towards me she disappeared again.

She was flying along and went behind a tree and never came out!

When I saw her do it a third time, I lost all interest in brown trout. I got out of the water and crept up the trail until I could see the upstream-side of the tree, and sure enough there it was, about 15 feet up in the air, a perfect hole just the right size for a wood duck nesting box.

I sat down and waited. I didn’t have to wait that long. As the gloaming of dusk was settling into the swamp, I saw the hen coming right down the stream at what seemed to be break-neck speed.

Then, as I watched, she pinned her wings to her body and vanished at full speed into the hole in the tree. I expected to hear her “thunk” on the other side of the tree – it was only about 12 inches in diameter – but I never heard a sound.

How she got her wings unfolded and stopped her momentum, I have no idea. I’ve wondered about it ever since.

The moral of these stories? If you want to see the magic of nature, you can’t sit in your office and expect a call. You have to be out there with your eyes wide open.