A Dilemma. When Is A Duck Not a Duck?
Submitted by Art & Barb Straub
Being aware of the spring wonders about themselves really paid off BIG for Mary and Steve Nesoda Thursday last, March 25th. While traveling to their home in Tyrone Township they stopped by a small rural pond to listen for possible early frog spring calls. As the day had been warm, pockets of 65 degree F water might awaken the frogs’ vocal initiatives. Regular longtime Henderson Independent readers will recall that this is the same couple who discovered the Rufous Hummingbird in their front yard nectar feeders a few years back, an event that attracted birders from all over Minnesota.
What they experienced in that algae filled pond Thursday amazed them! Twelve beautiful Canada geese had gathered about a small white duck, as though shielding the duck from enemies above and any passerby along the gravel roadway. Where the duck swam, the geese followed, and where the geese cruised, the duck pursued. The Nesgoda’s presence didn’t appear to frighten the normally skittish flock of geese as they stuck by their little buddy. When called to the scene of the ‘white duck,’ we too were amazed at the tameness of both goose and white duck species as photo taking occurred. Pure white or ivory in color, with just a touch of black protruding as part of its prime feathers; a stocky neck, a stubby pink bill would best describe Nesgoda’s duck. Could it be an albino wood duck, an albinized mallard, an unhooded hooded merganser? We were speechless for a change. Later, upon reaching our abode we made contact with birder identification extraordinaire, a Bethany College professer, Chad Heins, who immediately replied, “It’s a goose! The bird is a Ross’s goose.” Sir mystery DUCK was a GOOSE!!!
Red-faced? Ashamed? No! Fortunate! Fortunate that the Nesgodas are so sharp-eyed and environmentally aware of their surroundings. In further research we discovered that the small goose often migrates with Snow geese or in this case, Canada geese. The spring destination of the Ross’s goose is northernmost Arctic where it subsists totally on plant material, grasses, tree shoots, etc. Now get this!!! According to AUDUBON, “due to climate change, (there’s that word again,) Snow and Ross geese are experiencing a population explosion!” The tundra is melting faster, thus the geese are eating themselves out of house and home! These small white geese, which were endangered, have over-produced themselves. DO bring up on your Google, “Audubon, Ross goose,” for additional fascinating information.
Other birds species are arriving each night, with red-winged blackbird males establishing territory, jacksnipe males exploring ditches and field edges, woodcocks dancing and “peenting” on valley ridges, inviting females to “Commona my house, my house,” and…where this story began, amphibians, the frogs, chortling in small ponds.
“Kvaack, kvaak, kvaak!” Mallards in a pond on Sunday afternoon, March 28th near the abode of Michelle Burns? Michelle knew immediately that amphibians were the source of the quacks, not mallard ducks. Wood frogs are among the first to startle a soul each spring. Come autumn they nestle in for a long winter’s nap, partially freezing. As soon as ice is off the ponds, the familiar chuckle begins. We have often found Wood frog eggs, watched the males hop away, while the female leaves a mass of two to three thousand fertilized eggs! Good thing they have natural enemies or we’d be knee-deep in frogs.
Last but not least, in that the first turkey vultures to arrive in LeSueur each year traditionally roost near Inner Drive, a contact person volunteered this year’s date to be March 26th. Sometimes their chortling and burps disturb humans in that neighborhood. The report is appreciated, and communications regarding significant birds are always welcome at 507.665.2658.
While the moon shone full March 28th, many reported the whistling of wings overhead. This household missed the masses of Tundra swans moving through the heavens, or landing on ponded cornfields east and west of LeSueur/Henderson. Just imagine! How many additional species of birds are passing overhead on a March/April night? Fascinating! Please don’t forget, a goose is a goose, but a duck is a duck.