Just ducks, ducky

The other day I was actually heard to express some weariness with winter. Even me. Mostly, I’m just tired of putting on and taking off my boots, putting on and taking off my boots. A surefire antidote to the winter ice blues, though, is to go looking for waterfowl. These fat-swaddled birds let the cold roll right off their well-oiled feathers, so why don’t I?

Most of our freshwater is frozen tight, limiting the action on Prospect Park Lake and the ponds out at Jamaica Bay, but the salty stuff is free and easy. So I walked along Brooklyn’s southwest coast, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Gravesend Bay. In the water were red-breasted mergansers, whose crests when wet give them a punk look; buffleheads; brant, a goose that looks a bit like a petit Canada goose; American black duck; a posse of feral domestic ducks; and ring-billed gulls in all plumages. On the landside were more brant, and brant droppings; ring-billed gulls; pigeons; starlings; and a trio of American crows eating whatever the brants were eating. In Gravesend Bay, there was a big raft of greater scaup, as seen in both pictures. (Birder Shane Blodgett estimated there were 25-30,000 of them last week.) Scaup are often found in Dead Horse Bay further east, but they seem to find Gravesend more amenable at the moment.

There were also two drake and one hen common goldeneye. Some of our ducks are so astonishingly beautiful I can quite understand the desire of trophy-hunters when I see pintail, long-tailed, or goldeneye, among other species.

Bonus trivia, because so much comes back to the birds, which is why we have auspices and auguries: “Goldeneye” was the name of Ian Fleming’s Jamaican estate. A committed twitcher, Fleming named his suave spy after the ornithologist James Bond, whose Birds of the West Indies was a classic Fleming knew well.
(The sea wall here is a good place to think about WNYC’s Jim O’Grady’s piece about the coming threat of rising seas to the city.)

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