Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Sound of a Maine Spring: 'Quack'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Sound of a Maine Spring: 'Quack'

Article excerpt

The ducks are back. We thought it might not happen this year, because of the protracted winter weather and the uneven breakup of the river ice here Maine.

But they've returned undaunted. This morning my 10-year-old son, Anton, came running into the house, breathless. "It's got a white head!" he announced. "It's beautiful."

I grabbed my binoculars but already knew what he had spotted.

There it was, a male hooded merganser, unmistakable with its broad white crest bordered in coal black. A merganser moves with quiet deliberation and grace, sort of like the flagship of the duck convoy.

We crept as close as we could to the bank, so we could take a good long look with the binoculars. And then, in a flash, the bird took wing and headed for parts unknown.

When the river ice thaws, we are witnesses to a veritable celebration of ducks. It's as if all these different species have agreed to appear at precisely the same moment, their sole intention being to put on a fashion show of diverse colors and habits.

It's three weeks or so of entertainment and flamboyance. The mergansers glide majestically along, the crests of the females forming rather frilly ornaments at the backs of their heads, giving them the appearance of 1950s-era rockers.

The goldeneyes are less common, but handsome with their black backs and white bellies.

And what convention of ducks would be complete without the common mallard?

Even though I have observed them for years, that iridescent green neck ring of the male never fails to please.

They're also the tamest ducks of the batch, waddling right onto the dry land of my backyard and portraying an innocent curiosity about life off the water.

But my favorite duck of the batch is the wonderfully named bufflehead. Perhaps it's because I just like saying the word: bufflehead. It also has a patch of white behind the eyes, although it's not nearly as magnificent as the hooded merganser's.

The bufflehead is very skittish. Recently when I tried to observe one that had paddled close to shore, it immediately upended itself and dived down into the dark water. It resurfaced after a good 30 seconds, but out in the middle of the river. …

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