Wood Duckling at Sand Point Beach

This afternoon I went on a bird hike on the Ganatchio and nearby extension trails to try out my new binoculars. Wow! I am in love with these Nikon Monarch 8x42s. I will probably blog a product review soon, I am so pleased with them. I was able to focus on a Mourning Cloak butterfly that was on the trail not a couple of feet away, and on distant birds overhead.

Robins, Yellow Warblers and Red-winged Blackbirds aside, the first bird I saw was a Carolina Wren, which is probably nesting down in the lush thickets near the brook. Soon after that I saw a large green Empidonax Flycatcher with a whitish eye-ring. Acadian? It didn’t vocalize for me, so I don’t know.  I walked along the tree line and was examining another flycatcher with a yellow wash on its belly and no eye-ring when someone called from the paved path, “Seeing anything good?”

A woman about my age identified herself as a birder. We stood there a long while comparing notes on this year’s Point Pelee sightings and how difficult small flycatchers are to identify.  Her name is Jennifer; maybe we’ll meet again.

A very large tern flew past overhead. It had a light grey mantle and darker wing-tips. I think the crown was black. That’s all I saw.

The Gray Catbird that nests in this area every year was being vocal. While I was looking at the wren and flycatcher, a male Northern Cardinal made an appearance in the back of my field of view.

Something was calling from the tops of the willows and maples. It seemed to say, “Tea threet?” with an upward rising intonation, like a question.

Hungry, I walked up to Stop 26 for a slice of pizza only to discover that they are not doing pizza this year, only ice cream. It was getting to be suppertime when I crossed Riverside Drive to check out the bird activity in a yard that backs onto the Detroit River.

I started to walk along the river when I noticed an odd bird running through the grassy area between the street and the paved walking path. Duckling? Yes. It was a duckling. It was swallowed by the grass most of the time, but occasionally bobbed up higher than the grass. It was covering a lot of ground for such a small guy.  I went over to two cyclists sitting on a bench and asked if they had noticed any duck families in the area. They said no, the nearest Mallard family was way over at xxx point.  I told them about the lone duckling, then continued to follow it, keeping my distance so as not to scare it.

When the couple got on their bikes to leave, the husband tried to catch the duckling but could not. The duckling was too fast.  “It’s awfully vulnerable out here alone,” he said.  “A cat could get it.”

“Or a hawk,” I added. They left, and I stayed with the duckling.

The little guy scampered all the way to Sand Point beach, where he came up against an short retaining wall that separates the grassy area from the beach. I took advantage of the dead-end and scooped it up. I put the fuzzy fellow under my sweater and walked quickly to my car where I used my (old) binocular case as a temporary cage.

There I called Sylvain, who called a friend that does bird rehab.  She told him she isn’t licensed to rehabilitate ducks, so we would have to call Wings Wildlife Rehab in Amherstburg.  After ensuring that we had observed the bird for an hour and were sure the baby was separated from the parents, they said we could bring him out. My sweetie, trooper and animal lover that he is, offered to drive us to Amherstburg.   Note: We also had the option of dropping him at an animal hospital, who would see that he got to Wings tomorrow, but we didn’t want him to spend the night all alone.

Our little friend spent the entire trip trying to jump out of the deep cardboard box that I’d lined with a soft tee shirt. He was a very energetic little bird!

Half an hour from Windsor we found Wings Rehab with the remainders of a fund-raising yard sale still on the front lawn, covered with plastic tarps. Our foundling was readily accepted, determined to be a baby Wood Duck, and was dropped into a terrarium that held about seven other little ducks that looked just like him.  The rehab people gave me a form to fill out, but I was busy watching to see if the other ducklings would accept the newcomer.  They did! Soon he was pecking at the food and grooming himself as if nothing strange had befallen him at all.

While I filled out the form, the volunteers showed us some of the babies they are currently raising: a Great-horned Owlet, a Screech Owlet, a ground hog, a fawn. They said a whole mess of ducklings had just outgrown the terrarium and had been moved to the coops out back.  We made a donation, as we always do when we bring them a hurt bird, and hit the road again.

Now my question is: how on earth does a Wood Duckling end up all alone in the middle of a city park? That is not Wood Duck habitat, as far as I know. Sylvain and I hypothesized on the way home. Did a raptor drop it?

One thing that is interesting about Wood Ducks: they are highly precocial–mobile and able to find food on their own soon after hatching. No wonder that little guy was so self-sufficient.

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