[Tweeters] Flight Test

ray holden rayleeholden at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 12 11:48:21 PDT 2011

McLane Creek, south of Olympia, is a quite place right now.  The only thing that passes for bird song is the zeeeee of the Wax Wings that have taken over the perching spots of the RWBs.  The Red Wings pulled up stakes early this year and have now been gone around three weeks.  Thousands of dragon flies have taken over the bug catching duties of the now absent tree swallows and the owls in the surrounding forest are no longer calling at least during the afternoons.  It seems to me that there are also fewer one note calls than are usual for this time of year.

Upon arrival yesterday there were a couple of cars in the lot and I was unhappy to hear loud splashing sounds.  Since dogs are (unfortunately) allowed at McLane Crk. I figured there was a dog splashing around in the water.  it doesn't happen often but people do throw sticks in the pond for their dogs to fetch.  As a birder, of course, I would like to see this go away at least during breeding season. 

It's a big deal and people get all excited when Boeing tests a new plane.  Well nobody gets more excited than I did yesterday when I discovered that the splashing was "my" juvenile wood-ducks conducting their own flight tests.  According to a local the wood-ducks were late nesting this year.  There were finally two clutches hatched by two females only few days apart.  The most I counted was 13 ducklings between them but I suspect that there were more.  Golf ball sized puff-balls swimming in a maze of water lilly's are hard to count.  Then a week or so later one of the females disappeared.  At first her babies were milling around by themselves but within another week everybody was swimming together with the surviving female shepherding the whole flock. 

Every year I seem to adopt a project, family, or group of birds to observe closely.  Last year it was the barn swallow nests at the Port of Olympia and this year it was the combined McLane Creek wood duck family so I've gone to check them out at least once a week since I discovered them a day or so after hatching.  Yesterday I watched the 6 surviving ducklings chasing each other around the pond just like rowdy "teens" on a hot summer day in a city swimming pool.  The half-hour show featured mox chases with energetic wing flapping and partial diving and even a few brief test flights about a foot high and a couple of feet long.  Hey, the Wright Brothers first flight wasn't very long either and look how that turned out.  When I left they had climbed out on a log and were happily preening their little selves. 

Mom, by the way, abandoned them last week.   She was swimming with the two males that she had been previously kept away from the babies and yesterday she was swimming with three mallards in another part of the pond.  The males weren't in sight but that's not unusual.  They do get lost in the weeds or last week they appeared pretty much finished with their molt and may have already flown away. 

So the next generation of wood-ducks at McLane creek has been established.  I'm sure that they will be fully flight capable before the weekend is out and will soon be headed off to winter quarters.  Like the swallows of last year though I do wish I could continue to follow their exploits and see if they come back to breed here next year. 

Ray Holden
Olympia, WA

Life is for the birds.

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