Dabbling Ducks

Ducks! I have always loved ducks but, they provide such ease of id that I haven’t always focus on them. They are also overwhelming in numbers when you get to see them. The amount of ducks that migrate to the Bay Area and Sacramento Area is incredible. When you drive up to water and it is covered in ducks, you get a different feeling than looking at a tree because you can hear a bird calling and you trying to find the tiny hoping bird amongst the leaves. Also, to find many of the rare ducks you really need a scope for closer looks and I do not have one. Still ducks are beautiful and cool.

As with the sparrows I put together a poster of all the ducks from my month of drawing them. Here is Dabbling Ducks compilation. I am wrapping up a second poster of ducks that are divers. They are just too large and too many to all be on one 11x 14 poster. The split between diver vs dabbler seemed a perfect split. 

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The American Wigeon. I finished this first as just a sepia tone then finished with spot color. These birds are in wintering colors. Their coloring gets brighter once they go into full breeding.

They have been called the Baldpate duck because of the light crest that goes up the male’s forehead. Much like the Bald Eagle is called bald, to early settlers white feathers apparently made them think of a balding head.

Then here is the Eurasian Wigeon which, I have seen twice. They are rare visitors from Europe and Asia where they are plentiful. They tend to hang with American Wigeons. The males stand out with their rufous head different from the greenish grey head of the American. The females are very difficult to tell apart. I only saw this male.

It’s another beautiful duck from the dabbling group.

I haven’t seen this in person but, a Blue-winged Teal has a blue patch of feathers for secondary converts, those feathers that you would imagine to be the upper arm of a human. They are also the second most abundant duck in North America behind the Mallard. I would never think that because I so rarely see them around me. It’s all about perspective and realize yours isn’t the only one.

The Blue-winged Teal. I have only seen this bird once on a chilly rainy day. I was out looking for a Tufted Duck which, apparently hasn’t been in the Bay Area in quite some time. I ran into another local birder who leads bird counts at this location and she helped me see the rest of the amazing ducks on the pond. I am still new to spotting the differences in the pattern of ducks across a body of water. I just don’t know all of the patterns that signify different that I should be looking for. Like all the other ways to identify birds it takes practice. 

The Cinnamon Teal. This is another duck that I haven’t had much time with. For me it is usually a lone duck amongst the crowd. They are beautiful though. Not only are they a gorgeous Cinnamon color, hence their name, they have that patch of periwinkle blue across their secondary coverts, the shoulder part of the wing.

These ducks are only in the new world and more widespread in South America. We have them in North American only west of the Mississippi and they only just get into Canada for summer.

They dabble for food, using their bill to sift out food. They behave much like a Northern Shoveler.

The Northern Shoveler. This duck is all across the northern hemisphere of the world dropping into the top of the southern hemisphere during winter. There are four distinctive species and the other three, probably descendants of this species, are one each to Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, and South America.

Given where I live if I head to the bay during the winter months I will most likely see these foraging along the mud flats. They are so odd looking with their extra long bill. Their bill actually works like a spoonbill’s or flamingo’s, it has lamellae along its edges which, filter food from water drawn into their bills. It’s pretty hard to confuse these ducks for another. Their head and bill shape are so obvious.

Probably the most common duck on the North American continent, the Mallard. We joke when we are birding that we all over look this beautiful bird for the rarer species around it. Only Male Mallards, of all ducks, have that curly tail feather. An American Black Duck X Mallard hybrid could also have it but, to me that is also Mallard.

The lower image is the Female Mallard. Of the Dabblers most of the female ducks, not all but many, have some variation on this kind of feathering and coloring. There are subtle differences that show you they are different species. Usually the fastest way to tell though, look at what duck they are next too. Most ducks are paired up or in a group of their species. It is a good fast tip to sort out the females because, the males are just so different between the species with brown stripy feathered females.

 

Another Teal, the Green-winged Teal, the green spot is so green!

I want to talk about the name of this group of birds first, Teal. Teal does recall a color around the eye and on the wings of a few of these small ducks but, the color Teal gained its name from these birds. The birds were called Teals before people described a color with the name Teal. Therefore, a Teal does not have to have the color present to be a Teal. Teals are a group of birds that are small in size, short necked and dabble specifically for vegetation.

I love seeing these ducks. They are so tiny. I happened upon one running with a group of Avocets. 

Gadwalls, the understated duck. They may not flash bright colors but, when you take a closer look they are beautifully patterned ducks. The lines across their feathers are vermiculated, they kind of look like they are wearing tweed. To spot Gadwalls in the groups of ducks look for a what you may think is a female duck but, is darker in tone. Their heads are also more rounded than most other ducks. 

These two were exhibiting pairing behaviors. Doing head movements to another male to say, we are together back off.

Northern Pintails. These two ducks gave me an easy option for putting the male and female in my picture. These birds breed together for one season then seek out another mate. After the female is incubating the male separates from her to start forming a migrating group.

This Wood Duck I saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count with with Sequoia Audubon Society. There were six of these ducks that day, 3 pairs. I have only drawn the male because their coloring is so striking but, I should draw the female at some point she is also beautiful. They are quite shy ducks. They were mostly hidden in the branches of trees that touched the water. Once it got noisy from human hiking traffic, they totally retreated from view. This was my first time seeing a wood duck for more than a moment. I had seen them in the south twice but, for very brief glances. It was nice to watch them move and behave.

Ducks are part of the group that use wetlands for habitat. Now, wetlands are in decline so this is a complicated balance for them to find habitat. Many ducks use crop fields. There is a system in place in California that is imperfect and many farmers are still frustrated with the birds eating their seed. The system is a series of National Wildlife Refuges around Sacramento to give birds a space to live and be, so they aren’t in the farmer’s fields. However, the birds will usually go to flooded rice fields for the night. For the most part balance is achieved but, perhaps there is more we could do to make space for us and them.

Birding and Leaf Painting

I have always collected leaves. Every year as the leaves turn I find myself picking up my favorites. In past years I did this without much plan; I would pick them up and shove them between book pages (books I clearly didn’t care about because leaf pressing in books wicks all the moisture from the leaf into the book, warping the pages). While this was fairly successful in pressing the leaves, they languished. I didn’t have a plan and the plans I thought I had wouldn’t work with the paper like dried leaf I ended up with.

This time I got a real plant press and prepared a set up to submerge the leaves in glycerin. I wanted to have two options, leaves dried like paper and leaves that were preserved maintaining their flexible state.

glycerinleaf

A lettuce leave after soaking in glycerin. It looks like kelp!

The glycerin leaves are still in my processing space. Sometimes I have to sit and look at something day after day before the idea fully forms and I know what I will do with it. The dried leaves I immediately started painting birds on them.

Two separate things brought this idea together. I have always liked painting on none white surfaces. When I went hiking in 2010 and picked up birch bark off the trail, it looked so much like paper, I decided to paint on it. I left these paintings on the trail knowing they were watercolor and would wash off if no one picked them up (I found out the hut kids found them and enjoyed them). Then in the summer of 2016 I got a button maker and realized you could easily put leaves in the press. The jump to painting on the leaf first was a short distance away.

I decided on birds because I look at birds all the time. I have feeders all around my yard. My mother and her sister, Karen & Teresa are birders and they constantly teach us what birds we are looking at. Also, many family vacations now have large swaths of time devoted to birding. We all enjoy it including my son. It’s very similar to collecting Pokemon but, real animals and instead of taking them home we make a list of what we saw and/or heard.

I took the close up photos with my phone using a scope and binoculars for zoom, technology can be ridiculous.

I wanted to paint birds that came from the same locations as the leaves. Representing native species on both fronts, flora and fauna. However, even though the leaves I have collected are living locally, they are native to other countries. The Ginkgo specifically which, is a favorite to paint on. However, the birch and sweet gum trees are fine, as well as the blackberry, strawberry, saltbush, holly cherry, and other natives I have purposefully replanted in our yard. This follows my overall goals of native flora for the paintings and a native garden for the yard.

The leaves all react differently to being pressed and dried, sorted and held until I paint on them, and after they have been enclosed in a button. If the leaf isn’t fully dried it tends to mold within the button. These possibilities cause me to charge not much more than a fancy cup of coffee which, is also a short lived life enjoyment. However, there is the possibility the properly pressed leaves will survive for quite sometime. This is the moment where we say, ‘only time will tell’.

Photos of the buttons finished or pre-pressed. The penny is for size. These end up being 1 inch buttons.

I hope that this project will bring happiness to anyone who buys a button or other final finishing choices I am exploring (pressed in glass making it wall art or made into a pendant). I also hope it brings awareness to the many amazing species of birds that continue to thrive or struggle to live on this planet. I believe our coexistence holds more importance than we are fully aware of.