The Spring time is a busy time for everyone in the outdoors. From chores around the home and yard, to the farmer’s mad rush between rains to plow and plant, the angler’s zeal to get his line wet and the walleye, crappie or steelhead out, if the Great Outdoors were a house, it would be a madhouse!
And it’s while everyone is running around so focused on what they are trying to do that I feel so blessed that I have the presence of mind to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, and literally too for that matter. There are terrific things I see in the springtime that others simply pass by without even knowing that they should stop to take a look.
In the woods I am one of the first to see the Mayapples rise or the Trilliums poke through the ground. The briefest of pear and apple blossoms on the the trees before they fall like snow we knew so recently on the ground. The red maples budding and their leaves coming out, the clumps of buckeye buds and the violets and honeysuckle blooms covered in the early morning dew, the flox that covers the ground like a throw blanket. My horses happy that the ground is firm enough to finally run and buck, throwing clods with each kick like a couple of kids just released from school for the summer. There are Orioles singing in the woodlots, kids playing ball, and boaters waiting for the melt and flood waters to go down so they can put the docks in at Chippewa Lake and their boats on the Vermillion.
And among all the things you’re not too likely to see, unless you spend some time standing around in hip waders in a flooded woods where few people go this time of year, is the the Wood Ducks. They’re cavity nesters, which means for the most part they make their nests in the hollows of trees. For this reason they’re put together a little differently than puddle ducks, and have strong claws on their webbed feet to grab branches. Still, tree cavities are difficult for them to find, especially ones that aren’t already occupied by raccoons or squirrels, and if you build them a couple of artificial nesting boxes in secluded areas or out over the water, your chances of attracting them are pretty good. Wooden boxes work best, the plastic ones sometimes overheat in the sunlight.
Wood Ducks range throughout the Continental U.S. and parts of Mexico and Canada. They don’t like to associate with other ducks much, and as they are one of the few breeds of waterfowl that are comfortable flying amongst the trees, that works out fine for them. You may find them where you find beavers and muskrats; in a stream, an irrigation ditch or a gorge, but their flocks are small, usually less than two dozen.
If your looking in the trees for their nests, good luck! The opening of their nesting hole can be as small as four inches across, and might be as high as 300 feet off the ground (in places that have tall trees overlooking cliffs or bluffs, for example).
After the chicks have hatched and are just four weeks old, the mother hen will fly down from the nest to the ground and call to her chicks. One by one they jump from the tree (yes they can safely jump down 300 feet without feathers, apparently) and seek out the hen. She offers them no assistance except for calling to them, and then leads them to the water for the first time. It might sound a little negligent, but this is on a par with what other breeds of duck hens do with their chicks too. If you’ve been watching a hen sitting on a nest for some days and then she’s suddenly gone never to return, that’s how it goes, you missed the show!
A popular prize for waterfowlers and bird watchers alike because of their colorful plumage, few get to see their mating rituals as photographer Tom Mahl has captured here on our page for us today. This mating pair was sen recently at Lorain County Metroparks Sandy Ridge Reservation, where the flooded plains woodlands make for them an ideal habitat. They’re sometimes shy and reclusive so bring your binoculars and telephoto lenses and GET OUTDOORS!