“Oh, they’re here,” I say to my walking companion. Each winter, starting in late November, we are treated to the winter ducks making a major stopover at our Marina. They are here because we live along the glorious Pacific Flyway. I love how these visitors are on the move, not earth bound like I am.
The way I feel on our walks each winter weekend is hard to express but “reassuring” and “grateful” come to mind. The varieties of duck and geese marking their annual arrival gives me the sense that there is still some order in the natural world despite my knowing all is not well in ours.
Starting in December we look up to see the long strings of geese in their iconic Vs far above us.
In January, as soon we are on the walking path our eyes start searching for our favorite twosome—the male Barrow’s Goldeneye:
Coming down from the Arctic, they will return in order to nest on freshwater lakes and ponds in the spring.
We stop to appreciate their presence and smile when they swim in our direction. For the time we’re on the walk, I try to hold off thinking about habitat loss and all else that makes their life precarious. Sometimes Golden Eyes are joined by the Mergansers (below). And almost always, pairs of Mallards can be spotted. I like to imagine what it would be like to be them.
Years ago, when I was dumb enough to be a passenger on the back of a motorcycle (the good sport syndrome), I had a bird moment and will never forget it. Our route followed the contour of a ridge and soon we were high on a skinny spine, cruising along at bird level. When I looked over, hawks, even with my shoulders, were drafting on the wind. And like them, I stretched out my arms in an anchored flight and for a few liberating moments felt airborne like them.
February has been mostly damp and gray, including many mornings when the fog threw a gauzy curtain over everything. Desperate to see our birds plus take the walk we love, we delayed our outing until the afternoon when whatever natural Vitamin D we were going to get was out. What a difference a few hours can make. The path was thick with kids on bikes, unwieldy scooters, distracted parents, and barking dog duals. We noticed that unlike our morning nodding acquaintances with the regulars like us, very few people said “hello.”
Upon reflection writing this post, I know what makes the winter walks and the migrating ducks and geese so special for me. When I am observing them, for those moments watching them in the water or looking up to see the spectacular migration in the deepest sky, the world is on hold—there is only the present moment—no mulling over the past or anticipating the future. What others might rightly describe as bird watching, for me those moments with the ducks and geese are a gentle reminder to keep my focus more often in the now and less in the past and future.
Photo credits: Geese on the wing above – Gary Bendig, The Barrow’s Golden eyes – Joe Meche.