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‘Ducks on the Pond’

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November 12, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal

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​The above is a phrase that Arkansas native — and in past days, an extremely famous and highly successful St. Louis Cardinal pitcher — Dizzy Dean employed in reference to runners on the base.

He also stated, among other things, “The Good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong right arm, a good body, and a weak mind.”

Ole Diz is long gone, but there are still ducks on the pond, especially this month, when the feathered type that nested up north are now migrating through western Arkansas. There are now ducks on every large pond and lake in western Arkansas.

Of course, green head Mallards are everywhere. They must be out on your pond, even now as you read. So too perhaps are the less famous but also numerous Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers. These are all referred to as dabbling ducks, because they feed in shallow waters by tipping bottom up for food in the shallows.

As we begin to have colder weather – which means much colder weather north of us – it’s like November’s heavens have suddenly opened. Claiming for avian royalty a new land as young-of-the-year ducks make their first trip south. Masses of Polar air add speed and power to the ducks’ rapid flight from bitter cold and ice. South-south they slip, south through cold, inky black. And lo, with the opening of a wintry day, our western Arkansas ponds and lakes are transformed with ducks rising and falling on the gray, wind-whipped waters.

We now also have increasing numbers of the true diving ducks who get their groceries deeper in the water. I have been seeing quite a few of the smallest divers, Ruddy Ducks, and one that is fairly common in our area, the Ring-necked Duck. Handsome Redheads have been showing up, and recently I have observed my first flocks of “bluebills,” as the hunters call them – Lesser Scaup. And numbers are increasing for “butterballs” – the handsome, strikingly black and white Buffleheads.

It’s now time to take in hand the spotting scope, binoculars, field guide, and head to a pond or local lake-of-choice. It’s time to set the old eyeball firmly and resolutely onto the spotting scope eyepiece, even if the wind is sharp, even if you have to perch under an umbrella to block the wind and rain.

Waterfowl fly south when snow flies up north. Ponds and lakes may be fogged-over, but as a morning breeze begins to disperse the fog, it’s plain that the northern Tundra and prairie potholes of Nebraska and Canada are poorer and western Arkansas richer for the change.

Canada is blanketed with snow, western Arkansas is blanketed with migrants. “Ducks on the pond,” as Diz would say.​​

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