Wood Ducks

All posts tagged Wood Ducks

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A handsome drake Wood Duck in a vernal pool along Red Clay Creek, following his female companion (tail visible at right edge). Image by Derek Stoner, March 2, 2012.

There may be plenty of room to debate what bird wears the crown of “Most Beautiful” but I think a lot of voters would happily cast their ballot in favor of the Wood Duck.  When these ducks arrive from their wintering grounds in the Deep South they are a most welcome reminder that the seasons are changing.   Known by a nickname of “Summer Duck,”  Wood Ducks are a symbol of the warm season that follows their return.

Today I chanced upon a beautiful drake Wood Duck and his mate as they explored a vernal pool along Route 82 just up the Red Clay Creek from Ashland Nature Center.  Amidst a setting of freshly-emerged Skunk Cabbage and last fall’s brown leaves, the drake’s plumage exhibited every remaining hue of the color spectrum.  

The Wood Duck hen’s mottled brown plumage disguises her in woodland and stream settings alike. Image by Derek Stoner, March 2, 2012.

After the Wood Duck pair flew from their roadside puddle, I noted that the water contained multiple Wood Frog egg masses.  Chances are good that these ducks took advantage of these eggs as an easy source of protein, to supplement their favored diet of acorns, grass seeds, and aquatic vegetation. 

Watch for Wood Ducks right now as they begin to arrive on our local streams and marshes.  Soon they will be investigating nest boxes and preparing for another “Summer Duck” season of raising young!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Paddling the placid waters of Dragon Run Marsh. July 31, 2010. Image by Derek Stoner.

Grab your favorite paddle and come along with us for a canoe trip to Dragon Run– no life preservers necessary!

After driving past the looming bulk of glowing metal towers at the Delaware City petroleum refinery, we hang a hard right on Clarks Corner Road and head south.  A mile later and we are at the put-in spot for our canoe adventure.  Many hands make light the work of unloading our watercraft, and soon we are underway.

A small flock of Little Blue Herons flies toward their roost on Pea Patch Island. July 31, 2010. Image by Derek Stoner.

Dragon Run is a vibrant freshwater marsh that has a narrow channel (run) carved through the dense aquatic vegetation.  The vast marsh is connected to the Delaware River one mile from our launching point,  and the water flows slowly in an eastward direction. As we paddle along, flocks of wading birds pass overhead: Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, and occassional Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets.  These elegant waterbirds are headed to their night-time roost on Pea Patch Island, in the middle of the river just below the Dragon Run outlet.

A pink Marsh Mallow glows in the late evening light at Dragon Run. July 31, 2010. Image by Derek Stoner.

We are visiting at the best time of year to view the spectacular blooms of aquatic wildflowers: white Lizardtail and Smartweed, purple Pickerelweed, pink Swamp Rose and Water Willow, and Marsh Mallows, a spectacular producer of plate-sized pink and white blooms.  A member of the Hibiscus family, the roots of the Marsh Mallow were utilized by English sweetmeat-makers to prepare a confectionary paste said to be of curative value in treating coughs and hoarseness. The ‘Marshmallows’  sold by confectioners today are the modern equivalent of this recipe (a mixture of flour, gum, and egg albumin), but no longer contain mallow root.

A Beaver lodge sits along Dragon Run, tucked amidst the Marsh Mallows. July 31, 2010. Image by Derek Stoner.

Besides the bounty of blooms, we are also hoping to spot another Dragon Run specialty: aquatic mammals!  This locale may be the best place to see the trifecta of American Beaver, River Otter and Muskrat, the only truly aquatic freshwater mammals in Delaware.  During a paddle of less than a mile, we encounter at least six active beaver lodges, and see the muddy platforms along the edge where the beavers and muskrats sit and chew aquatic vegetation.  A few slick “mud slides” are indications that the otters are around and taking advantage of the good fishing here, as bass, bluegill, and pickerel abound.  The canoes at the head of the group spot a few muskrats paddling along, and as we round a bend, an enormous beaver raises its tail and slaps the water with a resounding thwack!   Since they are not easy to see well in their underwater habitats, any encounter with these unique mammals is always thrilling.  

An evening paddle at Dragon Run is rewarded with a spectacular sunset. July 31, 2010. Image by Derek Stoner.

Towards dusk, we turn the canoes around and head back, into the setting sun.  A steady stream of Tree and Barn Swallows fly overhead, and we watch the twisting flight of Wood Ducks as they head to their night-time gathering place.  The western sky is lit up in orange and red hues, and the views are spectacular.   

For the whole trip, we’ve not seen or heard any other humans.  Quiet and solitude prevail, and the sense of being in a wild area is real.  Tucked away in a corner of bustling New Castle County, in the shadow of a major industrial plant, the delightful Dragon Run always manages to surprise and delight the visitors to her waters.

The Delaware Nature Society is leading another canoe trip meandering through the Dragon Run but under the light of August’s full moon!  Tuesday, August 24, leaving Ashland at 6:30; members can register on-line, non-members (can join on-line) or call in to sign up (239-2334.) No canoeing experience is necessary.    Listen to the sounds of nature while enjoying the unique experience of nighttime canoeing!