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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#47: Gadwall - San Diego River, CA

There we were, James and I, on the side of a road looking down a concrete barrier into the San Diego River below us. Had this been North Carolina, perhaps we could have expected a couple Mallards, maybe a few Canada Geese or so. Instead, even in the middle of August, the river abounded with ducks, coots, and grebes, birds that seem to prefer the East Coast only in the dead of winter. But this was California, baby!

Of all the ducks we saw in California, I found Gadwall to be the most common. On our side trip up to Big Bear Lake, several family units of Gadwall would frequent the small wooden dock next to our rental. Young American Coots kept their distance as they to forage for insects on the water’s surface, while young Pied-billed Grebes learned to dive away from humans for the first time, but the baby Gadwalls were learning to dabble from their mother while just feet away from us watching birders.

Sure, he could have a nicer plumage, but seeing a Gadwall when it's not freezing out is a HUGE plus!

This particular Gadwall is a male, and as it was the middle of summer his plumage hadn’t attained the subtle brilliance of grays and blacks that it would in a few months time. His all-black bill remained the only clue to his gender, and while the rest of his family rested across the San Diego River from us, this male seemed to want to show himself off to us, boldly parading along the close bank despite his drabness. To this day, it’s the closest I’ve ever been to a Gadwall, but I won’t rest until I find that one drake willing to parade around in his breeding best.

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