Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ring-Necked Duck

This is my favorite Ring-Necked Duck, for a number of reasons. It's the first and only specimen I've seen since I got my camera, and I've been able to see this specific bird now on three separate occasions.
When I first saw this Duck, which I shall henceforth name and call Gary, he was oddly hanging out at the drainage pond at the barren Grenada Park in the middle of the summer in Phoenix. He was the only non-mallard on the pond, and I must confess I judged him to be a Lesser Scaup at the time.
Here is the picture taken in early August (All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them):
I judged Gary to be an immature Scaup because they and Ring-Necks are about the same size, have the same yellow eye, a similarly curvy bill, and the lightly-streaked gray on their flanks, as well as the dark brown breast. I was forgetting the dark on the back however, which Scaups do not have (their wings, sides, and backs are all the same sort of soft gray). Since Scaups are more common than Ring-Necks, I hedged my bet in that direction.
I appreciated Gary's bravery at the time, as I think temperatures hit 111 degrees that day and be he Scaup or Ring-Neck, he was way, way farther south than either species' normal summer range.
A week later I saw Gary again at Grenada Park. Again he was the only non-Mallard and non-Coot on the pond, and he looked much the same.
On October 2nd I returned to Grenada Park hoping to see some migratory ducks. While I was disappointed in that pursuit, I had a pleasant and surprising reunion with Gary.
It's Gary!
Here I had been thinking Gary was a Lesser Scaup, when in fact he was a mighty Ring-Necked Duck all along! He was/is still one of a kind at Grenada Park, and it was very cool to reunite with perhaps the bravest and toughest Ring-Necked Duck of them all.
Here Gary looks for deliverance from the company of these Mallards he's been forced to endure all Summer. 
Gary still doesn't have his fully mature plumage. The Ring-Necked Duck, like the Lesser Scaup, has an iridescent purple covering its head and neck, and a strong white vertical bar on the shoulder. However, the two white rings on the bill, one at the base and one before the black tip, are diagnostic. It's also interesting to note how low the tail hangs. It is horizontal with the duck's body and often rests atop the water. Many other ducks keep their tails more erect.
This is the blank, vacant stare of a duck who has had its brain scorched and friend for 3 months, in summer heat it was never meant to endure, in a pond that is maybe 50 by 100 feet, with only Mallards and a few obnoxious geese for company.
Here again, is the dark back that clearly disqualifies Gary from being a Lesser Scaup. 
As Gary recognizes me, his long lost and only true friend, he sheds a tear of joy.
His attention was quickly stolen away by a wobbly lady toting Wonder Bread, but I know Gary was glad he could show me that, while he was maybe confused about his summer migrating, his identity as a Ring-Necked Duck is firmly established.

Gary, King of Grenada Park, I shall return someday soon to see your purple crown. Hopefully you will find a queen, ring her neck with pearls, and have lots of Ring-Necked chicks.

Here are some more recent photos taken in November:

Brewer's Sparrow

At 5 inches, the Brewer's Sparrow is one of the smaller emberizids, and also one of the less colorful.
The Brewer's Sparrow has the nondescript browns and tans of of the sparrow group, but has more streaking on the head and back, as well as darker primary feathers that set it apart to the careful observer. They prefer rocky terrain, sagebrush, and desert shrubs, which is great, because not a lot of other animals do, and it's nice to still find new birds in the more dull scenery.

What they lack in visual pizazz they make up for with their song, a very complex string of oscillating high notes that is as unmistakable as it is pretty.