Thursday, December 15, 2011

More Visitors from the North

Probably my favorite duck, the Northern Shoveler always provides the amateur photographer with the a shovel-ready job. Up to last week I had only seen Shovelers through binoculars, far away in the middle of Gilbert ponds and Irving lakes. I was very fortunate to find a group of them close to shore at the Papago Ponds. With their egregiously oversized bills, the Shoveler silhouette is unmistakable, and I find no greater pleasure in identifying a duck than spotting that heavy-set head out on the water.

The tell-tale bill is only the beginning of the Shoveler's appeal. With their chestnut sides, buffy breast, iridescent heads, and shimmering tales, the Shoveler combines the colors of the Mallard drake with filtering capacity of a baleen whale. Sometimes, it gets tricky to fit this awkward and wonderful concoction of a bird all in one frame. The lengthy bill and tail feathers necessitate a very horizontal crop. While the resulting rectangle isn't a very appealing shape to the eye, the Northern Shoveler demands that certain, special treatment.

From one angle the head shows purple, and from another it brings out a unique teal (so he actually combines Mallard and Green-Winged Teal).

The sieve-like projections on the sides of the Shoveler's bill allow it to filter small invertebrates out of the water and muck where it dabbles. This convenient apparatus allows the Shoveler to live off of a diet that is largely unattainable to many of the other dabbling duck species.

As with many birds, the male is the more fashionable of the breed. However, the female has her modest patches of colors, and she really doesn't mind if people stare at her outlandish nose, honest.

If ever I was to have a pet bird, it would be the Shoveler. He would fill my world with color and help me dig holes in my garden (I'd get a garden after I got the Shoveler). It was with eager anticipation that I awaited the arrival of the Shovelers this autumn. This is one outstanding bird that never disappoints.