Friday, December 5, 2008

A Tale of Two Lakes

Bodies of water are understandably scarce in arid Southern California. Only a couple natural lakes exist in Orange County. However, dozens of man-made lakes have been built, from tiny ponds to massive reservoirs. When I first heard that my new neighborhood had a couple small lakes (more accurately, ponds), I was ecstatic. I thought I'd find lots of different waterfowl and other wonderful birds there. The lakes turned out to be a disappointment: concrete-lined sterile ponds with very few birds. I've persisted, and found some neat birds.

The only ducks that frequent the lake are a few handfuls of Mallards and a couple domestic ducks (formerly, there was a third domestic duck; I dubbed the trio "The Three Stooges"). Occasionally a different species will drop in for a day or two: I've seen Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, and Wood Duck there. Interestingly, different species most often show up on very windy days, perhaps seeking less rough waters. Last winter a drake Gadwall showed up on the lower lake (the larger one) and spent several months seeking handouts from passersby with the resident flock of Mallards. A couple weeks ago, a drake Gadwall appeared in the Mallard flock and has been there ever since. It is impossible to say, but I suspect that it is the same individual - rare birds return to the same location winter after winter, so why not the common ones?

A male Gadwall is a handsome bird indeed, and very worthy of being photographed. The ducks usually paddle over to you if you stand by the lake, hoping for bread crumbs. I walked up to the edge of the lake, and within thirty seconds I had about twenty Mallards, ten American Coots, and the one Gadwall drifting about expectantly a few feet away. Tossing pebbles in the water holds the ducks' attention for a few minutes before they begin to drift away, so I was able to get some great photo opportunities while lying on the edge of the lake. The Gadwall must have felt lonely, since he kept approaching female Mallards and displaying for them - dipping his bill in the water, rearing up, and giving a loud nasal quack. The hens were not impressed at all.

Gadwalls may not be brightly colored, but the fine patterns render them very pleasing to they eye. It always brightens up a quick walk around the neighborhood to see the Gadwall on the lower lake. I check the lakes several days a week just in case something interesting shows up. I'm also curious as to why the Gadwall hangs around this pitiful little lake; if I were a Gadwall, I'd rather spend the winter at a better place, with more food and cover. Over the winter, I'll work on obtaining some better images of this bird, since it is extremely cooperative.

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