Sunday, January 2, 2011

Duck Duck Goose

"RRRRAAAAAAAAAWWWR!" roared the tottering boy, waving his arms and rushing at the grazing herd of geese.

The geese hastily waddled away, easily outstripping the chubby child, and plopped into the safety of the scummy pond. There, they splashed and yanked among themselves.

Stupid kid, I thought to myself, but I was smiling. I would have acted the same at his age; in fact, I still would, if only they weren't White-fronts. The geese, apparently accumstomed to such molestation, patiently paddled just outside of strike range. They accurately gauged my maturity and restraint; I could have easily given them a bombardment worth remembering, though they were safe from stones flung by their assailant.

The kid turned his attention to some ragged Ring-billed Gulls loafing at the pond's edge. Shrieks and squeals sounded from both the boy and the gulls as the birds fluttered off and settled in the center of the pond.

He was learning an fundamental aspect of bird biology: birds have wings, and they use them to escape potential predators.

I smirked, and squatted down to shoot some photos of the White-fronts. The rippling water lent the sterile, sludgy pond a false beauty. I was so engrossed that I didn't even notice his approach.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, his words barely recognizeable through the distortion of a lingering baby drawl. His grinning mouth was framed by mountainous dimples, and his eyes, about level with mine as I crouched, shone with excitement and expectation. He clutched two slices of bread in his little hands; perhaps he had intended to feed them to the geese.

"Taking pictures of the duckies," I answered with a big smile, feeling only the slightest stab of guilt at referring to a creature as elegant as Anser albifrons as a "ducky."

"Why?" asked the boy, a frown spreading across his face, trying to comprehend.

"Because, uh, it's fun?" I stammered, my answer more of a question than a statement. I don't even understand myself. How could I possibly explain to a simple mind the joys, the frustrations, the thrills of birding?

Fortunately, the kid's mother came to the rescue. "Don't talk to strangers!" she scolded him, dragging him away by the hand. I sighed a breath of relief.

Later, I spied him on the other side of the pond, scampering after wigeons and Mallards while screaming, "Duckies! Duckies! Duckies!"

Maybe he'll be a birder someday.

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