For the next six weeks or so, I’ll be working at the hunter check station each weekend. I’m mainly there to help the new ‘brown shirt’, Kay, with the identification of the species of ducks and geese that are taken. She’s not a birder, and is coming into this job cold. She didn’t even know what a mallard was before this weekend. It’s been two days of a very steep learning curve for her, and I must say that she is really doing well.
It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me too, as I’m used to identifying waterfowl through binoculars or a spotting scope while they’re alive and vibrant. Seeing them lifeless and hanging by their necks in a bunch changes how they look to me. I’ve found that check station operators mainly go by the colors on their wings and how the beak looks; whereas I’ve always viewed the bird as a whole and not by it’s parts so much. It’s just a different way of looking at things.
Although, I must admit that with a female Northern Shoveler, it’s the beak that’s a definite give away regardless of what the body looks like. The local hunters call these ‘spoonbills’ or ‘bootbills’ or ‘smiling mallards’. Not to be confused with Roseate Spoonbills or Mallards. Kay has to learn the local lingo too.
Yesterday began the second half of the duck season here on the refuge, and for the last ten years or so the Friends of Anahuac Refuge group put on a Chile feed for the hunters. The day dawned dark and very foggy.
That meant a good day for hunting. Lots of hunters got their limits, and really appreciated the hot meal. You can see how they were all lined up at the close of the hunt around noon to check out. There’s a limit each day as to how many hunters can enter the refuge, and they must indicate where they are going to hunt when they check in at 4:00 a.m. Where they can hunt is also regulated so the number allowed in each area is limited. That’s why they line up so early (as much as 24 hours ahead) so they have a chance to pick their favorite spot.
That’s Kay checking out a party of hunters yesterday. She records how many birds of each species are taken. If you look closely, perhaps you can see the ducks hanging around this hunter’s neck. The hunters aren’t always sure what exactly they’ve shot, so it’s important to give them a little education as they check out.
Mottled ducks on the wing.
A species of special interest here is the mottled duck. Over time they’ve been declining in numbers in their range, so hunters are only allowed to take one/day. As I’ve said before, when a mottled duck comes in, we ask permission from the hunter to remove the gizzard and left wing of each of these birds. Several readers have asked why we do this, so here are the reasons. The wing is taken to determine the age of the bird by studying the colors of the feathers in detail. The gizzard is taken to find out the levels of lead in the bird’s system. Lead levels may indicate one of the reasons for this species’ decline in numbers. Birds eat grit like little stones and things to aid in digestion, and ducks may pick up lead shot and ingest it. The gizzard is where that grit is located.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the smell of opening up the bird to extract the gizzard is a most pungent odor. Some birds are smellier than others. That’s where I had my little problem today. One bird was especially rank, and after a few minutes of breathing in that fragrance (?), I thought I was going to lose my breakfast. I had to get outside into the fresh air and inhale deeply. Oh my goodness! That was a little embarrassing, but discretion was the better part of valor today for me. I think we need a fan to move the air around a bit in that check station!
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy