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Borrego Springs, CA

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Had a little problem this morning

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.

Gadwall

                                                                       Gadwall (male)

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.

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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.  Confused smile  Kay has to learn the local lingo too.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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                                                                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.  Sick smile 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

32 comments:

  1. Okay - that would not be my favorite job. Good for you for holding on to your breakfast!

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  2. I can't imagine NOT tossing my cookies at the smell of an open gizzard. Heck, John always had to mop up after the girls when they got sick because I could not handle the smell....wimpy me!

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  3. I have never really been a bird hunter, but your description reminded me of the more smelly part of deer hunting, where it is necessary to field dress the deer before moving it. Sometimes, it could be overpowering!

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  4. I think Kaye found herself a great teacher! :)

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  5. Amazing work and info you are sharing. As a birder I appreciate the need for responsible hunting. But I can't imagine placing a dead bird around my neck. Thanks for sharing these stories--if only there was a hunting season for brown headed cowbirds!

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  6. That's not for me either. I also can't imagine waiting out in the cold for 24 hours to sign in to hunt in a favorite place. Do the hunters eat the ducks they shoot?

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  7. Just the thought of shooting these beautiful birds make me queasy. I'll never be a hunter, I appreciate wildlife too much to even think of hurting one. I understand all the issues of hunting and I'd never get in the way of hunters, but I like to see my birds alive and flying.

    Thank goodness you got some fresh air when you needed it! That could have been a real bummer... ;c)

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  8. Boy am I glad I don't have to do that job. I think I might retire again.

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  9. Better you doing that job than me and I was an operating room nurse in my previous life!

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  10. I think I like your method of identifying the birds (alive) the best, although I am sure you are great at both methods. My son hunts birds occasionally, and will sometimes bring a brace of birds to a special dinner - I think quail and ducks (don't know which kind) are what I've heard him talk about. Some folks like things like that - I know Steve took some birds to my brother's in Livermore to share them a year or so ago. I don't really even care for chicken any more, so wild birds are out of the question for me.

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  11. Does Kay have to do that part, too? ;-)

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  12. Amazing blog thanks for sharing rich information ..
    Hotel in Manali

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  13. Thanks for explaining why you remove the wing and gizzard; always learn something new from you.

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  14. I would never be able to do that job. I have tears in my eyes just reading this blog.

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  15. And you're a volunteer? More power to you, they couldn't pay me enough to do that!!! I understand the logic of removing the parts, but seriously?

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  16. I agree with the above..Maybe a little spending money would be an incentive to put a clothespin on your nose..You know what they do for bad autopsys at the morgue??? They rub some Vicks Vapo rub under their nose...and it works. SERIOUSLY!!

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  17. years ago one of our drivers was a duck hunter and would go in the mornings before work. imagine our surprise to open the
    frig and stare at a brace of dead ducks.....we all put an end to that real quick, bring a cooler with ice.

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  18. I'm sure that you've shared this information sometime in the past, but I'd love to know how long you've been a "birder" and how you've managed to become so knowledgeable. I have a degree in Biology; I know all about classification, but do you think I know how to identify individual species? Not!
    Yesterday when I arrived at Sam Houston Jones State Park and got the coach set up, all of a sudden I had 11 deer outside my window - just sauntering around checking out the newcomer. I didn't try to go out because it would frighten them, but I would that I could identify what kind of deer they were!!!!!

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  19. I related to the differences between the bono/scope identification and the bird in the hand. They do look different and we have to adjust our thinking!

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  20. Why would guys walk around with dead ducks hanging around their necks?

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  21. Some people handle smells better than others..gizzards I can take ..women in perfume makes me upchuck:)

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  22. As a bird lover I would think it would be hard to see so many dead ones. I know about thinning the flock but nevertheless...

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  23. Never knew that northern shovelers were called "smiling mallards.' Thanks for enlightening me. Spent many a cold mornings checking duck hunters myself - what an education for a mid-western girl.

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  24. Interesting - I've never been around duck hunters. I can't imagine wearing dead ducks around my neck. UGH.

    I love your emoticons (sp?). That green one in the last paragraph is great! :)

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  25. Interesting about the mottled ducks. Duck is pretty "gamey" So, I am sure they are ripe when opened. I don't blame you for getting a little green in the gills.

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  26. A bit of nostalgia here for me the "retired" duck and goose hunter. I'm a little amazed on your statement about hunters down there not knowing what they're shooting at. Here the limits and species you can shoot or not are strictly enforced.

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  27. Wow. I'm glad you got through that. Don't think I could.

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  28. Have a book think you might like "Woman of the Boundary Waters" by Justine Kerfoot... will send it to me, if I can get your address :)

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  29. Nice post.Thanks for sharing this in your blog

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