Labor Day has come and gone and even with the extended spell of pleasant warm weather we’ve had, signs of fall are showing. The trees in the Marengo Valley are turning, my gang of hummingbirds — the ones who were consuming about five cups of nectar a week — have migrated and the Canada geese are flocking up and making racket. Other waterfowl are also preparing to move south or hunker down wherever they can find open water. Local residents are familiar with the geese who overwinter at the Hot Pond at the Ashland power plant or the hardy mallards who can be seen around the artesian spring in Prentice Park. Perhaps the prettiest waterfowl in the Northland, the wood duck, is also getting ready to move south, or at least a ways downstate.
Most people who like to walk in the woods have encountered — or been startled by — wood ducks at one time or another. These gorgeous birds live in wooded, swampy areas, so if you hike anywhere there’s water and trees you’ll eventually run into them. Floodplains, with their forested swales and oxbows, are a good bet for spotting them. Usually when we think of wood ducks we picture the impressive male’s plumage, with their green crested heads, bright red eye ring, and intricate colorful plumage. Females also cut an elegant picture with their soft gray heads, white teardrop eye rings and bright blue wing patches. The wood duck’s thin neck adds to their graceful profile. One of their unusual traits is their ability to perch on branches and grip bark: they actually have claws along with webbing on their feet.