Thursday, November 12, 2009

eclipse plumage?



A is out of town on business and, my work being closed yesterday, Booker and I went out to chase ducks. We found a few, with a bunch of mallards and a bunch of wigeon each trying to land on us twenty minutes after legal shooting hours and just as the light got good enough for me to be comfortable shooting. We knocked down a bird out of each bunch and then proceeded to wait and watch as nearly everything quit flying. We passed a hen mallard that didn't try to come in and then were passed in turn by another half-dozen wigeon. After a couple of hours a bird came down river flying low and slipped right over the decoys. The bird backlit, I saw green on the head and decided "drake mallard" and shot, knocking it down. Booker began a less than spectacular retrieve.

Here he is barely keeping the bird in hand, as it were:



When he got it to me after a quick re-position I figured I had a hen mallard. On closer look, the bird had the yellow bill with black tip of a drake, a black tail with curly tailfeathers, and a streak of bright green on either side of the head, fading up toward the top. Apart from that, it sported the mottled feathering of a hen mallard along with the dark blue speculum that you'd expect. Perhaps a bird that had remained in eclipse plumage (though that shouldn't be, so far south and this time of year), or a hybrid, or a "manky mallard". The bird is still alive in the last photo and I was a bit uncertain about putting it up. If folks think it's inappropriate, I'll pull it. In any event, by the time Booker had gotten all the way in, the bird had expired. No surprise, given the obvious head wound.









No closeup photos for the 'net, they were all a bit too gory. Interesting bird, anyway. The green on the head was a lot more prominent in hand.

The only other adventure for the day came when a slipped in ankle deep water while moving a couple of decoys and managed to go down, losing the shotgun off my shoulder and dunking it completely underwater and into the mud. Curses ensued. With any decent luck at all, that's an entire season's worth of falling in water right there. Once again erect, I took off my right glove (full of water) and unloaded, pouring water out of the barrel, magazine tube, receiver and (hooray, plastic!) stock. Back on dry land I wiped off the mud, checked the barrel, then blasted it interior of the receiver with "One Shot" cleaner and dry lube. WD-40 would have been a better choice under the circumstances, in terms of hosing out bits of grit and removing water, but the Hornady stuff worked well enough to keep the gun functioning. I've used it before to keep a balky autoloader running more smoothly, but this was a significantly tougher test. Also, dry lube is a good choice in this country of blowing sand.

Once home, I had over an hour of breaking the gun all the way down, cleaning it very thoroughly, then lubing and reassembling. Probably could have used a good cleaning, anyway.

13 comments:

Chad Love said...

Boy, you got me. It's certainly mallard...ish. I've shot a few weird ducks that simply defied identification, at least for me.

Back when we were under the point system, I'd shrug my shoulders, count 'em as a twenty point duck and hope that if I ran into the warden he was an understanding sort.

And if anyone asked I'd call it a "passage gadwall" a "transition plumage wigeon, Eurasian, not American" or something like that.

Good-looking dog. How can anyone not love a chessie?

mdmnm said...

Chad,

I've only been hunting ducks (as opposed to the occasional opportunistic jump-shoot) the last nine years and this is the first mystery bird I've encountered. I'm sure glad populations have gotten past the old point system!

I've really enjoyed the last two seasons with Booker and hope for many more. He's a long way from well trained as a retriever, but we have a good time. If I can figure out how to get him on more grouse and quail, I think he might make a decent upland dog, too.

Terry Scoville said...

That is an interesting duck. Perhaps it is both a hen and drake as far as it's chromosomes are concerned. Booker is a very handsome fellow. Looks to be a gentle one.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Me thinks you have a cross breed between a wild and domesticated mallard. The shape of the bill, size and markings on the head seem very domestic-ish. That would be my best guess. If it were a try hermaphrodite the shape of the bill and head would be more like a regular wild mallard, the disproportionate size makes me think it is a cross.

mdmnm said...

Terry-

Booker is great with people, but, unfortunately, he's dog-aggressive. I got him 2 years ago as a rescue and he's better, but not near the point that I'd hunt him with another dog. Thanks for the input on the duck!

LivetoHunt- Ditto on thanks for your input. That's good analysis and, as I'd written, I haven't run across a bird like this before.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Mallard drakes are serial rapists so you never know what the hell you'll get. Our friend in Klamath has a whole collection of mounted mallard crosses. My guess is its a hybrid of something. Maybe wigeon?

Once s/he's plucked and in the oven, though it ought to eat just like a mallard...

mdmnm said...

Hank,

It went into a duck tagine made with preserved lemons, caramelized onions, and sweet potatoes. You're right, it ate just like the other mallard in there, though I can't say the same of the spoonie in the stew. Still good, but definitely not like the others.

Mike Spies said...

Enjoyed the post...

You know that there are many duck hunters who cannot correctly ID ducks, even in hand. When you toss in eclipse plumage, hybrids and such, it gets even more complicated.

I vote weird mallard.

mdmnm said...

Mike-

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a cross between mallard and black duck.

mdmnm said...

Anon:

Down in our end of the world, more likely a cross between a mallard and a Mexican duck. 'Bout the same thing, though. Thanks for reading!

Jamie White said...

If that bird was killed in New Mexico, and from your posts I'm assuming it was, that's a Mexican duck/Mallard hybrid. They are very common in Southern NM(which is where I hunt). Enjoy the blog.

mdmnm said...

Sandlapper,
I came down on the side of hybrid black/mallard, once they started marketing decoys with the same markings. Mallard/Mexican is more likely, I just hadn't run into one in a decade on the river. Also, yeah, that hunt was just up north of you a hundred or hundred and fifty miles. Thanks for stopping by!