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THE FARTHERMOST VIEW

Selected Podpieces

Courting behavior

Red-breasted Merganser
This morning two pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers were engaged in an enthusiastic courting display in Pahwah Pond. They were too busy to notice us, so we stood and watched for a while.

It became evident that what at first seemed to be two pairs was more like a menage-a-trois and a spinster; the males moved back and forth in the water, stretching their necks and pointing their bills toward the sky, bowing and bobbing and rising up flapping, all for the benefit of one of the modest brown females; the other drifted alone in the lee of the shady bank.

Ever the anthropomorphizer, I wondered how the odd one out felt. Annoyed? Hurt? Ugly? Bored? Lifting her wing to check her watch periodically, come on, come on, I haven’t got all day?

Then, for no apparent reason, the composition of the menage changed; the males sidled over toward the single female (if swimming ducks can be said to sidle) and began to show her how long their necks were, how magnificent their wings.

It was a gorgeous morning, as they all are; I have yet to see one that isn’t, no matter the weather, the sky, the state of the trees and their leaves or the lack thereof. As we came over the rise and looked past the town selectman’s house toward the pond and the bay beyond, the sky was heavy gray and the pond was dark, but the bay in between was a pale golden color, as if the sand on the bottom had been swept up and hung suspended in the calm water, reflecting what little light managed to ease out through the dark clouds.

The mergansers were the only birds we saw on the pond today, but on the way down I’d seen an osprey sailing southeast above the trees – my first sighting in the neighborhood this spring. The trees along the road were rife with the common folks – chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and robins galore.

Yesterday as we walked past the kettle pond across from the conservation area – the pond that will be overgrown with algae by the end of June – I heard a crowd of small birds tweeting and trilling. I looked up into the trees, expecting to see a flock of early-arriving warblers flitting among the branches, but nothing was moving. I frowned at the pond, then suddenly realized I was hearing the spring peepers, calling their tiny little hearts out in a vernal frenzy.

This morning they were silent, maybe in the wake of a passing threat like an osprey or fox; maybe because it’s dry today, yesterday’s dim drizzle having finally ended in late afternoon. Probably I could hear them tonight, if I were to walk down this road in the dark. But I don’t suppose I will.
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