Friday, January 10, 2014

Mandarin Marvels

Sometimes, the most ordinary of daily routines can lead you to something remarkable. That happened this week on my Wednesday walk. It was the most ordinary of weekday walks, one that as usual I was feeling better about toward the finish than the start. I was keeping a quick pace, trying to beat the encroaching winter dusk and dropping temperatures. But as I passed a bridge, an icy scene peeking through the rhododendron called to me, so I made a quick detour to stand on the bridge and take in the beauty for a brief moment. Winter has a stillness about it that I find compelling. 

I was just turning to leave when I spotted something below, a duck. A beautiful duck! There were two of them, on a rock, almost hidden in the shadows at the creek's edge.                                                                                                                                        

I stared in wonderment. The creatures looked as if someone had taken a brush and set of paints and done a paint-by-number on them. As my eyes settled into the twilight, I saw more...4, 6...maybe 7. It was too dark for photos, so after marveling at them for a few moments I hurried on my way, back down the path. 

The next morning, as soon as the sun was well up and over the mountains I returned to the bridge with my Canon, and was thrilled to find the colorful ducks in the exact place I'd seen them the preious evening. My first shots were from the bridge using my telephoto, but the harsh morning shadows were not in my favor. I wanted to get closer.

I gingerly crept down a path leading from the rocky bank to the creek's edge, certain that the ducks were going to spook and fly away at any moment. But they didn't. I didn't make eye contact, and adopted my best "I'm not here, you don't see me, I'm not paying any attention to you" persona, and settled with my camera onto a large boulder. Quietly I raised my camera and focused. 

What a spectacularly beautiful being. I've only seen birds this colorful in books, perhaps at a zoo. They were on both sides of the bank, two sunning themselves and snoozing on a rock on the opposite bank, and four others busily grooming themselves under a rhododendron on my side. The female in that group, pictured below second from the left, was the only female I saw. 

I needn't have worried about scaring them away. The duck at the far right of the group above swam away from his friends and came over to check me out. I was delighted at his curiosity. He cocked his head left and right just like Lady! It made me laugh. 

I wonder if people feed them. I bet they do. This little guy was clearly expecting something other than my adoration. 

When I returned home, I googled 'colorful duck' in the hopes of learning the name of these multi-colored wonders. Images immediately appeared (whatever did we do before google?) and within seconds I knew that what I'd seen were Mandarin Ducks, or Yuan-yang in Chinese. According to Wikipedia, the species was once widespread in eastern Asia, but their numbers have diminished to about 1000 pairs in eastern Russia and in China. Japan is thought to still hold about 5000 pairs. Because they have been widely exported for collections, where they sometimes escape and create wild populations, more of these ducks now exist in Europe, the largest population in and around Berlin. 

I went on to read that isolated populations exist in the United States....  
The town of Black Mountain, North Carolina has a limited population,[6] and there is a free-flying feral population of several hundred mandarins in Sonoma County, California.
Black Mountain! That's my town! Technically I took these photos in Montreat, just down the road, but the two communities are very close. Wow... two locations in the United States are mentioned, and one of them is here. My remarkable Mandarin discovery suddenly became even more remarkable. I will have to go back and visit my colorful ducks again, now that I know how relatively rare they are. Maybe I'll google what they eat and take a snack next time. 

It isn't often that we have days of temps in the single digits and teens. Down the creek from the ducks, where the water spills out of Lake Susan, the boulders are covered with thick ice. It's almost as much of a marvel as the ducks!


  1. I'm in awe, totally. I can only imagine your delight in being able to sit with them!!!!! I'm envious. :-) What spectacular Beings they are. Thank you so SO much for being the bearer of delightful diversity this morning! I'm going to share this post on fb, too…wow.

  2. These ducks are stunning. And how fortuitous that they live in your neighbourhood! It is amazing how those unexpected moments of quiet beauty really lift the spirit.

    It has been a while since we've seen any birds around our place, with temperatures hovering around -37.. but today it is much warmer and I stopped in my tracks in the woods to hear the happy little trill of bird song. I turned and exclaimed to Molly how wonderful it was to hear and she looked at me and said, yes, but have you seen this stick? :)

  3. Simply amazing! What excellent photos! They could be a postcard.

  4. Oh, wow! What gorgeous shots! What amazing creatures!

  5. Thank you for this, just magical!

  6. I'm so glad you had your camera. Beautiful images!!

  7. They are just gorgeous, we sure don't have any painted ducks like yours out here in Colorado (well, maybe at the zoo!). Your ice photo is stunning.

  8. What a beautiful series of photos!

  9. Wow! These ducks are stunning! You took fantastic photos, Brenda! Well done! :)