Friday, October 31, 2008

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS

I know that the small city of Gueydan, Louisiana claims to be the duck capitol of the world, but New Iberia also has its share of this water fowl… along with long-legged waders like herons, egrets, cranes, spoonbills, and flamingoes. Yesterday’s Daily Iberian carried a story about a very old species of duck that flew in during the time I was on The Mountain in TN this Spring and Summer.

Two ducks of the black-bellied whistling species nested in a pond near the Lynn Landry home in New Iberia (they make a mellow whistling noise), handsome creatures with bodies of chestnut and black, red bill and pink legs, and patches of white on their wings. The duck couple produced a family of nine ducklings while summering in New Iberia, and the offspring traveled from pond to pond in the area until they learned to fly.

Unlike many ducks, these birds are nocturnal and migrate at night, rest and feed during the day. They’re easily domesticated, and the Landry family became very attached to them. The newspaper article featured a magnificent color photograph of the black bellied whistlers flying against the backdrop of a dark sky with a full moon. The Landrys said the whistler is a bird that looks like a cross between a duck and a goose and evolved many years ago, according to expert guidebooks on birds.

It’s a good thing the whistlers didn’t land near another Frenchman’s place of a former time: the artist Claude Monet’s house in Giverny, France. The impressionist painter was very fond of eating fowl and kept an elaborate notebook of recipes for his palette of taste, including his favorite birthday dish: Becasse a la casserole, otherwise known as Casseroled Woodcock, cooked with shallots and white wine, not to omit Duck with Turnips (made with a duckling!) and duck in red wine sauce. I hasten to add that the average duck lover around New Iberia prefers to view his duck in the roasting pan, rather than viewing it in its nesting habitat.

For me, it’s refreshing to turn the mind away from politics and disasters and to read about the wild and natural world, to know that some facets of our landscape, even of the oldest species, are not lost to us, especially those lofty creatures from the world of the water fowl. ‘Strange how the ducks lifted off the day before Hurricane Ike hit, sensing, perhaps, that an ill wind was about to blow --they had the good sense to evacuate a habitat where the Big Wind often strikes.

The Landrys say the black-bellied whistlers are bound for Mexico to winter – I can only surmise the ducks gave them a whistle about where they were going, and I reckon that sunny Mexico isn’t a bad choice for a winter vacation. However, Mrs. Landry predicted that the ducklings would return in the Spring as they generally return to the place where they’re born. Maybe they tasted bayou water!!
One of my “series”poems about other birds from AFTERNOONS IN OAXACA, published by Border Press:

THE ROAD TO PINEVILLE
II.

At dawn the dark birds
gather to bless the light,
squads of palmettos appear,
newly flooded by rain in the swamp.
I stop at the edge of the brown water
and bless the dagger-like fans,
wild plants that have followed me,
unabashed into the unknown…
like prayers spiking the underbrush.

IV.
Winter returned in the night
and tried to subvert the Spring,
a white bird takes his stand on one leg
in a sea of buttercups, whose faces, upturned,
catch the intrepid gusts,
disappear in yellow green stillness.

V.
There is no unencumbered God,
like a Bedouin he moves
across flat green fields,
searches out yellow cups,
columns of crimson clover,
unsettles a grackle near drifting egrets…
casting the shadow of vigilant parent.
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