Note on Photos: The photo of the Eurasian Teal in flight was given to me by Hilke Breder who saw the bird at Herrick's Cove on one of those rare occasions when it was close (relatively) to viewers. It is used with her permission. I digiscoped the 2 photos of the Eurasian Teal swimming in 2007. The Green-winged Teal photos were taken in Cape May and Texas last fall using my new equipment
Two weeks ago I was at Herrick’s Cove, the designated “Important Bird Area” north of Bellows Falls where the Williams River joins the Connecticut River. I walked all the way through the picnic area to the small sandy spit which points south. There were six birders crowded along the narrow path. The crowding was increased by the tripods and scopes set along the path, and bodies hunched over, staring through the eyepieces.
First, some background on the Green-winged Teal: This teal is our smallest dabbling duck. Dabbling ducks feed by turning themselves upside-down as they feed on plant life beneath the water’s surface. Mallards, American Black Ducks, and Northern Pintails are among the most familiar “dabblers.” Canada Geese, though not ducks, are dabblers. The Green-winged Teal has a length of 14 inches and weighs about 12 ounces. Only the Bufflehead, a diving duck, is smaller (L. 13.5 inches). The teal is slightly larger than the Rock Pigeon (L. 12.5 inches, W. 9 ounces), and significantly smaller than the American Crow (L. 17.5 inches, W. 1 pound), although comparing a duck with a song bird is like comparing apples and broccoli.
Serious birders pay attention to presence of subspecies, so that they are prepared to add a new tick to their life lists when the taxonomists finally recognize what they (the birders) have suspected - that many distinctive subspecies should have species status.
Not so on our side of the pond. The American Ornithological Union (AOU), which determines taxonomy, has refused to take up the split of this (or these) teal(s). The American Birding Association (ABA), which determines the official bird list for North American birders, follows the AOU, which makes for North American consistency if not world consistency.
Occasionally the waterfowl at Herrick’s Cove are close. Most of time, binoculars and a scope are needed to get any kind of a decent look. As I was walking toward the spit where the birders had gathered, a power boat came speeding into the cove, sending all of the waterfowl into the air. When they settled down, they hid themselves in the interwoven channels and along the distant shore of the Cove below the railroad bed. Tthey could just barely be seen swimming in and out of view.
These were serious birders, and they studied the distant waterfowl intently until they found a flock of some thirty teal. Then they strained to watch the swimming drakes, most of whom seemed paired with a hen. A few times a drake could be seen displaying, whipping his head up and backward. The viewers paused on each drake, saw the vertical white stripe, then moved their attention to the next drake ... until someone announced, “Got him!”
And sure enough, there was the drake Eurasian Teal, displaying with whiplash enthusiasm for any interested hens. Few details of his plumage were visible - just a hint of the chestnut head and green eye patch - but the horizontal white stripe along his wing was clearly visible.
The sighting on that day was what birders describe as a BVD - better view desired. We don’t always get the great look at a bird that we want, so we keep looking. Birders are sometimes a strange and obsessive bunch. But they live in anticipation, and function on hope, and rejoice in those moments of fulfillment. From what I have seen of life in general, it is a good way to live.