—Tom Goff, Carmichael
Excited by the rarest rare-bird report on KCRA,
we head up north this fine wild-wind January Sunday
to the Colusa Wildlife Refuge, electric with hopes
to see a blown-off-course visitor: an Asian Falcated Teal.
So giddy with hopes of the Great Reveal,
we might be flying, not driving, flying like Aztec
voladores, spiraling in a mystic centrifuge.
This visiting Siberian waterfowl ought to be
wintering in Vietnam or Bangladesh or Burma,
we learn from the Roger Tory Peterson field guide.
But, Teal’s instinctual GPS device wind-flustered,
storm-baffled perhaps, he’s flapped and fluttered
and bellied down to pond, from Siberia via the Aleutians
through Canada and—here. How much of his misglide
was fear? His misery or mischance our good luck,
we unpack our binoculars. There’s the duck-observation
deck, the one rock-solid in a wilderness of pooling
and ponding. We strain and strain our lenses to find
the rare friend in grand goose-strews and duck-huddles,
wanting so greedily to see the scimitar covering
plumes jacket the graceful straight flight feathers.
We envision the breast neatly dappled and stippled,
the sensuous downcurve of the Art Deco tail feathers,
knowing our passion to flame from mere smoldering kindled
—but where is he?
Oh the Snow Geese and the exquisite copper-sided
Northern Shovelers are lovely. We lap up vistas
of Black-Necked Stilts wading, their leg stalks all
peach yogurt color. And the Pintails plow fresh
channels of landing, their lusciously silverblue bills
aglow. But Mr. Teal’s not anywhere to be seen.
He was here just yesterday, say some birders. He’ll turn
up sooner or later, they opine. And we’re far far
downriver but missing our Mistah Kurtz in all this
heart of duckness. Not overly soon but soon, we head
for home: our Tinkerbell and teal belief
shaken to something a bit like grief.
And your eyes almost fill.
But that was that Sunday. Today Sunday,
the planks of that ducklooking deck seem weighted
a little weightier with us absurd people,
bird people. In front of the throng, almost
amid the fullthrottle birdsong, two or three
spotting scopes: murmurs of I can see him!
We shyly ask to peek—then, Where is he?
See where that transmission tower is. Now
look just past that little green island: he’s out
there just hanging out with some Snow Geese.
And we’ve found our Falcated Teal! See his
lovely mallard-green head? But a touch livelier,
a tad bit Key Lime pie tinge. The subtly curved
scimitar covering wings might be kissed
or scented faint lilac. And the clincher: how
the wonderful little rust patch just paints
the top curve of the head running back a ways
from the little duck brow. We leave the great
spotting scopes to their rightful scopers. Now
we can ply our own binocs as on bikes minus
training wheels. And we catch him again!
gliding like Ultraduck with mighty invisible kicks
across the rippling shining soft waterfield.
O Walt Whitman of teals, you poet among odd
ducks, we’ve got you! And we and you and the live
oak in Louisiana will live alone no longer evermore.
And we know we will go home as aglow as the long
soft sunset pond. The air just back of the wild
afternoon blue’s like a painter’s ground,
golden and cold and windblown,
and our sweet teal found.
(For more about the Falcated Teal, go to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcated_Duck. For more about his visit to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, and to see him in action there, go to baynature.org/videos/falcated-duck-turns-up-at-calusa-national-wildlife-refuge.)