It’s been months now since I’ve last seen a gadwall at our little bay in the Big Smoke. In fact, this is the first winter I haven’t seen any gadwall pairs on my usual ramblings at the lake. In the past, a few couples stuck around all season. In particular, one pair hung out in the tiny protected inlet on the southeast side of the Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club. They were there, reliably, year round, dabbling in the shallows. Shy and wary when it comes to humans, but always there.
The gadwalls (Anas strepera) are first cousins to their near look-alikes, the everpresent mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), but are VERY unlike them in behaviour. The unfazed mallards let me come right up close to them before they take off, wiggling their bums as they waddle away, and warn me off with a loud and annoyed sounding QUACK, quack quack quack). The gadwalls, by comparison never let me get within 50 feet of them. When they are dabbling in the shallows of the lake by the path, even the softest footfalls I can make alert them to my presence. Off they go, bombing out from the shelter of the overhanging plants at the lake’s edge in an alarmed clatter, paddling swiftly out into the safer waters of the inlet.
I took the above photo above of the gadwall pair last spring (in April ’08) — in a futile attempt to use the bare stems you can see in the picture as slight cover as I intruded on their togetherness.
These dabbling ducks are easily dismissed — particularly the females — as just another dull brown bird. But the real beauty of these ducks is appreciated only on close examination. Up close, or through good binoculars, you can see the female’s intricate herringbone pattern on her back, sides and flanks. Under higher magnification, the intricate lines on the male’s flanks are a wonder.
Does anyone know where they’ve gone, or what happened to the Asbridge’s Bay gad-abouts, er, gadwalls?