By Dr. Madeline Kalbach
For the Observer
The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to witness the migration of many species of ducks, geese and other waterfowl. Wherever there is a wetland there will be ducks and geese. The skies over Willapa Bay are filled with ducks flying in to find a place of refuge on the bay.
Mallards are quite prominent on the Refuge now. They sit on the mudflats and at the edge of the bay as the tides ebb and flow. Mallard males are the ducks with the green head, yellow bill, white ring around the neck and pale body when in breeding plumage. The female mallards is less conspicuous being mainly brownish. Her bill is orange and black. Her legs are orange and she has a black streak or line through her eye. The typical quack associated with ducks is the voice of the mallard.
Another prominent migratory duck is the Northern Pintail. It is probably our most common duck. It is one or the earliest nesting ducks in the northern areas of North America. They are now returning from their breeding grounds. They will stop to rest and feed on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge as they work their way south to their wintering grounds. They will feast on aquatic vegetation, as well as seeds found in the water. They can also be seen grazing in the fields of the refuge.
The northern pintail is sleek, long-necked, and has elegant looking tapered wings. The male is particularly striking with his chocolate brown head, long neck and white under-parts. He is also distinguished by his extremely long, pointed, black tail feathers and its long, slim, neck with a thin, white, line running up the back of the neck. The design is exquisite.
The female northern pintail is also sleek and elegant in appearance. She has a long, slim, graceful neck. The central feathers of her quite pointed and long tail are longer than the rest of her tail feathers. She is buffy-brown in color with a soft brown, plain colored head and a grey bill. As of last week, they were among the most frequent fliers into the Refuge. A careful look skyward will confirm the flight of the Pintails. Their sleek body and pointed rear give them away immediately.
Last but not least are the Canada geese. They have taken refuge everywhere on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. They can be seen on the bay, both in swimming in the water and standing along the water’s edge refuge to rest and feed before continuing their journey southward, as well as in the fields of the Refuge and elsewhere on the Peninsula.
Very soon, other ducks and waterfowl will abound as autumn grows into winter. Gadwall, American wigeon and green-winged teal are just a few of the other species you will see in the next month. In addition, the number of ducks, geese and waterfowl will begin to increase.
Fall migration is the perfect time to get out with your binoculars to study ducks. How many species can you identify? Look for them on Willapa Bay, at Tarlatt and Leadbetter Point. You can’t miss them, and remember to look up on occasion! The reward will be great!