By Dave Henderson
Way back in 1717, King George of England got a yen to hear a musical concert while floating along on the royal barge down the River Thames. So he commissioned one of the eminent composers of the time – Georg Frideric Handel – to compose some tunes for him. Happily, Handel complied. And the orchestral work he composed for the king’s river voyage became known as Water Music.
Segue to today. For several years now, I’ve had the good fortune to conduct monthly five-minute bird point count surveys along a languorous stretch of Las Vegas Wash in Clark County. OK, yes, as a GBBO staff member, I do get paid for this “work,” but that’s all subsumed under the catch-all “good fortune.”
As the seasons change, so do many of the bird species I observe. Not surprisingly, the large open-water parts of the Wash attract waterfowl and wading birds. Some are resident, particularly the wading birds such as Great Blue Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron. Few, however, of the waterfowl are resident beyond the ubiquitous American Coot and Mallard. Most of the waterfowl are seasonal, and their season of choices, like Santa’s, is winter.
In November and December, a new suite (notice the clever Water Music allusion here) of waterfowl invades the Wash. Some are just passing through, or stay for a limited time in small numbers for the winter. Among these avian snowbirds are the Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, and Redheads. Although all these ducks overwinter here in the south, Las Vegas Wash does not provide the ideal habitat for such ducks that prefer deep water, which seems to be the reason I don’t record these species in large number at the Wash. Other deep-water ducks – such as Canvasback, Greater Scaup, and Barrow’s Goldeneye – are of extremely rare occurrence in the shallow waters here.
All said and done, though, the November-to-March season at Las Vegas Wash might aptly be called The Days of the Dabblers. Northern Pintails and Green-winged Teals begin showing up in late fall, but never in large numbers (at least here). Rafts of Northern Shovelers appear too, but again, not in any large enough numbers to inform Grandma.
Although it makes my job harder, (estimating large numbers of swimming ducks is not easy), I do enjoy the overpowering presence of the waterfowl in mid-winter. But it’s not just a visual spectacle. The sounds emanating from the water are equally pleasing to the ear: the harsh quacks of the Mallards, the soft quacks of the Gadwalls, the whistled wiwhews of the Wigeons, the quehps, the mepps, the warrs…
Some would call it music. Water music. But not me.