Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter Ducks at the Drying Beds

How many can you spot?
I took my bird-dog bird watching at the Village Creek Drying Beds in Arlington, Texas this morning. This was not as fool hardy as it may sound. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Colby is something of an embarrassment to her line-- she prefers butterflies to coveys. She also knows that when I have my camera out tugging and general knuckle-headed-ness is futile. I will remain un-moved until I'm done. She seems to enjoy our excursions though, and I get a kick out of watching her try to figure out what's got my attention. This morning it was ducks.

The Village Creek Drying Beds are locally renowned as an excellent place to view ducks in the winter.  Or they were renowned, I should say.  The site is in the process of decommissioning. Originally used as a solid waste treatment facility, it is now the domain of birders, dog walkers, and nature photographers. Water levels are kept much lower than they used to be, and thus the numbers of visiting waterfowl have declined.  I only saw one bed with enough water to draw ducks when I visited.

A northern pintail
I was actually visiting the drying beds to work on my duck ID. I know basically nothing about ducks, and a warm winter day where most of the other wildlife has gone cryptic seems like as good an opportunity to learn as any. In addition to the ubiquitous mallards, I saw northern pintails, green winged teals, and northern shovelers. There were many other ducks drifting and dabbling with less obvious field markers. I had to look up the term "dabbling"-- this is the word for the duck feeding behavior where they go 'bottoms up'. Ducks are described as being dabblers or divers, where divers dunk themselves entirely and the dabblers do underwater headstands leaving their rear-ends visible above water.

Green winged teal
I think my favorites were the pintails, probably because they were the easiest to spot to my untrained eye. Pintails have… an elongated pin-tail. They also have a white breast and grey head. Green winged teals were easiest to identify based on the white slash ahead of their wing. Their copper heads seemed to make their green ear patch hard to spot at a distance. Northern shovelers were distinctive because of the strong white/chestnut patterning on their bodies and their dark heads.

Northern shovelers
The origins of the names 'pintail' and 'green-winged teal' are pretty obvious, but what about 'shoveler'? Do they use their bills to shovel and pick through mud? Well, not really. I suppose their bills vaguely resemble shovels, but the term most commonly used to describe them in the literature is "spatulate". Their bills are broader at the end than at the base, and the edges are toothed like a comb. They use these crenellations to filter food from the water. This species is remarkable in that it is common to North America, Europe, Africa, and parts of the Indian subcontinent.

Another picture of a shoveler 
Supposedly the Village Creek Drying Beds are even better during the spring and fall migrations. I imagine that its usefulness as a duck pond will ebb and flow with rainfall and chance as the drying beds are totally phased out. Until that happens, I can still recommend this spot as an excellent place to see ducks.

Dry drying beds

Useful Links
visual guide to Texas ducks:

list of ducks and relative commonness:

Bird World's map of birding hotspots:

The description of Village Creek Drying Beds:

FW Audubon's list of hot spots:


  1. Careful, birding can be addictive. <3

  2. Careful! Birding can be addictive. Next thing you know you and Colby will be driving hundreds of miles so you can add an out-of-its-normal-range bird to your life list. <3