Ducks

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banding of the ducks. First, Giles suited up –with suspender rainsuit, knee-high water boots, and raincoat. Next, she readied her gear –a fishing net, three mesh totes, a tackle box, and a cinder block –all pulled on a winter sled, since Giles couldn’t bear the weight of items like the block without difficulty.

A lengthy trek through the woods followed with the rain overhead falling more steadily. With darkening skies, Giles was nearly undetectable in the forest as her green rain suit camouflaged her among the trees. Her gray cinder block and blue tackle box being drug on the sled offered the only color. She noted that staying on one path was important, as to not spread the human scent around the area, which could attract predators to the duck trap.

Once at the water’s edge, where five-foot tall weeds shot up out of the pond, standing as a fence between the water and the land, Giles plunged almost knee-deep into the water, her boots sinking in the muck and mud. She used her first tool, the cinder block, and submerged it in the water next to the duck trap, to be used as her stepstool.

The small ducks flapped and splashed, and a few quacked. All wood ducks, there were nine in total, a good catch that would bring Giles’s total number of ducks banded here in the first two weeks of a six-week process to 64.

The large trap sat in the water and the bright yellow corn kernels that Giles used to lure the birds in could be seen through the water, on the bottom of the cage. With a smooth, funnel-like opening, the ducks could easily swim into the trap for the bait, but then could not get out.

Her other supplies lying on the sled on top of the weeds a few feet away, Giles grabbed the fishing net and one of the small mesh bags and got to work. Through a door she opened on top of the trap, she scooped the ducks, one at a time, into the fishing net. With the confidence of an expert, she firmly grabbed the fowl, some spunkier than others, and placed them inside the mesh bag.

She said that ducks aren’t nearly as feisty as geese and, when asked if the ducks had ever bitten her, she replied, “If they would bite, I wouldn’t feel it. Geese, they’re the biters.”

With three bags, three ducks went inside each and the bags were placed in the sled. As Giles worked on filling the last bag, ducks in the first two tried feebly to escape, almost making their way out of the sled. She flipped the bags so that the mesh was on the bottom and the solid bottom of the bag was on top, thus blocking the ducks’ vision and calming them.

Next came the banding process. With bare hands, Giles pulled the ducks out one at a time. She examined their feathers to determine their age and sex. Of the nine wood ducks caught that day, eight were males and most were fairly young, born this summer on that pond.

As the rain poured down now in epic proportions, Giles made notations about each duck on waterproof paper that she retrieved from her tackle box. She wore a string of bands around her neck and, using special pliers, clipped a band on each duck’s leg. While the older ducks mostly sat still for the process, the smaller ones flapped and struggled and Giles calmed them with soothing words and sounds that one would use to calm a child or pet.

When released, the small ducks, too young to fly, made their escape by flapping off quickly into the weeds beside the trap. Some of the older ducks flew straight out and off to the other side of the pond, the heavy rains not slowing their flight.

Most of the ducks will not return to the trap, although Giles does come upon ones that are “trap happy.” She added that the warm temperatures allowed her to release the ducks immediately, but, if it had been cooler and raining this much, she would have dried and warmed the ducks before their release.

As the banding is regulated by the U. S. government, it is a federal offense to tamper with the duck traps and Giles asked that location details about the few traps set in the Mountaintop area not be disclosed.

Banding season will end in mid-September, as that is the time when ducks may begin migration and it is also the time when hunting will begin. The Game Commission does not want to lure ducks into areas where hunters frequent.

The goal of each banding season is to obtain a certain number of adults and juvenile males and females, Giles said, with a goal of roughly 1,200 mallards, 750 wood ducks, and 100 black ducks. With her recent catch, and her tenacity to do her job in all weather conditions, it seems she is off to a good start.

Soaked and dragging her weighty sled back through the woods, as the first sounds of thunder rumbled, Giles reported that her waterproof jacket was no longer waterproof. She left the job site smiling, satisfied that another group of ducks will be tracked, their information aiding wildlife researchers in the future.