Graham and Carolyn were members of our nature walk groups for several years. We were always able to spot more species of birds when they were with us. Here is a note that I received from them:
This was the most important “puddle duck” in Ontario until eclipsed by the Mallard in the 1960’s. The population of Black Ducks appears to be holding its own fairly well but it has had to yield first place to the prettier and more trusting Mallard in recent years. In captivity the two species hybridize frequently and hybrids are sometimes found in the wild populations as well.
This is a big black duck with pale cheeks. The female Black Scoter has somewhat similar colouration but is a smaller, chunkier bird, often seen with other scoters farther from shore than most Black Ducks. In flight the brilliant white underwing is a good field mark, contrasting with the otherwise black plumage. Females mallards are brown rather than black and have the blue speculum bordered with white: the blue in the Black duck has no white border. White-winged and Surf Scoters are the other black ducks but usually show white in the wing or about the face and lack the scoop-shaped “puddle duck” bill shape.
This was essentially a prairie duck and very rare in Ontario until quite recently: in my early birding days it was always a red letter day when a Gadwall was spotted among the more common puddle ducks. Nowadays it is not unusual to find 100 in favourable localities such as Lynde Creek marsh in autumn or the New Toronto waterfront in winter.
Males in breeding plumage are gray with black rear ends. Females look like somewhat smaller female Mallards, but like the males with a spot of white where the Mallard has its blue speculum bordered with white along the rear edge of the wing. Sometimes this white spot does not show when they are at rest on the water, but when it does show it is diagnostic. The gray bill bordered with orange-yellow along the sides is also characteristic.
This is a species to gladden the eye, considered by many to be the most beautiful of our ducks. For a time in the early 1900’s it was considered an endangered species but it has responded well to a more enlightened hunting policy and’ though still not common, it graces many a marsh and swamp in southern Ontario. It breeds high in trees in large holes or in Wood Duck boxes suitably placed.
At close quarters the beautiful male is unmistakable with its greenish crest, white face, dark blue wings, partly red bill and yellowish buff sides. The female also has a bit of a crest but the “spectacles” around the eyes are its best field mark. In flight the absence of conspicuous white on the wings and the big head are suggestive. When flushed in its breeding swamps it goes off with loud squeals, unlike the note of any other duck.
This is a handsome duck, the males with green heads and curly tails and females with bright blue speculum, bordered fore and aft with white. It is the ancestor of most domestic varieties. When protected it soon becomes trusting and tame but when it is hunted it has a reputation as one of the wildest of wild ducks: it has learned to get along with all kinds of men so is widespread and common in most of the northern hemisphere.
Both sexes of the Northern Shoveler resemble mallards but differ in having the huge broad bill which unfortunately spends most of ts time underwater. In flight shovelers have a big patch of light blue on the fore part of the wing (as in Blue-winged Teal) while the blue speculum of the Mallard is in the hind edge of the wing. The breast of the shoveler is white while the sides are chestnut brown: in the Mallard this is reversed with brown breast and white sides. The recurved black tail coverts of the Mallard are distinctive. Female are best distinguished by the size of the bill, when not underwater.
Recently, scientists discovered that modern humans and chimpanzees share 98%
of the same genes. Many people were shocked by the announcement, and I suspect
that at least some of the chimpanzees were taken aback too… perhaps
even a little disappointed.
There’s also been some controversy regarding genetic manipulation
in food crops, farm animals and decorative pets, who, like
their owners, might not survive long in nature if left to fend for
It turns out that a big part of the public’s concern revolves
around misunderstandings with respect to the terminology. We
hear about the insertion of jellyfish genes, daffodil genes, cow
genes, shark genes, and even Mr. Greenjeans, into the DNA of
In truth, there are no jellyfish, daffodil, cow, or shark genes –
there are only genes. The existence of Mr. Greenjeans is still a
matter of debate. Genes are sections of the DNA molecule that
code for the manufacture of proteins and enzymes, or direct the
activity and timing of other genes, turning them on or off.
I think we can all agree that gene splicing, as it is sometimes
called, should always be done in a well-supervised and responsible
manner. But it is also clear that there are societal benefits to
introducing medically useful proteins, enzymes and amino acids
into the diets of people who are currently lacking them, are suffering
debilitating afflictions, and would not otherwise have access
to such medications through conventional means.
Unlike the DaVinci Code, the DNA code has much to offer mankind,
today, and for millennia to come.