chosen bird and for the departing second put the bead anywhere on the line. A bird falls, bouncing in the dust of the turned field. Dry ground, downed bird. I still don't know what it is. But, shaking and hurrying, I am about to find out.
I am incredulous as I kneel next to the body, almost afraid to touch this supernormal creature, its feathers still flushed with the last blush of life and movement. Simply put, it was a greenhead, but totally unlike a greenhead; smaller, longer and leaner of head, neck, body and tail. More like a hen Pintail in
drake Mallard feathers. Words spun through my mind to describe what I was seeing. It looked, well, ATHLETIC. Hard bodied. Lean. Compared to the average mallard, this was the sport model, the '66 Mustang, the Triumph TR3. Even as I struggled with my own characterization of an "athletic duck", I had to concede that, green head, white ring neck, curly tail aside, this was behavior-wise, flight-wise and shape-wise, a totally different Mallard than anything I had ever encountered. Were there more just like this? Well, apparently, at least one whole flock.
My off-season musings bracketed the range of biological possibilities. What do we know about sub-populations of Mallards, other than the overly simplistic "Northerns" and "Locals" division, or variations in migration patterns of subpopulations. Fifty years go there were Canada Geese, of varying size, big, medium, and small. Now we recognize fourteen subspecies, some of which have precise migration routes to specific nesting and wintering grounds, the endangered Dusky Canada of the Willamette Valley being a case in point. But Mallards would seem to be infinitely lumpable.
Want to hear hysterical laughter? Talk about a subspecies of Mallards to a practicing biologist or taxonomist. A subspecies classification would require relative genetic isolation. This is a duck that will mate with anything with feet, webbed or otherwise, that perennially threatens to genetically swamp related species, like the Black duck, for example. Or, because of it's affinity for human "improvements"
like cities or adaptability to our agriculture, the Mallard can simply out-compete related species. Geographic isolation? This is a duck that, sooner or later colonized the most isolated Pacific islands, spawning a plethora of drab, small, rare and unique mallard knock-offs, like the Laysan duck.
Maybe that flock was a web-footed adolescent version of the Sharks or the Jets, running the Gut or casing the 'hood. Or maybe my Ferrari Mallard was just part of the crowd. Comparing it to the average Mallard and the bodies at Gold's Gym to mine comes out about the same. And THEY act differently too. If humans had mating flights like Mallards, the hen leading her would-be mate and a second courtier on long, looping chase flights, and if I had to run with and down any of those hard bodies emerging from Gold's gym, my genetic isolation would be complete.
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