In the UK, we have a long-running soap series called ‘Coronation Street’. A set of three flying ducks graced the muriel (sic) on the wall of Hilda Ogden’s back room at No.13, Coronation Street.  Greatly loved by Hilda, she credits the ducks and her scenic wall, for keeping her ‘hand from the gas tap’ on her bad days. But to her long-suffering husband Stan, the rest of the residents in ‘The Street’ and to the millions of television viewers, they were the epitome of cheap, tasteless, tat.  Despite being regarded with universal contempt in the world of interior design, the flying mallards can still be bought as an ironic decoration, more often given away as a gift to soap fans.

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An idea came to me as I watched Long-tailed Ducks from the shore of Lake Ontario. I suddenly had an urge to have three of these beautiful ducks on my wall. Not with any sense of irony you understand, just a desire to see such beautiful ducks on a more regular and predictable basis (out of the cold and the biting wind). Something to stay my hand from the gas tap on my dark days. Thus began a project to catch 3 of them in flight.

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The Long-billed Duck, Clangula Hyemalis, can be seen on both coasts of the USA and Canada during the winter, but is seen most regularly in large numbers along the east coast and North Atlantic. It migrates north to breed in the tundra where it nests on the ground close to shallow pools.

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It is described as a Sea Duck, but it often winters on large, northern, freshwater lakes such as Lake Ontario. It is easy to see its close association with other fish-catching, ‘toothed’ ducks.
They were very easy to find here on a recent visit and great to watch.

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They have a distinct style of approach and landing onto the water. The tail is a very noticeable part of the operation, giving the duck an exact height check from 6 inches above the surface. The actual touchdown is slightly less elegant with a bounce after the first contact and the bird is thrown forward into quite an ungainly landing.

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I am unable to say why some of the ducks swim with their tails raised while others allow it to trail behind them in the water. I am guessing that it is a sign of virility. Some could be seen swishing their tail in a very energetic fashion.

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The females do not carry the long tail plumes and reminded me slightly of Cotton Pygmy geese.

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Catching the ducks inflight proved tricky, but there is a site called Leslie Street Spit in Toronto which allowed me to get a good angle on some flying ducks and eventually, I was rewarded as a few flew by.

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The ideal shot would have had three ducks in perfect formation, getting slightly larger as they appear to come closer. Sadly no three ducks would accomodate my request and I had to make a Photo-shopped version for the wall in the back room.


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Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.