It is an absolutely lovely winter morning here in Yorba Regional Park. Here, that means sixty-four degrees and sunny with cottony clouds dotting a powder blue sky. I arrived here at about nine a.m. today, parked in my favorite parking place in the shade of a forty-something evergreen where I can look out on the lake. I know the age of the tree because Yorba Regional was a brand new park in the Orange County Regional Park system when we moved to Yorba Linda in 1973 and virtually all of the trees were saplings. My wife, Muri, arrived about and hour later and we took a several mile walk in the fresh morning air. As we were leaving the parking lot, a pair of Egyptian Geese were crossing the road with their brood of goslings, taking their sweet time as park-tame geese are inclined to do. A van was waiting patiently to pass, so I waved my arms and scooted the gaggle along for them. They thanked me and moved along. As Muri and I rounded Lake Number 2 about fifteen minutes later, the same people were walking with friends in the opposite direction. Oh, look, said the driver, laughing. It’s the Duck Herder. I smiled and kept my mouth shut.
You see, I am very particular about calling a house finch a house finch, a red-shouldered hawk a red-shouldered hawk and … of course … a goose a goose. I smiled because Muri will sometimes call a goose … or a coot … or even a heron … a duck as a slightly-annoying joke. Whereas I grew up with a Mom who kept a Golden Books Birds of North America by the kitchen window so she could properly name any bird that stopped by, Muri’s family had no such fetish. I think it was Muri’s brother, Norm, that started the joke by calling any waterfowl we came across Ducks, perhaps because he didn’t know the difference but just as likely to hear me point out, It’s was a cormorant, not a duck, in that tone of voice. After all, how would it be if I called my hairy neighbor down the street an ape just because he resembles one and humans and apes belong to the same biological order, primates. But after almost fifty years as part of Muri’s family, too, I can keep my mouth shut and laugh when someone misnames a member of the order anseriformes. With effort.
Still. Is it all that hard to tell a duck from a goose? After all, we have the internet at our disposal via our smartphones, even at the park. But be careful where you look for help. The almost-never-reliable Yahoo Answers would tell you, Geese are considerably larger than ducks. Geese are only white in color and they make a honking sound, while ducks only quack. Geese are typically more aggressive than ducks. Wrong, Yahoo answers. Some geese are larger than some ducks but it’s not a sure thing. Geese come in other colors than white and, by the way, some ducks are white. All ducks don’t quack. Widgeons and Wood Ducks squeak and Buffleheads don’t say much of anything. I’ve never met an aggressive duck and I’ve certainly never heard one hiss, but then again, when I shooed the geese across the road this morning, they weren’t aggressive at all. No honking, no hissing, they just moved along nicely. Of course, there’s more potential confusion because that large waterfowl coming at you aggressively, honking and hissing, could be a swan. So, if you want to be sure get a bird book. Or just call them all Ducks. Be uninformed. See if I care.
Have a good weekend.