Today we made plans to go out and see what the fair weather would bring us. If nothing else, we’d have a nice boat ride, see a beautiful sunrise, and enjoy each other’s company. The Friend has been out with me and the Hunting Partner several times throughout the season and up to this point had harvested one spoony and one green winged teal. A little thin to keep his interest high, but he was having a good time learning the ropes nonetheless.
As expected, it was a beautiful, cloudless, sunrise and as the time passed without many ducks working our spread I helped The Friend with some calling basics. If you were a fly on the wall (or in the blind as the case may be) you would have laughed at the verbal descriptions I was using to try and verbalize what you say into the call to get the correct sound.
“No, no. It’s more like ‘HUT, HUT, Hut, Hut, hut,’ not ‘Hut, HUT, Hut, hut, hut’ for the hen mallard.”
“Say ‘Hoo-whee-hoo, hoo-whee-hoo’ into the call for the Wigeon.”
“Use that thingamajigger in the back of your throat to help with a proper feeding chuckle.”
It was quite funny at times and I am sure the other hunters in the area were getting their own chuckle at the squeaks and cronks emanating from our location.
Anyway, I digress.
As we sat there basking our faces in the warm morning sun, The Friend noticed a duck coming in low and fast directly to my right, parallel with the boat. By the time I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye I could see that this duck was just going to zip right in and sit down in the decoys.
Where we were hunting there were hundreds of Canvasback, which are on the Federal “do not touch” list this year due to population concerns. All morning we had been taking extra time to properly identify those birds that showed some interest in our setup, with the result often the same. “Never mind, it’s a Can.”
But by the time I saw this duck coming straight at me, I spied a short, baby blue bill and rosy chest and knew right away; game on.
“OK – it’s a Wigeon. I want you to shoot this duck. I’m not going to stand up, so it’s all you.” As the bird slowed to land, I told The Friend, “Shoot it!”
He stood and readied himself, but the bird skirted in and got on the water before he was ready. We both sat there for a split second, expecting the duck to immediately survey the situation, see the man standing with a large, black metal tube pointed in his direction, and rise to get the heck out of Dodge.
As quickly as the duck entered the situation, he decided to leave and rose from the water as expected. As he gained space between himself and the water, The Friend’s smooth bore reported and the duck again returned to the water. This time he was lifeless.
Max did his thing and lurched into the water for the retrieve. However, as he grabbed the duck and began to swim back to the boat I caught an unmistakable glimmer of cinnamon color reflecting off the duck’s head.
‘Oh, crap!’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s a Canvasback’.
But as I replayed the preceding scene in my mind again, I knew, just KNEW, that the duck I saw on the wing had to be a Wigeon. Cans are so easy to identify - big white, round body, flaming red head, ginormous beak. I just couldn’t believe I had mistaken the two. Could it be that my mind is playing tricks on me and I wanted that duck to be legal so The Friend could get another chance in the closing weeks of the season?
As Max made his way back to the boat, I noticed he had grabbed the duck by the butt and as he swam closer I could see more, and more of that cinnamon head. But as got within a few yards I could begin to make out more details and again saw that unmistakable blue beak.
“What the heck is it?” I said to The Friend. Then is dawned on me. Could it be?
Yes! Indeed, as Max dropped the bird in my hand, I turned and held it up and announced, “Eurasian Wigeon!”
What a treat, particularly for The Friend. I have seen forum posts over the years with hunters who have harvested a Eurasian. And it was last year that I was with The Hunting Partner when he shot his last bird to fill his limit and it was a Eurasian. But to see such a rare bird is special. The Friend and I exchanged high-fives and I began telling him how special this specimen was.
Eurasian Wigeon are a rarity among North America waterfowl. Annually there are sporadic sightings and harvest reports along the upper Pacific Coast and Eastern Seaboard. However, they are not native to North America and there is no known breeding population. Eurasians that do make their way into North America come from Siberia or Iceland. On the Pacific Coast it is rare to see one south of Washington State.
Eurasians are one of three types in Wigeon family; American and Chilöe being the other two. American Wigeon are, well, common around here as you would expect. In the Pacific flyway we harvest a lot of American Wigeon. They love to infiltrate the northern California rice field duck clubs where we shoot. Routinely American Wigeon will make up a good portion of a rice field hunter’s bag.
There are no reports of Chilöe Wigeon being spotted or harvested in this area. They inhabit the lower section of southern South America. Although if a Eurasian can get lost and fly to Northern California from Siberia, well then I suppose it is not outside the realm of possibility that a Chilöe could end up here as well.
We wrapped up the day talking as excited as school girls about what type of mount The Friend would order to preserve the memory of his rare find. This bird is proof that the duck Gods have a terrific sense of humor. How else can a brand new duck hunter who has only killed two birds in only his first year end up with such a great bird.
As we motored back to the dock, The Friend turned and with a big smile on his face, said “Now that will keep me coming back for a long time.” So true my friend, so true. This is why we live to hunt!