Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ducks and terms of endearment

click photo to enlarge
Say "ducks" and the image that will pop into the head of most people is either the white "farmyard" variety or the mallard.

I don't think the white duck comes to mind because of its ubiquity: they're certainly not uncommon, but they're by no means the most widely seen duck. No, I have a feeling that the prevalence of this "type" in children's picture books is responsible for the association. We've all seen the illustrations of them waddling along, quite upright, snow white with orange legs and beaks, often wearing a bonnet or carrying a hand-bag!

The mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), the commonest wild duck, is the variety that we see the most. Despite being the quarry of wildfowlers, the species is happy to live both a wild life and in close proximity to man, being found in most built-up areas, on streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. It was probably always thus, because this species is, in fact, the ancestor of the domestic farmyard duck, of which the white variety is but one type. Furthermore, the wild mallard frequently inter-breeds with domestic ducks to produce birds that show characteristics of both parents. You can usually tell if a mallard forms part of the parentage because the colour of the wing speculum - it is dark blue, with white borders - often remains in the hybrid. If that characteristic has disappeared through successive inter-breedings, then the upcurled central tail feathers are the other indicator (on the male). So, that being the case, you'll know the breed and sex of the nearest bird in today's photograph despite the fact that it is a silhouette having been shot against the light, under a tree, by the edge of a stream!

But, I can't leave this subject without noting that in my county of recent residence, Lincolnshire, "ducks" (invariably the plural) is a widely used term of endearment, applied by women to strangers as well as friends. Go into a shop to buy a newspaper, and the assistant is very likely to say "thank you ducks" as you hand over the money. Where other counties might use "love", "chuck", "darling" or somesuch, Lincolnshire prefers "ducks"! Why is this? In the past (and still today to a more limited extent) the south of the county had industries based on the plentiful ducks of the extensive wetlands - pillow-making, eiderdowns, etc. Perhaps that accounts for it!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On