As I walk through North Creek Park on the boardwalk, I can only hear the soft “waack” of ducks tucked away in the dense vegetation. Of late there have been few ducks visible, none in the air and only a startled few out in the open who quickly melt into the mix of wetland plants if they catch me approaching. I suppose they are molting, preparing for their winter run to warmer weather. I too, am sensitive to the shorter days and cooler air. Instead of a day out hiking, my husband and I chose a quiet, indoor day at a local art museum this past weekend. The Frye Art Museum hosts a wonderful permanent collection and although much of it was tucked away in storage to make way for a large temporary exhibit, still on display was one of my favorite paintings, Moulting Ducks by Alexander Koester (1864-1932). I couldn’t help but compare the two images, the one scene, only imagined in my head of molting wild ducks at North Creek wetland and the other, the feathery image of Koester’s painting. If one could actually view the wild ducks, would the viewer receive the same scathing looks as those from the barnyard ducks in the painting, a look that says, “Excuse me, but this is a rather personal and delicate time. It’s rather rude to watch just so!”
Researchers Adams, Robertson and Jones noted that when they studied molting in the Harlequin Duck of the Gannet Islands in Labrador that not only do ducks loose their ability to fly during this time, but they also tend to stay out of the cold water. Quiet and still, they spend their time on land conserving thermoregulatory and maintenance costs. These researchers also noted that the ducks don’t forage as much and suggest this is a specific design so that the body mass is reduced and flight is possible at an early stage of feather renewal (The Condor, May 2009, Vol 111, Issue 2). New feathers tend to be of a duller color then the summer mating phase and may help to camouflage the ducks during this flightless time.
It’s an interesting concept, that of molting. Casting off what one no longer needs, slimming the old waistline and preparing for a new journey. Perhaps an idea I’ll take on for myself. I’ve recently passed a personal milestone; I both earned a new degree from University of Washington and unfortunately, lost a job I loved as another victim of the economic downturn. I can’t think of a better time to make like a duck. Leave the old behind, renew myself in body and spirit and look forward to something new. Hopefully I’ll soon join a new flock or team and will be able to put my newly acquired skills to good use. I imagine, like the ducks, at first I will find the new feathers a bit itchy and I cringe a little to share this rather personal and delicate time of being jobless and without a daily routine. But in the end, I will embrace the coming of flight and welcome the sunny days at the end of the journey.