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It was with surprise that I glimpsed her lounging about the lawn on the northern side of the house. Ducks are not usually so casual about their safety. She wore the scalloped brown of many female dabbling ducks, so I assumed she was a Mallard. That was my first mistake.

When I came back to the window with my camera, she was gone, but I guessed where to. I hurried to the french door at the back of the house and, sure enough, there she was beneath the thistle feeder, harvesting thistle seeds dropped by the sparrows and finches.

I took half a dozen shots, through three layers of glass, and then backed off, impatient to get back to my work, and not wanting to disturb her further. That was my second mistake. I was still unaware how special she was. Had I waited a bit longer, I might now have some great shots of her walking about or taking flight.

The heavy rain made her head appear darker than shown in my bird book. That threw me off at first, and delayed my identification. Suddenly, her long neck and dark gray bill caught my attention, and all became clear. She was a Northern Pintail, rare in these parts, but common in the upper Midwest, and known to migrate great distances.

Years ago, there were a few pintails on the pond, and they would come up to our back deck along with the Mallards for a handout of corn. In those days we didn’t know better and fed the waterfowl.

Northern Pintails nest on the ground in marshy areas. The male is extravagantly and beautifully garbed. His long, fine tail gives the species its name. I’ll keep an eye out for him.

The photos were snapped late in the day on June 4, 2012.

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