It’s spring, and things are starting to chirrup and bleat and hey-baby and what-have-you, so on a March day with a little paste of sunshine in it, Dave and I went out to Mary S. Young State Park. It’s not far. We’d never been there but my friend Pat had been going on and on about the birds she visited there, and it seemed like just the thing to do on a fake-spring day. I brought my binoculars and kept my eyes peeled for Pat’s owl. She’d even told me where it hung out when I expressed interest in visiting the park, but I zoned out a bit after “third large Doug fir past the Western redcedar on the south side of the second parking lot behind the rest rooms and a bit east of the off-leash dog area, hang a left at the first towhee.” I can only remember three things at a time and there’s no guarantee they’re going to be in the right order.

crappy but unmistakable

So I was just taking my chances, and enjoying being in the mossy woods, and I flipped on my Merlin bird-sound app just in case some bird was planning to get away with something. I scored the towhee posing away, right off the bat, and a Pacific wren, and a bunch of regular folks I didn’t have to leave home to see. And then PONK PONK I found a perfectly good pileated woodpecker and took some dreadful I-told-you-so pictures of it. These are a big deal to me. I’ve only seen pileated woodpeckers a handful of times, and only twice in Portland. Those were both within walking distance of our house but it should be noted that we can walk a really long way. The first one was at the far point of what turned out to be a twenty-mile walk. That was the time we walked to the Zoo to ask if they had any duck-billed platypuses, and the lady at the gate said they didn’t, so we turned around and walked home, but we did bag that woodpecker.

Anyway we scored two pileated woodpeckers at this park, doubling our Portland all-time total just like that, and I was pretty pleased with the whole day, but we needed to get home for lunch, so we got back in the car. I checked the bird app to make sure I’d turned it off, and there on the screen was an explanatory statement that we couldn’t possibly have heard a mandarin duck because there weren’t any within five thousand miles of us, and included some helpful range maps to underline the point, and said it was sorry for getting our hopes up. Basically, in our area, a Sasquatch would be more likely.

“GET OUT OF THE CAR,” I barked at Dave, and he did, instantly, wondering what the hell he’d done wrong this time.

photo by Pat Crane

Thing is, I happen to know that possibly the only Mandarin Duck in the western hemisphere had recently been seen in this little park. No one knows how he got blown across the ocean but he’s been spotted in several damp locations around Portland for the past few years during breeding season, and last week right here. I got out of the car and held my phone in the air to suck out a duck for me, and I walked in circles with all my ear-hairs pointing out, and finally I got smart and called Pat. Left a message. Pat. Pat. Murr. I’m at Mary S. Young. Where’s the damn duck. Need the damn duck. Pat. Pat. Thanks.

She called back a minute later from Yucca Valley California and digitally walked me over to the beaver ponds and wished me the best of luck. I know everyone is used to that sort of thing by now but it still floors me that someone in Joshua Tree can guide me to an impossible duck in Portland. It’s a wonderful world.

Found the beaver ponds, where I would not have looked askance at a beaver, either, but we did not find our duck, or a beaver. We did find a matched set of mallards, so the ponds were certified for duckability. We couldn’t have missed the mandarin if he were there. Even in a pond with wood ducks, the mandarin duck looks like a drag queen in a monastery.

And we’re not a bit afraid of them.