By Michael Furtman
A walk across the prairie in the spring, if your eyes are open and your passion is for ducks, will reveal a complex and beautiful ecosystem.
Top a rise and a wetland will glisten, surrounded by not only grass, but flowers and lichen-covered stones, some polished smooth by the now absent bison that once rubbed their gritty hides against the granite. Along the wetland edges, cattails rattle in the wind and bulrushes wave and bend in the breeze. From the marsh comes the booming of bitterns, the eerie whinnying of a hidden sora rail.
The very air is alive. Marbled godwits, upland sandpipers, and other shorebirds, ever the cohorts of prairie-nesting waterfowl, spiral skyward, loudly proclaiming their territories. Herons and egrets glide low over the land, while hawks soar high above it.
And then there are the ducks. Canvasbacks
streak back and forth from pothole to pothole, tracing the hilltops, driven at impossible speeds by prairie winds. Mallards
drop from great heights, parachuting on cupped wings, landing with flair and grace on splayed webbed feet. Spectacular courtship flights are etched against sapphire skies, and the lucky will see randy gadwall
drakes battle midair, fighting in flight, each desperate to defend or find a hen.
To see this place, to walk this landscape, is to have it capture your soul. It is the same scene that inspired DU founders Joseph Knapp and Arthur Bartley. It has thrilled every DU field crew toiling in its midst. It has motivated generations of biologists and researchers. And it is the place that, in turn, stirs the soul of DU members and volunteers
, the men, women, and children waiting in marshes throughout each flyway, their eyes trained above bobbing decoys for the arrival of the ducks that must, by need, migrate across this continent. Such is the magic wetlands can produce.