The Wood Duck is a magnificently beautiful creature. Male or ‘drake’ woodies are blessed with colorful markings, including a green head with stark white banding, red eyes, yellow beak and a brown breast. Naturalists treasure a Wood Duck photo opportunity, while hunters seek them out for a prized taxidermy subject.
Wood Ducks are found primarily along the western and eastern coastal states of North America and Canada. These ducks are cavity nesters, preferring breeding grounds with tree cover and nearby water. By the early 20th century, the Wood Duck was endangered by the loss of these suitable nesting grounds and unregulated hunting. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the development of the artificial Wood Duck nesting box in the 1930’s allowed the population to recover. Thanks to these early conservation efforts, we’re still enjoying Wood Ducks today.
Enter Shane Beard, who began Deering’s Wood Duck nesting box program in the 1980’s. Building, installing and servicing the boxes allowed participants to connect to life outdoors, making them perfect vehicles for one of Shane’s favorite endeavors – the Boy Scouts.
Deering’s Conservation Commission (DCC) quickly joined in to help, and by the early 1990’s, there were dozens of Wood Duck boxes all over Deering, from the Audubon properties in northeast Deering to beaver ponds after the Reservoir outlet in the southern part of town.
The DCC’s long-time member Gary Bono oversaw the program through 2010, writing reports, making maps, selecting new and more appropriate locations, building boxes, and installing poles for box mounting. His reports are fantastically interesting to dissect. Soon after I began overseeing the program, I learned just how much Gary cared about those boxes—and his reports.
I was outside the Town Hall during the March election last year, when a determined Gary Bono came up to me. He had just voted. You see, the Conservation Commission always has a table of goodies set up in the hall for residents to look at after voting. Along with a couple of Duck boxes, I had provided copies of that year’s Duck report—my first—for interested parties to take home. Gary was clearly an interested party.
“I see you didn’t report how many eggs hatched,” Gary said pointedly.
Now I had noticed Gary recorded if a box had been used, how many eggs went unhatched, and how many eggs hatched. That sounds reasonable enough, until you’ve just opened a used Duck box to find piles of shells. Not in neat, easily countable, individual piles mind you, but mounds of shells. For a while I tried to figure out how many chicks hatched—I’m sure that was a sight to see, but I soon realized this made no difference. As long as the boxes were being used and the hatches were successful, then all was well.
Gary soon realized that despite my insolence, I did care about the program. He relaxed and shared stories of former DCC Chairman Ed Cobbett falling through the ice up at ‘Mud Pond,’ going clear up to his chest. Apparently, Ed wasn’t too happy about the experience, but Gary enjoys telling the story nonetheless. Gary offered to help anytime, summer or winter. That’s the Deering I know; neighbors helping neighbors, and residents volunteering to make Deering a better place to call home.
After nearly 30 years, Shane’s Wood Duck boxes remain well-supported. There are nearly 40 boxes in town, all being monitored by a handful of volunteers. Perhaps you’ll see one of our cars parked on the side of the road in February with snowshoe tracks leading into a desolate beaver pond. If you were to follow those tracks, you’d likely find a happy neighbor or two enjoying the peaceful surroundings and perhaps taking some pictures of new fallen snow on a beaver dam. Thanks for the winter memories Shane.
Though he passed away in 2006, one of Shane’s boxes still provides nesting habitat along the Contoocook River at his parent’s home at the Deering Fish and Game club. His father Pete has a taxidermy-preserved drake Woodie that he’s graciously offered to showcase at the Deering Conservation Commission’s table at the Town Hall: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 from 11a-7p. Stop in, say hi, and enjoy a bit of Deering’s life outdoors.
-From 'Deering Community Chest' by Aaron Gill, printed in the Villager Newspaper, February 21, 2014