I AM JEALOUS. I just got off the phone with a young couple, good friends of mine. I am jealous because they just got back from visiting in North Dakota where they spent time with family. I am jealous because they got to see some of the millions of wild ducks that nest and breed in the prairie pothole country of North Dakota and I didn’t.

They got to spend a week in a state which, for nine days or so each fall for the past 27 years, I have considered my home away from home. For those days I am in North Dakota, it is the most wonderful place in the world. Just don’t ask me to spend a winter there.

While our friends were there, they got to see ducks on every pothole they passed for miles and miles. Mallard drakes; green heads resplendent in spring breeding plumage; big bull canvasback drakes (they of the most regal bearing); pintail drakes with sprigs — a narrow pointed band of tail feathers — 7 inches long; beautifully colored green-winged teal with brilliant orange and green markings; you name it, all my favorite ducks were there.

One young lad got to see, for the first time in his life, the results of duck breeding up close and personal. On a walk one early evening, near a small slough, a hen mallard burst into the air out of cattails my friend and the boy were skirting no more than 5 yards ahead of them. 

Cautiously edging forward, my friend parted the cattails and there was Mama Duck’s nest, filled with 10 eggs. According to my friend, his nephew had never seen a duck nest with eggs before and for the next day or so, that was all he could talk about. Music to my ears; a youngster filled with the joy that only wild ducks can bring.

I have only been to North Dakota once in the springtime and that year, it was just after most ducklings had been hatched. My wife and I, along with five good friends, had traveled to the prairie to put up three artificial duck nests which we had purchased to honor in one way or another a husband, brother and best friend who, like me, had spent a lifetime being a nut about ducks. The nests were a memorial to him and though now they have long outlived their usefulness, according to the landowner who gave us permission to place them in sloughs on property he owned, the nests were occupied the very next spring by breeding mallards.

I am admittedly a “duckaholic” and I believe there is no more beautiful bird in the world than a wild duck, be it mallard, wigeon, redhead or even an often maligned shoveler, which in full breeding plumage is a stunningly beautiful duck.

It is not only their beauty which takes my breath away, but their very life’s path along which they have journeyed for uncounted thousands of years.

Like other migratory birds somehow, someway, they know from birth that they are destined to make a journey which can be thousands of miles long twice each year. Almost unfathomable to a mere human, somehow they know when and where they are going. Be it from a tiny pothole in North Dakota or even farther north to places like Hudson Bay and the interior of Alaska, unerringly ducks fly back to the place of their birth with only a born-in instinct guiding their way.

Their passage through my part of the country, spring and fall, is not only a rite of their passage, but of mine. I thrill to the sight of dabbling ducks ducking their heads into the shallow waters of muck-bottomed lake for food. Laugh if you will, but I firmly believe there are far worse things from which one might get thrills.

Seeing a pair of wood ducks, the drake being perhaps the most beautiful of all beautiful ducks in the world, sitting quietly on the still waters of a tiny woodland pond is one of the most anticipated sights I can hope to see each spring.

Wild ducks are fantastic, colorful, beautiful and to the nth degree any other platitude you could attach to them. They are the very symbol of all that is good in the wilds of the world.

I have had my thrills and succumbed to the pleasurable company of wild ducks for several weeks this spring. I have watched mallards breast the strong current of a creek before any other water was ice free and I have watched some of the earliest migrants each year, hooded mergansers, as they filled tiny areas of open water still surrounded by ice.

I have reveled in my time with the ducks this spring and I will again revel in my time in North Dakota with them this fall. But next week, I will revel in doing what I have been doing for the ducks for more than 40 years now.

I will be emceeing, as I have for the previous 37, the 38th annual Plum Creek chapter of Ducks Unlimited (DU) spring event at the Sayner Pub in Sayner. There we will give away lots of prizes, folks will eat one of the best buffet dinners to be found anywhere and those same folks will give, hopefully, lots of their hard-earned dollars to the cause of DU.

DU is the largest and most effective conservation organization in the world. DU has conserved, restored and preserved millions of acres of wetlands all across North America for more than seven decades. Without DU, some species of wild ducks in North America wouldn’t exist today and virtually all species would be drastically reduced from what their numbers are now.

Without DU, hundreds of other species of animals, birds and four-legged critters as well as amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish, plants and, maybe most important to people, ample supplies of clean, pure water would have been irreparably harmed forever.

I am proud to be a DU member and as Gomer Pyle would say “surprise, surprise, surprise,” I am welcoming and challenging you to bring your bodies and money to the upcoming event. DU is not a hunting organization. It is a conservation organization that has no peer. Anyone who values clean water and hundreds of species of wild life is welcome to join the ranks of DUers in support of all the wild things we treasure most. 

Hope to see you there.