Published on December 27, 2013
Eider ducks milling about on the kelp beds. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Published on December 27, 2013
Ducks on Main Beach in Spaniard’s Bay. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Published on December 27, 2013
My buddy Chris Fowler with a couple of lovely diving ducks — no oil on these.— Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
I’ll tell you a funny story about eider ducks. Well, I suppose it’s somewhat humorous.
You have to relate this story to the context of the times; if not, you may wonder why my father wasn’t arrested and thrown in jail. If he did today what he claimed to have done in 1957, he certainly may have spent a night in the lockup. There’s no doubt he would have been charged for illegally discharging a firearm in the community of Spaniard’s Bay.
Also, this tale of unconventional waterfowling speaks to how easily accidents can happen, and why there are laws against hunting in populated areas. Fortunately, no harm came to anyone in this story.
My father loved hunting birds, turrs and ducks in particular, so much so that he kept a 36-inch barrel Iver Johnson single shot 12-gauge shotgun in the trunk of his car at all times during hunting season. In those days, any edible waterfowl that pitched in shooting range during open season was fair game. There were no laws against shooting near dwellings or inside community boundaries.
So, my father had his trusty shooting iron with him wherever he went, in case he was lucky enough to spot a duck in a pond or along the beach on his travels.
Nowadays the beaches in Spaniard’s Bay are lined with ducks of numerous species. As you might imagine, with folks toting shotguns, and hunting even while driving to work or to pick up a few groceries, the birds weren’t quite so plentiful in the 1950s.
My father, Maxwell Smith, married my mother, Nellie Sheppard, and moved to Spaniard’s Bay from Bishop’s Cove late in the 1950s. I’m not sure if they were dating or married when this eider duck fiasco occurred. In any event, they were driving in my dad’s Buick, 1956 model I think, along what we call Main Beach in Spaniard’s Bay.
Some of you might remember where the Avalon Store was located in that area. It’s long gone now. I can just barely remember when it was open for business. I clearly recall playing and fishing for sculpins, eels and whatever else came to a baited hook around the pilings that supported the remains of the once busy buildings.
As my father drove past the Avalon Store on his way to Bay Roberts to pick up some nails, he spotted two eider ducks feeding in the kelp beds about a hundred feet or so from the shore. He slammed on the brakes and pulled the car off the gravel road in a cloud of dust.
Mom didn’t know what in the world had come over him. She didn’t descend from the sort of family my father grew up in; the Sheppards were not known for hunting.
Mom didn’t see the ducks, and didn’t know the shotgun was in the trunk. Can you picture this? Mom is still sitting in the car with not a clue about what’s going down. Dad is
running ahead in the road, half crouched down, out of the duck’s line of sight, and loading a shell into the chamber as he’s going. There wasn’t much traffic through Spaniard’s Bay in those days.
I should explain the geometry of the situation. There is today, and also was back then, a wooden seawall built all along Main Beach. It keeps kelp, sand, and rocks from covering the road when easterly gales roar through. It stands about five feet high, hence the ducks could not see my father approaching crouched and on the run.
What neither the eiders nor Dad knew was that an elderly man from Shearstown with a fertile vegetable garden had been gathering kelp to nurture his soil. He had decided to rest and have a smoke, leaned with his back against the seawall. The birds pitched in the surf and did not see him, his brown jacket and pants blended so well with the weathered wood.
I wish I could remember the farmer’s name but it escapes me. Anyway, he watched the ducks picking mussels and puffed on his pipe. Meanwhile, on the other side of the wall, Dad poked his head above the wall and spotted the ducks in perfect alignment for a double kill. The long Iver Johnson barrel slid over the top and the hammer clicked back with Rolex precision.
Dad had done this a time or two before.
The hammer snapped forward just as the eiders crossed. The cap exploded and powder ignited, sending a load of lead right over the farmer’s head. Actually, the barrel of the gun was right over his head.
Have you ever stood beside a 12-gauge shotgun blast? It is deafening. The ducks toppled over dead and the poor farmer got such a fright that he jumped up and ran out in the water to grab the birds. I have no idea why he did so, but that’s precisely what he did. He splashed right to his waist in the icy cold ocean. Then he walked back towards my dad with an eider duck in each hand. They split the prize, a bird apiece.
I wouldn’t totally believe this story, only my mother was there as a witness.
So, the Shearstown farmer and Dad both had eider duck for supper that night. Dad got his nails and went back to work on the new house he was building on Finn’s Hill, the house I grew up in. Mom cooked the duck in the partially finished house on a camp stove.
Those were certainly different times. There were no calls to 911 and no charges filed at court. I can only imagine the commotion today if somebody jumped out of a car with a gun and shot two ducks on Main Beach.
I would not recommend any such course of action, no matter how badly you might crave a duck supper.
Eider ducks have been in the news and talked about on open line shows quite a bit here lately. Hunters have been finding substantial numbers of oiled sea ducks in the Change Islands vicinity.
It’s a terrible thing when waterfowl come into intimate contact with petroleum products, in this case diesel fuel leaking from a sunken cargo ship.
The Manolis L, a paper carrier, sank in 1985 during a storm in an area known as Blow Hard Rock, somewhere between Bacalao Island and Change Islands.
The wreck has been sitting and rusting on the bottom ever since. In recent years, oil has begun leaking from the ship’s fuel tanks. No surprise — it had to happen eventually.
The Canadian Coast Guard made an attempt to seal the tanks earlier this year but now, with winter upon us, oiled birds are showing up in the area.
There’s also a stench of diesel fuel along some beaches. The tanks are leaking and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it until spring. We can only pray that the leak doesn’t get worse and large flocks of migrating seabirds end up landing in an oil slick.
Maybe a solution will be figured out, and I’m following the story, but as I submit this: there’s still no good news, just continued monitoring and discussion on what to do.
That’s the nasty thing about pollution. When the damage is done, it’s so difficult to undo, like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. Companies and governments assure us all is safe, like with the Northern Gateway Pipeline issue I discussed a few weeks ago.
Look how difficult it is to deal with mere fuel tanks leaking from a sunken freighter. Imagine a wrecked oil tanker or a broken pipeline.
We must be very careful and diligent in carrying out environmental assessments. An ounce of prevention is worth all the medicine in the world.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted