A Christmas gift from the skies
Jan. 11, 2002
Kenneth Thomas took to the flooded sloughs near his Toomsuba home on Christmas Day with his father in pursuit of ducks. It was to be a day to remember for a lifetime.
This was Kenneth's very first duck season. The 22-year-old Mississippi State senior had hunted rabbits, squirrels, deer, doves and wild turkeys. 2001 is the year he launched into duck hunting and found what is fast becoming his favorite hunting sport. This Christmas Day, he received a special gift that heralded his new hunting venture. He bagged a banded duck.
Ducks are captured and fitted with tiny metal bands around one leg to aid biologists and researchers in studies of migration, primarily, and also aging, habitat use and other factors in the life of waterfowl.
What punctuates Thomas' feat is that the bird was a wood duck drake, arguably the most beautiful duck in our nation and one which may not be widely banded. The band gives the location and phone number of an office to call, in this case Laurel, Md. Thomas will be mailed what history is known of the duck, including when and where it was captured and released.
Duck hunters value bands as special souvenirs. One reason is that when the duck's previous stopping place is revealed, fascinating speculation compels the hunter to travel with the bird though hundreds, often thousands of miles. The duck is seen searching the wilderness for a landing site at dusk, splashing in flooded grain fields during a snowstorm, resting quietly at night in foggy swamps or in brushy edges of great rivers.
Visualizing the handful of flesh and feathers dutifully executing its purpose, driven by some wonderful power to fly for days and months that completes the survival cycle called migration; this is the stuff of a duck hunter's daydreams.
The band that documents a stop in that flight; a place and time along the route, is a confirming footnote that fuels the daydreams.
Wood ducks are the speedsters that streak through the swampland treetops of southern creek bottoms, their characteristic whistles contrasting with quacks and chuckles of mallards, the other common duck hereabouts. If we could have but one wild duck in our woods, many of us would choose the wood duck. Mallards are bigger and the drake is one of the most beautiful of wild creatures. But its beauty cannot surpass the wood duck drake, and the wood duck is also excellent table fare.
Kenneth Thomas is grateful for this little duck that brought along part of his life's story to a new hunter looking up from a small slough in Mississippi. But even without the Christmas Day present, the young man already has reaped blessings from the outdoors.
What would describe Thomas' dream hunt? "Definitely a duck and/or goose hunt, but the location would depend on where the ducks were in their migration. That could be Canada, Missouri, Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana, etc. I would also want my Dad to have to opportunity to go with me."
Kenny Thomas taught his boys safety first in their early years of hunting together. Tragically, Kenneth's younger brother, Freddy, was killed in a car wreck three years ago. "My dad, Freddy and I hunted together ever since I can remember," recalled Thomas. I remember that if anyone could get you fired up about hunting, Dad was the man for the job! My brother turned out to be a better deer hunter than I. Along with safety, we were also taught conservation and
appreciation of land and wildlife."
Thomas married Rachel Marie White of Newton last August and he graduates Mississippi State this year and is looking ahead to an opportunity for medical school. His life is busy. But he made time to experience a Christmas time hunting moment that will pervade his thoughts on the Christmas Days of his future.
It happened along Toomsuba Creek when a little painted bird fell from the sky and completed its assigned life cycle; a course that brought more that a tasty dish to the family's dinner table. Much more.