“What are those ducks doing here?” asks Duane Howe. He doesn’t mean merely “What are they doing?” but rather “Why are they doing it here?”
He lifts his binoculars to watch them, sitting on the same bench beside Pete’s Pond he has occupied almost daily, since early spring. The pond is a half-mile walk from Warm Valley Lodge, the Dubois assisted living facility where he has lived since 2019. That daily hike along a paved walkway beside the Wind River presents no problem for Duane, who remains fit, very active, and always inquisitive.
Recently, he was monitoring a new family of geese. They have since vanished, and now a pair of ducks have appeared on the same small island. They seem to be nesting, but this troubles Duane. Isn’t June too late for ducks to be nesting? If so, why have they stopped to sit there? It’s a puzzle.
The geese were another puzzle. “I sat on this bench for days and watched them,” says Duane. “They were very good parents. The female never left the nest.”
Duane shared what he was seeing with residents and staff at Warm Valley Lodge, but nobody else saw the eggs or the goslings when they hatched. For a time, the mystery of the goslings was the talk of the Lodge. Eventually, Duane stopped seeing the geese entirely, and this troubles him. What happened?
Dietician Sheryl Isaly is positive she saw them on the island, while walking a friend’s dog. “It was really cool,” she says. “They had lost their yellow. You could see the adults on the island really easily, but the chicks were difficult to see unless they moved, because they were so well camouflaged. I counted six of them.”
Most people who know Duane Howe remember him as Dubois’ veterinarian – and, as a friend says, one who “knew a hell of a lot about wildlife.” That’s because before moving to town he was an expert wildlife researcher, the author of scholarly articles about the diseases of elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
Duane’s former boss at the Sybille Wildlife Research Center of Wyoming Game & Fish, William Hepworth, remembers him fondly as a “wonderful researcher.” Hepworth hired him as the first veterinarian researcher at Game & Fish, where the two carried out research in a laboratory at the University of Wyoming. He published scholarly articles about diseases in elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
“He was very accomplished, very bright, and very detailed,” Hepworth recalls. “He always wanted to know how things work.”
That spirit still thrives in Duane, although to his dismay (as for so many his age) words often fail him now. “I used to know the names of all these shorebirds,” he says as he walks around the pond, “but I just don’t remember them.”
Although Duane retired long ago, because he chose Warm Valley as his residence, he still has the chance to observe and ponder wildlife almost daily — whether the beavers that leave their marks on willows by the walkway or the deer that often visit the back lawn of the Lodge.
“I’m going to keep an eye on those ducks,” he pledges, setting a brisk pace back toward the Lodge to be in time for dinner. “I’ll have to go back tomorrow and see if they’re still there.”