It's been around seven months since we last saw Mandarin Patinkin in New York City—having arrived in the city last October, he's now been gone longer than he's been here. And while we originally thought he'd be back by now, he's still Somewhere Else. Parts Unknown. Maybe he couldn't hack it here. Maybe he couldn't quack it. Or possibly...he's just upstate taking in the fall foliage?

A photo of a Mandarin duck was posted by Alan Orr to a Hudson Valley Facebook group over the weekend, and though we cannot say for certain it is the Mandarin duck (the photographer has not gotten back us yet), we can say with certainty that it is giving us strong Hot Duck Autumn vibes... and more importantly, it's providing a little bit of hope that he's nearby and making his way back to NYC.

The photo shows a creature that looks a lot like Mandarin Patinkin against an autumnal backdrop, if you consider wood chips autumnal (I do). It's very possible this is one of Patinkin's doppelgängers, as there are some breeders around (this tweet from earlier this summer shows a molting Mandarin at a duck farm upstate). But what this blog post presupposes is: what if it isn't a doppelgänger?

David Barrett, who runs the Manhattan Bird Alert account, assured me earlier this year after the duck's departure that "birds have amazing geographic memory," and as we know, Mandarin Patinkin has previously left for exotic lands like Brooklyn and New Jersey, only to return to his pond in Central Park.

I shared this photo (which makes it impossible to see if the duck has a band on its leg) with Barrett today, who told me, "Most of the ducks that winter in Central Park are just now starting to arrive—Ruddy Ducks and Buffleheads. It's entirely consistent with our migration hypothesis that the Mandarin duck might be slowly making his way back, and could be stopping over in the Hudson Valley. We just had the hottest September in recorded history [which caused the leaves to change color earlier than last year] and dabbling ducks are under no pressure to fly south."

So while we know his migration instinct likely took him north (he was expected to leave during Molting Ugly-Hot Duck season for an extended period of time), we also know it will bring him back south... eventually. Barrett also offered this hopeful tidbit: "The Mandarin Ducks that annually visit our Tennessee friend @pansol0077 also migrate away and back every year, returning to him."

As Emily Dickinson once said, "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul... and never stops at all."