September 9: Buda leads Beauregard and Buddy back to their home base in the bay beside Brighton’s city hall. Reflections of the sun at twilight paint their path as they paddle the short distance. Since Mrs PomPom offers them no amusement while she tends her ducklings, the boys felt the need to visit the always charming and accommodating SweetPea. She accepts (although unwillingly) all gentlemen callers at her primary residence under the pine tree beside the millpond dam.
Predators are drawn to concentrations of any animal species. Great herds of wildebeests in africa are followed by prides of lions during migration. We have the same phenomena happening at the millpond but on a smaller scale. All of the insects pictured in this post are hovering around the milkweed plants at the millpond now to either grab a milkweed bug whenever they’re hungry or prey on other insects looking for an easy meal.
Ladybugs are cute little beetles unless you’re an aphid. They view them as wolves. Farmers of certain crops buy ladybugs by the pound to populate fields to rid them of insects damaging their crops. No need to buy them to insure a millpond presence. They’re quite capable of reproducing enough of themselves to beat back the insects they prey upon (left).
Solitary wasps wait on the nearby plants for a chance to catch a meal (below left). Hornets (two are pictured, below right) have set up house in the underbrush. Several are loitering on vines twining around the stand of milkweed. I’m not willing to chance being stung to search for it.
A Spined Soldier Bug (I think) was digesting a recent catch on a milkweed leaf when I found it (left and below). It’s a species of dubious value to agriculture. It eats several pest species but can cause some crop damage.
All of these species (and more) keep “herds” of milkweed bugs in check as they grow through five instar stages. It’s difficult to fathom the intricate balance of predators and prey throughout the natural world.
I’m sure drivers racing past me on Grand River wonder if I’m confused or lost. They see an old man standing in the grass near the Border Cantina restaurant intensely staring at weeds beside the Brighton millpond. The weeds are a tangle of milkweed plants and other wildflowers brimming with insects at this time of year.
The milkweed plants are in rough shape after a summer full of insects feasting on their flowers and leaves. They’ve been battered by several storms and are coated with soot from thousands of vehicles zooming past them each day. But the milkweed pods are still intact after summer’s assaults and near their peak development. Some have already started to dry. Soon, each pod will split as it dries and release hundreds of seeds into autumn’s stiff breezes. A few of them will sprout new plants when spring rolls around again.
Some pods appear covered in rust or orange lichen (above), but if you look closely, you’ll realize the rust has legs and moves. The first and second instars of Milkweed Bugs have hatched along with other young insects. These first generations are orange but, by the time they reach their adulthood, they will be brightly colored in black and red to ward off potential predators by advertising they are toxic. Their diet of milkweed sap makes them unpalatable.
Expect to see more posts about milkweed bugs as autumn moves along. The changes they go through on their way to adulthood is fascinating.
Most domestic ducks aren’t terrific mothers, but Mrs PomPom is doing a good job of caring for her little ones (Brood 26) even though she’s lost half of her brood. A reliable source told me some of the chicks were probably consumed by Ring-Billed Gulls.
Gulls were found harassing the family group one day this week. PomPom wasn’t skilled in protecting her offspring from the aerial predators although no ducklings were killed while being observed.
Now that the babes are two weeks old, the survivors have a better chance of living until adulthood. PomPom doesn’t keep them in a tight circle like some of the Mallard hens do, but she remains relatively close to them. On cold evenings, she keeps them under herself although I haven’t seen her drop her wings to the ground to provide a warmer roosting space as most Mallards do.
All four of the tykes appear healthy and able to search for food on their own. I’ve seen PomPom swim them to nearby lily pads so they can find small morsels on which to nibble. They are old enough now to begin eating duck chow. Its high protein content helps supplement the natural foods the ducklings find as they paddle on the millpond.
The nesting period has also given Mrs PomPom a chance to re-grow her crest, and heal the wounds on the back of her neck inflicted by the drakes during the mating season.
Involved in an unknown mishap in late August that has left him with a broken leg, this duck is probably permanently disabled. During the past three weeks, he has become an expert hopper on his good leg. He’s also learned to be a first class beggar.
If you visit the pond with food and he’s nearby, there’s a good chance he’ll hop his way up to you for a handout. He’s very friendly and will gently eat out of your hand.
While his left foot and lower leg are useless to him, I caught him stretching (below). He’s able to move his upper leg very well. He swims and flies normally so he’ll probably survive for a while like other ducks with similar injuries have done.
Since he’s a fighter, I’ve named him Sugar Ray.
Following an evening storm, I found this osier dogwood leaf on the millpond trail. My camera’s flash turned the beaded droplets into jewels of concentrated light.
Within 10 feet of busy Grand River Avenue, Butter-and-Eggs grow. Butter grows? When it’s a wildflower, yes.
The 1″ snapdragon-like flowers (aka Yellow Toadflax) are low to the ground within inches of the sidewalk at the millpond’s north end. Like dandelions, Toadflax grows best in disturbed soil, a trait called Ruderal. You need to specifically look for their sunny yellow blooms with orange centers because of their size. The millpond park’s toads have been mum about their brand name being sullied by something more beautiful than themselves.
September 6: On their second day of life, when Mrs PomPom still had eight ducklings, I saw her take the brood into the water for what may have been their first swim. Mom stayed behind them as they swam in the dark.
Young ducklings can’t recognize their mom for several days and will follow any duck in front of them. That’s how ducklings in crowded ponds end up in the care of the wrong mothers. When two ducklings noticed Buda swimming ahead of them, they took chase to catch up to him. Buda would have nothing to do with accepting any parental responsibilities and sped in the opposite direction. It was comical to watch the biggest duck in the pond being chased by two of the smallest.
Mom finally gathered up the kids and they headed to shore to huddle underneath her for the night.
Glare from the shiny monofilament fishing line is the only reason I spotted it in the dark beside a group of ducks. Then the glare moved. I realized it was attached to one of the birds. It took me a few moments to determine which duck was tangled up in it. It was a three month old duckling and he wasn’t too happy when I grabbed him. The fishing line was wrapped around his neck and legs a couple of times and ended up being at least 50 feet long by the time I removed it. Fortunately, there was no hook on either end of it.
This is about the fifth encounter millpond birds have had with fishing tackle this year, more than usual but I’ve seen less fishermen at the pond than most years. Anytime you’re near a waterway, pick up fishing line and plastic bits you find. It might save a bird’s life.
Along the boardwalk between the Old Village Cemetery and Stillwater Grill, the public feeds wildlife in the Brighton millpond. The star attraction are the turtles there although bluegills are the prime diners. Both species are fond of bread and have become habituated to human handouts. They beg if they see a human standing at the rail above them; they stare at them hoping a treat is tossed. You’re almost guaranteed to spot several Midland Painted Turtles on your visit, but the showstoppers are the large Common Snapping Turtles that usually show up within a few minutes if you’re tossing in bread chunks.
A father and son fishing at the pond this past week told me the largest snapper in this location is Millpond Pete. Though I’ve known him for several years, I didn’t know this giant with a 20″ shell had a name.
It appears snapping turtles are more aggressive right now. Perhaps they require hefty meals to prepare for their dormancy like bears do before they hibernate. Reptiles don’t hibernate; they brumate. Within the past 2 weeks, several ducks have appeared with turtle-induced leg injuries when only been a couple of spring/summer incidents happened prior to this period. Standing on the boardwalk last evening, Millpond Pete lounged below me. Normally, the large snappers share this space with other turtles, birds, muskrats, and fish without attempting to eat fellow pond dwellers as they all vie for bread. Pete was more aggressive last night. He sent a muskrat that was swimming above him into panic mode and made an unsuccessful lunge at a Canada goose.
Five Toes (Brood 23) brought her ducklings to me behind Stillwater Grill last evening. One of them was badly injured within the past 24 hours. Its left foot is essentially gone, but he ate well and moved along with the rest of the family very well. The skin and muscles are shredded to the bone, surely the work of one of the pond’s large snapping turtles. See the next post for more information about recent turtle activity.
This six week old duckling’s fate is uncertain. I applied wound dressing to ward off infection and will have the bird’s condition evaluated. We have had several birds with similar injuries soldier on very well over the years. It would be great if we could fit them with prosthetics, but that’s out of the question due to the lack of a nearby clinic specializing in such things as well as the cost of care.
The choices are limited to letting nature take its course, amputation, or euthanizing the bird. Harsh as it seems, allowing nature to handle it seems like the most appropriate option unless medical attention can improve the outcome. The photos of this injury are intentionally miniaturized. Don’t click on them to see them full sized if you are squeamish.
I missed it. Sometime during Brighton’s Smokin’ Jazz festival, the Monarchh emerged and began it’s long trek to Mexico where it will winter. I’d been checking the chrysalis daily but missed September 5 & 6 while I was photographing the festival. Maybe I can find another one next year to record the entire cycle.
With no fanfare, the millpond’s grande dame has returned to her favorite waddling grounds after an unexplained absence of about two weeks. It’s assumed she was nesting but skillfully evaded the prying eyes of the blogosphere’s media the entire time. Perhaps the nesting thing was a ruse concealing a retreat to a spa to evade the pond’s relentless drakes. She looks clean and well rested yet there’s no evidence of any serious nipping and tucking.
September 3: I found eight fuzzy ducklings being tended by Mrs PomPom the following night. Three eggs remained in the nest unhatched. The fate of the other three eggs from her original clutch of 14 is unknown but were probably rolled out of the nest by her when she realized they weren’t viable.
I found them all huddled underneath mom when I arrived. As two Canada geese strolled to the pond’s shore, they passed too close to Mrs PomPom and she moved the ducklings away from the much larger birds and threatened them to keep their distance. That’s a good sign. It means she has skills to defend her tykes that many domestic birds have lost in the breeding of their species.
To keep the ducklings away from other ducks as well as the geese, she walked them onto the lawn beside the shore. On their way, three of the tiny birds toppled into a 6″ deep muskrat hole because they hadn’t encountered uneven terrain before (below right). PomPom didn’t notice until they started to peep. Agitated, she wasn’t happy when I approached them to lend a hand. As I scooped the birds out one by one, PomPom was frantic but didn’t peck my hand.
Once the entire trio was rescued and stopped peeping, PomPom relaxed and presented the whole brood to me. Some of the youngsters will probably not survive the next two weeks, their most vulnerable time. But there’s hope some will reach adulthood before the cold nights of autumn roll into town. Brood 26 will surely be the subject of many future posts whatever lies ahead.
September 2 around Midnight: Whenever I feed the Buda Bunch, Mrs PomPom comes running from her nest to get in front of the others. The boys, being gentledrakes, oblige her. Tuesday night, Mrs PomPom didn’t arrive. I went to her nest site and pulled back the shrubs to make sure she was alright. She was sitting there as usual. In the shadows, I noticed a flash of yellow in the nest. SweetPea is notorious for breaking her own eggs when she sits on them due to her bread diet being calcium deficient. I thought that might have been the fate of PomPom’s eggs, too.
Then I heard a peep. Then I saw the yellow yolk color move. She did it! She hatched a duckling! The first one I’ve seen of hers since she arrived in August, 2011. Wait a minute. There’s more than one? Mrs PomPom raised up a bit and I could see several wiggling yellow balls of fluff. I also saw a couple of feet sticking straight up, but it’s not unusual for some ducklings to die while hatching.
I didn’t want to stress her out so I didn’t shoo her from the nest to get an accurate count. I went home and reviewed the photos I took and decided there were at least six survivors and would return the next evening to do a more accurate account. You’ll see the results in the next post. Stay tuned.
|Hen||“Mrs PomPom,” the millpond’s resident White Crested Duck|
|Drake(s)||A Pekin and another drake, at least|
|DOB (estimate)||September 2; hatching observed near Midnight|
|Pond Location||Bay beside Brighton’s City Hall|
|1st Meeting||At Mrs PomPom’s nest by City Hall|
|Duckling Count||6 verified Sept 2; 8 verified September 3|
This is Mrs PomPom’s first successful hatching in the three years she’s been at the millpond.
See all posts about Brood 26 together on one page: 2014Brood26
Brood 24 celebrated their one month birthday by staging a puppet show. The ducklings still aren’t strong enough to hop up 10″ to get on the sidewalk at certain points around the Main Street section of the pond. Some make it, some don’t. The ones left on the embankment peak over the sidewalk to watch their mom and siblings search for food. Their heads pop up and then sink below the rim time and again. It’s like a hand puppet show. See a series of six images of last night’s performance here.
The ducklings peep to find mom and mom quacks back at them in reassurance she isn’t shirking her parental responsibilities. She’s a diligent defender of her brood but the stats don’t show it. She hatched 11 on August 1st and only five have survived, a little less than the average of 50% for most families. While she’s comfortable around humans, she’s a ruthless guard of her ducklings. If any other duck gets too close to them, she bounds toward them and gives them a sharp jab with her bill.
A family group of Canada Geese leaves the Brighton millpond at sunset to graze on grass at a nearby meadow or golf course (much to the horror of greens keepers). The goslings are still building their flight muscles after only a few weeks of flying. The parents continue to stay with their offspring until they reach their wintering grounds. They have a couple more months in Brighton before they head out for the winter. Clicking on the above image will provide you with a 1200 pixel image, but a 2400 pixel image (932k) is also available so you can see some gold sunlight on the wings of the geese.
We’ve had beautiful sunsets in the past couple of weeks. Afternoon thunderstorms set the conditions for them. There’s no finer Michigan summer evening than one where a storm rolls out, the sky clears before dusk, and the sun sets in golds, oranges, and pinks.
The caterpillar I posted last week is doing fine as it awaits its transformation into a Monarch butterfly. It’s endured a couple of powerful rainstorms, cool nights, and daytime temps in the mid-80s. Here it’s covered in raindrops following a downpour. Facebook makes it impossible to link to specific posts so I’m pasting in the entire post from the Michigan Native Butterfly Farm because I’m one of those ignorant schlubs who thought caterpillars turn into green goo while in their chrysalis phase:
Any time someone tries to tell you that a caterpillar turns to green goo in the chrysalis show them this wonderful shot…The butterfly has been developing, growing parts from imaginal cells, within the caterpillar. Most of that growth has been in the 5th instar caterpillar but the wings are detectable even in a 3rd instar caterpillar. When a caterpillar hangs in “J” and sheds its exoskeleton what is inside is a nearly complete butterfly. It will rest and reform muscles and a nectar based digestive system and other important parts to make it possible to live as a butterfly before eclosing.
Source: Ba Rae on Michigan Native Butterfly Farm’s Facebook Page
A few years ago, a fountain was placed at the southern end of the millpond. A member of the city’s maintenance crew told me it was not returned the following year because it often became clogged with vegetation. During the past week, three fountains have been added so I assume they have a new system to avoid the previous problems. Two of them are lighted at night with a rich blue light at the water level.
As you walk the millpond trail, you can hear the sound of gentle rain coming from them day and night. It covers the road noise and adds a nice touch as well as points of interest during your walk. Regular park visitors have expressed their delight with these additions when I’ve talked to them in passing.
Even out of focus (below), the blue light adds a new magic to the pond area.
But in focus, the scene is even better:
August 26: Calamity returned to her social life at the north end of the Brighton millpond sans children. Sigh. I only saw the quartet of ducklings once on August 18 and hunted for them every evening thereafter, but finally found Calamity alone with her main squeeze (above) last Tuesday.
Noisy and animated, she cavorted seeming happy to be free following more than a month of parental responsibilities. Perhaps she missed drinking with Mr. Right at parking lot puddles (bottom).
It’s not unusual for domestic ducks to lose all of their first brood of ducklings but something else is going on at the north end of the pond this year. Virtually no ducks are there or anywhere in the northern half of the pond. Many of the productive hens in past years are also missing. They have either been killed or have fled. There must be more predators in the sky or water.
Even Calamity and her beau quckly moved to the southern end of the millpond two days after she resumed her social life. They had been steady occupants of the northern region for more than two years but appear to have abandoned it now.
Both birds are a mix of Mallard and domestic stock, probably Buff Orpington with some Rouen thrown in.
Marold has remained at the north end of the Brighton millpond ever since he was dumped there with an associate, probably a female. Both arrived on May 31st, surely Easter presents gone awry. One of the two, named Harold and Maude at the time, was reported to have a broken leg in mid-June. By the time I arrived to rescue it, someone had picked it up and (reportedly) said they would take it to Howell Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program for medical attention. It never arrived there so its fate is unknown. I renamed Harold Marold in her honor.
August 29th, I found Marold at the Tridge in the southern section of the pond. Nurse Florence, ever the cordial hostess with Pekins, was there beside him. They dined together on duck chow offfered and I hoped Marold would find his new environment to his liking since it would be best for him not to winter at the north end. But it was not to be. The next night, he was back in his usual territory and, mysteriously, last evening he couldn’t be found at all. I’m hoping he is still exploring other regions of the pond and was lodged on a residential lawn on the west shore. Marold is giving Buda some competition in being the largest duck at the millpond. I’ve never seen them side by side, but Marold is a massive duck whose bulk causes him to lumber instead of waddle. Because his bill isn’t bright orange like most Pekins, I’m fairly sure he’s got Aylesbury relatives in his mongrel lineage. They have pink bills.
A young Mallard drake was discovered limping two nights ago (above, left & right). His right foot is curled and looks like he only has two toes from some angles. The above picture seems to show he has all three. I don’t see any major wounds and saw him move his right leg backward to stretch. He probably curls his toes to protect himself from jabs of pain or injuring it further. He ought to recover soon.
The same is true for a drake discovered Monday night at the north end of the pond (above). He has a severe limp but has all of his toes and webbing. Abrasions are evident on his leg. He probably ran into something while being chased by a human or predator or a turtle attempted to grab him, but the duck lived to quack about it.
The Mallard hen near Main Street continues to regain her mobility (left). The shredded webbing is an awful sight. Yet she’s healing and walks to me when she wants a handout but she lays down to eat. She scoots around well in the water (below) paddling with only one foot to evade pokes from other ducks.
She won’t be quite as agile as she once was, but she’ll be able to escape predators and keep up with buddies when they paddle to find food resources around the pond. She’s a good example of how resilient ducks are when they sustain leg wounds.
Duke and Fred are missing their main squeeze, SweetPea. She’s nesting somewhere and I’ve checked all of her usual places and she’s not in any of them. I’m sure I’ll find it some evening when I follow her home from a millpond bath so stay tuned. This is only her second nest of the season. In 2013, she had 5 of them. The old girl is slowing down.
I thought I would find the caterpillar only half done shedding its caterpillar stripes but it had completed its transformation into a chrysalis by the time I photographed it last night. Even though it will take 10-14 days to emerge as a butterfly, the shape of the chrysalis already shows where the wings will develop.
The butterfly will emerge September 3-6. I hope I get to photograph it when it happens.
I was fortunate to find a miracle in the making last night. A Monarch caterpillar was just beginning the process of metamorphosis on a milkweed plant near the Brighton millpond. It had attached its tail to the underside of a milkweed leaf and, within the next day, will shed its white/yellow/black bodysuit and will appear green so it blends in with the surrounding vegetation.
While it may appear dormant thereafter, its far from it. Inside, the caterpillar is transforming itself into a butterfly. Within ten to 14 days, the chrysalis will become transparent and the compacted butterfly will be visible through it. Then the pupal skin will split. The butterfly will emerge and take several hours to expand its wings and “zip together” the two parts of its tongue so it’s ready to take to the sky. Michigan Monarch butterflies are “Fourth Generation,” the fourth time the egg-to-butterfly cycle has been completed since butterflies left their wintering grounds this spring.
Instead of laying their eggs on milkweed farther north, the butterflies in the fourth generation will migrate back to Mexico and spend their winter there. Next spring, they will fly northward to lay their eggs somewhere in the southern states for the First Generation to begin the cycle anew. Yeah, it’s a miracle. I hope I can record stages within it if this chrysalis is not disturbed for the next two weeks.
Park visitors get upset when they see injured ducks. Many want to rush in to rescue them or call someone to do it. It’s a natural human response but not always the proper one. Duck are pretty good at healing themselves unless the injuries are severe or infection sets in. This duck had the webbing between two toes shredded on or about August 16. She could barely walk when the top three pictures were taken on August 18.
The pictures to the right and below show how the wounds look like two claws did most of the shredding, but views farther down this post show what look like puncture wounds on the ankle and toe.
She’s doing much better all on her own now, about a week after her injury. Webbing cannot grow back but she’ll compensate and be able to swim okay. Once the wounds heal, she’ll walk normally again.
One of the signs I look for when ducks are injured is how well they are taking care of their feathers. Healthy ducks spend hours each day preening, combing out their feathers and removing dirty from them. They also bath often which isn’t just floating on the pond. They energetically flap their wings, shake their tails, and wiggle to force water down through their feathers onto their skin.
But, as you can see, this hen is in fine fiddle. Her feathers are well cared for and she’s clean and shiny. While she still couldn’t put her full weight on her right foot on August 22 (pictures below), she was actively hobbling around and in good shape. Time will heal the wounds completely because no infection is present that I can see.
She’s lucky to retained all of her toes and most of her swimming power.
It appears the grizzly shredding (the worst I’ve seen this summer) was done by a large snapping turtle’s claws, but I’ve noted a couple of spots where it seems she has puncture wounds. She might have been attacked by a raccoon, someone’s dog or a wild canine (fox or coyote).
Bob is looking good even in his eclipse plumage. While he isn’t as flashy as he is with his fancy green iridescent head and light gray flanks, he still looks healthy and well preened. He doesn’t have tail feathers (and hasn’t for two years now) but maybe he can catch the attention of a hen next winter when they start looking for suitable nesting partners.