Noteworthy northerners

December 19th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The Mallard hen can be identified by her scruffy headI’m always glad when I can identify specific ducks. It makes my visits to the pond better because I can track their behaviors. Here are a couple of ducks you haven’t met before.

I identified this Mallard hen last spring (right). She has a unique feather growth pattern on the back of her head that endures through molts. Perhaps she received a wound while mating, but she might have forgotten to duck flying under a low branch. Imagine that. A duck that didn’t duck. A ridge runs side-to-side on top and the feathers behind it stand up like she’s moussed it with styling gel. She’s quick to approach me so I imagine we’ve been acquainted since her duckling days.

Last week, I noticed an oddly marked duck not interacting with the rest of the northern flock. It’s a drake but has the orange and black bill of a hen. His suit didn’t come off the ready-to-wear Mallard rack at the plumage store, and his cheeks are a noncompliant tan. He’s a hybrid Mallard / Buff Orpington mongrel. I have a hunch he was raised elsewhere and came to winter at the millpond after wild friends migrated southward. He probably can’t fly long distances due to his larger than normal body. Uncomfortable around the flock and reticent to gobble duck chow, he seemed to be evaluating what was going on. He’s a spectator for now, but he’ll soon fit in. Midwestern ducks are a friendly, welcoming lot not like those snooty eastern birds in the Atlantic flyway.

A large body and bright bill makes this hybrid Mallard easy to identify The new duck watched the others eat

Gumdrop crop plops

December 19th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Color never reached splendor on any of the gumdrop trees near the Brighton millpond in 2014

Mid-November: There are a few trees I’ve called Gumdrop Trees in the millpond area because of their bright multi-color in late autumn after all of the other trees have lost their leaves. I’ve photographed them in their splendor several times over the years. I suppose they are a cultivated crabapple variety but I’ve never identified it.

This year, the bright, delicious colors never had a chance. Cold, frosty nights in early November didn’t allow them to develop full color that usually happens in mid-month. Their leaves fell to the ground in muted hues instead. While the leaves are bright, the fruit on the trees is not. At its peak, the abundant fruit looks like that pair of Dockers you bought in 1998 you wear when you’re gardening, a dull khaki. Birds must eat them. They’re gone from most limbs now and none are on the ground.

The gumdrop trees never reached full color in autumn The fruit is an unappetizing khaki color

Midnight waddlers and fliers

December 18th, 2014     2 comments     permalink

The ducks climb the hill at the north end. Parfait is in the center front.

Dumpling is part of the northern gang. He's the white duck.The ducks at the north end of the pond are a lively group, especially at night. Even though they know me, I  have to cajole them by shaking the food jar to convince them to leave their pond activities. Once a few take the risk, the others join the parade up the 6′ tall embankment beside Grand River Avenue. [Duck Trivia: They are very good climbers. Descending is another matter since their center of gravity is forward. Many ducks fly back to the pond instead of trudge down after their snack.]

There isn't a lot of food tossed to them . Nothing is wasted.

The ducks aren’t relaxed when they get too far away from the pond. Thirty feet is “far” in their estimation. As long as they do things together as a flock, they are willing to take the chance there might be danger lurking in the night on shore.

Dumpling stands out from the crowd since he’s the only white duck at the north end now. He pals around with the Buff Orpington ducks (they are similar in size to him) when he’s not flirting with the blonde hen. Multi-colored Parfait is easy to spot in the swarm of ducks.

The ducks return to the millpond after our soiree

The birds fly back to the millpond to spend the night.When the food is gone, one of the ducks makes a move. Unless he’s incognito, there isn’t a “lead duck” making important flock decisions.  Some duck, any duck, decides it’s time to leave the party and they all move out (above).

The fliers hesitate on the embankment wondering if it’s safe to take to the air and navigate between the dried vegetation. Unlike the waddlers, the fliers don’t do it as a group. Bonded partners and buddies will fly down together. It’s a chance to see the color and patterns in their wings, always a minor thrill for me to watch.

A Mallard male makes the 30-foot flight back to the pond

Since it’s such a short flight, the birds merely jump up and spread their wings for a few flaps then they spread their feathers as wide as they can to grab as much air as they can to reduce their landing speed.

A Mallard drake at full extension as he takes the short flight back to the millpond

leaving_4631_250As they leave, they never say thank you, the ungrateful louts. But I get even — I take pictures of their butts as they leave and post them on the Internet.

Note the lower mandible of the drakeI snapped this shot (right) from below a Mallard drake as he made the flight. It illustrates how they fold their legs and hug them to their bodies to reduce drag.

I also noticed how much smaller his lower mandible is compared to his upper. You can also see the serrations along the edges of the bill. They help him grab vegetation and syphon floating microscopic food from the surface of the pond. The “nail” on the points of both the upper and lower bills give their fingernail-like bills extra strength. They help ducks poke through leaf litter and shoreline dirt looking for small plants, bugs and worms.

The daily FlapFest

December 17th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

A female Mallard flapping her wings

Ducks paddle like mad to raise themselves out of the water a little so they have enough clearance to flap their wings. They do this at the end of a bath or when they climb ashore. It’s done to shake the water off.

Sometimes they flap their wings as a stretch or yawn, a way to exercise their idle muscles. I’m convinced it’s also a way to dissipate adrenalin. They’ll flee into the water from land when something frightens them. A quick movement or an approaching dog can trigger it. When the danger passes, most of the ducks will wing flap. After aggressive behavior or mating, the birds also flap their wings. Like humans brushing the dirt off after a fall, it appears to be a way to regain their composure.

A Mallard drake flaps and shows his beautiful blue speculum feathers on a grungy day

During peak flap, it’s a good time to admire their wings at full extension. Here are shots of a Mallard hen (top) and drake along with a composite of Rusty (below on left) and Buda at full flap. No, they weren’t dancing. I sandwiched two images together. Buda is an alpha male too proud to be seen dancing, and Franny would be upset if Rusty danced with anyone but her.

Rusty and Buda at peak wing flap in a composite image

The ducks are in loitering mode now

December 16th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The Buda Bunch has lost Beauregard but has two new members, Mrs PomPom's kids. The one leading this parade is one of them. The other is elsewhere.

Buttless Bob endures winter with his exposed posteriorAs the ice retreats once again with warmer days, ducks have more room to traverse the pond. The Buda Bunch leisurely paddles (above), but the millpond doesn’t have much to explore now that all of the vegetation is dormant. Ducks spend the winter loitering or sleeping if open water is too scarce for a brisk dunk. Imagine how invigorating an icy bath is for Buttless Bob (right). Yet ducks seem quite content waiting until spring arrives and love fills the air again. I wonder if they day dream.

Park visitors are more concerned with finding the perfect $10 novelty for the Christmas grab bag than they are about filling the bellies of the birds. So the ducks are thrilled when anyone tosses them a Jalapeño & Cheddar Dorito, French Fry, or half-eaten muffin.*

Castor and Pollux still haven't officially joined a sub-flock and spend much time alone

Parfait is looking well as a two year old.Castor and Pollux (above) haven’t palled up with any of the other Pekins yet though they occasionally interact with Lewis and Clark. They spend most of their time huddled up together and rarely wander far from each other, but Florence consoles them from time to time.

Parfait is looking quite dapper. As a two year old drake, he’s in his prime and I expect we’ll see some multi-colored offspring sired by him next spring. His only recognizable prodigy from this past summer is Sorbet who is doing well. He’s still a loner who mingles with the Mallards sometimes, but he hasn’t established a network of buddies.

His gait is faltering, but Marold gets around alright expecially when food is involvedThen there’s Marold. He’s never the first duck to arrive on the scene, but he’s sure to show up eventually. His swollen leg hampers his pace though you can’t fault him for trying. He injured it last spring fleeing danger or being pursued by a drake who felt compelled to establish dominance. It’s a permanent injury that isn’t helped by his bulk. Leg injuries are common in Pekins who are raised as pets or egg layers instead of being butchered for the platter early in life. Their substantial bodies can grow too heavy for their legs. This is especially true at urban ponds where they are fed high calorie / low nutrition foods like bread.

Marold is the consumate preener keeping his feathers snow whiteHe may be the champion preener at the millpond. Since he isn’t affiliated with any sub-flock, he spends his idle hours combing feathers to keep them snowy white and perfectly coiffed. Florence finds him attractive so he has some company on occasion. Maybe he’ll find a mate to replace Maude who only lasted a few weeks after their abandonment in May.

Once the pond freezes over, only be a small section will be open for swimming near the dam. Ducks don’t require swimming space, but they enjoy it. Especially when there’s little else for them to do. They don’t have Facebook.

Here's a close up of Marold's thickened leg due to an injury last spring

* These aren’t good for ducks, but people bring them. Pelletized poultry chow has 16% protein and is made from corn, wheat, and soy. It’s 50 cents a pound (or less bought in quantity) across Main Street at the Wildernest store. Ducks typically love salad greens, peas, and other things like berries and diced apples. I brought peas to the pond last summer. The ducks just looked at them because they hadn’t ever seen them before. Ducks aren’t quick to adjust to changes in their diets or environment.

Florence: The millpond minx

December 14th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Florence, our resident Mandarin hen, has always been very comfortable around Pekin ducks. I imagine she was raised with them. Ducks usually pal around with ducks of similar size. Not Florence. She only weighs about 1.5 pounts while the Pekins are 10-12 yet she inserts herself right in the middle of Pekin society. She flits from Lewis and Clark to the other pair, Castor and Pollux.

Florence lets Castor or Pollux know shh finds their quackings endlessly fascinating

It’s a sight to see, but her motives aren’t platonic. She’s shamelesssly flirting, displaying her feminine charms to the boys. They ignore her overtures. The photos in “Whole lotta splashin’ going on” show how she mingles with the boys even when they are in hot pursuit of other ducks. Usually, the Pekin drakes ignore her. Their DNA can’t mix with Mandarins. Occasionally they will poke her with their bills to encourage her to leave them alone. She won’t have it. She finds their every raspy quack endlessly fascinating. Infatuation is powerful. Ask Tom Cruise.

Bittersweet, still

December 14th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Oriental Bittersweet in December

Close up of Oriental Bittersweet in December

Most fruit on Brighton millpond shrubs has been eaten by birds and other creatures by this time of year. Bittersweet berries remain on the vines. There are two species of the vine, American and Oriental. Oriental is more aggressive and is the invasive species we have at the millpond. It robs trees of sunlight, eventually killing them, by twining to the top and spreading its leaves over the tree’s canopy. The American variety has leaves that end in a point while the Oriental is more rounded (bottom left).

Oriental Bittersweet in October Oriental Bittersweet in October

Viburnum Carlesii berries become tar black when ripeViburnum Carlesii (right) has berries that are ignored by the birds until winter sets in. The berries are a delicious red until they ripen. Then they look like black tar beads.

Oriental Bittersweet has rounded leaves compared to those of American Bittersweet that has pointed leaves

A sudden transformation

December 14th, 2014     2 comments     permalink

The unnamed duck has decided to be very friendlyI spoke too soon in yesterday’s post. I don’t know what came over the unnamed duck but last evening he waddled right up to me and a group of people meeting the ducks for the first time. He let everyone pet him and didn’t flinch a bit. He may become Mr. Congeniality as he realizes humans are his lifeline against winter hunger.

In addition to his pudgy cheeks, I noticed his tail feathers don’t stand as high as any of the other Pekins. That may be a temporary fear response. I’m sure he still feels uncomfortable in his new environment.

Wanna name a duck?

December 13th, 2014     9 comments     permalink

The new drake sleeps a lot

Three domestic ducks are in need of names at the Brighton millpond. Leave your suggestions as comments, but be aware of my criteria. I like short, snappy names and hate cute ones. One of my blogging goals is to present ducks as beings worthy of respect. That doesn’t rule out clever names, but cute ones like Fluffy aren’t going to make the cut.

Pictured here is the new drake who seems to be a trade-in. One day Jemima was there, the next she was gone, and she was replaced with this drake. Thanks a bunch, whoever you are. May you live in interesting times. Of course it’s speculation. Perhaps she wandered away or died, but the sequence of events is suspicious.

He's probably a first year duck. Most dumped ducks are abandoned soon after they become adults. The only trait I've noticed is his pudgy cheeks

This new drake is a big galoot who doesn’t seem to have much personality. I’ll try to bring it out over time, but so far, he sits on shore and sleeps a lot. He has made any friends yet, but eventually he will. Ducks prefer companions. I thought Falstaff might be a good name for him, but then again, he doesn’t seem to have any comedic energy surrounding him.

Mrs PomPom's two ducklings born in SeptemberThe other two ducks needing names are Mrs PomPom’s remaining offspring (right). Their genders are still in question, but I sense the white one is female and the brown one is male. I’d prefer the brown one have a name starting with D. He’s a Rouen Duck like his father (either Duke or Dexter) so it would be nice to carry on the tradition of Rouen drakes having D names. Duncan was a Rouen drake, too. I still miss him.

So gentle readers, surprise me with your suggestions.

Whole lotta splashin’ going on

December 13th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The lead duck heads for shore to escape the others

Note how the lead duck is attacked by one duck while the third duck is attacking the second one to get it to stopAnyone have 12 buckets of paint I can borrow for an afternoon? I don’t care what colors are in them as long as they’re all different. I need to catch each of the Pekins, hold them upside down, and dip their heads in their assigned colors so I can tell them apart.

I have no idea what’s going on in this fracas on a very gray day at twilight. It’s either mating or dominance related. If the lead duck is the 15 week old offspring of Mrs PomPom, it could be either, but since he or she hasn’t informed me of its gender, I at a loss to explain what’s happening here.

Obviously, the lead duck is being aggressively chased for love or to establish the pecking order. I think it’s love. The ducks may have other intentions. What’s really interesting is the third duck in the parade. Note it’s attacking the second duck. So, if the first duck is Castor and the second duck is Lewis, the third duck would be Pollux and the fourth duck would be Clark. Castor and Pollux as well as Lewis and Clark are tag teams. They come to the defense of their buddies. I just can’t tell which team is which. If the first duck is Clark, the order would then be Castor, Lewis, and Pollux. See why I’m confused? Does it matter in the greater scope of things? No.

The Pekins have been rumbling a lot lately

This ain't no lover's smoochDrakes never bring candles and wine to woo hens. In fact, 30% of all amorous encounters are forced and when the balance of suitors to suitees is out of whack like it is at the millpond, I’m sure the percentage is much higher. You know what happened during the Klondike Gold Rush. Miners got liquored up in saloons and even the undertaker’s maiden aunt with typhoid became the girl of their dreams.

That’s the way it is with Pekins year ’round. The season for mating was wiped from their brains through eons of selective breeding to satisfy the hungry public. Hardly a week goes by when someone doesn’t talk to me about what they assume is savagery at the pond. If the ducks were hyenas and the public saw a bloody encounter, no one would be surprised. What startles onlookers of duck encounters is their preconceived notion that they are cute and friendly. They are all that, but when it comes to food, territory, or creating the next generation, evolution has taught them to be as brutal as they need to be to survive.

The duck in the lead is probably Mrs PomPom's duckling hatched in September Are the attacks dominance or mating related?

Notice Florence, the little Mandarin duck, is right there to observe the action. More about her will appear in another post soon.

Formation of a new sub-flock

December 6th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Swimming partners, Castor and Pollux have curly tail feathers

Castor and Pollux have joined Lewis and Clark as a new sub-flockCastor and Pollux have been at the Brighton millpond for a month now (above). Lewis and Clark arrived a month before them. None of the four ducks have been readily accepted by the other sub-flocks of domestics so they appear to have formed their own bachelor pod and often roost together.

Since SweetPea’s rescue, only two large domestic females inhabit the pond, Mrs PomPom and Franny. The new drakes haven’t paid any attention to Franny, but Buda and Buddy remain on high alert to chase the rogue quartet away from their beloved Mrs PomPom. Two of the four newbies pounced upon her 14 week old Pekin offspring once this week while I was at the pond. That might signal the youngster is a budding female, but the jury is still out. The attack may have been a show of dominance directed at a young drake.

Castor and Pollux are joined by Florence for a portraitThe four newbies could be quadruplets. The black leg bands on Lewis and Clark make them easy to identify on land, but when the foursome is in the water, I can’t tell them apart (above with the Captain and Jiminy in the background). The middle toes on Castor and Pollux (right) might be a tad longer than those of the other pair. How’s that for a ultra subtle identifier?  I’ll mislabel photos of the two pairs many times in the future. I ask for your forgiveness in advance.

Florence, the tiny Mandarin hen, is an equal opportunity Pekin companion. She swims with one subgroup of Pekins for a while then quickly shifts her allegiance to another. A Pekin occasionally expresses annoyance with her presence by taking a poke at her, but she opens her mouth and threatens the much larger bird to back off. She’s fearless. She knows she’s quicker and, if tensions get too high, she can fly away while the earthbound Pekins are left in the ripples.

Dressed for success

December 6th, 2014     2 comments     permalink

All of the Mallard drakes are dressed to impress the hens even though courting won't start for a couple of months

Dazzle in the dark. Only his shine makes him visible.While civilized humans are currently doing everything possible to blend genders into a slurry, ducks aren’t as foolish. Boys not only will be boys, but they dress to prove it. Almost overnight, the Mallard drakes shed their nondescript eclipse plumage for their courting attire. It’s excited the hens, but the drakes act as if nothing’s happened. They won’t turn on their charm for a couple of months. Early birds might get the worm, but the eons have taught the boys revving up the hens too early would freeze offspring in their shells.

The domestic ducks mating instincts have been addled by selective breeding. The Pekins have already been observed mating. Dazzle isn’t bobbing his head at the girls yet, but he’s dressed for success. At night, he’s virtually invisible except for the reflection of his iridescent feathers as he rises from the water to shake his wings (above right) and leisurely paddles searching for morsels to eat (below).

Shine, Dazzle, shine.

A brushed metal sheen

December 6th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Thin ice formed on the millpond so reflections looked like light reflected from brushed metal

Reflections of Christmas lights and Main Street signs skittered across the thin iceWinter barged into Brighton before we welcomed it. By the time we accepted our fate, Winter abruptly left. It must have forgotten some of its favorite wallops and went north to retrieve them. Soon enough we’ll find out what those wallops are.

December 2: Only a film of ice coated the pond after dark with a brushed-metal sheen. It was too fragile for duck wanderings yet thick enough to support the gold and silver reflections of Main Street lights.

Jemima? Nope.

December 4th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Since cold weather arrived, the white Pekins have befuddled me. Maybe its my age. The recent arrival of four news ones has changed the established buddy systems and the birds are so similar in appearance, I can’t tell them apart. It used to be fairly easy. If I saw three white ducks swimming, I knew it was Jemima with Captain D. Hookt and Jiminy. If there were three white ducks and one had a crest, I knew it was Mrs PomPom, Buda and Buddy. The two white ducks that didn’t team up with others were Marold and Dumpling.

Winter brought all of the white ducks together and they intermingle. But some of their behaviors indicated which Pekin was which. Jemima was the first duck to greet me. She stood at my knees waiting for duck chow. I noticed none of the ducks did that anymore three weeks ago. I wondered why she had changed her behavior.

The only unique trait she has is a tiny vertical black line on her “nail,” the tip of her bill. I haven’t seen a duck with that feature in the past three weeks yet there are still 12 white ducks on the pond. Hmmm.

Is this a new Pekin or has one of the original ones changed his behavior?

Maybe I’m missing it, but I think she’s gone, and a new Pekin drake has arrived. The fellow shown here doesn’t look like any of the ducks in my memory bank. He has bare patched with no feathers on the front of both eyes and doesn’t relate well with the other ducks. I think he’s new, but I’m still not sure Jemima if Jemima is missing. I’ve decided I’m going to acquire numbered leg bands and give the domestic ducks some jewelry so we can more easily track them in the future. They refuse to wear name tags.

Belly up to the bar

December 4th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Freckles, the first duck to join me on the boardwalk

Freckles, a duck I hadn’t noticed for several months, is up to her old tricks at the north end of the pond now that food stuffs are in shorter supply. She was the first bird to fly up to beg for food since cold weather arrived. She’s a smart bird and a risk taker to venture to the railing alone and leave the rest of the flock eight feet below her in the pond.

Mallards are “puddle ducks” and aren’t comfortable perching on things above the ground. They are inefficient fliers and clumsy landers. Ducks have to flap their wings like crazy to stay in the air. They can sustain flight for long trips like their migrations but it demands constant flapping. Their wings are too small to glide like gulls. They can turn on a dime in mid-air, but there’s nothing graceful about it. Feet flair up to brake their speed, wings bobble back and forth to deal with turbulence, and they wobble until they decide they are going in the direction they intend to go.

Landing is problematicThey also don’t like to do anything first or anything alone. That’s why Freckles arrival is unusual. She took the risk. Most ducks won’t do that. It makes them more vulnerable to predators. Lions don’t nab the zebra in the middle of the herd. They go for the stragglers.

Flocking behavior saves lives but it probably also causes some injuries. Look at the landing of the drake on top of the hen (above left). He wasn’t trying to mate or attack. All he was doing was trying to land near another duck. He had fifty feet of unoccupied railing on both sides of him yet he choose to land directly on top of the only duck there. I guess you could attribute it to miscalculation, but I think ducks do no calculating at all. They just decide, “I’m going to go there and deal with the landing when it happens.”

With feet akimbo, another drake arrivesLandings are by guess and by golly. The drake popping up from the pond (right), has his feet flailing in all directions hoping one of them will latch onto the railing. That’s typical.

Below, another duck gets his feet in position but it’s not with any great plan. His flapping wings also slap the duck beside him even though the railing to his left is entirely free of ducks. Doing this sort of thing can play havoc with wing feathers over time. Ducks don’t seem to consider that.

Another drake barges in

Even after perching, puddle ducks never appear comfortable (below). They are quick to return to the pond. Too bad. I get my best photos of them in winter when they alight on the railings which are almost at eye level. Wish the weather was warmer. The circulation in my frigid finger makes it damned near impossible to feel the button to trigger the shutter.

What's going on down there?

Dumpling is an expatriot

December 4th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Dumpling chases another drake away from his beloved

Dumpling has forsaken leisure living near Main Street where park visitors lavish attention on ducks with an assortment of vittles. While the pond was still free of ice, he paddled to the northern boundary. Once the ice locks him in, he won’t be able to return to Main Street unless he waddles his way back on the slippery surface.

Dumpling and his significant otherInfatuation has blurred his reason, the sad fate of so many males. A blonde hen has been his on-again-off-again partner for several months now and coaxed him to trade future nights of bliss for daily nutrition. Dumpling, never an academic, failed to realize the apple of his eye can fly and he can’t. She’ll spend her daylight hours at the southern end of the pond leaving him to fend for himself while she sups on the offerings of the human wait staff.

Dumpling may have a secondary reason for spending his winter at the northern extreme. He’s the smallest Pekin on the pond and has never fared well with the larger Pekins. Last summer he was a tiny tyrant at the north end. He kept the six much larger Welsh Harlequins and Rouens that were dumped in September from entering the pond for two weeks until Smith, the powerful Rouen drake, taught him who was in charge. Now that all six of those birds are gone from death and injuries, Dumpling can rule the roost again. He’s bigger than any of the wild birds wintering there. He can play King-of-the-Hill until one of them calls his bluff (top).

Ain’t I Gorgeous?

December 4th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Hiya, fellas! Come here often?

The female mallards grab some attention from the drakes but they aren't frenetic yetThe girls are turning on the charm at the Brighton millpond because the males are dressed in their courting colors now. The boys are noticing them, but it’s not ten minutes before closing in a singles bar yet. It will take another month for the drakes to find the hen of his temporary dreams. That doesn’t stop this hen from previewing her beauty to only half-interested drakes. She bobs her head and holds it high to disguise any possibility of a double chin.

The wild Mallards will pair up over the next three months and be relatively faithful until after the hens begin sitting on eggs. The drakes will then find their bonded partner rather boring and seek companionship from hens who aren’t occupied with incubating eggs.

It’s all in the jiggle

December 2nd, 2014     1 comment     permalink

Holiday Light Trails 1

Sometimes I just play and it was warm enough to do it at the millpond on Saturday night. From the millpond trail, the Christmas lights decorating Stillwater Grill look like those below left. They’re beautiful on site, but not particularly exciting when photographed. But by shooting 4 second exposures and jiggling the camera a little bit, I achieved all of these patterns from simple light trails to rats’ nests of dots depending upon the amount I move the camera.

Holiday Light Trails 5 Holiday Light Trails 6
Holiday Light Trails 7 Holiday Light Trails 8

Holiday Light Trails 9The top image is the most successful. I’ve created a Facebook Cover Image at the exact size Facebook specifies. If you’d like to use it on your own page, click the image at right. I’ll play with Holiday lights again before the season ends. Stay tuned.

Holiday Light Trails 2 Holiday Light Trails 3 Holiday Light Trails 4

Mrs PomPom’s ducklings

December 2nd, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The duckling on the right and the dark duckling, center, are PomPom's two remaining ducklings

thekids_3758_300Ducklings grow quickly. I think that’s the primary reason so many pet ducks end up being dumped at the millpond. People purchase a cute little duckling that fits in the palm of their hand and, two months later, that cutie pie is a full grown poop machine to the shock of the low information buyer.

These two ducklings, however, aren’t dumped ducks. They are the surviving offspring of our beloved Mrs PomPom who hatched eight on September 2nd, Brood 26. Today is their 3-Month Birthday! They are the same size as the rest of the adults but not quite as filled out as older birds.

Not sure what's happening with the dark ducklings chest feathers.Ducklings in the same clutch can have different fathers. The white duckling (on left in top photo) is probably sired by Buda, PomPom’s significant other who is a fairly competent protector when other drakes find her irresistible. Buda is directly behind the dark duckling (top photo) and can be recognized by his thick neck.

The dark duckling is half Rouen. Duke is probably the father.The dark duckling was probably fathered by Duke, the darkest Rouen drake at the pond. While it’s assumed PomPom is the mother, this chap shows no signs of his Pekin heritage. Currently, his chest shows signs he’s been engaged in scrimmages with other ducks or is growing a new set of feathers to replace his original plumage. He’s a typical Rouen duck, very calm and stoic. The white duckling is quite different and is a typical Pekin, friendly and demonstrative.

Below, the dark duckling slides along the wet ice with Dumpling who has vanished from the Main Street area this past week. Don’t worry. He’s safe and sound and will be the subject of an upcoming post.

The dark duckling with Dumpling

Buttless Bob is back!

December 1st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Buttless Bob and a buddy feed on microscopic vegetation at the Brighton millpond

After a few months on the lam, Buttless Bob is back at the millpond. He was nice enough to pose with a buddy for this photo that compares his featherless posterior with a fully feathered rump of another Mallard drake. The duo is feeding on microscopic vegetation floating on the surface of the pond. The ducks can be seen doing this most of the time when they have enough flowing open water in winter.

Bills, bills, bills

December 1st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Bills. We’ve all got ‘em. It’s just a good thing human bills aren’t orange and plastered on the front of our faces for all the world to see our debts.

Most of the Pekin ducks at the Brighton millpond come from the same genetic stockNote how five of the six bills in this photo are the same color. The sixth one has a pinkish cast indicating that duck is probably a mix of Pekin and Aylesbury while the others are pure Pekins. Mind you: dumped ducks at the Brighton millpond have different ancestry yet the genetic lines at all hatcheries are so close there’s little variation in their stock. That’s great for farmers. They don’t have to deal with variations that would make production more complex.

It’s not good for the world, however. Years ago, I read there are only about three genetic lines for chickens raised for market in the US. The breeds have been honed to produce market weight birds quickly with the right demeanor to accept crowded conditions and the best flavor. The problem with this well tuned monoculture is two fold: selective breeding can reach dead ends or make animals (or plants) susceptible to diseases and hundreds, if not thousands, of genetic lines which could revive production if a catastrophe strikes are being lost by neglect. As I write this, the carefully hybridized variety of bananas you see in supermarkets (Cavendish) that supplies 45% of the world’s 100 million tons of fruit annually is in jeopardy of being wiped out by a fungus. The same thing could happen in the meat industry someday with any of the domestic species.

There are dedicated small farms raising  “heritage breeds” of domestic mammals and birds so blood lines won’t be lost forever. Heritage vegetables have a new generation of devotees but their production is small and rarely profitable enough to encourage broader development. Farmers grow these genetic orphans out of love or concern, but just like the rest of us, their success or failure is often determined by their bills.

Sugar Ray is now Sugar Raye

November 28th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Sugar Raye has full movement of her left leg in the water

I should have known the millpond duck with the badly healed broken leg is a female. It wasn’t until I saw it making goo goo eyes at a drake this past week that I realized it. I named her Sugar Ray because she’s a fighter so I’m now revising her name to Sugar Raye to give her the female spelling. Not that it matters in our age of gender neutrality. I doubt my blog is read by professors of gender studies at universities.

Sugar Raye hobbles up to me to get her share of duck chowIt always warms my heart when I go to the pond and find Sugar Raye hobbling up to me. Depending upon her hunger, she will either stand back or barge into the swarm of more aggressive Pekins that are more than twice her size to get some duck chow. The Pekins often topple her in their pursuit of food, but she gets back up to try again.

She’s a domestic/mallard hybrid, one of the Swede Sisters‘ offspring. While her limp is very pronounced, she just can’t put her full weight on her left leg. I’ve seen her scratch her bill with her left claws while standing on her other leg so there’s no need to pity her. She can fly and paddle around the pond just like the rest of the ducks. She’s doing quite well and, since she’s now sizing up the drakes to pick a partner, I’ll bet she’ll have a troupe of ducklings following her when spring rolls around.

She's easy to recognize. She's a darkly colored duck with a white necklace and, of course, a limp.

Winter’s self-sorting of ducks

November 18th, 2014     1 comment     permalink

About 60 ducks roost at the north end of the millpond now

Lewis and Clark, Castor and Pollux, and Jiminy and the Captain are joined by Florence for a late night swimAs winter arrives, the ducks wintering at the millpond change their territories. Their choices are much different than they are in the summer. The Buda Bunch that summers in the bay near City Hall joins the Dam Tribe near Main Street.

Most of the wild Mallards roost nightly at the north end but didn’t go there often during the summer. I found almost 60 of them there last night. Most of these ducks will make daily trips to the south end to get handouts from the public during daylight hours.

Mrs PomPom still hangs out with her two ducklings that are now three months old Castor or Pollux isn't quite sure where he fits in within the wintering ducks

Buddy (lower right) chases Rusty and Dazzle away from Mrs PomPom

The domestic ducks congregate near Main Street. They can’t fly so they can’t go to the north end at twilight. As their swimming area shrinks, they are forced to get along with each other but that’s not much of a problem. Domestic ducks a happy with whatever life throws at them. Certain ducks develop rivalries for mates during the winter, but it never reaches serious combat.

Currently, Buddy subtly chases other drakes away from Mrs PomPom — he can be seen giving Rusty and Dazzle the bums’ rush at right. Captain D. Hookt has developed a particular dislike for Fred when he gets too close to Jemima. That’s not a problem right now, however. Jemima is missing!

We currently have 12 Pekins on the pond

Hmmm. She could have been stolen or died, but I suspect she’s nesting under some bush. The new males had been mating with her for the past few weeks. Domestic ducks, unlike wild ones, will nest year ’round if they have a hankering. Her eggs will freeze but that’s par for the course. Three dozen ducks are roosting near Main Street now. The total winter duck population is about 100. All of the migrating birds have left.

Ice is already forming

November 18th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Floating branches may now be locked into the pond ice until the spring thaw

Swiss cheese patterns on the Brighton millpondLast year’s last winter and our cool summer set us up for an early winter arrival. No one except those loving winter sports and hunting is happy about it, but we must grit our teeth and endure.

Almost half of the Brighton millpond has a thin coating of ice on it already. Light snow fell yesterday. It made patterns on the ice more apparent last night. Portions of the pond looked like large slices of Swiss cheese.

Swiss cheese patterns on the Brighton millpond

Look who’s back

November 17th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

This might be Moxie or a new Mandarin hen

The Mandarin hen threatened the much larger Pekin behind her in this shotIf it’s not Moxie, it may be the other Mandarin hen that visited the Brighton millpond. She’s as feisty as Moxie. She threatened Buddy, the Pekin behind her, just before this picture was taken (right). Moxie stood her ground against ducks six times her size last winter.

Sunday was her first night back at the pond. Maybe we can figure out which of the two Mandarin visitors she is in the days to come.

Locally grown autumn bounty

November 16th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Decorative "Indian Corn" graced the roadside stand in downtown Brighton this fall

Howell, Michigan’s Bentley Lake Farms (Facebook Page) operates several roadside stands in summer and fall. One of them is across the street from the Brighton millpond on Main Street. It’s open 24/7 and purchases are made on a honor basis with a lock box. It’s great to have the opportunity to buy locally grown produce directly from farmers. Their crops cycle through an assortment of vegetables picked at their peak. These photos were taken toward the end of the growing season in September. I saved them to post as Thanksgiving approached thinking some readers might like to have a fresh Facebook Cover Image (created to Facebook’s specifications) or Desktop Pattern (1920×1200 pixels 1MB) of decorative Indian corn (above).

Squash was one of the vegetables offered Decorative pumpkins, a colorful fall treat

Several kinds of squash and decorative pumpkins were grown at Bentley Lake Farms and offered for sale at their stands. They also offered delicious sweet corn I enjoyed on several occasions not to mention their onions, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Yum! Just to play, I added summer colors to a photo of a basket full of tiny pumpkins (below).

A basket full of decorative pumpkins Bringing summer colors to autumn pumpkins

Amber waves

November 16th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Rhythmic patterns in ornamental grasses beside the Brighton millpond

As chlorophyll stops production in fall, the ornamental grasses turn golden at the millpondOrnamental grasses have been planted near the millpond by the Brighton Garden Club. During summer, some reached six feet tall. Jemima found one clump provided cover for one of her nests. Cool weather ended their growing season. Leaves lost their color but I found the golden tangle rhythmic. Sadly, to keep downtown well manicured, the ornamental grasses have been trimmed back to the ground which removes potential shelter and a wind break for ducks during expected winter storms.

The millpond’s most colorful triad

November 15th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Dazzle is still handsome as he approaches the end of his third year at the pond

As he approaches the end of his third year at the millpond, Dazzle (above) is still a showstopper with his iridescent plumage, but he’s got competition from his six offspring this fall.  None of his kids are quite as colorful though since their mom was a mallard instead of another Cayuga.

Rusty, Dazzle and Franny are the millpond's most colorful triad and are always togetherOnly one of Dazzle’s ducklings might be mistaken for him, but you have to look closely. Four of the six have some white on their chests. The fifth one is all black but has a yellow bill instead of a black one. The sixth one is the closest match for him because its all black but doesn’t have nearly the same colorful sheen.

The easiest way to find Dazzle instead of atttempting to pick him out from the seven black ducks on the millpond is to look at who the ducks are hanging out with. Dazzle is almost always with Rusty (above, left) and the two drakes main squeeze, Franny, the dark brown hen with the partially broken bill. If you don’t see the trio, listen for them. Franny is loud and has an incessant, deep raspy quack unlike any of the other ducks. It’s assumed the other hen that arrived with her in the summer of 2012, Stella, was consumed by a coyote in April of this year.