Mallard brothers

February 9th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Mallard brothers often near the Brighton millpond dam

Mallard drakes look alike. These two birds seen together near the Brighton dam are obviously brothers. Can you see why I know?

Look at their bills. The pattern of black on them is almost identical. Mallard bills have a full range of black markings on some of them from none at all to big splotches. When patterns are as complex as these, they are like fingerprints. Ducks usually have buddies, often siblings of both sexes, so these two are likely brothers. There’s safety in numbers; more eyes to spot danger so buddies can all flee at once in the blink of an eye.

The beaded edge

February 9th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

A close up of the edge of the ice at the Brighton millpond dam

The small swimming area kept open by the ducks near the Brighton dam has some interesting ice formations. The ducks splash about and the water laps up onto the edge. Before it can drip back into the pond, it freezes into beads that catch the light of my flash. It’s one of the more beautiful phenomena of winter in our monotone world.

The wanderings of Maggie

February 8th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Maggie appears to be content at the millpond

Maggie is a high maintenance mute swan. On Thursday, she ventured onto Grand River Avenue and stopped traffic. Joyce, owner of the Wildernest store, got a call about it. She dispatched her employee, Tim, to herd the bird back into the pond.

Maggie is either a juvenile swan that became separated from her parents during a migratory flight so she has learned skills from her parents or was stolen from her family and raised by human hands until she was dumped at the millpond. Joyce and I currently think it’s the latter.

Joyce reports one of the pond’s frequent visitors offered the bird bread and she devoured it after turning up her bill at the duck chow I had been offering her since her arrival in mid-January. Waterfowl love bread even though it’s not good for them. The combination of rejecting duck chow but eating bread indicates she might have been raised on it. A bread diet might explain why she retains her battered juvenile plumage instead of growing pure white feathers by this time of year.

Straw has been brought to the north end of the pond by Kim and Colleen for duck bedding Straw has been provided near Maggie but she has yet to rest upon it

Other concerned pond visitors have reported her lack of fear when they approach to bring food or bedding. Colleen and Kim have brought straw at their own expense to provide insulation on top of the ice for Maggie, the ducks, and a pair of lingering Canada geese. Since the bedding is new at the north end of the pond, the wary birds avoid it. It takes several days for them to adjust to anything new in their environment. Eventually, they will learn it will keep them warmer if they roost on it to sleep.

Maggie rested beside the pond nibbling on pelletized food surrounding her on Thursday eveningMaggie was seen nibbling on pelletized food left beside her on Thursday. That’s a good sign and may improve her condition.


Impossible love

February 8th, 2015     1 comment     permalink

Florence finds Pollux (or Castor) charming and handsome

Poor Florence. For months now, she’s been wooing Pollux (or Castor). She preens his feathers, snuggles close to him at night, and does her best to break up his friendship with his best buddy. She doesn’t realize her adoration will never be returned. When mating season begins in a couple of months, her beloved will seek the companionship of a hen with compatible DNA so he can create little Polluxes (or Castors). Meanwhile, the other duck of the pair looks toward me to see if I might have some duck chow to spare as he stretches his wing.

Eating ice

February 8th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Dumpling nibbles on the edge of the pond ice Rusty eating ice at the edge of the Brighton millpond

January 31: The domestic ducks were seen eating the thin ice at the edge of their tiny bit of open water near the Brighton dam. Were they doing it just because it was there and they needed something to do? Did they like the crunching sound? Were there small, tasty bits of nutrients in it? Several ducks were doing it. Dumpling (left) and Rusty demonstrate it here.

Rendezvous with Maggie

February 7th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

I found Maggie roosting in the middle of Corky's Car Clinic's parking lot

Stephanie, the intrepid animal advocate from Brighton’s Park Place Salon, contacted me Tuesday evening about an injured swan in the parking lot of Corky’s Car Clinic at the northern end of the millpond. I wasn’t able to investigate until almost 2:30am. Yup, it was Maggie roosting in the middle of the lot. It had been plowed earlier in the day but now had an inch of new snow on the pavement. I could see her tracks walking to her current position and there wasn’t a blood trail so I knew she was able to walk without difficulty and had no fresh wounds.

Maggie showed no fear of me as I walked up to her I checked her over and found no sign of injury

I walked to within five feet of her. She didn’t budge. That’s not a typical response by a wild swan. I tried to coax her to get up with duck chow. She showed no interest in it. I’m not convinced she knows it’s food. I had seen her ignore duck chow as the ducks snarfed it down on several occasions during the previous two weeks of her residency.

Maggie looked in the bucket and showed no interest in the duck chow offered to her

The plow had built up a 3-4′ tall ridge of snow at the edges of the parking lot. She couldn’t see the pond. Since she’s a new resident, I wondered if she might not know where it was in relation to where she was roosting. I decided it best to lead her back to the water where she could graze on the submerged vegetation (Yes, it’s still there in the frigid water) and also be safer from predators than on land.

I felt like the boy scout in the old joke about helping an old woman cross the street even though she didn’t want to go. Maggie wanted to be left alone, but she was going to the pond whether she wanted to or not. If she stayed in the lot, she’d be dodging cars all day long.

How does one convince a swan to do something and avoid being bit or clawed? I employed a soft, nylon bristled broom I keep in my vehicle to sweep off snow. Maggie hissed and bit the bristles a couple of times as they gently nudged her to her feet and directed her toward the pond. She paused to lie down a few times to pull her feet up into her feathers to warm them.

Maggie tried to nap, probably hoping I'd go away and leave her alone

I’d let her rest for a while then use the broom to prod her to move closer to the pond. The city’s plows had made their first pass on the sidewalks and the pond’s boardwalk. In their wake, two foot tall mounds of soft snow were between Maggie and the pond. With insistent nudging, Maggie and I climbed over them to land in 10″ of powdery snow at the top of the embankment. Maggie looked down the slope but still needed encouragement to press on.

Maggie looked down the slope as if wondering how she was going to get down it She rolled on her side to expose a leg and shook the snow crystals off of it Then she looked back one last time and slid down the snow-covered slope on her belly

She took a couple of steps then roll to one side (above center) so she could get one foot above the snow line to shake off the ice crystals. She’d move a few more feet before stopping to do it again. Then she acted like a penquin and slid down the 8′ slope on her belly. It was a quick scoot and fun to watch. She left a wide trail in the snow (below).

Here's the trail she left after her slide Maggie's trail viewed from the boardwalk

Once back in the pond, Maggie took several drinks of water but ignored the offer of duck chowAfter a moment’s rest, she entered the water and took a drink.

I threw duck chow down but Maggie just watched as the dozen ducks and a pair of Canada geese picked the pellets out of the snow. Maggie drank more and poked at a couple of ducks. I left her knowing she’d be safe for the night, if she didn’t wander off again.

The north and south of it

January 31st, 2015     0 comments     permalink

The southern flock has enjoyed the straw scattered near the dam this winter

January 24: A strange winter, indeed. The alleged “coldest week of the year” has just passed and it was warmer than usual. No one is complaining including the Brighton millpond ducks. As usual, there are two sub-flocks wintering on the pond — the earthbound domestics are near Main Street where they can get their vittles from the generous public (above).

The southern ranks thin at twilight down to ten white ducks: the nine Pekins and one Mandarin; and a mish-mash of other domestic breeds: four Rouens plus one Cayuga, Saxony, and Indian Runner. If you find more there when you visit after dark, they are slackers, ducks that decide not to fly to roosts unknown. Sometimes there are six, sometimes more. How ducks make decisions is a mystery.

The northern flock is smaller than usual. Calamity is the matron there now


The nighttime ducks at the northern end of the millpond are quite a bit different in character. Only about five of them are earthbound domestics too big to fly. Calamity is in her first year as reigning matriarch of this rag tag crew. Her mother, Confidia, died last spring. She and her unnamed brother along with a couple of others are most likely hybrid Mallard-Buff Orpingtons, but their exact lineage is unknown. You can spot the drakes with domestic genes. They have gray/tan chests instead of russet ones found on the loitering Mallards who might be drawn to Calamity’s charms. An occasional Mallard hen or two will also be in attendance and more will start arriving to appraise the stud muffins as mates as spring warm their engines. I’ve seen a minimum of nine ducks at the north end after dark on some nights, but the troop usually numbers 15-30 party-goers.

Two years ago, there were 60-80 ducks at the north end year ’round. That changed in the fall of 2013. The snow in the above photo might provide a clue why. Those are canine tracks in the upper right quadrant. They could be from a neighborhood dog, coyote or fox. I’ve suspected a predator was causing northern end ducks to find safer waddling grounds. There are plenty of nearby locations where water flows all winter. Only ducks incapable of flight like Calamity and her clan are marooned at the millpond.

Meet Maggie, a juvenile swan

January 30th, 2015     1 comment     permalink

Maggie spends her time grazing on pond weeds from the bottom of the north end of the millpond where there is still a small patch of open water

On January 16th, the Wildernest store in downtown Brighton received a call about a juvenile Mute Swan roaming the parking lot behind Jimmy John’s which is next to South Ore Creek across the street from where its waters enter the millpond. She dispatched Tim, her employee with a degree in wildlife biology, to the scene. He found the bird slightly disoriented but couldn’t spot any injuries. He did the right thing; he let it be, but shot this 6-second video with his cell phone.

Maggie appears unfamiliar with humans and is probably from a wild pair instead of "park birds"

The Michigan DNR classifies Mute Swans as an invasive species and is in the process of culling the state’s population of 15,000. By 2030, they plan to reduce the flock to 2,200 to protect Michigan’s native Trumpeter Swans, reduce aggressive behavior toward humans, and decrease habitat destruction. Wildlife rehabbers have been ordered not to treat the birds and euthanize birds brought to them.

The youngster was not seen again until January 22 when it appeared at the north end of the Brighton millpond mingling with the resident winter ducks. It spends its time searching the pond’s submerged vegetation to sustain it though there might not be enough to last the winter.

The domestic ducks come running for chow but Maggie doesn't grasp the concept of pelletized food Note the feathers sticking from her left side. A wing injury?

Since that time, it’s bivouacked at the north end. The ducks are giving it a wide berth so it’s already let them know it’s the puddle czar. Ha! It apparently hasn’t met one of our feisty muskrats who will let it know who’s really in charge.

Will it become a long-term resident? Probably not. Juvenile Mutes seek other young swans in what are sometimes called “bachelor pods.” They remain in flocks 3-4 years before picking a life partner and heading for a pond or lake to raise families alone. If you’ve never seen a male swan defend its nesting territory and cygnets, you’re in for a surprise discovering how aggressive they can be.

I watched her bathe and preen in the dark Water rolls off her back after a quick plunge in the icy water

Some of this bird’s feathers show extensive wear on their tips. It may have endured a long flight before arriving in Brighton. Flight feathers are askew on its left wing (below). Perhaps it injured them hitting a tree limb or power wire while coming in for a landing. This may be the reason it’s on holiday here — flight may be impossible or too tiring to reach its intended destination.

Some of Maggie's feathers look badly worn and the flight feathers on her left wing may be damaged

Since he was first to document this newcomer, Tim was asked to name it for the purposes of this blog. From this day forward, she is Maggie unless we discover she’s male. Then she’ll be Magnus. Swans are uncomfortable discussing such intimate matters, and I’m too much of a gentleman to pry.

Topi muschiati cenare al fresco el dente

January 22nd, 2015     3 comments     permalink

Three pounds of pasta arrived at the Brighton millpond last Saturday night

Three pounds of spaghetti arrived on the millpond ice Saturday night. Less customers than anticipated at Brighton’s fine Italian eateries? Probably. Online sources say ducks like its empty calories but our millpond birds don’t seem to. No matter. A furry dinner guest found it to his liking.

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Meet Pinkerton
Pinkerton is a dainty eaterPinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, MichiganHe makes nightly aquatic forages near Main Street. He’s the only millpond muskrat I can easily identify because of his pink-tipped tail. He’s a rather cordial chap unbothered by my presence or the flash of my camera when he’s famished. I can’t imagine pasta popsicles being palatable, but he’s done a good job of devouring all but one small pile of them in the course of three days.

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan
Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Oh, wait a minute. He’s had help!
Another muskrat arrived while I was standing there. He’s obviously a friend or family member since Pinkerton allowed him to sit at his icy table. He wasn’t very sociable, however, and decided “take out” was more his style. He headed for a dark corner under the short bridge near the dam to dine alone.

A friend joins Pinkerton for dinner Pinkerton's friend swims a mouthful of pasta back to his burrow

Pinkerton hops up onto the ice to search for other things to eatPinkerton continued to munch on the frozen strands, but he’d take occasional breaks to digest his dinner. He’d dive into the icy water and swim like a fur-covered torpedo. He’d resurface at another spot in the small pool of open water near the dam to scurry around looking for bread and duck chow the ducks had overlooked.

Ducks and muskrats coexist swimmingly — :-) — most of the time, but when food is involved, the ducks give their mammalian neighbors a wide berth. Muskrat claws, teeth. and unpredictable dispositions are no match for them.

Pinkerton dives into the water

Pinkerton would soon circle back for another helping of spaghetti. He didn’t order salad on this night, but I took photos of him snarfing down greens in mid-December. I’ll post those soon so you won’t think he’s a unrepentant carb junkie.

Pinkerton swims from one edge of the ice to another

The kindness of strangers …

January 16th, 2015     6 comments     permalink

The ducks have learned to love roosting on the straw

Just like last winter, some kind soul has been bringing the ducks straw so they have some insulation as they roost directly on the ice. Someday, I’ll find out who this good samaritan is and will properly thank them on this blog.

It took several days for the ducks to appreciate their straw beddingThe ducks avoid the straw for several days when it first arrives. They aren’t comfortable with anything new in their environment. Then one of them ends up lying down on it and realizes its belly is warmer than it would be on the ice. The other ducks soon follow. I’ve mentioned it several times on this blog but I’ll say it again for the new readers: I’m surprised ducks don’t huddle together on cold nights. They normally rest a neck’s length away from each other, probably to avoid being pecked by their buddies.

These photos show how small their swimming area is since we’ve had several severely cold days. Another good smaritan will break the ice with a spud should it entirely freeze over. Ducks love the open water, but they can live without a swimming hole as long as there’s a spot they can get a drink.

Losses at the millpond

January 16th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

A photograph of Lewis and Clark taken on December 2, 2014

The first two weeks of the year have not been kind to the domestic ducks at the Brighton millpond. Three white Pekins have been lost. Both Lewis and Clark are gone (right). Elizabeth, a keen duck watcher, reported finding one of them dead at the side of the pond early last week, but it wasn’t the one with the bad limp which was seen last Saturday.

No major injuries were found on the leg or footThe limping duck had been under observation and he seemed to be doing better. He was able to put some weight on his bad leg January 8 when he hobbled to me to be fed. The duck's feathers were not being preened wellPhotos of his foot and leg were discussed with Michigan Duck Rescue and no major injuries were apparent. He wasn’t preening well (right) which isn’t a good sign. Still, it seemed best to allow him to heal on his own rather than put him through the ordeal of capture. There was evidence drakes were occasionally attacking him, something ducks do to wounded flock mates probably in an effort to reduce mating competition. Neck feathers were plucked in these encounters, but no blood was drawn. Perhaps an attack by his rivals pushed him under the ice where he couldn’t breathe, but no body was found. It’s possible someone captured him to seek medical attention but no reports have been received.

Lewis (or Clark) standing on one leg

Buddy is in the foreground in front of Mrs PomPom. Jiminy and Captain D. Hookt are the other twoBuddy (in foreground, left), who was Mrs PomPom’s main suitor and protector lately, was last seen on January 12. On the 13th, I searched for predator tracks or feathers from a kill around the pond. None were found. Buddy was Buda’s sidekick for at least the past four years and was a street smart duck who didn’t allow strangers near.

Ample food has been provided by the public throughout the cold weeks so starvation wasn’t the cause of these deaths. It’s unlikely these deaths were directly from hypothermia either. Last year, no ducks were lost during the brutal winter even with temperatures dropping 23 below zero.

Dazzle’s offspring

January 2nd, 2015     1 comment     permalink

Two of Dazzle's six offspring search for things to eat on the millpond lawn Christmas Eve


I caught up with two of Dazzle‘s six 2014 offspring (2014 Brood 22) on Christmas Eve, a hen and drake as they searched for things to eat on the millpond lawn. Except for the white spots on the chest of this female (left) and three of her nestmates, the young birds look like full blood Cayuga ducks like their father. It’s hard to believe their mother is a wild Mallard. Maybe she ordered the half dozen Cayugas through mail order.

The millpond’s winterized rabbit

January 2nd, 2015     0 comments     permalink

The millpond's resident rabbit is faring well on this early winter evening

I was wondering if our resident Eastern Cottontail had left the area or this world. I hadn’t seen her in a month. She came out to greet me on New Year’s Eve wearing a very stylish, well tailored winter coat that surely keeps her warm on winter nights. Though it was early in the evening, she appeared sober. I suspect she had no plans for partying though she has reason to celebrate — she won’t see Ryan Seacrest at midnight.

Marold has gout

December 31st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Marold developed his limp early in his millpond residencyMichigan Duck Rescue took Marold to the veterinarian Tuesday and the news isn’t good. She feels he has advanced gout and his prognosis is poor. Read about his visit to the vet at the Michigan Duck Rescue website.

Harold and Maude were dumped at the Brighton millpond on May 30, 2014. Within three weeks, I got a report that Maude had a badly injured leg. By the time I got to the pond that evening, she was gone. I heard a woman said she would take her to Howell Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program for treatment. I called them the next day, but the duck never arrived. To commemorate Maude’s short stay at the pond, I renamed Harold Marold and said I’d change it back to Harold if Maude returned at a later date. She didn’t come back.

I have only a few pictures of the pair taken on the first day at the pond. They were skittish then so I couldn’t get too close. Now that we have Marold’s diagnosis, I looked at the early photos again and realize both ducks had enlarged legs (below).

Maude's stay at the pond was short due to a leg injury On the day they arrived at the pond, both ducks had what I thought were sturdy legs instead of ones indicating they were improperly fed while growing up

I feel Maude’s leg problems were probably gout related, too. Too much protein early in their lives is one cause of the condition. I can’t recall when I first noticed Marold’s limp, but I’m sure it was during the mating frenzy in late spring. I attributed it to him being chased by other males. He was a large duck and I felt his inability to heal was weight related so I wasn’t concerned. Leg problems with adult Pekins are common if they live past the standard time to butcher them at about 3-4 months old; they grow too large for their legs to support them.

Birds rarely indicate they are in pain. Had I realized it, I would have sought medical treatment much sooner. Perhaps his condition can improve enough for him to stand again from the care he gets at Michigan Duck Rescue, but he may need to be euthanized at some point in the future. I’ll miss him at the pond. He had a unique personality and had developed quite a following with pond visitors.

Donate Now: Michigan Duck Rescue

December 30th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Donate to Michigan Duck Rescue

Get a 2014 charitable tax deduction by supporting Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary by midnight tomorrow. During 2014, injured ducks from the Brighton, Michigan millpond have received dedicated rescue and care from Michigan Duck Rescue on countless occasions. Currently, SweetPea, Grace, and newly rescued Marold are in residence there and several other ducks have been evaluated and/or treated including Smith and Granny.

The Sanctuary tends approximately 200 waterfowl in Salem Township, Michigan, and is solely supported through donations. 100% of your contribution will be used for the care, medical attention, food, and lodging of abandoned domestic ducks and geese.

Don’t give ’til it hurts. Give ’til it feels good. Thank You!

Bejeweled for the Holidays

December 29th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Franny rests beside the Brighton millpond with rain beading on her back

Franny and Dazzle drink from a puddle to celebrate Christmas EveChristmas Eve: It was a wet day, but it means nothing to the ducks. They apply a waxy oil from their preen gland near their tail to their feathers while they preen. The water that doesn’t roll off of them beads up. On this overcast day, the flash from my camera is reflected from within the beads making Franny’s (top) plumage glitter for the Holidays. Dazzle, one of her two suitors, finds her outfit alluring so he invited her out for a Holiday drink at a muddy puddle.

Below are two close ups of the top photo so you can see the beading at almost the resolution of my camera. They aren’t crisp photos, but they give you an idea of how the oils protect the feathers which aren’t waterproof until ducks apply the oils.

Close up of Franny's back with beads of rainwater Beads of rain on Franny's speculum feathers

The gray day seemed to make Dazzle even more dazzling with the help of my camera’s flash. None of his six ducklings hatched this past summer are as colorful as he is, but a couple of them come close now that they have grown their first year adult breeding plumage.

The gray afternoon light brings out the iridescence of Dazzle's feathers The camera's flash enhances the sheen on Dazzle

Meet Dixie and Darth

December 28th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Darth is in front, Dixie in back

The kids aren't excited by their new namesThe two surviving ducklings from Mrs PomPom’s first successful clutch (2014 Brood 26) since she was abandoned at the pond in July, 2011 have been named. As you can see, the birds weren’t amused by my choices (right), but they don’t read my blog anyway.

Dixie is the white one who obviously has a Pekin dad (probably Buda). Darth is the dark dark who was probably sired by Duke, a member of the Dam Tribe. He may be Dexter‘s child, PomPom’s Rouen pal, but his coloration is closer to Duke’s — very dark with no white neck ring. Duke had several “dates” with the accommodating white crested PomPom.

Below, the Buda Bunch (l to r: Buda, Dexter, Buddy, PomPom) cruises the pond with Dixie and Darth leading the parade. The two youngsters will be four months old on January 2. They still aren’t fully grown when compared with the adults, but they are on their way to being large, robust members of the millpond community. Dixie was thought to be a female, but these photos hint we have another male added to the pond — notice the tail feather beginning to curl. Sigh.

The Buda Bunch with Dixie and Darth leading the tribe

Meet Dudley

December 28th, 2014     1 comment     permalink

Dudley is an adult drake with a calm disposition

The latest dumped duck has been named Dudley. Thanks go to Barbara Hoffmann, a blog reader and good friend of mine from Seattle, Washington. Dudley arrived about a month ago, but the exact date is unknown. Four other adult Pekin drakes were abandoned at the Brighton millpond shortly before he came so he wasn’t noticed for a while. Jemima was also stolen or died during this period.

Dudley has no readily recognizable characteristics that will help you identify him in the swarm of white Pekins other than his cheeks are kinda puffy and he swims with his tail downward instead of perked up. Currently, he also is a loner and doesn’t have any buddies. The only other white duck that’s usually alone is Dumpling but he’s a much smaller adult Pekin.

Recognizing duck injuries

December 27th, 2014     4 comments     permalink

Notice how the trailing duck's tail is held downward

Note how the duck keeps his leg immobile and partially raised out of the waterLewis (or Clark) has a fresh leg injury. They are the pair that arrived this fall and wear black leg bands. The injury doesn’t appear to be severe and will eventually heal.

Leg injuries are common for ducks and usually heal well on their own without medical attention. There aren’t any wounds on the leg or foot. The duck hasn’t developed bumblefoot from walking on concrete. Perhaps it tripped on ice or was chased by a dog or child.

Ducks are prey animals. They do their best to conceal injuries and illnesses so predators don’t pick them out as targets in a flock. One of the ways to recognize ducks with leg injuries is to watch them swim. I’ve noticed two traits.

The duck lists to the port side and paddles with one footFirst, injured ducks tend to paddle with their tails down (top). It’s not always the case because sometimes healthy ducks dip their tails, too. If you watch the injured ones for a few minutes, you’ll notice their tails are held low and almost immobile. Healthy ducks wiggle theirs more often. The second indication is that leg injuries cause ducks to list. This one tips toward port because its injured foot in on the starboard side and is raised out of the water.

Florence’s futile swooning

December 26th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Florence is in peak condition and wants a memorable holidayChristmas Eve: Our resident Mandarin duck, Florence Nightingale, is celebrating her first anniversary near the millpond. She arrived at a Brighton birdfeeder in a mid-December snow storm with two compadres. The second white hen swallowed a fish hook and died in March. The third bird, a naturally colored Mandarin hen, still visits the bird feeder downstream. There was early confusion. I thought they were Wood Ducks until a Mandarin owner in Utah set me straight.

Devotionn isn't enough to win the heart of a Pekin drakePoor Florence has her heart set on bonding with either Castor or Pollux, the Pekin pair that arrived in October. I still can’t tell them apart. Mandarins cannot breed with Pekins, but Florence didn’t get the memo.

She sidles up to the drake, at least four times her size, to let him know she’s his. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, she realizes her overtures aren’t being reciprocated and she’ll switch her allegiance to his partner, but she definitely favors one of the pair. She doesn’t have visions of sugarplums dancing in her head on this eve of Christmas. She has visions of motherhood.

No, she hasn’t fainted (below). She’s inviting the drake of her dreams to consummate their imagined relationship so they can have a bliss-filled holiday together. He ignores her blatant advances like Johnny Depp does on red carpets.

The Pekin drake ignores Flo's overtures


A Christmas Eve Bath

December 26th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

It was a gray, rainy day with a threat of a storm packing sustained winds 40-60 mph pulling into town in the evening. The storm never happened and the ducks must have known the weather forecasts were bogis. They had lots of open water and well above ffreezing temperatures so they were taking pre-holiday baths right and left.

A Mallard drake takes a pre-holiday bath

Here, a Mallard drake* gives his bath his all. When ducks are serious about bathing, they put as much energy into it as they would flying through the air. They slap their wings, fluff up their feathers, and dance through the water like they’ve been bit by a bee. They force as much water as they can into their feathers to dislodge dirt and parasites. While their feathers add important layers of insulation, ducks have enough fat under their skin that they don’t seem to be bothered by water hovering around freezing touching it for the minute or so it takes to flush out the debris. They will sometimes take vigorous baths when it’s much colder if the conditions don’t bring a thaw, but their mid-winter baths tend to be more superficial. They keep their body feathers close to the body, do a few head dips, roll water over the backs, and shake off the water with a few wing flaps; done.

*This drake is missing a few feathers on the upper back of his head from being pecked by other drakes. They’ll grow back.

Marold’s Christmas Vacation

December 23rd, 2014     1 comment     permalink

It wasn’t a publicity stunt, and it wasn’t Marold I saw swimming after I found him taking a dust bath Sunday night. On Monday, there were only 11 Pekin ducks near Main Street when there is supposed to be 12.

We owe Elizabeth’s daily walk to possibly saving Marold’s life. As she passed, she told me she saw a white duck at the far end of the culvert below the Brighton dam. I found Marold creekside and apparently tuckered out from a wide, battering ride through 450 feet of dark tunnel. He let me grab him while I deftly balanced on a fallen tree trunk on the steep embankment in the dark. Though faultering, my previously untested agility served me well.

With one hand grasping the gnarly bark of an ancient tree to keep from tumbling into the raging rapids, I gently grabbed the wily beast with the other and swung him around my tottering torso to hand him off to my hiking companion, Phil, who had journeyed from Buffalo, New York, with no suspicion he would check duck wrestling off of his bucket list on this first day of winter.*

Dazed, and not particularly amused, Marold was transported back the his adopted home at the millpond. Before his release, he was examined pond side. It was determined he was incapable of meeting the minimum waddling standards for ducks. He could barely stand on his own. Seeing two grown men and a duck, a compassionate passerby named Leah offered to transport Marold for medical attention, but the proprietor of Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary could not be reached by phone.

Into the Wildernest store we went for further weigh alternatives. Joyce Schlueke, owner, donated cardboard box accommodations for our unexpected guest. Her able-bodied and intellectually gifted employee, Tim Nielsen, agreed to keep Marold amused until his admission at the sanctuary could be confirmed. Marold's luxurious room at Michigan Duck RescueAs luck would have it (after a lucky day brimming with the confluence of cooperative humans), Matthew Lyson from Michigan Duck Rescue returned our call and Tim transported Marold to the nonprofit facility.

I’m happy to report Marold had an initial bath upon admission and is currently resting comfortably where he will be doted upon and his medical needs determined. If you have 19 seconds, watch Matt’s video of Marold’s Executive Suite at Michigan Duck Rescue as he gratefully accepts the Sanctuary’s hospitality.

* Description of the heroic capture of the wayward duck is slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect

The Color of Water: Winter Grays

December 23rd, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Gray afternoons dim the falls at the Brighton Dam

Dim light doesn’t bring much color into the falling water at the Brighton, Michigan dam. There’s only a hint of steel blue reflected from the sky in this image taken in the late afternoon. Though dull, it’s an interesting mix of textures, but I wouldn’t frame it for my wall. I can barely tolerate seeing it in real life for four months each year. I don’t want to face it during our better, sometimes glorious, seasons.

Quick quacks

December 22nd, 2014     2 comments     permalink

I’m starting “quick quacks,” random observations at the Brighton millpond that will be posted together. They’ll tell you things that aren’t significant enough to warrant an entire post all of their own. Frankly, life at the pond is dull lately. Maybe this will keep the blog rolling through the winter months when not much is happening except the waterfowl enduring the cold weather. Here goes:

Marold was a mess last night

Marold (above) was a mess last night. He was covered with dirt. I got a report the day before that he was being attacked by other ducks, but I didn’t find him any worse for wear that evening. Last night, I found him near the millpond dam, alone and filthy. A couple of ducks were near him and may have attacked before my arrival, but he might have just taken a dust bath. There’s loose dirt under the pine tree there. Bird bathe in dirt to dislodge parasites like feather lice but I’ve never seen any on him and he’s usually meticulous in his preening.

I had a chat with a park visitor and a half hour later, Marold was swimming sparkling clean again. With the advent of this blog, millpond ducks may have realized doing odd things encourages me to photograph them. I’ll keep my eye on him to see if this was a publicity stunt or a sign he’s not feeling well.

Calamity (right) still travels with her brother, a large duck of mixed domestic ancestry

Calamity (on right, above) hasn’t had an easy life at the millpond since hatching on May 18, 2012. She still hangs out with her brother (on left, above) who’s unnamed but easy to identify by the slice in the webbing on his right foot. They are children of Confidia, a prolific hen who disappeared following a mishap last spring. As third year ducks, they are in prime fiddle for raising families next spring.

Vegas is a beautiful duck at the north end of the millpond

Vegas disappeared for most of last summer but has returned to the north end of the pond. I think he’s mostly Buff Orpington with some Saxony tossed in. While not the most colorful on the pond, the birds from this genetic line are what I feel are ideal ducks. They are larger than Mallards with a full, stout physique. They look substantial yet very calm. The females are a clean red-brown like Confidia while the drakes have charcoal gray heads with taupe and dove grays backs giving them a frosted appearance. Last year, about ten birds with this heritage roamed the north end. This year, only Vegas is currently there.

My happiest day is here!

December 21st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Marold and I wish you a Happy Winter SolticeYee Haa! I look forward to this day each year. Marold (right) and I wish you a Happy Winter Soltice. At 6:03pm EST, the days begin to get longer for the next six glorious months. We’ve endured their shortening, and now we can revel in looking for a few seconds more of sunlight each day.

Yeah, it starts with the days getting colder for a few months since it takes a long time to warm up our Blue Marble. But just knowing warmer days are promised is enough for Marold and me.

Marold asked me to remind my readers that his millpond is no place to abandon your Yule Goat, if you have one. He thanks you in advance.

Icebergs and lollipops

December 20th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The older I get, the less I enjoy winter. Since I must endure it, I do my best to explore what it brings. Here are two recent winter encounters:

November 28: A square foot of millpond surface ice broke from the frozen edge and headed toward the crest of the dam. I waited until it was halfway over the edge to snap the shutter. My timing nailed it. Because of my shutter’s delay, I’m not usually as lucky.

A thin sheet of ice at the crest of the Brighton, Michigan dam

November 19: The millpond water hovers around freezing so, when it splashes into the air as it goes over the dam, it immediately freezes when it lands on nearby objects. On this evening when the air temp was in the low 20s, a tree branch collected ice on its tip a foot above the cascade. A 6″ ice lollipop formed that swayed in the torrent. I didn’t lick it. We have lollipops made by hand in Brighton that taste much better than those flavored with a hint of duck excrement. Visit Oh My Lolli for the delicious ones.

A 6" lollipop formed above the cascade at the Brighton millpond dam

Black Ice

December 20th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The Brighton millpond is still ice free during our warm days, but a thin skin of clear ice coats it on breezeless nights. It’s called “Black Ice” in this region. I didn’t take any photos of it last night so I’ve resorted to posting an America’s Funniest Home Video so you can see how cool it is.

If the daytime temps plummet for an extended period of time, the ice can thicken to several inches, remain transparent, and strong enough to support humans and trucks. Snow, wind, and other natural factors can spoil the clarity quickly, but if conditions are right, you just might see photos of muskrats and fish swimming under my feet this winter. No promises.

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