I haven’t seen Rabbit #2 yet this winter, but that doesn’t mean she’s left the area or died. She might be spending her afternoons and evenings in a warm burrow. But I have seen a full grown Cottontail Rabbit grazing on grass on the lawn in front of Brighton’s City Hall. I’m sure it’s the same rabbit that was often seen in the same area last summer as a small, skittish bunny. It’s more confident now and doesn’t flee when it sees me although I can’t approach him as close as I can Rabbit #2 on the opposite shore of the millpond.
Franny is just as loud as she’s always been. I usually hear her before I see her on my visits to the millpond. She and her three suitors, are currently residents aat the orth end of the pond.
Duke, her Rouen drake friend, has a noticeable limp. I haven’t seen anything on that foot to cause it. He’s at least seven years old so it’s likely arthritis. He’s often the last of the suitors to catch up with Franny when decides it’s time to move to another part of their severely restricted open water.
The team of suitors, Dazzle and his son Razzle, are both younger than Duke and accommodate Franny’s decisions whatever they are. They are usually near her so, when you find the two black ducks covered in gorgeous green and blue feathers, you’ll probably find Franny within six feet of them.
It’s a myth ducks mate for life. They normally bond with a partner for 1-5 months during the mating season. This quartet is exceptional since they have stayed together year around for two years now. There are some other long term relationships at the millpond but it’s often siblings or parent with children.
I made an effort on Wednesday to photograph the ducks from farther back so I could take the photos home and do a careful count by placing dots on each duck so I’m sure to count them without counting any of them twice. The results even surprised me!
In past years, the total winter duck population was 110-120 ducks. This week, there are 154 ducks at just the north end (above) and an additional daytime population of 98 near Main Street (below) for a grand total of 252 ducks. Of that number, about 42 are domestics or wild/domestic hybrids. During the summer months, we usually have about 350 ducks on the pond. Of course these numbers can vary dramatically day by day in the winter. If the ducks lose their current pools of open water the ones capable of flying will scram for a few days.
I’ve heard drakes outnumber hens but I’ve never bothered to count them separately until yesterday. There are 145 drakes so they make up about 57.5% of the flock including both domestics and wild ducks.
Why so many ducks this year? It’s not because park visitors are feeding them more. I think it’s a result of the warmer temperatures and open water until after the first of the year. They still have small pools now so some of the ducks that usually go to the nearby Huron River to find open water don’t have to leave.
Ducks spending the winter at the north end of the millpond get fewer handouts than the waterfowl near the dam. If you go up there, you’ll find the ducks will rush toward you as soon as they realize you have food for them. They will quickly learn to recognize you if you visit them with any regularity.
You’ll enjoy watching the birds skid to a halt on the snow-covered ice. Ducks are rather clumsy in the air and their landings on ice take on a slapstick effect. Sometimes they will land on the head of another duck or pitch forward or backward landing on their chest or rear end.
Ducks have excellent eyesight. They recognize specific humans from more than 100 yards away. Mallards take to the air to reach me while the earthbound domestics flap their wings as they run in my direction. A handful of ducks usually fly up to the boardwalk railing and look me in the eye. Florence, our resident white Mandarin, has been especially friendly this winter. For her first two years at the pond, she remained at least two feet away. This year she eats out of my hand and onto the railing to say hello.
The duck that had a nasty encounter with a turtle in late summer (below) flew up to the railing on Wednesday. The wounds on his foot have healed, but holes remain in his webbing and one toe points straight up (see detail, right). It doesn’t appear to cause him any pain or hamper his mobility.
I witnessed several minor skirmishes between Mallard drakes on Monday. It wasn’t over food and it’s too early in the season to be arguing over the affection of the hens. I assume they were dominance battles that were exasperated by the limited swimming space due to the frozen pond.
The kerfuffle shown here went on for a couple of minutes. It started with chest bumping then one drake started plucking out chest feathers. Early on, one male got the upper hand and held the other one under water several times until the fracas ended.
At one point, the stronger duck had the other one partially under the edge of the pond ice (above right). I’ve heard of ducks drowning in such situations, but the weaker one persevered and was able to move away from the edge (below).
While the two were fighting the rest of the flock swimming in the open water ignored it all. Neither drake was injured and after the weaker duck fled, they went their separate ways, flapped their wings a couple of times, and went about their day as if nothing unusual happened.
I didn’t get to the millpond when our latest snow was fresh, but our intrepid roving reporter, Elizabeth, provided me with the two small photos taken with her cell phone (above). The photo on the left may include three sets of mink tracks (Tracks on right; see description of mink tracks here) and one set of either a neighborhood dog or coyote.
A couple of days after the one inch snowfall, I took the photo below near Stillwater Grill. The tracks aren’t muskrats so I think they might be a mishmash of rabbit and mink. Hopefully the rabbit didn’t encounter the mink as it searched for twigs on which to chew.
Since the death of King Arthur in January 2014, we’ve had at least four male mute swans claiming the Brighton millpond as theirs. I haven’t found an identifying mark on the current one yet to see if he’s the one that arrived in late summer. I imagine he is. The swan that kicked out the swan released on January 4 within 48 hours was quite adamant the millpond belonged to him and only a suitable mate would be allowed to stick around.
I’m calling this swan Swan #4 until I can discover an identifying mark on him. What I noticed this past week is that he seems to be on the gentle side with the ducks. Arthur tolerated the ducks, but they stayed a neck length away because he inflicted painful nips if they annoyed him. Swan #4 nips the ducks, too, but they don’t stay away from him in their limited swimming space. It’s as if they know he won’t hurt them. I saw one duck swim right under his neck on this night while he was nipping another one he wanted to get out of his way (above). I’m not convinced he’s going to be a long term resident. There are nights when he’s vanished.
At this time of year, there isn’t much that catches my eye to photograph. The waterfowl swims in circles in their limited pools at both ends of the pond and almost everything along the millpond trail is the color of dead vegetation. So this is the time when I look for patterns and textures I don’t notice at other times of year.
Since this blog began in late November of 2009, one of the winter subjects is the ice that forms at the Brighton millpond dam. It offers new challenges each year because it never forms in the same way. This year, ice formed then melted several times until mid-January. The ice there now will probably remain until the pond ice melts in late spring although a prolonged “spring thaw” may hit us at any time and wash it all away.
I enjoy capturing the beaded edge of the ice where lapping water drips and then freezes (top). Because the top slats on the dam broke this past spring, the water on the pond is shallower than it is most years. It tumbles over the crest of the falls at a lower profile. An ice tunnel just a few inches above the crest (center photo) conceals the entire waterfall but you can see the moving water underneath it. At the base of the falls, ice coats the boulders then extends cantilevered edges 6″-10″ beyond the boulders (above). They look like giant mushrooms of ice.
Ducks are skittish. As prey species, they are quick to flee when they sense danger. They explode into action before they evaluate what’s really going on. It surely saves lives over time, but it expends a lot of energy when it’s a false alarm. I’ve seen this happen on most visits to the north end of the millpond this winter. In no case have I spotted any danger as the ducks rush into the water (below). I assume it’s flocking behavior – one duck gets an inkling something is amiss, takes flight, and then the rest of the flock hightails it outta there.
Invariably, once they get into the pond, most flap their wings a couple of times to throw off the adrenalin rush then return to shore.
There are tracks in what little snow we have (above), but they don’t look like those from fox, coyote, or mink. Most likely, they are from feral cats. I doubt the felines could inject such terror into the ducks.
We still have very little snow on the ground even though the east coast has been hammered this weekend. During our few snowstorms, the city of Brighton has kept the streets clear by applying salt. Once the moisture leaves the sidewalks, the salt paints patterns. Here are four compositions near the front of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
They were taken on January 6, but the sidewalks are still clear so you can still see them and other patterns. The pods nestled in the cracks are from nearby Locust trees.
Last year at this time, about 22 ducks, mostly domestics, roosted for the night near the millpond dam. This year only two are usually there. One is a Mallard/Rouen hybrid (right), and the other is a Mallard drake with an injured leg. The injury happened this fall but its cause is unknown.
I doubt the hybrid bird can fly to the north end of the pond. Domestics have big bodies that their standard sized wings cannot keep in the air for long distances. The Mallard with the injured leg probably can fly since its wings don’t appear to be damaged. Maybe he’s decided to keep the larger duck company. It’s a good thing since swimming should always be done using the buddy system even when the open water is the same size as a backyard shed for a lawnmower.
On Thursday evening, 60 ducks were spending the night at the north end of the pond. Fifty are in this photo. There is enough open water there for them to have rousing water polo matches if ducks were into the sport. Instead, they swim in circles to stay in shape for the mating season which begins in ten weeks (or so).
Only one goose was there, the one with the injured left wing. New feathers haven’t replaced the bare flight feather quills in three months so I believe this is a permanent disability. It’s possible new feathers won’t grow until next summer’s annual Canada goose molt. Geese sometimes nip ducks while feeding but this one is cordial with the smaller birds. Ducks will stay a neck length away from geese and swans, but these are rubbing wings with it in this photo.
The ducks know me. When I first started visiting the Brighton millpond, I thought ducks were too stupid to recognize specific people, but I was wrong. I still don’t know HOW they recognize me. For a while I thought it might be by my tan duck-billed caps, but I switched to a wide brimmed green hat and they still flew directly to me when the lower part of my body was hidden from their view by the wooden railing on the boardwalk. They recognize me no matter what coat I wear.
They know me, but they don’t love me. :-) The only reason they fly/waddle toward me is they know I usually have duck chow for them. Once the chow is gone, so are the ducks unless they have nothing better to do than hang around hoping I might magically find more chow up my sleeve or in mid air. The ducks at the north end are particularly interested in me this year since there are there are more of them with less food being offered because of their northern location.
Ducks I’ve know since they were hatched realize I won’t make quick movements or try to grab them so they fly right onto the 4′ railing on the boardwalk so they can be bill-to-nose with me. One of the Mallard drakes I’ve known since he hatched about four years ago is especially aggressive. I can recognize him because some of his webbing on his right foot is missing (right and below).
It happened when he was a young bird so he’s been easy to identify through the years. I’ve never named him because he hasn’t been mentioned often on this blog. I think he’s going to become more prominent this winter since he’s in my face on most of my visits (right). He’s a clown so I’m naming him Emmett. You have to be older than 45 to understand that moniker.
Many of the millpond duck watchers were concerned because the over-wintering birds established their circle of open water in the bay north of Brighton’s city hall instead of moving to the dam or the north end, places where open water can usually be found. That all changed abruptly during two cold nights this past week.
The circle of open water near city hall froze over. Instead of waddling to the dam, just a few hundred yards southward, all of the birds trekked a half mile northward. Domestic ducks cannot fly. Their footprints are evident on the ice (above).
Most winter visitors to the millpond stay near Main Street. The waterfowl might have a tough time surviving since less people visit the north end with duck chow. The half mile walk on the millpond trail to reach the headwaters can seem especially arduous when winter winds blow or the snow gets deep.
In the six years I’ve been reporting the millpond ducks’ behavior, this is the first year the domestics haven’t remained by the dam. I’m not sure why they’ve changed their typical behavior. It might be a fluke or maybe humans or predators convinced them the north end will be safer. Below zero temperatures in the month ahead may leave them with no open water for a while. Ducks can manage without swimming and bathing, but they won’t be as happy or safe.
Meanwhile, during daylight hours, many of the wild Mallards fly to the south end to seek duck chow handouts (above). The domestics and wild/domestic hybrids will remain at the north end unless they are overcome by hunger. On January 14, there were 56 ducks at the south end at about 4pm and 79 ducks and 3 Canada geese at the north end. The numbers are slightly higher this year.
They look like snowmobile tracks coursing across the pond, but the ice is still too think to support vehicles. Each line has a crack at its center which you can see in the top image. Anyone know an iceologist? Just like the ice circle I posted a few days ago, I have no idea how the cracks cause the much-wider lines. It doesn’t appear water has come up through the cracks to turn the dusting of snow into ice.
It’s probably one of the many mysteries that won’t be answered on this blog. Maybe someone will leave a comment with a full explanation. I’d love to hear it!
I didn’t see the second swan for two days after it was introduced to the Brighton millpond. I thought it might have died or been chased away by our original swan. On Wednesday afternoon, I found Swan #2 at the north end where it was playing nicely with ducks (above). I think it’s the same bird brought to the pond on January 3, but since I didn’t see that bird in daylight, I can’t be sure. Because of the size of its “berry” above its bill, I think it’s a female.
The swan that arrived at the pond months ago remains with the ducks in the bay between City Hall and the Court House. They have maintained a circle of open water there. If you toss duck chow at the shore near the parking lot, they will come to you to enjoy the snack.
While I would love to think the tracks in the snow (bottom) are from the mink I saw last month, it’s more likely they are from a feral cat. Compare mink and cat tracks in this illustration. Mink tracks have claws but the ones in my photo don’t.
Here are two pages of Southeastern Michigan animal tracks you might want to take on your next winter walk.
The top tracks are probably from a young rabbit but they may be from a squirrel.
During the summer for many years (when Buda was the Alpha drake), he moved his small tribe to the bay between the City Hall and the Court House. As winter approached, he would lead those ducks to the area near the dam where they would join the over-wintering birds, most of whom were domestics or domestic/wild hybrids.
For some reason this year, all of the ducks that usually spend the winter near the dam have remained near City Hall which is going to cause a problem. This area will eventually freeze over. The open water will be 300 yards away near the dam. Perhaps they will walk to it since many of the domestic birds cannot fly.
But that’s not the only problem
The resident swan has ended up being in the same small bay. While it’s getting along well with the ducks, swans normally winter at the north end of the millpond where there is more open water and submerged vegetation on which to feast.
Last evening I met two people on the Tridge carrying a large animal carrier. I asked them what they planned to catch. They explained they had just dropped off an adult mute swan that had apparently been on dry land for three days near the Meijer store.
They had attempted to find a veterinarian who would examine it but discovered most vets cannot treat domestic or wild birds. Further, they found out the Michigan DNR is reducing the mute swan population in the state so wildlife rehab facilities are to euthanize them when they arrive for treatment. The bird had some blood on its bill. They caught it with a blanket and looked for open water at the millpond to release it. They thought that solved the problem.
Unfortunately, our current resident swan (who remains nameless for now) isn’t happy about this interloper. Twice in the half hour I watched the swans, our resident forced the new arrival out of the pond. The new swan looks a bit disheveled, but that might be from its capture or an unhealthy condition. Time will tell if it will survive and make friends with the millpond’s existing swan.
Thin ice can be dangerous but it can also be beautiful. Our warm winter has kept the millpond ice-free until the last couple of days. It’s translucent instead of transparent because its surface is covered in tiny imperfections. Light from surrounding street lamps and walkway lanterns blurs when it’s reflected off the surface. I arrived at the pond just before dark last night and caught a little light in the sky before it ran westward to end our day.
Dark and blurry, trees are reflected in the thin ice near the gazebo (below).
Bubbles form under the thin ice.I imagine they are fro still-growing planting on the bottom of the pond (below).
Stories frozen in the ice can remain mysteries all winter. Below, I think a Canada goose decided to play icebreaker while trying to get to the shore. Either the ice got thicker so it supported the goose’s weight or it took flight before it reached the edge because its trail abruptly ended.
You’ve heard of Crop Circles. I guess we have Pond Circles, too. The ice is thin on the millpond and several large circles (10′ or more) have appeared in the light coating of snow. The cause? I’m clueless. Maybe there are small springs in the shallow water that raise the temperature a degree or two? Perhaps a grain of salt or other foreign matter melts the snow.
Foggy days and nights are rare in our area. We get a few of them in the fall at the air become colder than the water in our lakes, and occasionally we’ll see a couple of foggy days in winter when there are rapid temperature changes. Last week, we had two days of fog. These ware photos taken when it was at its most mysterious.
Title: Carl Sandburg “Fog”
A new duck arrived at the millpond this past week or it may have been at the pond for much longer but I hadn’t noticed her. Her markings are similar to the Mallard hens, but she has a lighter colored belly and chest and more distinct “penciling” (dark marks on its feathers) than female Mallards.
My guess is she’s a hybrid Mallard. She might be partially Welsh Harlequin, a domestic breed we were fortunate to have at the millpond for less than a year in 2012-2013. They were either killed by predators, waddled to a nearby pond, or stolen.
I saw the American Mink again the day after I photographed him attacking the gull and duck. A day later, I found this dead duck in the water 30 feet from the mink’s burrow. The duck Elizabeth reported being taken by the mink was a female Mallard but this one is a male. The next day this drake had been moved a short distance and more of its body eaten. I’ve posted this photo small because it’s rather grizzly. If you want to see the gory details, click on it to make it larger.
Stillwater Bay is 100 yards south of the mink’s burrow. It has several muskrat families, but I haven’t seen any swimming there lately. The mink may have dined well this past month. The weather has been exceptionally warm. Once we get snow cover, I’ll be able to see if the mink is still in residence by its tracks. I’ve looked for it daily this past week and feel it’s moved on.
Michael Glenn Monroe’s colorfully sculpted fish graced a rocky pedestal for a couple of years before it was vandalized. It’s now mounted on the short bridge near the dam where vandals can’t reach it.
For more than a month this summer, the former pedestal for Monroe’s sculpture was covered by a blue tarp. I knew something was going to be installed on it. Without fanfare, one night I noticed it had a metal Great Blue Heron flying above it on 20′ tall steel bars. It isn’t illuminated at night so you can walk beside it and miss it. I’m hoping its high perch keeps vandals at bay, but they can be very creative if they set their minds to it.
No label has been added to the steel blue, yellow, and black piece so I can’t tell you its creator. Once I know that, I’ll post it as a comment.
December 5: I found a score of Ring-Billed Gulls and an assortment of wild and domestic ducks at the millpond shore at Stillwater Grill. While feeding them, the air was suddenly filled with frightened ducks and gulls. That’s not unusual. When one duck feels threatened, all nearby birds flee even when it’s a false alarm. Scanning the area for a dog (the usual spooker of ducks) came up negative.
I glanced at the birds still on shore and found a gull rolling around with a brown wad of fur. It took me a few seconds to realize it was being attacked by a mink that popped out of a former muskrat hole! It was the first one I’ve seen at the millpond though I’ve heard tales of them nearby in South Ore Creek.
For the next 11 seconds, I kept my camera recording the struggle:
The gull finally freed itself from the mink’s jaws leaving the predator with only one feather in its mouth (below right). I bet there’s a gull at the pond with a wound on its lower left jowl that includes its eye. If you spot it, leave a comment on this post.
A time stamp is embedded in photos I take. The mink retreated into the muskrat hole (below) but within 14 seconds it spotted a Mallard hen that looked delicious. I’ve prepared an image similar to the one below (but “flopped”) you are welcome to use as your Facebook Cover Image. Download it here.
It lunged and got a weak hold on the duck’s tail feathers.
The Mallard hen was fortunate the mink didn’t get a better grip. It lost a few tail feathers but quickly escaped to live another day. Both attempts at dinner were thwarted in a total of 20 seconds.
I remained within 8 feet of the hole for another 15 minutes. The mink didn’t make any further attempts as it watched me. Click the images (below) to spot its eyes and nose in the first two photos.
Elizabeth, a frequent millpond visitor, reported finding a struggling duck with its head pulled into the same hole within 30 minutes. The mink had a firmer grip on that Mallard hen. Elizabeth didn’t stay to watch it die and eventually become dinner.
I thought the millpond was too urban to be attractive to mink. Perhaps some injuries I’ve attributed to snapping turtles were inflicted by these efficient predators. Domestic ducks are at a higher risk of being injured or killed because they aren’t as wary as wild birds nor are they as nimble. During the 2014 winter, we lost four domestic ducks near the millpond dam. I thought they were taken by a coyote spotted two blocks south. The real culprit may have been a mink.
Even the only Mute Swan in residence at the pond took on a golden tint. The swan is not one I recognize but it is in great shape with the feathers on its neck fluffed up to provide it with more insulation as it dips its head into the water to graze on submerged vegetation.
A dark phase Mallard hen cuts through the golden reflections (below).
I had more time to photograph migrating ducks at the millpond on Tuesday during daylight hours. The Northern Shoveler (above and below) came closer to me than ever before only because it was following a group of Mallards at the north end of the millpond. It’s been at the millpond for two weeks but I expect it to move southward any day now.
The American Widgeon was unwilling to come close enough for a crisp photo but you can see it is a male in its eclipse plumage (below). It’s hanging out with Mallard at the southern end of the pond near Main Street.
I’m sure both species stop at the millpond each autumn (and maybe spring) as they migrate, but this is the first time I’ve seen either of them at the pond. They are running a bit late for migrants so I’m not sure how long they will remain in residence.
I’ve also received a report that American Wood Ducks are near the north end of the pond but I haven’t found them yet. If you spot them, send me the photo and I’ll post it with your permission.
The gulls that loiter (still; as winter approaches) at the Brighton Millpond are not favorites of most park visitors. In comparing them to the pond’s ducks and geese, the Ring-Billed Gulls are noisier and have a no-holds-barred policy when it comes to obtaining food. They’ll steal it from each other or from other pond dwellers when they can.
I find gulls beautiful. Their streamlined bodies, effortless flight on long wings, and their soft colors make them handsome beings whether they are standing idly waiting for the next dead fish or bread crumb to come their way or taking flight to cruise the pond to find a floating edible.
Think of these photos as sketches. None of them are good enough to be photographs, but they illustrate some of the movements gulls make in their daily lives in Brighton.