A Mallard hen with a quartet of ducklings was discovered behind Brighton’s Fire Station 31. The youngsters appear to be a day old or so. There’s abundant surface vegetation on the pond now that catches tiny duck weed and other morsels to eat for the tiniest of ducks. All of these appear to be healthy and very active.
Not that we need more Canada geese in a year where there are already too many adult birds, it’s surprising how few gosling are at the Brighton millpond this spring.
Most eggs have hatched for the season yet you’ll be hard pressed to find goslings. I’ve counted less than 30 when we usually have more than 100. The reason?
I met a gentleman from Ireland who had the second largest collection of ornamental waterbirds in his native land before marrying a Yank and moving to Brighton. He told me geese with families will move their goslings off ponds where there is an overpopulation of adult birds. Bingo! That’s surely the reason.
Two weeks ago, the City of Brighton installed about 10 devices on the millpond to scare geese away. They don’t work. They just disturb the peace by occasionally emitting a noise that sounds like a drone or distant helicopter. The geese will continue to graze on vegetation within a few feet of the noise. Before the contraptions were floated in the pond, we had an abundance of geese. The same number are there now; the most I’ve ever seen at the millpond in spring.
We usually get an influx of the Canada Geese in the fall that’s similar to the population we have now. Why? There are probably several reasons. Most people think it’s because the birds are fed by the public. That’s part of it, but it’s only a small part of it.
It’s likely the result of our warm winter. Birds that usually flew south remained in the area so fewer of them were lost in their travels. Plus the city and residents have cleared vegetation from the pond’s shorelines and planted grazz making it more hospitable to the birds. They fly up the cleared embankments, munch on grass to their heart’s content then poop it out while roosting for the night. The shore near city hall has never had less vegetation or been dirtier. Geese won’t roost where they can’t see predators coming. If shorelines have shrubbery, they will either spend the night floating on the pond (next to the devices designed to scare them away) or fly to a well manicured lawn where they can graze. Golf courses seem to attract them like tornadoes seek trailer parks.
Geese are semi-territorial, my term not one in books. They like the company of other geese, but each bonded pair likes to keep a distance from other bonded pairs. Ganders yell at their neighbors to convince them to leave what they consider their territory at the moment. Sometimes it’s ten feet; sometimes it’s twenty. Where birds congregate, ganders clash. They bite their rivals’ chests while beating their wings against them. It’s quite a show. The birds don’t appear to be injured as often as rival ducks are during their violent territorial disputes.
There is talk about rounding up the geese during their annual molt when the adults lose their flight feathers to grow new ones. Through the grapevine, I heard they are going to relocate them. Since I’m unaware of any area seeking geese, it’s my opinion they will be relocated into kitchens.
I found this Midland Painted Turtle “dancing” on the bank of the Brighton millpond on May 25, 2016. It’s digging a hole into which it will lay its eggs. The bank faces the afternoon sunshine so it will keep her eggs warm until they hatch in 72-80 days. The video isn’t very exciting and there’s traffic noise in the background but it will show you what a turtle is doing if you run across another one “dancing” in your future.
This year’s first and second broods hatched continue to shrink. It’s difficult to witness it happening but it’s totally expected. Ducks hatch lots of babies but few of them survive. The only good news about these two early broods is that they have endured the two week mark in their lives. They won’t fit into the mouths of gulls, bullfrogs, and small snapping turtles so they have a much better chance at long term survival.
2016 Brood 1 has gone from 14 ducklings down to only 3 (above). That’s an unexpected drop. Their hen takes her youngsters into the center of the pond to forage in surface vegetation. She doesn’t keep them close together so roving bass and pike easily pick them off.
Even though their mom has left them, 2016 Brood 2 is faring much better. The tykes are sticking close together so, when predatory fish look up, they think of the brood as one animal instead of 10 appetizing mouthfuls. Only two ducklings have been lost and the survivors are thriving. Each day, their chances for reaching adulthood improve. They continue the tradition their mom started after they left the nest: they roost on the same floating log and cuddle to share warmth (below) even though their tails are beginning to reach the water line as they grow. Should danger arrive, they can quickly scoot into the water in all directions to confound any predator.
You can not miss the subtle fragrance of the blooming Autumn Olive trees while walking the millpond trail this week. The aroma is pleasant, but the trees are terribly invasive. We have many along the trail, and they choke virtually every other plant or tree in their path.
The only thing growing under the Autumn Olive’s thick canopy at the pond is another (but better behaved) invader, Lily-of-the-Valley. It’s also blooming and throwing off its scent into the springtime air right now near the cemetery and along the shoreline behind the Rainbow Car Wash.
Just within the past week has the millpond sufficiently warmed to bring out the carp and the large snapping turtles (not pictured yet). The painted turtles (above with a pan-sized bluegill) began to come out of their dormant condition in late April but the snappers stayed half asleep for another month. I’m not sure why some turtles have moss growing on their shells while other don’t. Maybe it’s just a matter of their age or the location of their dormant months.
Carp (above with a keeper 14″+ Largemouth Bass) search the shallows for things to eat for about six months of the year. We have a slew of lunkers so you have a good chance of seeing them cruising the shorelines. The millpond also has a nice population of bass, but catching and seeing them isn’t as easy as bluegills. As predators, they hide in shadows and wait until their dinners swim close enough to rush forward and swallow them.
This wire leader (above) was found on the point near Brighton’s city hall on Sunday. In March of 2014 one of the Mandarin ducks had an identical one hanging from its mouth. Within a week, it was dead. The leader, sinker, and fish hook were found in its stomach while x-raying its body (below).
Fishing is a great activity for individuals and families. Come to the millpond and enjoy yourself, but please check the area around you before leaving for fishing gear of all types. Waterfowl eat anything that looks delicious. Each year we average at least 3 encounters between waterfowl and fishing gear. That includes monofilament line. Last year, one of the Blonde Bombshells lost her leg and foot when she became tangled in fishing line.
We have another brood with a single duckling. It hatched on Saturday, May 21, and was first seen near the seawall at Brighton’s city hall. The hen was accompanied by a drake who demanded most of her attention while she let the duckling swim far and wide, not a good sign for its long term survival. Tiny chicks do best when they stick close to mom as shown below instead of wandering away (left) where a hungry bass might decide it’s the right size to be gobbled down.
I have no hard knowledge on the subject, but sense first year hens tend to have smaller clutches and slimmer parenting skills than older birds. Hens I’ve observed for several years seem to effortless care for their offspring and anticipate when they need to move them to safer locations or better food resources. Older hens might also be quicker to flee and better at hiding the kids when danger lurks yet I doubt the survival rate for their ducklings is much higher since predation is capricious.
Two ducklings less than three days old were untended near Main Street on Saturday evening. No Mallard hens were in sight and they weren’t peeping which is a call for mom to come back. Canada geese were near them, but there was no interaction between the species (which is typical). They’ve probably been alone for a major part of the day if not longer. They may be 2016 Brood 5. It had only two ducklings, but we’ll never know for sure.
Will they survive? It’s unlikely because they are so young and munchable, but every year a few of the youngsters surprise me. They thrive using their wits to find food and avoid dangers.
Another Mallard hen has presented the millpond with ten very active ducklings. They appear to be in their second day of exploring the world and were first seen in the water behind Brighton Area Fire Department’s Station 31. They were moving toward the north end of the pond so you will have more luck seeing them in that area.
Many park visitors have asked me where all the female Mallards are. All they see are Mallard drakes with their iridescent green heads as shown by the 22 males and no females in these two photographs.
Most of the females are nesting now. The ones caring for ducklings already hatched and the ones not interested in nesting stay away from places where the boys are. Males quick to discover unprotected hens and do their best to chase them down in the water and on land. Hens often take several of the boys on circling flights around the pond. The goal appears to be to wear the boys out so they are less amorous, but it might also be to test their stamina.
In three months, visitors will be asking me where all the boys are because they drop their mating plumage for a few months. They will look more like the brown females and their green heads will be muted in color.
At the north end of the Brighton millpond near the boardwalk at Grand River, I’ve observed a muskrat who looks drunk when he walks on land. The first time I saw him, I thought he might have found a stash of fermented berries. I saw him again on Saturday and now think it’s some sort of neurological condition. If you see him, leave a comment and describe anything that might help wildlife experts pinpoint its problem. I’ve submitted a report to Michigan’s DNR to see if they are aware of any tremor condition in Michigan rodents. If they reply, I’ll post it in the comments.
I prefer to think most trash in the millpond isn’t purposely thrown into it. Instead, it’s carelessly left on shore then breezes transport it into the water. There are many trash barrels in the park which make it easy for visitors to properly dispose of things. I think all urban ponds attract litter because they are favorite gathering places for hungry city resident who bring things to eat, drink, and smoke. No matter how vigilant city maintenance crews are, it’s impossible for them to keep up with the litter.
A white plastic chair arrived in the bay south of Stillwater Grill during a winter storm when strong winds made it slide on the ice from someone’s yard on the west side of the pond. Once the ice melted, it became an upside down eyesore seen by every park visitor walking the boardwalk. Until Friday.
Three kayaking fishermen entered the bay. One of them was kind enough to hand the chair up to a fine gentleman who walked it to a nearby dumpster. As you can see, the pond hadn’t treated it well during its submerged months. Consistently, fishermen and hunters are the most concerned with protecting and improving wildlife habitats. This chance encounter between these individuals will enhance the visitors’ view for the rest of the year. Thanks, guys!
Brood 2 still has 11 little fuzzballs. They are doing well considering they’re on their own. They stick together which is the best way to avoid danger. When they cuddle for warmth along shore, they stay under shrubs (left) so gulls and hawks don’t see them.
They reach an important milestone this weekend: they become 2 weeks old! Ducklings are most vulnerable during their first two weeks because they are delicious morsels for many predators nor do they have enough body mass to endure cold nights. A few may be lost in the weeks ahead, but so far so good.
The hen for Brood 6 has started to bring her lone duckling to the area south of the Tridge where park visitors enjoy seeing it. It looks healthy and mom actively threatens other ducks if they get too close. Mom allows it into the ruff and tumble mayhem of adult ducks lunging for tidbits thrown by the public. Wish that wasn’t happening but ducklings bob well as adult ducks dart around them.
The muskrats are very active now. I imagine most of the families have a litter of kits in their burrows now so the adults are transporting vegetation to their hungry hoards. I estimate there are at least 10 families of muskrats on the pond, maybe more. Literature tells me each bonded pair can have up to four litters each year and each little can have up to nine. Those stats mean we could have up to 360 youngsters born at the pond yearly. Yikes.
I’m sure we have much fewer, maybe a dozen or so. I rarely see youngsters and believe they are kept safely inside their burrows during daylight hours. Many are still probably lost to hawks, turtles, and owls before they are full grown.
If you spend time at our pond, you’ll see muskrats. Their primary food is submerged plants, but you might also find them “farming” grass along the shore: nipping grass blades near the ground and carrying huge mouthfuls of it back to their burrows. They are always busy so they are fun to watch.
Elaine, a devoted millpond walker and wildlife watcher, left a comment yesterday afternoon that Blonde Bombshell #1 was missing. I wasn’t worried. The boys had been chasing her and she is a good flyer so I thought her absence was temporary. Four hours later, I found her 11 ducklings swimming alone. Now I was worried. Elaine said the 8-day-old ducklings were alone early in the day and still alone in mid-afternoon. BB#1 perched on the same log Monday night so I suppose a mink or raccoon might have attacked her. She might have held her ground rather than flee leaving her ducklings vulnerable.
It’s more likely, however, her departure is related to the mating season. Drakes sometimes convince hens to leave their offspring to begin another nesting, often when the ducklings are quite young. I’ve documented hens leaving two-day-old chicks in past years.
Hens may also have mishaps during chases and run into tree branches, power lines, or moving vehicles. We may never know what has happened to her. Yet she might show up again in a day or two or be honeymooning on another pond with a suitor or two.
Meanwhile, her 11 ducklings roosted for the night on the same log their mom lowered her wings to keep them warm for the first eight days of their lives. If they stick together, most have a good chance of reaching adulthood. They are most vulnerable for the next week, but I’ve seen abandoned ducklings younger than these thrive so don’t give up hope. You are welcome to click the image to the right to download a Facebook Cover Image prepared to their exact specifications.
Should the ducklings be rescued? They fit the criteria since their hen cannot be found, but Howell Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program is probably overflowing with injured youngsters during this baby season. The DNR recommends migratory birds be left in their natural environment unless they need serious medical attention.
Most of us in this region are exasperated with the weather. We thought we’d have an early spring because of our mild winter. Instead, we’ve seen conditions jump back and forth from cold/bitter/windy days to cool yet brighter ones.
This week forecasters are predicting we’re finally moving into a spring-like pattern. Tuesday’s sunset had hints of spring but Monday’s November sky still refused to leave town.
After two unseasonably cold nights Blonde Bombshell #1 arrived with only 11 ducklings instead of 12. If I hadn’t been told the tale, I might assume it was the victim of hypothermia, a common cause of death early in the nesting season.
One of the regular millpond dog walkers told me she met people earlier in the day who said the 12th duckling was near shore and went under while swimming and didn’t come back up. They stirred the water with a stick hoping they could find it but were unsuccessful. My guess is that a large bass or pike nabbed the little guy but the park visitors missed seeing it happen. Still, this hen is very successful keeping all 12 of her offspring for their first 8 days of life, a rare occurrence.
Near the Old Village Cemetery, a couple of Black Cherry Trees are currently covered with spires of white flowers with yellow centers. I’m not aware that these blooms have a strong scent, but they are plentiful mixed with the glossy green leaves.
I’ve never noticed fruit on these trees but maybe I haven’t paid attention. The trees fruit when many other events are happening at the pond. Maybe this year I’ll look upward at the right time. Then again, perhaps the birds and critters devour the fruit before it ripens like they do the nearby American Hazelnuts.
The aroma of honeysuckle is much fainter than Viburnum Carlesii (Korean Spice) that’s finished blooming for the year. As you walk along the millpond trail, the scent of both pink (shown here) and white honeysuckles will waft past you. Autumn Olive is also in bloom now and their tiny white flowers have their own hint of sweetness. All three of these species are abundant, invasive, and devoid of much grace.
There is talk of a long-term effort to eliminate the invasive plants surrounding the millpond. The task is enormous and the chances of it running to completion will require a concerted effort by a generation or two. Approximately 75% of the plants and trees need to be removed, but if they aren’t replaced by native species, invasives will take their place again so it’s a balancing act involving time and money.
For the second time this spring, a Trumpeter Swan has visited the Brighton millpond. A pair spent March 24 with us and our resident Mute Swan wasn’t a bit hospitable. Yesterday, a lone Trumpeter arrived in the bay north of city hall. It’s a friendly bird; it came within 20 feet of me so I assume it frequents other ponds where humans are present.
Trumpeters aren’t plentiful in Michigan, but our DNR would like them to be. They are culling Mute Swans to encourage Trumpeters to have a wider choice of nesting locations. There is speculation on whether Trumpeters are truly native to Michigan. They’re nesting in the northern part of lower Michigan but their typical range is more toward the Pacific northwest. The Mute Swans are surely not native to our region. They were imported from Europe to grace the estates of America. They have flourished and can aggressively drive away nesters of other species as well as eat more than their share of submerged vegetation.
The millpond’s Swan #4 has driven Canada geese from the north end of the pond but most park visitors find that beneficial since too many geese are already populating the neighborhood. Swan #4 has constructed two nests this spring but hasn’t ventured out to find a mate. The chances of cygnets hatching this year aren’t good unless he has a credit card and orders them through mail order.
Too many Mallard hens spitting out ducklings with run-of-the-mill Mallard markings. I think this is the sixth brood hatched on the millpond this year. Its lone duckling looks like a day-old chick, but it might be the remainder of Brood 3, 4, or 5.
I’ve compared the hen photos with those broods and this one doesn’t look like any of them, but minor shifts in light can make duck markings look entirely different.
The hen is highly protective of the duckling and chases drakes away (above), but she let’s the chick wander off without paying much attention to it. I don’t give it a high chance for long term survival.
Another hen was found with her wings touching the ground near Brighton’s city hall last evening. That’s a clear signal she was keeping newly hatched ducklings warm for the night. She moved off the kids long enough to see two ducklings in her tribe. She isn’t a duck I recognize but I think she recognizes me since she wasn’t stressed by my presence. She’s in beautiful shape. Let’s hope her small family thrives.
Dot, the hen for 2016 Brood 1 (above), has sadly lost 8 of her ducklings since they hatched one week ago. Brood 3 (left) has 3 of her original 4 ducklings. They have departed the quiet life in the bay south of Stillwater Grill and is now involved in the hubbub of begging for bread from the public near Main Street.
The Mallard hen of Brood 4 (below) didn’t allow me to count her clutch while her family roosted on the shore near city hall last evening. She probably still has 3 offspring. I’ll update brood counts as they happen on the 2016 Brighton Millpond Fertility Tournament Results page.
I sensed the tournament entries were lagging behind last year’s count so, upon comparison, I was surprised that we’ve had 5 broods hatch this year when only one hatched before May 15 last year. Other than the first two broods, however, the clutches seem to have less surviving ducklings this year. That might be the result of colder, wetter nights and predators destroying eggs before they can hatch. I suspect about 12 broods will be on the pond by the end of May if nesting parallels last year’s.
Much of the information online about ducks is wrong or for optimum conditions. Most sources tell us ducklings need to be kept under heat lamps at about 95 degrees for their first two weeks of life, and to not let them swim for a week or two because their down feathers aren’t waterproofed with their oil yet.
Tell that to Blonde Bombshell #1 (I think, based upon how I identified them last October). Although hypothermia is a major killer of ducks during their early weeks of life, the millpond hens have little choice in raising their broods. At less than a day old, they swim with mom and huddle under her wings during cold nights. On Thursday evening, it rained incessantly but the kids didn’t seem a bit uncomfortable from the cold.
There are no heat lamps at the millpond nor in the million ponds in the upper tier of states. A cold front is coming through this weekend and most of the ducklings will survive to carry on the species. Two years ago, we had about a dozen ducklings die when a cold wave arrived in mid-May, but I don’t think it will be as cold this year.
Bombshell #1 has been extraordinary as a mom this year. All 12 of her darlings are still alive at their sixth day, a rarity. Dot, the hen who started with 14 was down to only ten after three days of life the last time I saw her two days ago.
While she’s still quite protective of her charges, she gives them plenty of time to explore the land and water while she remains alert. In the days ahead, I’m sure she will lose some of the little guys, but many will survive to adulthood. Will any of them be blondes like her? I suspect not since all of them look like they are Mallards, but adult plumage can’t be predicted by the down they have this early in their lives.
On two nights this week, this hen has balanced her entire tribe on a floating 14″ diameter log near the central part of the pond (below). It’s a good thing none of her kids walk in their sleep. They would quickly topple into the water. It’s an unusual roosting location for young families, but it’s safer than spending nights under shoreline shrubbery.
The city would like all of the ducks to move to the central part of the pond so the area near Main Street would remain free of poop. They fail to realize is that ducks prefer a 360 degree view around them at night so they can see predators coming. The south end’s sidewalk provides that advantage. Bombshell’s perch on the floating log also gives her a 360 view and protects her family from marauding raccoons and opossums along the shore.