Swimming in sunshine

April 28th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Muskrats are seen swimming out to favorite submerged vegetation areas or coming back home with their mouths full of salad

The Brighton millpond muskrats are very happy now that all of the ice is gone and the water temperature is in the 40s. They swim all winter long so 40(f)+ degree water is fine with them. We have at least 10 families of muskrats on the pond. I mapped them out a couple years back and found they tended to dig burrows in the pond’s shoreline every 150 feet if there were no obstructions in their way.

Muskrats dig burrows in the millpond shoreline

Their extensive burrows make the shoreline collapse over time, but they merely move to another area of the pond and dig a new one. They rarely relax and put their clawed feet up. Instead, they are constantly in motion day and night diving for submerged vegetation, carrying their bounty back to their burrows, looking for new food sources, or “farming” (harvesting) green stuffs on shore. They are fun to watch as they traverse the pond. If you spend 30 minutes at the pond, you will surely spot at least one of them.

Though muskrats swim year 'round, they look like they enjoy it more when there is no ice to contend with

Where’d all the girls go?

April 28th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

An unnamed Mallard hen blends with her surroundings to avoid predators finding her nest

You’ll see a majority of green-headed ducks at the millpond for the next few weeks. They are all Mallard drakes. The females are hidden under shrubs and other spots where they appear invisible as they incubate their eggs. I’ve found or been told where six duck nests are so far and others will be found as weeks fly by.

I don’t publish the location of nests and these two photos have been altered to conceal landmarks. The hens have enough problem avoiding predators  and park visitors without me adding to their woes. The Mallard female (top) and the Cayuga/Mallard hybrid (bottom) have only recently been sitting so they will be on their nests for 3-4 more weeks. “Onyx” is the name of the duck below. She is a second year adult and her mothering skills weren’t well developed last year. She hatched about 6 ducklings and lost all of them within a week’s time. I hope she’s honed her skills this past year so she’s more successful.

Onyx is a second year hen so I'm hoping she is a more successful mother this year

An early turtle convention

April 28th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Eight turtles are in this photograph. Can you find them all? One is in the water so you can only see its head.

Just days after the turtles began to come out of hibernation, a 70 degree day brought more of them to the surface than I ever remember seeing before. It’s as if they needed to get some fresh air following months of being buried in the silt. Maybe they were scanning the pond to find friends perching on other logs. Do turtles have buddies like ducks do? I’ve never read anything about that being the case.

17 turtles populate this imageI counted more than 25 Midland Painted Turtles sunning themselves within a 10 minute period. I’m sure there were more hidden in remote nooks and crannies in the bay south of Stillwater Grill. One of those might be the Red-Eared Slider I’ve seen in past years, but none were Snapping Turtles or other species.

I’m surprised we don’t occasionally see other species at the millpond. Surely there are some in the lakes and cattail marshes upstream. Though they can be found in nearby locations, I’ve never seen a Soft-Shelled or Musk Turtle that are both common in Michigan.

There are at least 14 turtles in this photograph

Cleanliness / Godliness / Happy Dancing

April 27th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Bathing appears to be a joyous activity for ducks

Emmett is honeymooning at the north end of the Brighton millpond with a ravishing brunette. Their location is surely selected to avoid the advances of several of the rogue Mallard drakes who are attempting to impregnate any and all hens they can locate that aren’t well protected by diligent drakes.

On sunny days, ducks seem to bathe more often

On warm, sunny days, ducks often bathe. They vigorously splash around to dislodge grit between their skin and the base of their feathers. They seem to enjoy it beyond merely getting clean. It reminds me of Snoopy’s Happy Dance.

Following her bath, this Mallard hen let Emmett know this would be a great time to mate. She signaled her agreeable mood by laying flat on the surface of the water after doing some mutual head bobbing with her bonded drake. When Emmett realized he was being called into active duty, he mounted his beloved and gently grabbed her neck. Drakes aren’t often this gentle with the hens and often rip out feathers and cause the females to bleed.

After bathing, the hen let the drake know it was time The drake perked up at the invitation

Drakes mount hens and grab the back of the head often ripping out feathers

Vigorous splashing removes grit between skin and feathersFollowing mating for about 1 minute, the pair parted. Emmett flapped his wings in a victory salute while his hen took another bath to celebrate.

This encounter was a quiet affair for two ducks who have been bonded for a couple of months. That’s not always the case. I’ve seen as many as 13 rogue males attack one hen in what can only be called rape. Already this year, I’ve received calls from horrified park visitors who have witnessed such encounters. If the birds are on land, the public will try to separate the ducks, but if it takes place in the water, they will throw branches or rocks at the males to get them to stop. It rarely works and shouldn’t be attempted. This is normal behavior for ducks. Most of the time no bird is fatally injured although it occasionally happens.

A happy dance concludes mating sometimes

When heaven visits the millpond

April 27th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

vcarlisii_9821_600

vcarlisii_9818_200This is the two weeks Viburnum Carlesii blooms near the porch of Stillwater Grill. The aroma is one of the most intoxicating fragrances at the millpond. Also known as “Korean Spice,” the scent rivals lilacs as being the most coveted.

A Viburnum Carlesii flower cluster as the blooms openWhile the flower clusters are a beautiful red that open to a slightly pinkish white, the shrubs aren’t particularly graceful. The branches criss cross in a rather clunky manner but who the hell cares. vcarlisii_9817_300The 50 weeks of only so-so beauty are worth the two weeks each year when the air is heavenly.

Take a walk in the evening this week near the Grill and you’ll be swept away by the fragrance.

2016’s first millpond goslings

April 27th, 2016     2 comments     permalink

Geese let their goslings mingle with ducks, but not with other families of geese

The hatching season has begun! Four families of Canada geese now reside on the Brighton millpond with a total of 22 goslings, but that’s just the beginning. Don’t count on me to keep track of the numbers. It’s easy to do now, but within days there will be so many families that all look alike that I can’t possibly provide accurate counts. I don’t even try. If I could convince the geese to wear name tags I could do it. It’s illegal to band them without a permit.

These goslings are the first to hatch at the Brighton millpond and are about 3 days old

It’s my opinion that all Canada geese have identical personalities so they cannot easily be individually identified. In addition to the millpond ducks often having unique markings, they have a range of personalities, and rather consistent buddies and territories. That’s how I can identify them and write about their lives in more depth than I can the geese.

The current goslings/families are: 3/2, 4/1, 6/2. As I’ve said many times on this blog, the Canada geese have the most well developed parenting skills of all the waterfowl. Both parents tend their little ones and they are kept between mom and dad as they forage until they are old enough to explore on their own. Swans are also good parents and the males (cobs) protect their cygnets aggressively, but their success rate is far below that of the geese. That may be because it takes much longer for cygnets to mature.

Six goslings are well guarded by their attentive parents

Teasing drakes and sitting pretty

April 22nd, 2016     0 comments     permalink

The Mallard hen is quacking up a storm to attract drakes.. Seven of them answered the call.

This Mallard hen has created a well insulated nest with the her down feathersThe first wave of Mallard hens are either actively nesting now or making efforts to find suitable drakes to fertilize their eggs. There is a particular cackling the hens do which attracts males that sounds more like a laugh than a quack (top). This hen attracted seven drakes who found her irresistible. But the hens don’t want to appear too eager to mate so, once she is surrounded by males, she might take to the sky with several males in hot pursuit.

The cryptic coloration of the hen blends well with the dried vegetation left over from winter. Unless you spend lots of time looking for nests, you won’t find them easily even when you are just a few feet away. The birds nest under shrubs or in nooks and crannies around the millpond. Some hens are skilled at nest construction and carefully line their nest with down feathers plucked from their chest and abdomen (left). Other ducks weren’t paying attention in Home Economics and merely toss a few sticks and leaves into a rustic pile. Well insulated nests are important early in the season when cold nights can arrive without warning.

Some nests at this time of year aren’t well hidden because the vegetation has leafed out yet. I imagine some of the early nesters are more likely to have their eggs eaten by predators as a result. But enough ducklings will hatch to maintain the population of waterfowl at the Brighton millpond. Last summer 198 ducklings hatched and about 50% survived to adulthood.

Ducks nest in odd locations and in shrubbery near the millpond

Winter debris still blooms

April 22nd, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Curbs still show evidence of snow plows

Curbs nicked by snow plows still show signs of the carnage. Once the street sweepers make a pass near the millpond, the painted chips will vanish and then a fresh coat of bright yellow paint will probably be slapped on. We take so many of these maintenance tasks for granted, I like to bring them to the foreground so park visitors are aware of how our city crews spend their days. Besides, things like this make great photographic compositions.

Turtles are awake and begging

April 21st, 2016     3 comments     permalink

Painted Turtles at the Brighton Millpond

April 18: The Midland Painted Turtles in the Brighton millpond all woke up on the same day (or so it seemed) due to sunshine and daylight temperatures in the 70s. The bay between Stillwater Grill and the cemetery is prime turtle habitat. The water is shallow, only 6-12 inches deep, and the silt is dark so the water in this area heats more quickly than the rest of the millpond.

Five turtles bask on a log (below) while two get to know each other again (top) after 6 months of being buried in the muck on the bottom of the pond. Turtles don’t breathe while hibernating but normally get some oxygen through their skin. Research shows they can actually go long periods with no oxygen at all during hibernation when their body temperature hovers around 43(F) degrees.

Painted Turtles at the Brighton Millpond

One of the painteds stared at me while floating in the water below the boardwalk. That’s standard begging behavior but I’m surprised that turtle remembered the routine while over wintering. I saw one of the smaller Snapping Turtles, with a shell about 10″ from head to tail, but it wasn’t seeking food from the public yet. Give it a week and it will encourage park visitors to toss it a snack.

Swan #4: Law enforcer of the north end

April 20th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Swan #4 bounces geese

It’s a dance they do. Here’s the routine: The pair of geese arrives at the north end of the millpond, Swan #4 sees them, and paddles toward them to remind them they are in his territory …

Swan #4 bounces geese

… the geese may head for the nearest shoreline to get out of the swan’s way. Swans aren’t fond of walking on solid ground so he rarely follows them once they reach dry land. The swan returns to the center of the northern bay to graze on submerged vegetation.

Swan #4 bounces geese

As soon as the coast is clear, the geese return to the water …

Swan #4 bounces geese

… and the swan paddles toward them again. If they don’t leave the area the swan considers his backyard, the swan ups his game. He’ll charge toward them with his wings held upward to look larger than he is then slaps his wings against the water’s surface to make a racket.

Swan #4 bounces geese

Mute swans are magnificent while flying. Their six foot wingspan is incredible as they struggle to become airborne. Their feet “walk” along the surface before they have enough lift. If they are just treatening geese, they rarely lift more than 6 feet off the water before making another splash near the tails of the offending geese.

Swan #4 bounces geese

As the swan comes closer, the geese decide they are dealing with a crazy bird that’s twice their size so they leave the area but not for long. The entire dance happens again within minutes or hours.

Swan #4 bounces geese

Swan #4 is merely protecting his nesting territory. He built a nest two weeks ago. The problem is he still doesn’t have a mate to share it. Perhaps he’ll leave his job as millpond sentry long enough to seek a female willing to return to the millpond and raise cygnets with him. Swans are fine parents. They share parental responsibilities until their young reach full size and leave their care in late autumn.

Meet George and Martha

April 16th, 2016     2 comments     permalink

Martha is larger which might indicate she is a he

Oh joy. The first ducks of the dumping season have arrived earlier than usual. Easter ducks don’t usually begin to arrive until two months after the holiday. But these two are fully grown so they may have be discarded Valentine’s Day presents.  I first noticed this pair three days ago. I thought they were two of our existing six Pekins even though they didn’t rush up to me like the resident Pekins do. I attributed that to park visitors filling their gullets before my arrival.

George is smaller with curly tail feathersLast night, I saw the pair from across the pond after I had already seen five of the six existing Pekins farther north. I knew we had at least one extra Pekin in residence. I caught up with them later near Main Street to take these photos. They were skittish and wouldn’t come too close nor did they interact well with the other ducks.

I’ve tentatively named them George and Martha although they may be two founding fathers instead of our first president and first lady. The smaller one has curly tail feathers so it’s definitely a male. The other is larger which normally means it’s a drake but it’s missing curly tail feathers. If its behavior indicates it’s a drake, Martha will become Martin and asked (but not forced of course) to use the other bathrooms.

Zoot has found Mr. Right (Now)

April 16th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Ducks don’t mate for life. Normally they bond during January-March then mate in April-July for May-August hatchings. While the hen devotes her time to sitting on eggs, the drake finds it dull to watch her. Exasperated, he finally excuses himself so he may seek other hens requiring his stud services whether they find him charming or not.

Zoot and her nameless bonded Mallard drake relax after a exhausting day of courtship on the Brighton millpond

Zoot (above right) either hatched or was brought to the pond last spring as a small duckling. I found her with Sugar Raye, but she was much larger and differently marked than Sugar’s other ducklings, I’ve wondered if she was dumped at the pond along with two other ducklings that are also black with white bibs. Zoot has the most brightly colored orange and black feet of the trio of hens.

For more than two months, Zoot has been wooing this particular Mallard drake seen stretching his wing after an exhausting day of courtship (above). Girls are the aggressors in the duck world for at least the early stages of pair bonding. Testosterone in the drakes doesn’t kick in until March. It acts like four shots of tequila in a country western bar – all hens suddenly become ravishing beauties as if by magic.

Because this is her first year as a mature hen, Zoot may not nest at all. But she’ll will probably nest later this spring. She’s a domestic hybrid duck so she may not care for her eggs. Many domestic breeds and hybrids have lost their mothering instincts from decades or eons of selective breeding by farmers. Pekins, the most popular domestic in the USA duck meat market, are notoriously poor brooders. In the six years I’ve been reporting from the millpond, I’ve seen many nesting attempts but only two Pekin hatchings for a total of 12 ducklings. Only one survived through its first two weeks but died the following May from mating stress.

Swan #4 is slacking

April 11th, 2016     2 comments     permalink

Swan #4 takes good care of his feathers which indicates he's healthy but he hasn't shown any interest in the opposite sex yet

Swan #4 is a handsome bird who appears in prime shape to raise a familyI previously reported Swan #4 spent two days building a nest but he hasn’t been loitering there since. Nor has he flown to other ponds to find the love of his life who will bring us a fresh set of cygnets this summer.

Normally, swan eggs hatch in June after 34-41 days of incubation. So #4 still has time to run off to play goo-goo eyes with nearby cupcakes, but he has to show more ambition than he indicates this early spring. There is a possibility he is still too young to mate. Swans settle down to family life at 3-4 years old. Prior to that time they hang out with other immature swans in large groups. Since he’s alone and actively policing the millpond, I think there’s a good chance he intends to become a permanent resident of our town. We’ll know if he intends to raise a family this year within the next month.

These egrets are great

April 11th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

What appears to be a bonded pair of Great Egrets visited a pond near the millpond this week

When disturbed by my presence, they flew to the far side of the pond to continue to fishNo American egrets could be seen in the Brighton area 30 years ago. They have slowly moved into the fresh water marshes here to spend parts of their summers. AllAboutBirds.com says they only migrate through this area, but I know some remain for the whole summer and I assume they nest during their stay.

These two stark white birds stand 36-42″ tall and have started to fish in a pond near the Brighton millpond. Other Great Egrets visit the millpond during daylight hours but often eat and run. I’ve never seen them in the late evenings when I’m often there.

These are Great Egrets. I’m not making a value judgement. It’s the official name of this species. There are smaller egrets; the Cattle and Snowy Egrets, and there is the white form of Great Blue Herons. The white form of blue? Imagine that. Egrets are skittish. When I moved too close, they glided to the other shore. I couldn’t get close ups in the fading daylight.

Great Egrets have black legs and feet

Drifting patterns

April 11th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Snow drifts around concrete stairs beside the millpond

March 10: Since it’s been snowing for the past three days, it reminded me I have snow drift photos from a month ago I hadn’t posted. Maybe if I post them, the snow will stop and we can get spring to roll in.

These two images are looking down at pairs of cement stairs beside the millpond. During the March snow,winds whipped around an carved streamlined shapes in the snow that was about 6-8″ deep. I love the contours of these smooth shapes but am thrilled when they don’t stick around long. The snow from that storm melted within 48 hours.

Snow drifts around concrete stairs beside the millpond

Some Canada geese are sitting

April 4th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

A pair of Canada Geese nesting in the bay south of Stillwater Grill

There are three easy to spot Canada* goose nests in the bay south of Stillwater Grill. The pairs began to incubate their eggs this past week. Canada goose eggs take 25-28 days to hatch so you’ll see goslings at the millpond by the last week of April. Over the years it seems goslings begin to hatch about 10 days before ducklings do.

*That’s not an error. These birds are Canada Geese not Canadian Geese.

A bonded pair of geese flies over the Brighton millpond

Geese may continue to produce families for up to 7 weeks. Most goslings, however, hatch early within the species’ hatching window of 42-50 days. Both goose parents will stay together with their offspring until they migrate in late autumn. That’s not true for ducks. The drakes leave all of the parenting to the hens in most cases. Males feel it’s their civic duty to mate with several hens so their prodigy populate the Earth. I doubt many succeed because males outnumber females, but they give it their most sincere efforts.

The first ducklings will probably hatch near the end of April. Two weeks ago when it appeared we were getting an early spring, I thought ducklings might arrive early. But now I think they will begin to hatch on schedule. The duck hatching season is longer than that of the geese. Expect to see newly hatched ducklings for at least three months.

If you visit the millpond soon, keep an eye out for small, round birds feeding in the millpond. They are Pied-Billed Grebes passing through on their migration (below). They nest in our region as well as in Northern Canada but not at our pond. They are fun to watch as they dive to catch fish and other aquatic edibles.

A Pied-Billed Grebe stops by the millpond on its way farther north

Blonde vs. light ducks

April 4th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

One of the Brighton millpond Blonde ducksCurrently, there are three Blonde Ducks at the Brighton millpond: Blonde Bombshells #1, #3, and #4. Bombshell #2 was rescued last summer when tangled monofilament fishing line cut off circulation to her right leg and foot. She resides at the Michigan Duck Rescue & Sanctuary and is doing well with only one leg.

The history of the blondes is unknown. They may be hybrids between the white Pekins and Mallards, but they could be abandoned Saxony ducks. They have the coloration of the domestic Saxony breed.

Two of the three light colored hens at the Brighton millpondThe back story of the three light colored ducks is also unknown. While the Blonde hens are peachy in color with a relatively smooth finish (above), the light-colored hens all have more detailed patterning. Maybelline (shown at left and below) is a millpond veteran and very successful mother in past three years, maybe longer. I expect she will have at least one brood this summer. In past years, she has brought her ducklings to the adoring park visitors near Main Street so they can feed them. It saves her from searching near and far to fill their bellies with more nutritious, natural foods. You can recognize her because of her strong dark eye stripes and white eyebrows. It looks like she’s wearing mascara hence the name.

Maybelline will surely nest again this year after a very success year in 2015

The light colored duck that arrived in December, 2015The light-colored hen that arrived last December (right and upper duck in top image) is still unnamed but easy to spot. She has brightly contrasting markings (called “penciling”)  and may be a mix of Mallard and Welsh Harlequin, a domestic breed. I suspect she is a dumped pet but may be an escapee from someone’s resident flock. She currently has a Mallard drake companion and is suspected to nest this summer.

Sorbet has a drake already picked out and will surely nest this summerSorbet (left) is approaching her second summer as an adult duck after hatching in May, 2014. She didn’t nest last summer but currently has a Mallard drake following her wherever she goes. Expect to see her with ducklings this spring/summer. She has a slight white necklace that’s wider on the back of her neck along with white patches on both of her flanks.

Sorbet is the daughter of Parfait (below right) who is seeking the affection of a Mallard hen who is also being pursued by a Mallard drake. When her ducklings hatch, we’ll be able to tell his prodigies by their unique markings. Ducklings can have different fathers in the same brood. Even though he’s been an adult duck for two full summers and behaved recklessly with the hearts of many hens, no ducklings other than Sorbet has markings similar to his.  The late, great MooseTracks was his father, a local celebriduck until vanishing in March, 2014. Three domestic ducks disappeared that month. A marauding coyote seen during that period is the suspected consumer.

Parfait shares the affection of a Mallard hen with a Mallard drake

Missing a duck dinner

April 3rd, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Daffodils bend from the weight of the snow

It happens almost every year. Mother Nature toys with us by presenting a few warm days then she pulls the rug out from our springtime-has-arrived hopes and spanks us with a snowstorm. In April no less. In fact she’s being particularly cruel this year by scheduling an extra week of wintery weather. We foolishly thought our warm winter was bringing an early spring.

Feathery Saturday snowflakes piled 2-3″ high on branches by mid afternoon. I headed out to photograph the branches before winds could race through to shake the snow off. Daffodils bent under the weight of the fluffy snow (above). Unfurling crabapple buds on ornamental trees stood proudly in “furry” jackets (below). Both species won’t be damaged by the weather, but some of Michigan’s abundant fruit crop may be hurt if the trees opened buds too early.

Buds on crabapple trees have begun to open

While photographing the snowy landscape, a duck yelled a warning quack as it frantically flew toward a small pond (below). In hot pursuit, a Red-Tailed Hawk swooped down from its treetop perch. The hawk is barely visible behind the lowest branch of the crabapple tree beside the left edge of this image:

A Mallard flees from the hawk into the pond

Once the ducks reached the pond, the hawk lost interest. Perhaps hawks require solid ground under their prey for a quick kill and leisurely dinner. I doubt they can lift an adult duck out of water. The hawk circled the pond (below) as the ducks squawked while shedding their adrenalin.

After the failed hunt, the hawk circled the pond

A Dark-Eyed Junco quietly hid in the snow-covered branches of a crabapple (below) while a robin warned other birds of danger calling from an undisclosed location.

A Dark-Eyed Junco hides from the hawk in a crabapple tree

The hawk headed for a perch in a weeping willow beside the pond (below) where it hoped to find birds or mice on the living menu below it. After ten minutes hoping the hawk would make another attempt to fill its belly, the snowstorm convinced me to dry off my camera inside my car. Hawk aren’t rare in this region. I’ll have another chance to see one hunt when Mother Nature decides we’ve begged for spring long enough.

The hawk perched on a weeping willow hoping for another opportunity

Wanted: Swan sex educator

April 2nd, 2016     2 comments     permalink

Swan #4 is the only mute swan currently residing at the Brighton millpond. He is constructing a nest using cattail reeds at the north end of the pond. He started on Thursday and the activity can take up to 10 days to complete. Mute swan nests can be 5′ in diameter and 18″ to 24″ above the surface of the water.

Normally, the male swan starts building the nest but the female joins in once the location is acceptable to her and the base of it is completed. She finishes by adding a nesting cup where the eggs will be laid. The starry-eyed couple may add more reeds to the nest during egg laying and/or incubation. Incubation takes from 34-41 days.

Swan #4 began building a nest on March 31, 2016

Swan #4 has one problem: He doesn’t have a partner yet and might be too immature to understand the finer points of swan courting and mating. If one of my devoted readers speaks fluent swan, please have a chat with him so he leaves the pond on a mate search and brings her back to the millpond. Unfortunately, if he finds an older female who is set in her ways, she may convince him to nest in her favorite pond instead of playing house on ours and we’ll have a swanless summer unless another pair arrives soon after.

Canada geese protesting again

April 1st, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Dump Trump for geese return to Canada

I dreaded April 1st. I had heard through the Brighton millpond grapevine the Canada geese were staging a protest but I didn’t know its purpose. Turns out they are so disgusted having Trump the leading Republican candidate they’ve decided to block Brighton’s Main Street putting the revenue stream of Brighton businesses in Jeopardy.

“The traffic’s at a stand still in front of my store this morning,” reported Joyce Schuelke, owner of Wildernest. “Sales are good here since the additional birds arriving in town have to eat, but I worry about the other merchants.”

“How are customers going to buy art from my shop?” wondered Colin Miller at Artisan’s Bench. “What if someone needs a key made at Rolison’s or plans to lunch at a Main Street restaurant,” he added.

It’s really the ducks’ fault. Way back in 2012, Nate taught them how to go online. They quickly learned HTML and Search Engine Optimization to promote their annual Muskrat Cross-Country Steeple Endurance Classic. Apparently they taught the Canada geese the fine art of event promotion. Not an easy task considering geese aren’t as technologically savvy as ducks.

Like Miley Cyrus and several other media darlings, the geese are threatening to leave their comfortable lives in the USA if The Donald becomes president. The geese will return to their frigid ponds in their Canadian homeland. No one mentioned any interest or concern about where Miley will land after the trauma of a Trump victory.

Honk is you love Ross Perot

The Canada geese haven’t settled on a candidate to endorse. Some of the flock find Ted Cruz interesting, but some of the older birds are still honking for Ross Perot.

I’m not sure they got their press releases in the pipeline early enough. I only saw two local reporters on the scene. Wisely, they were wearing rubber boots as they interviewed Main Street shoppers who were forced to hike in from several blocks away.

“At least this isn’t happening during the muskrat rut that’s running late this year,” remarked Keith Karp at Oh My Lolli.

Blatant and subtle bum’s rushes

March 29th, 2016     2 comments     permalink

Duke merely swims toward Captain D. Hookt and the Pekin leaves in a hurry

Duck behavior can be subtle or blatant as shown in these two images. Duke, one of Franny’s devoted suitors (above), slowly swims toward Captain D. Hookt to remind him he cannot woo the lovely and talented Franny. She floats with Dazzle and Razzle, the two resident Cayuga drakes who find her fascinating. First time millpond visitors wouldn’t notice the subtle signals Duke sends to the Captain.

On the other hand, some ducks churn the water, make lots of noise, and charge rivals to establish dominance (below). Once rival drakes establish their dominance hierarchy, the more dominant duck may use subtle cues like Duke.

The Mallard drake is far from subtle as he attacks another drake

The spring sun warms the earth

March 29th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Blue hyacinth is ready to bloom at the Veteran's Memorial

Blue hyacinth is ready to bloom at the Veteran's MemorialI never tire of watching spring unfold. It’s miraculous to me how buds and bulbs expand to become blooms, leaves, and seeds. Blue hyacinths are shooting up from the ground and will soon open near the Veteran’s Memorial courtesy of the Brighton Garden Club. Their heady fragrance will float through the air near Main Street.

The Roger Fendt Jr. Memorial Garden is beside Brighton’s city hallDaffodils are rising from the warmed earth early this year. They often bloom at the beginning of May but their buds are developing fast in the Roger Fendt Jr. Memorial Garden beside Brighton’s city hall.

The daffodils have naturalized so their clumps are growing larger each year even though they must endure the heavy traffic of children at the Imagination Station.

Daffodils will soon bloom in the Roger Fendt Jr. Memorial Garden beside Brighton’s city hall

Castor or Pollux is dead

March 29th, 2016     2 comments     permalink

A dead Pekin was found at the millpond on Monday

I found a Pekin duck floating upside down near the southern dock at the Brighton millpond.There were only been six Pekins on the pond all winter so, through the process of elimination, I’ve narrowed down the death to either Castor or Pollux, two domestic ducks dumped at the pond in November, 2014. They’ve been constant buddies. I was unable to find either one on Monday evening.

I wasn’t able to reach the body but it’s underside had no wounds. From what I could see of the head, there didn’t appear to be an injury there either. Castor and Pollux greeted me two days ago. Both appeared healthy. Disease is rare in our millpond birds. I suspect the duck may have been fed something toxic or it found a metal button or piece of plastic that looked delicious. Foreign objects can obstruct the digestive tract and quickly kill birds at urban ponds.

This is the first death of a domestic millpond duck this year so we’ve been lucky. When I’m able to determine which of the two birds is still alive, I’ll post it in a comment.

Spring arrives with trumpets!

March 24th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

The mute swan convinces the Trumpeter to fly away

Several times this winter, pairs of visiting Mute Swans graze on submerged vegetation in the Brighton millpond. If our inhospitable Mute Swan (Swan #4) sees them, they are unceremoniously dispatched (above).

Swan #4 paddles toward the male swan for a second attempt at eviction

Wednesday evening, a newly arrived pair were grazing near Brighton’s city hall as our resident swan approached. I stayed to watch the fireworks. Swan #4 has claimed the millpond as his own territory since his arrival last fall. Last night he wasn’t thinking about spring love like most of the ducks and geese. He was driving the unwelcome swans out of his territory.

Surprise! This swan has a black bill.

Time after time, the visitors fled but they’d circle back to land a few hundred yards away from Swan #4. When he’d see them, he would start moving toward them to drive them away again.

After two attempts to chase the swans away, the resident swan attempts it again

Here, the millpond’s resident gains on the other swan as it flies to the north end of the pond.

After two attempts to chase the Trumpeters away, the Mute Swan makes another attempt of chasing the male away

The resident swan gains on the visitor as it flees The threat posture of swans is beautiful. They place their bill against their chest so their head is low and neck curved. They raise their wings to appear three times larger than they actually are. They paddle at a good clip toward Canada geese or rival swans until the other bird(s) flees in terror. I’ve never witnessed body-to-body contact where birds are severely injured but it sometimes happens.

The swan almost caught its rival in mid-air (left) but the fleeing bird increased his air speed to avoid a physical encounter.

The rival swan heads back to its mate

The visiting male swan (called a “cob”) circled back (above) to rejoin his mate (below) each time Swan #4 dispatched him.

The visitors reunite after one of their forced separations

When Swan #4 saw them again, he was quick to swim toward them so they would be forced to make a hasty retreat (below).

On the third attempt to evict the "guests," the host heads toward the pair again

This “dance” of rival swans probably happened several times during the day. I watched the birds for 40 minutes at sunset and it happened four times.

The visiting swan leaves the scene but circles back within a few minutes

Swan #4 separated the pair and the male took to the sky to get away while the female (called a “pen”) remained behind. The fleeing bird landed a 1/4 mile north in the pond and began calling to its mate.

Hey, wait a minute. Mute swans don’t sound like that.

I looked more closely. Wow! These were visiting Trumpeter Swans! Mutes have dark orange bills; these were black. Mutes have a soft, rattling call while these trumpeted.

The Trumpeter leaves the scene but circles back within a few minutes

Each time, the Mute separated the pair, the male Trumpeter circled back to its mate within five minutes. It may have briefly landed in the cattail marsh on the other side of Grand River Avenue. Seeing these white birds with their 6′ wing span in the air is a wonderful experience.

The Trumpeter leaves the scene but circles back within a few minutesThe quality of these images is poor. Everything happened at twilight on a dreary, rainy evening. The photos are grainy and out of focus. I’m hoping I can capture similar actions on a brighter day. This was the first time I’ve seen Trumpeter Swans at the millpond in the 6+ years I’ve been reporting on the wildlife there, but maybe they’ll be back tomorrow and I will be, too.

That’s part of the joy of watching the nature around us. We never know what we might see.

Most of these images click through to larger versions, but two are at maximum resolution as shown in this post.

Pair bonds and teasing hens

March 24th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

A lone Mallard hen has seven suitors hoping to get lucky

Shine, the black domestic duck, has paired with a Mallard drake for the first nestingAlmost all of the Brighton millpond ducks have paired up for the first nesting by now although most of them are probably not producing eggs yet. The black duck with the white bib (left) is named Shine. She was hatched last spring so this is here first season and may not be a successful mother. She’s found a Mallard drake who stays close to mate with her when she tells him it’s time.

The hen in the top photo attracted seven drakes on Wednesday. Some will surely move on to other hens if they can find one who isn’t taken. Drakes out number hens so it’s not unusual for two or three drakes to be enamored with the same hen until one of the fellows chases off the other yet sometimes several males continue to stay close until the eggs are all laid.

Drakes that don’t bond with hens are called “Rogues.” They cruise the pond for unguarded or poorly defended hens. Thirty percent of all duck matings are forced, and drakes witnessing mating will usually join in. I’ve seen as many as 13 males mob one female at the millpond which is an urban pond with more ducks than would be nesting in a more natural environment.

The breeding season is ramping up now. You’ll see courting behaviors for the next three months when you visit ponds in the northern tier of states.

Gravity always wins

March 24th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

1stegg_7574_270There are two reasons the egg shown near the water is there. Perhaps a hen realized she needed to lay an egg and just did it at the nearest spot on land. Many eggs will be found on lawns instead of in nests during the next three months. Young hens are more likely to drop them with no plan to incubate them but hena of any age might do it. Domestic ducks are often responsible for these scattered eggs because their natural mothering instincts have been lost in decades or centuries of selective breeding.

The other reason that egg is untended is because it rolled out of a nest. Each spring, several ducks nest in the cemetery and that slope is steep. On Wednesday evening, a bonded pair of Mallards were at the top of that pond bank. You can see the drake walking down the hill in this photo, but the hen is there, too. She’s at the base of the tree above him. To see the egg and the hen better, click the image to open a larger version. I suspect the Mallards have a nest near that tree and gravity brought the egg to its current destination. If won’t hatch but a raccoon will find it delicious.

Serious conflicts at the Millpond

March 22nd, 2016     0 comments     permalink

These two Mallard drakes fought for more than 8 minutes on Monday

Some Mallards have begun to mate two weeks earlier than usual. Most of the action on the millpond right now are bouts between males to establish their hierarchy. To the winners go the spoils — transferring genes to the next generation of ducklings.

Water flew and other Mallards watched the actionFor the next couple of months, you’ll see arguments between Mallard drakes at the millpond if you spend time duck watching. On Monday, one of the bouts lasted more than 8 minutes. Most conflicts are settled in a few seconds when one drake chases away the other, but these two drakes refused to give up. I didn’t see blood drawn, but the birds had to be exhausted by the end of it.

One drake made several moves to dart out of range but the other one quickly followed

An hour later, I witnessed another fracas between two drakes (below). It was just as vigorous, and near the edge of the pond so I could get more detailed photos, but it only lasted a couple of minutes.

Another dominance argument between Mallard drakes last only a couple of minutes

These shows of strength indicate to the flock who is higher in the pecking order. Thuggish ducks transmit subtle threats — dropping the head or moving toward rivals — and the lesser duck quickly gets the message. Most drakes, however, are crafty enough to sneak in short encounters with the pond’s hens behind the backs of dominant males. Still, I’m sure stronger drakes father more ducklings. The public finds the dominance and mating brutality of Mallards upsetting, but Mallards are an exceptionally successful species because of their behaviors.

One of the birds finally fled to end the conflict A shorter bout involved a drake biting a rival on the chest and pinching the other bird's wings A shorter bout involved a drake biting a rival on the chest and pinching the other bird's wings

Skies fit for a 17th Century painting

March 18th, 2016     2 comments     permalink

cemetery_diaFebruary 29: One of the Detroit Institute of Arts‘ dutch masterworks is by Jacob Isaaksz van Ruisdael (1629-1682). “The Jewish Cemetery” (circa 1654-55) is an impressive oil painting (4’6″ X 5’9″) of church ruins with an untended cemetery being overrun by nature including storm clouds. In the 1960s while attending Wayne State’s art school, I would often spend Tuesday night at the museum because it was free. I’d walk the galleries then smoke (horror of horrors!) in the Diego Rivera court – yeah, they allowed it them.

On Leap Year Day, I stood at the Brighton millpond thinking of that painting as I photographed these storm clouds about 361 years after Jacob painted his sky.

Clouds above the Brighton millpond on Leap Year Day, 2016 Clouds above the Brighton millpond on Leap Year Day, 2016
Clouds above the Brighton millpond on Leap Year Day, 2016 Clouds above the Brighton millpond on Leap Year Day, 2016