Topi muschiati cenare al fresco el dente

January 22nd, 2015     2 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

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

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

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

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

Pinkerton dives into the water

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

Pinkerton swims from one edge of the ice to another

The kindness of strangers …

January 16th, 2015     6 comments     permalink

The ducks have learned to love roosting on the straw

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

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

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

Losses at the millpond

January 16th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

Lewis (or Clark) standing on one leg

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

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

Dazzle’s offspring

January 2nd, 2015     1 comment     permalink

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


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

The millpond’s winterized rabbit

January 2nd, 2015     0 comments     permalink

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

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

Marold has gout

December 31st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate Now: Michigan Duck Rescue

December 30th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Donate to Michigan Duck Rescue

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

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

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

Bejeweled for the Holidays

December 29th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Dixie and Darth

December 28th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Darth is in front, Dixie in back

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

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

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

The Buda Bunch with Dixie and Darth leading the tribe

Meet Dudley

December 28th, 2014     1 comment     permalink

Dudley is an adult drake with a calm disposition

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

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

Recognizing duck injuries

December 27th, 2014     4 comments     permalink

Notice how the trailing duck's tail is held downward

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

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

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

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

Florence’s futile swooning

December 26th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

The Pekin drake ignores Flo's overtures


A Christmas Eve Bath

December 26th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

A Mallard drake takes a pre-holiday bath

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

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

Marold’s Christmas Vacation

December 23rd, 2014     1 comment     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Color of Water: Winter Grays

December 23rd, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Gray afternoons dim the falls at the Brighton Dam

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

Quick quacks

December 22nd, 2014     2 comments     permalink

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

Marold was a mess last night

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

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

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

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

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

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

My happiest day is here!

December 21st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

Icebergs and lollipops

December 20th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

Black Ice

December 20th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

Noteworthy northerners

December 19th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

Gumdrop crop plops

December 19th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

Midnight waddlers and fliers

December 18th, 2014     2 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

The ducks return to the millpond after our soiree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The daily FlapFest

December 17th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

A female Mallard flapping her wings

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

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

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

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

Rusty and Buda at peak wing flap in a composite image

The ducks are in loitering mode now

December 16th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence: The millpond minx

December 14th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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

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

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

Bittersweet, still

December 14th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Oriental Bittersweet in December

Close up of Oriental Bittersweet in December

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

Oriental Bittersweet in October Oriental Bittersweet in October

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

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

A sudden transformation

December 14th, 2014     2 comments     permalink

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

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

Wanna name a duck?

December 13th, 2014     11 comments     permalink

The new drake sleeps a lot

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

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

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

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

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

So gentle readers, surprise me with your suggestions.