June 19th, 2013 permalink
I had just posted a story about Dazzle and then discovered him being ruffed up by a group of feathered thugs the next night. Two drakes held his head under water and several others swam around them cheering the brutes. Arguments between males at this time of year are usually about mating rights or territory. Males pounce to prove their dominance so they have first dibs on females or places to feed or roost. It mirrors the pecking order most birds establish with food resources. Watch your bird feeder and you’ll see some birds stand back until others are finished eating.
Whatever the cause, Dazzle eventually broke free, bathed, and then hopped out of the pond to groom himself. In the water and then again on shore, he flapped his wings a couple of times. It seems that’s the method for ducks to dissipate adrenalin rushes. Because of the backlighting, I had to massage these images in Photoshop to pull out the color. It’s slightly overdone, but Dazzle isn’t much duller in real life if you see him in sunlight.
June 18th, 2013 permalink
June 15: Even on warm nights, young ducklings need the warmth of their mothers to supplement their ability to generate heat. The Brood16 ducklings were found tucked under mom in a protected location where breezes couldn’t reach them at three days old. Abandoned ducklings at this age sometimes survive, but keeping their body temperature in the normal range might take a toll on the calories they need to grow at their usual break-neck rate.
If a duckling finds it’s too warm under mom, they step out for fresh air for a while (left) then crawl back under her. With six babies, one is almost always squirming for some reason. Note the hen is standing (top) rather than lying on her stomach. If they can, they lie down and tuck the kids under their wings on both sides of them to be more comfortable. It depends upon the number of chicks. They might be required to stand all night long with their wings extended down to the ground. Bet they are stiff by dawn.
June 16: By the fourth night, the hen was moving her brood to new territory in shoreline grasses. It gave me an opportunity to get this family portrait (right) but two of her charges have been lost in their first 96 hours. Large fish and turtles may have taken their toll during daylight swims although a raccoon might have found the family along the shore at night. She brought the brood to the public area of the pond near Main Street to roost on the embankment last night. There is no weeds there for cover, but it’s probably safer since mom can spot predators (and pesky humans) before they can reach the kids.
June 11th, 2013 permalink
Mallards are “dabbling ducks,” species that live in shallow waters and eat things that usually float on the surface of the water. They are also called “puddle ducks.”
There is plenty to eat at the millpond, but imagine being right out of the egg and knowing what to eat and what to avoid. These ducklings from Brood14 face nibbling decisions. Chances are, they’ll eat all of the floating choices at least once, but the white petals fallen from Honey Locust trees won’t provide nutrients. A better choice are the tiny roundish “fronds” you see. That’s Duckweed (Lemnaceae). The even tinier green plant is Common Water Meal [sic; most sources say Watermeal] (Wolffia columbiana) which is also in the duckweed family.
Both of these plants are raised/researched commercially for everything from water treatment to food for farm animals and are quite interesting because they are the smallest flowering plant on the planet. Conversely, they can also strangle a pond by shutting out the light and depleting the oxygen. It’s far easier to find online information about methods to control it rather than promote its growth. In ideal summer conditions one plant can generate 17,500 plants within two weeks! Except in the stagnant bays, the millpond has just enough to feed the waterfowl and their babies.
June 10th, 2013 permalink
This furry bandit appeared at the Brighton millpond last summer and I’m fairly confident he was hand raised and dumped at the pond. During his first weeks there, he approached humans to see if they had food for him. He’s more acclimated now, but doesn’t have the usual fear of park visitors most of his species do.
Just about every night, he takes the same route through the park looking for things to eat. Sometimes he does it well before dark like last evening. Part of this foray involves a short swim from one narrow strip of land to the next, a distance of less than 40 feet. Many visitors are surprised to learn raccoons swim and swim well.
June 9th, 2013 permalink
With the warming of the water, the millpond’s snapping turtles have become more active. This 3′ long gent cruised the shoreline along Main Street on June 2 looking for a late night snack.
They are quite happy eating dead things (carrion) when they can find them so they serve a valuable purpose in the ecosystem. But they are also active hunters and take a heavy toll of ducks and ducklings each year. Stealth is their greatest weapon. They lie in wait for prey to come within striking range. Their countershading and moss-covered shells help them hide in underwater weeds. Their pointed snout (above right) allows them to expose only their nostrils above the waterline to take a breath. Their long, sharp claws (below) are for tearing their prey into bite sized pieces. They may be prehistoric looking, but they’ve evolved into highly efficient killers. The pond would be less balanced if they weren’t in it.
June 2nd, 2013 permalink
Park visitors typically stand at the edge and toss bread to a mixed flock of ducks and geese that race toward the bits. If you can find a brood of ducklings alone like Brood7, above, that aren’t competing with other birds for treats tossed to them, there is an enjoyable game you can play with them.
Duck chow pellets sink. That’s essential for this game. Bread won’t work. You toss a pellet or two in front of a duckling and he’ll dive for it. For the first couple of weeks, chicks can’t go too far under water, but once they are 2-3 weeks old, they’ll chase pellets down a foot or more. Then they pop back up to the surface like a bobber and hope you’ll toss another one. Above, one duckling heads downward (left) as another one resurfaces (right).
A duckling disappears in a patch of bubbles (left) and resurfaces a few seconds later bumping into others on the way back up (right). A handful of pellets will last quite a while as you toss only a few at a time. You’ll laugh as you watch them. Promise.
May 31st, 2013 permalink
The three orphans from yesterday’s post gave me another photo opportunity last evening. They seem to enjoy floating underneath a basket of petunias hanging on the small bridge near the dam. They probably find comfort in this protected area, but park visitors and I noticed them eating gnats they caught on-the-fly in this location. Perhaps the plant and the dark under the bridge is a favored haunt of the tiny insects.
May 28th, 2013 permalink
||Mallard, dull color but strong eyestripe
||Drake in attendance
||North dock behind car wash
||Beside dock at water’s edge at twilight
||3 verified, May 26
See all posts about Brood 8 together on one page: 2013Brood8
May 25th, 2013 permalink
May 21 & 22: On Tuesday evening when I arrived at the pond, I heard loud peeping coming from the water. Two ducklings (Brood3, I suspect) were in the emerging lily pads calling for their mom. Once you become familiar with this call, it stands out from the other noises. Mom wasn’t nearby.
A third duckling had joined them near twilight. It was smaller, only a day old. I couldn’t find any hens with newborns at the pond that night so I have no idea where it came from. The trio moved along the Main Street shore looking for things to eat.
“Creching” happens at well populated ponds. In their first days of life, goslings and ducklings can’t recognize their parents and parents can’t recognize their own chicks. Chicks will blindly follow other chicks so, if two broods swim near each other, the chicks sometimes follow the wrong crowd home. Moms can’t count so they don’t notice. The largest duckling creche I’ve seen at the millpond is 21 ducklings in 2011.
By nightfall, mom reappeared to gather the trio and headed into darkness to find a safe shoreline on which to roost.
May 25th, 2013 permalink
The Upper Midwesterners are exasperated. We’ve had at least five beginnings of spring where we were sure winter was sent on its way until late autumn. Our hopes have been dashed time and time again. The last kick-in-the-gut was this past Tuesday/Wednesday when temperatures dropped from the 80s into the low 30s here in the burbs. Steam from the warmed millpond rose into the frigid air Wednesday night. Only the diehard park visitors walked the trail much to the consternation of the ducks who missed their daily ration of high carbohydrates tossed to them by the usual crowd.
May 19th, 2013 permalink
Dumpling is remaining near the Stillwater Grill but was presumably forced to move out of her small territory by the presence of other ducks and geese families. Even though she remains alone, she seems to be managing. I’ve watched her forage along the shore and swim around a little. She’s still roosting on the fallen tree at night. The wound above her left eye (above) is healing well.
Rusty remains a parking lot attendant. I convinced him to follow me with the promise of some extra duck chow at the end of his journey. We almost made it. Along the way, I coaxed him with a few nibbles. When he saw the huge pond before him, the feathers on the top of his head raised and he spun around and waddled back to the parking lot. Silly duck. Eventually, I’ll cajole him into making the transition to a life in the pond where he can seek some company.
May 18th, 2013 permalink
May 17: It’s confirmed. SweetPea has a new nest full of eggs, a baker’s dozen! I was able to coax her off the nest with a handful of duck chow last evening so I could count them. She’s dug a nice bowl into the dried needles under a spruce on the millpond lawn near Main Street, probably the best nest she’s built in the past three years but it’s in a vulnerable location where kids might destroy it. Will she sit long enough to hatch them? Probably not.
She’s had ten nests since mid-summer in 2010 and only hatched four ducklings because she gives up after 10-14 of the 28 days needed. Read all of the posts about her eventful life. SweetPea never returned to her first nest of the 2013 season after laying a dozen eggs in it. Apparently, her design sensitivity is just as pedestrian as the rest of my tempermental deduckorating critics. God knows I tried. She’s off to a good start this year with laying 25 eggs in two nests. Last summer, she laid 43 in five nests.
May 18th, 2013 permalink
May 13: Even after years of visiting the pond so often, I see things I haven’t seen before. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing a rare wildlife encounter with a young outdoorsman named Chris as we gazed down at the millpond from the Stillwater Grill parking lot. A female red-winged blackbird was perched on a dried purple loosestrife stalk plucking seeds about six inched above the pond’s surface as pictured here. All of a sudden, a fish (probably a largemouth bass) lunged for it coming at least four inches out of the water. The bird lived to tell the story to its nestlings.
May 10th, 2013 permalink
He was probably dropped off at the pond with Dumpling, but I didn’t see him for his first few days. Late Wednesday night, I found Dumpling with a drake in a dark section of the pond. I was happy to see that! I thought her companion was a resident Buff Orpington that would protect her during her orientation period.
On Thursday, I visited the pond before dark and discovered this handsome drake (above) in the same area. I know he’s a new resident because of his coloration. He’s most likely the drake I had seen the night before. He surely has Saxony ancestry, but I can’t find an online picture of a Saxony with an auburn head. He’s probably a special hybrid created by one of the major hatcheries, maybe a mix of Saxony and Khaki Campbell? I’ve named him Rusty since he’s the only duck on the pond with a russet colored head. I hope he fares well but he’s currently on the nightly foraging path of the raccoon so he’d better stay alert! Dumpling wasn’t with him last evening. She moved upstream 200 yards and hid in shoreline vegetation (right).
May 10th, 2013 permalink
I’ve walked the millpond trail hundreds of times but never remember noticing this tree with 5-8″ catkins hanging from every bud. The oak is beside the gazebo so it’s in plain sight. Maybe I’ve never looked up when the catkins are blooming or maybe it’s an unusual year.
Oak trees have male and female flowers. Bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t either. The catkins (technically “aments”) hang from the buds. The female flowers are small and they are the ones that become acorns once the pollen from the males reach them. I don’t have the energy to research what species of oak this is. There are more than 200!
This tree looks like it’s part of a Disney set rather than a real tree in Brighton, Michigan. It’s really something to see especially at night when the street lights bathe the bright green strands of flowers in unearthly golden-pink light.
May 10th, 2013 permalink
I wish this duck was Willaby, but I don’t think it is. He has an injured right leg but, unlike Willaby who apparently has a broken hip and no use of his right foot, this duck is able to walk with difficulty. The two ducks are similar in appearance but this duck doesn’t have Willaby’s two black marks on his bill. I can’t see any noticeable leg wounds although his outermost toe might be injured. The problem seems more like a muscle defect rather than a structural problem. Wish wild Mallards were more cooperative in being handled so I could examine his leg, but I’m sure that would stress him out more than benefit him. Judging from his appearance, he seems to be doing quite well without human interference.
May 6th, 2013 permalink
Just after dark, a family of Canada geese arrived in Stillwater bay with their eight young goslings. Other geese heralded their arrival with loud honks telling them to go away but they trudged onward to find a safe shoreline nook where they would be safe for the night.
I don’t include geese in my annual Millpond Fertility Tournament because I can’t tell one goose family from another. Soon, the pond will have many more family groups and, once the goslings are large enough to hike, many family groups from other ponds will gravitate to the millpond where they can find lots of sources for food including tidbits thrown to them by humans (which I discourage).
These pictures are too dark and grainy due to the limited range of my flash and the fact that the parents wouldn’t allow me to get any closer to their goslings.
May 1st, 2013 permalink
I heard the thud of two ducks hitting the bumper from 50 yards away. Two drakes chased a hen in the middle of Main Street. The SUV couldn’t avoid them. It didn’t stop. The injured drake wasn’t badly hurt, but the hen was motionless as I approached wondering what I could do without gloves to shield myself from the gory mess I’d find. Desi, one of SweetPea’s suitors, had other ideas. He thought a motionless Black Swedish hen gave him the perfect opportunity to mate (left). Really, Desi? Now? Ducks are ruthless. I’ve seen drakes take turns mating with a dead hen and have also witnessed attacks on injured ducks. The motive must be: when a duck can’t defend itself, it’s time to take advantage.
After chasing Desi away, the hen sat dazed by the impact surrounded by feathers ripped out by the drake, not in the accident. But within moments, she got up and walked to the curb (top) where she rested for a few more minutes. I stood guard keeping three drakes away. I couldn’t find any major injuries, just a little blood on her bill that was probably scraped on the pavement in the crash.
She walked to a quiet corner beside a storefront(left). Once I chased the males away, I left her there to recover. I thought she’d spend the rest of the night recuperating, but ten minutes later, she arrived on the lawn with her bonded mate and began eating (below). Still a bit dazed but on her feet. I took pictures from all angles and couldn’t find any major external injuries when I examined them more closely back home. Whether she’ll be fine on Wednesday is uncertain. I’ll check on her and, if she is in poor shape, I’ll seek help.
April 25th, 2013 permalink
The Brighton millpond frogs came out of their winter hibernation on April 15-18th while we were having torrential rains and warm weather. They sat on the sidewalks and pavement waiting for bugs to walk or fly by so they could fill their empty bellies. Few, if any, obliged, but I’m sure they found adequate worms in the soaked lawns nearby. Then they were slapped with the unpredictable Michigan weather yesterday when it snowed and the temperature went from unbearable-for-bare-naked-frogs freezing to mid-forties. They’ll have to talk with their ancestors about their choice of locations.
Top and above left is a small Bullfrog. He’s got a piece of bark from a twig stuck to his left cheek. The two pictures to the right are Green Frogs (I think). All three of these are about the same size and the two species are often confused. The one obvious difference is the ridge running above their “ear” (tympanum). It wraps around the ear on bullfrogs but runs along the back on green frogs. If the tympanum is larger than the eye, it’s probably a male in both species.
April 24th, 2013 permalink
The idea that ducks are just cute, comical birds is shattered during spring when park visitors witness particularly brutal matings. It happens daily. About 30% of all duck matings are forced. Before breeding starts, hens bond with drakes to gain protection from the advances of marauding males. Their bonded partners are often helpless, however, when groups of “rogue males” arrive. In a curious twist, bonded partners sometimes join in the frenzy. I’ve witnessed up to eight drakes attacking a hen with the encounter lasting up to ten minutes.
On March 28th, Buddy, a large Pekin male from The Buda Bunch, paid a visit to The Dam Tribe seeking the affections of SweetPea. Even with her retinue of four drakes nearby, she couldn’t fight off the ruthless advances (above right). She was left bloodied by his bites (above). The brutality of mating must have an evolutionary purpose but it seems counterproductive. The only explanation I can imagine is that hens that survive these encounters must be strong and healthy. The weak ones don’t survive. Last summer two millpond Mallard hens died from mating stress which is very common in the species.
But not all courting behaviors are vicious. Some is cute. Hens bob their heads and cluck at drakes they find attractive (left). Males often seem as if these shows of affection aren’t noticed, but once a pair bonds, the males follow the hens like puppy dogs. If given food, the males will usually stand guard while the female eats. That’s surely an evolutionary adaptation to guarantee the hen is well nourished to produce healthy offspring.
I bring mating stress up today because we’ve had at least four injured hens this year already. While I can’t be sure this is the cause of their injuries, it appears most likely. I’ll be reporting about them in the days ahead.
April 24th, 2013 permalink
March 28: As ice retreated and the thermometer reached 50 degrees, attendance that the Brighton millpond increased. Everyone was sure spring had finally arrived. Our joy was short lived. By April 1st, daily highs hovered in the 30s. Spring is as reluctant to step in as I was at the oral surgeon’s office last week.
Winds, cold rains, a few thunderstorms and snow showers have peppered the calendar since April began. We always expect setbacks after our first brushes with spring, but this year is exasperating. We haven’t seen a crocus. Trees that were in full flower at this time last year have buds that refuse too swell on bare branches. The comparison isn’t fair. Spring was early in 2012. Yet it’s safe to say 2013 is at least two weeks behind schedule. Two very long weeks.
March 13th, 2013 permalink
A friend of mine is a former trapper along the Huron River. He told me he once caught more than 850 muskrats in one season a few decades ago. He lives about a half mile from the Brighton millpond and reports seeing a large coyote trotting toward the millpond in the evenings. I haven’t heard any reports of a coyote spotted at the pond but I’ve seen canine tracks in the snow along the shore that are obviously not leashed dogs. It’s possible some park visitors allow their animals to run free on the ice, but it’s also possible we have a coyote looking for a muskrat or wildfowl meal.