SweetPea’s winter

March 25th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The girl's still got it!

SweetPea looked fluffy and spotless against the fresh snow on March 6March 6: For the past three months, I haven’t seen SweetPea swimming in what little open water she had near the damn. She’s an old Pekin duck and maybe the cold water aggravates arthritis or some other malady for a duck in her senior years. Seems she’s not walking as spritely as she did.

Yet she’s obviously bathing. At the beginning of March, she was a fluffy as I’ve ever seen her (left), but later in the month, the drakes began to batter her during breeding. Now her neck is bald in the back and she”s been bloodied a few times. There are more domestic hens on the millpond this year and I thought that might take some of the heat off the old girl, but it hasn’t.

SweetPea spent little time in the water this winterMarch 25: Often, as the Dam Tribe drakes paddle around the pond, SweetPea remains on shore this winter (top and right). In the past, she was often the duck that led the flotila, but that’s changed this winter. Perhaps it’s because drakes take advantage of her when she’s afloat. She’s less able to defend herself there.

The lost of two of the four drakes in the Dam Tribe, MooseTracks and Desi, may also be a factor in her behavior. Desi and Fred (above, left) were her constant companions. I suppose you could call them her common law spouses. MooseTracks and Duke (the tribe’s police force) allowed them to weasel their way into the Dam Tribe. Maybe SweetPea had lost her allure after so many years.  MooseTracks didn’t seem to care the White and Fawn Indian Runners took on the responsibilities of wooing. The black and white duck enjoyed swimming to the north end of the pond to court (no candles or flowers, mind you) any female he could overpower, Babs being one of them.

At almost 11 weeks, Parfait is almost fully grown now and handsomeHalf of Parfait‘s genes are surely those of the Moose. He’s got the dramatically marked plumage and splotchy feet of his dad. Now that he’s an adult, I also see his demeanor is similar — a very calm duck. I’ll post recent pictures of him soon.

The Dam Tribe may eventually embrace many of last year’s dumped ducks. Young drakes might give Duke a hand protecting SweetPea’s virtue, charmer that she still is. Males from other subflocks seek bliss from unprotected hen during the mating season. Drakes don’t need a Sazerac from Tujague’s to lower their inhibitions. For 3 months each year, the millpond is an aquatic Mardi Gras and every day is Fat Tuesday.

MooseTracks and Desi are gone

March 23rd, 2014     2 comments     permalink

The bricks of the Old Town Hall reflect in the water around MooseTracks in the setting sun

Desi isn't as demonstrative as Fred, but is still a playerTwo veteran members of the Dam Tribe, MooseTracks and Desi, have disappeared. A coyote has been seen two blocks from the millpond. It’s the suspected killer of both birds on March 6 or the dark morning hours of the seventh. I originally wondered if they might have been stolen since both birds disappeared on the same night, but they were street-smart and wary of humans so it’s doubtful. I’ve been told it’s not unusual for a predator to kill more than one bird on a visit. No remains were found.

The domestic birds wintering near the dam have been “sitting ducks.” They are flightless and are essentially enclosed by the dam, bridge and fences. A predator can surprise them there and make a kill as they scatter in panic. Bogie was lost less than a month before and was probably killed by the same animal or pack. Now that there is more open water, the remaining birds are more likely to escape an attack, but not immune.

SweetPea dines with Desi (top) and Fred on their last night togetherMooseTracks has been a favorite of park visitors since 2006. He’s been “the enforcer” of duck justice near the dam, and the only Ancona duck at the pond. He is survived by at least one offspring, Parfait who is currently residing at the north end of the pond.

Desi arrived with three other White and Tan Indian Runners in May, 2011. Fred is the only survivor of the quartet now. I was fortunate to photograph SweetPea and Fred dining with Desi (top duck) on their last night together, March 6 (above right). Desi and Fred have brought smiles to thousands of faces with their comical behaviors and constant presence near Main Street.

Since June, 2011, when the alpha male of the Dam Tribe, Gramps, died from a snapping turtle attack, six of the original eight members have died including the popular Afroduck who still has a Facebook page in his honor. Fred and Desi are recent inductees to the tribe so the mortality rate has been 70% in 31 months. Only SweetPea and Duke remain from the original cast. With the arrival of 17 dumped ducks in 2013, I imagine there will be a major shift in duck politics as soon as the pond ice clears and sub-flocks establish their summer territories. Stay tuned.

Ducks need better calendars

November 23rd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

The Dam Boy were across the street. I knew what was up.

Thursday, the Dam Tribe wasn’t in its usual place. I found them across Main Street in the little park beside Ciao Amici’s Restaurant. Uh oh. Somebody’s missing again.

I knew what was up when I realized SweetPea wasn’t with the Dam Boys. She was snuggled in one of her favorite garrets at the base of the tree near the restaurant’s entrance. Hidden in yuccas with the ground scratched down to the black plastic weed barrier she sat amid a few dismal cedar chips. She must find it homey. She returns to it at least once a year to attempt raising a family, but she eventually becomes bored or distracted. I wonder if she makes a conscious decision to stop incubating her clutches or if she gets distracted by The Boys and forgets she was otherwise engaged.

One new egg and four dirty onesLater, she was cheerfully welcomed back at the pond by her suitors. She amused them in giddy head bobbing before bathing. Her kibbitzing gave me time to photograph the nest and count eggs. There was the brand spanking new one she had just laid and three filthy ones. A fifth object was there. It might be an egg she resurrected from a previous nest, a potato, or the result of a brief (but productive) fling she had with Satan. It’s positively ghoulish. I’m not about to touch it or question her about its presence.

The pond’s Grande Dame allows her maternal instincts to flower at inappropriate times. In 2012, she started laying in February and continued until early November. There were five nests then but an exact count of her 2013 nests is impossible although five are mentioned in this blog. Fifty-four eggs were found in her usual haunts and other odd places. Another hen with a sense of humor might be ghost-laying in her territory. SweetPea probably can’t recount how many families she’s started either. She doesn’t maintains a journal. She’s much too spontaneous and lives for The Moment. She’s had many of those since arriving at the pond in 2006.

There she was. SweetPea was adding an egg to her clutch

A labor of love on Labor Day

September 2nd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Fred, SweetPea, and Desi bask in attention as eggs accumulate

You guessed it, Sweet Pea is nesting again. I saw her hop up into the raised garden bed between the sidewalk and Main Street two nights ago. She had two nests in those beds earlier this spring so I knew what she was up to. I found one egg that night, but last night I found that egg moved to another spot in the raised bed (probably had human transportation) where four other eggs were placed. That’s a total of 45 eggs this year (so far) in five different nests. Chances of successfully hatchings are similar to Stephen King penning a bouncy musical comedy.

Fred is an upstanding member of the millpond flock Desi isn't as demonstrative as Fred, but is still a player SweetPea doesn't believe in monogamy

Who is fathering these future failures? Buddy and Budda haven’t been making pilgrimages to the Dam Tribe territory lately so Fred (above left) and Desi (center and right) seem to be the primary partners of our Grande Dame these days. You can tell the two Indian Runners apart by looking at their chins. Fred’s is white while Desi’s has more tan on it. Their upright posture, goofy babbling, and comical gait are identical. They spend most of their days on each side of the love of their combined life. They are two of the millpond’s most amusing ducks and as 40% of the Dam Tribe, they are almost always near Main Street.

Duke is aback bencher but is happy with his role in life MooseTracks is the primary enforcer near Main Street

The other two members of the tribe are contenders. Duke (left) could possibly be a daddy-to-be, but he’s a back bencher and happy in his beta role to MooseTracks. Could MooseTracks be the father of some eggs? Since he arrived with SweetPea in 2006, he’s rarely in the mood to court her anymore. He treats her like a sister. He initiates flings on short jaunts to the north end of the pond. The females find his infrequent visits and dashing good looks irresistible, but he always comes home to the Tribe.

MooseTracks: Swimming in color

August 11th, 2013     2 comments     permalink

The bricks of the Old Town Hall reflect in the water around MooseTracks in the setting sun

The water is more subdued so MooseTracks is the star of this imageOne of the pond’s favorite celebri-ducks, MooseTracks lends a hand posing for portraits surrounded by colorful reflected light. He’s dramatic with the red bricks from the Old Town Hall swirling around him (above), while he’s more subdued in the two images where the millpond reflects the scattered clouds of a mid-summer sky.

MooseTracks is an Ancona duck who arrived at the pond in 2006 when his previous owner wanted to get rid of him. He’s fared well as a member of the Dam Tribe.

MooseTracks swims in a swirl of summer clouds

The Grande Dame is missing. Again.

August 1st, 2013     0 comments     permalink

The Dam Tribe drakes have no one to woo

Boo hoo. The four drakes in the Dam Tribe (above) have no one to woo. Actually, there’s a millpond swarming with available hens, but these blokes slather most of their attention on the pond’s Grande Dame, the alluring SweetPea. She’s gone missing. Don’t worry. The old girl’s not being held for ransom. She’s just nesting but not in any of her usual spots near the cemented shores.

She’s surely in one of her distant kingdoms (across Main Street’s lanes of traffic) unless she’s applying her creative decorating skills by gathering a few sticks, plucking some feathers, and setting up shop in a new niche. She hasn’t endured the full 28 of sitting since August, 2010 following our acquaintance that June long before I learned her proper name from Pat and Sarah. In my crass cub reporting days, I branded her as the HussyHen because of her shameless conduct. She might surprise pond visitors with a multi-colored batch of ducklings this time around, but chances are about the same as you being struck by fireballs from the Perseid Meteor Shower during the second week in August.

Rivalry in the Dam Tribe

July 28th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Desi is SweetPea's preferred suitor these days

Oh, the tangled and ever-changing relationships of the five members of the Dam Tribe. Currently, Desi is SweetPea’s preferred beau. He’s the White and Fawn Indian Runner with the tan chin (left foreground, above). For some reason, Desi has decided Duke, a Rouen, can’t be trusted around his beloved. Perhaps SweetPea finds Desi’s devotion to her stifling and has wiggled her tail feathers in Duke’s direction.

Desi keeps Duke away from his belovedWhile standing on land, when Desi lowers his head toward Duke, the Rouen knows it’s time to get out of nipping range (left). In the water, Desi chases Duke and sometimes makes him leave the pond. I’m not sure what toggles Desi’s switch to Rant Mode. At other times, the two drakes are pals again.

Meanwhile, SweetPea preens as if nothing is going on, and MooseTracks stays clear of the fracas. For a while, the moose cruised the length of the pond seeking bliss with any available hen, but his devil-may-care pursuit of passionate encounters has morphed into dreary loitering with bands of drakes staring blankly into the murky millpond in the same way men stare into coffee cups after the bars close. Like deer, drakes seek the affections of hens for only a portion of the year. The rest of the time, they fill their days with finding food, sleeping, and trying to convince feathered companions they are stronger and deserve a higher rank in the flock.

A sunset swim for the Dam Tribe

July 15th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

SweetPea leads her quartet of drakes around the millpond during a twilight swim

It’s summer and the living is easy for millpond ducks. They paddle around the pond with only two cares on their minds: 1) are there any turtles nearby, and 2) when will another human toss me something to fill my ever-emptying gullet? Here, the Dam Tribe floats near water lilies. The drakes watch SweetPea‘s every move. They tag along behind her hoping she might bestow romantic favors their way during her twilight swim. Little do they care she ignores her last batch of ten eggs baking in the sun on these hot days.

Brute force rules the millpond

June 23rd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Drakes in the Dam Tribe brutalize the body of a Mallard drake

Over the years, I’ve posted many stories about how ruthless ducks can be, but this might be the worst example. Before I arrived on the scene, a Mallard drake was killed by a car on Main Street. I was told a gentleman brought the dead duck to the millpond lawn. When I arrived, the four drakes in the Dam Tribe were viciously attacking the dead duck. It was relentless and would have continued had a bystander not had her fill and placed the body in a trash barrel. They were also ritually mating with its body and ripped out feathers. This isn’t a unique behavior. On several occasions, I’ve seen ducks attack injured ducks, even their close buddies. I’ve also seen drakes mate with the carcasses of dead hens in the water. This spring, nine drakes drowned a hen while mating with her. It all seems terribly cruel through human eyes, but the behaviors weed out the weak so the species endures.

Don’t jump, SweetPea!

June 23rd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Fred is endlessly fascinated by everything SweetPea does

SweetPea nibbles on tiny bits at the top of the falls while Fred watchesPark visitors anticipate disaster as ducks stand at the very edge of the Brighton millpond dam, but their fears are rarely justified. It’s dangerous for very young ducklings, but after about two weeks, they sometimes go over the top, bounce around in the rapids and then climb back up to join mom again. Occasionally, an adult duck will err and slip over the crest. If it’s a duck that can fly, it’s not a big deal, but the resident farm ducks are earthbound so they can be in trouble. Last March, three adult ducks were swept over the edge while mating and it was rather dramatic, but all survived. I’ve been told a Pekin named Lois took the trip years ago and became a residence downstream thereafter. Stories involving the dam usually have happy endings.

As the Grande Dame of the Dam Tribe, SweetPea has spent years listening to the water babble. On this evening with a sunset tinted in pinks, she was searching for things to eat in the crannies while Fred watched (above). Fred finds everything SweetPea does endlessly fascinating since he’s always looking for opportunities to become amorous. The moving water concentrates all sorts of floating goodies in this bottleneck on its journey to the Great Lakes, and the ducks know it. Even the ducklings.

The photo at right shows SweetPea at the crest of the falls with Fred on the other side. I took some liberties with it in Photoshop to create the close up (below) since the original wasn’t very good.

I took some liberties with this image in Photoshop because is wasn't very good to start with

Focus, SweetPea. Focus!

May 31st, 2013     2 comments     permalink

SweeetPea is hanging her head in shame because she knows I'm aware she's not doing her job.

The males in her Dam Tribe have lured her away from her sitting duties. Again.Oh, SweetPea, I thought you were on a roll. Your current nest was close to the pond and close to the drakes. I thought you’d sit on the eggs for a full 28 days. It looks like you’ve lost interest. Again. Darn it.

SweetPea was doing well until two days ago. Then she started to spend more time with the boys following her millpond baths. Maybe she isn’t laying fertile eggs, but I think it’s more a matter of her not having the mothering instincts needed to stick to the task when the Dam Tribe drakes endlessly charm and amuse her and “gentlemen callers” from The Buda Bunch find her fascinating.

Mating Rituals at the Millpond

April 24th, 2013     2 comments     permalink

SweetPea was left bloodied following her encounter with Buddy on March 28th

As Buddy approached, SweetPea's suitors attempted to protect her but they weren't strong enough to fend him offThe 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.

A hen bows and clucks at drakes she finds attractive

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.

Portrait: The Dam Tribe

September 17th, 2012     12 comments     permalink

It’s been a while since I posted anything about the Dam Tribe, the closest the Brighton millpond has to a royal family. Named after their almost constant proximity to the millpond dam, most park visitors know these ducks on sight since they are all bigger than the rest of the flock and seasoned beggars for food. All of these ducks shouldn’t be at the pond, but city residents would miss them if they left. They have all been dumped at the pond by their owners over the years. None can fly and endure winters sitting on the ice.

SweetPea (white with dark bill, a frequent subject on this blog) and MooseTracks (looks like the ice cream, the enforcer of Dam Tribe rules and seducer of random pond hens) have been at the pond for somewhere between 5-8 years, the stories vary depending upon who tells them. Duke, the dark duck on the right, is of undetermined vintage (Khaki Campbell and Mallard?) and the most passive of the bunch. He stays in the background. All three of those ducks are “meat ducks,” domestic stock raised for the platter rather than their eggs.

The two “White and Fawn Indian Runners” (Desi and Fred) were dumped at the pond in May, 2011 and have weaseled their way into the good graces of MooseTracks and Duke because of their … um … affection for SweetPea, the only female in the group. Indian Runners are egg layers, but these two are worthless in that regard because they are males. That’s probably why they were discarded at the pond. They are handsome and beautifully marked.

In the Spring of 2011, the Dam Tribe had eight members. Only three of them are still alive, but one of them lives on at Facebook: AfroDuck! People still ask me if I’ve seen him a year after he was last seen, probably a victim of a turtle. But we still have a duck with a crest (poof of feathers on the head) in The Buda Bunch north of city hall. Her name is Mrs. PomPom and she’s had a tough year.

SweetPea returns to the pond

June 30th, 2012     0 comments     permalink

SweetPea gave nesting her full attention for 20 of the 28 days needed. The lure of the boys in the Dam Tribe brought her back (below l-r: Duke, Fred, Desi, MooseTracks). I found her untended egg on June 25th (bottom center) and hoped she was taking a quick break to bathe. She never went back. The next day, the egg had vanished.

When I reported she was nesting again, I didn’t reveal the exact location. She isn’t fond of paparrazi. Now that the nest is history, I’ll give you the full scoop. From a hundred feet away, I saw her enter the garden bed behind CW Interiors (right). Nesting surrounded by pink flowers seemed perfect for her! I walked up, ran my hand through the knee-high plants, but no SweetPea. Huh? That’s odd …

Then I looked in the 12″ wide space between the two buildings. There she was 6′ back (below left), a terrible location! Had a predator blocked the opening, she was a goner — the space was too narrow to fight and the back wall blocked an alternate escape route. That crevice also faces due south. With no circulating air, mid-day summer sun could fry her eggs.

Upon finding the nest, I called the store. Linda, the store owner, found a broken egg in the middle of the alley, some 20′ from the nest shortly after SweetPea began nesting. Later, she saw SweetPea with another egg in the alley. She was breaking it. A bank teller in town told me hens know when eggs are not viable. A growing embryo makes the egg warm to the touch, I suppose. Hens take them some distance away so predators aren’t attracted to the nest.

* SweetPea has great taste. CW Interiors is filled with beautiful home and office furnishings. Linda could have offered SweetPea help with her nest decor if she had asked. While the duck assembled a sophisticated color scheme of earth tones, she went a tad overboard with textures. A silk pillow or two would have enhanced her stab at a comfy country motif. Drapes would have softened the cinderblock walls.

AWOL Millpond Ducks, Part Two

June 9th, 2012     1 comment     permalink

A continuation of yesterday’s list of missing millpond ducks:

Duck 65
A favorite of mine, Duck 65 arrived last July, dumped at the pond by her previous owner and last seen a couple of months ago with her bonded mate for the season. She’s wearing a blue plastic legband that says “65” on it (unless it fell off recently). Other than that, she’s a typically marked mallard hen although she walks up to me in a saucy strut. Not sure she’ll do that to everyone. Verdict: She probably nested at another pond and will reappear after her young have grown up. She’s healthy, can fly, and spent the winter at the millpond so I’m sure she’s in the area.

A White Pekin
After spending the winter near Main Street, this chap set up housekeeping with a male and female mallard near Stillwater Grill this spring and helped guard the virtue of the hen against that cad, Dazzle, the Cayuga duck dumped at the pond in January. When it was clear the Pekin was odd-drake-out of the three-way, he vanished. Missing half of his left-most toe and with scars on his right leg, he isn’t difficult to identify if he’s out of the water. Verdict: I’m hoping he ventured to the other side of the pond to find a suitable hen. The west shore is private residential properties so I don’t have access to it. I’m hoping he didn’t meet his fate in the mouth of a snapping turtle. Many are in the area, and he was seriously injured last summer in an attack but eventually healed.

Gramps’ almost identical sibling looks like a super-sized mallard but is probably a Khaki Campbell and (maybe) Pekin mix. He is noted to have a wide white neckband with a small mottled black pattern in it at the back of his neck. Originally a member of The Dam Tribe, he disappeared this spring before the turtles came out so I don’t think he met with foul play. Verdict: He might be vacationing with a hen on the farside of the pond where I can’t venture to look for him because it’s private property. If not, he is probably dead. He can’t fly so the chances of him moving to another pond are slim.

If you happen to see any of the ducks mentioned in this two-post list of missing ducks, I’d appreciate hearing about it through leaving a comment or email. If I locate any of these, I will report back on this blog as quickly as I can.

The Dam Tribe expands. SweetPea clutches.

April 7th, 2012     0 comments     permalink

As previously reported, the male-to-female ratio at the Brighton millpond is way out of whack. SweetPea has paid the price but, being the trooper she is, she’s doing fine although these pictures don’t suggest it.

In mid-March, one of the two surviving Indian Runners dumped at the pond last May was making a serious attempt to join the Dam Tribe after wooing SweetPea and being allowed to mate with her by the tribal drakes (left). He appears to have settled in and now his sibling is no longer actively chased away by the other drakes. You can see how the two runners sometimes declare SweetPea as theirs (bottom) to the exclusion of her normal suitors. The situation remains quite fluid and might change as the mating season continues.

Meanwhile, back at SweetPea’s nest, her clutch has grown from seven eggs two days ago to nine now. You can see how she’s done some interior decorating with the addition of an Auto One flyer and cloth of unknown origin (left). Seems she has a penchant for blue.

Whether any of these eggs are viable is iffy. Whether she will actively sit on them once her full clutch is ready for incubation is also iffy. Ideal temperatures for eggs waiting for incubation to begin is 55 degrees. It can be below freezing at night here, but the nest is in a protected corner and might remain warmer. She is taking care to cover them when she leaves.

Her track record is filled with failure, but don’t hold that against her. Mothering instincts are bred out of domestic ducks. She doesn’t comprehend what comes naturally for wild ducks and apparently cannot learn by seeing good examples. Of the seven known nests she’s had in the past three summers, she’s managed to hatch only four ducklings from the 43 known eggs. Only one of them lived longer than a week. You can read her entire saga here. It started in June, 2010. (Note to new blog readers: The most recent posts are at the top of the page. Scroll to the bottom and click the “Older Entries” link to reach posts going back to June, 2010.)

A second slim chance for SweetPea

April 5th, 2012     2 comments     permalink

I found the Dam Tribe loitering in an unlikely spot a few nights ago. I knew something was up. In poking around I discovered the irrepressible SweetPea had set up house for the second time this year. It looked like a little kid’s fort under a newly leafed shrub. I doubt she moved the cinder blocks herself so she took advantage of someone’s discarded construction materials. You could say she’s gone GREEN since no new building materials were used in the creation of her new home.

In fact, it’s more like a pigeon’s nest than a ducks. I don’t think she moved as much as a stick before declaring it “home.” She just found the corner where two brick walls meet that happened to have cinder blocks guarding it. It’s surely the most fortified nest she’s had in the past three years. Now we’ll see if she keeps her focus and hatches any of the eggs. As of last night, she has laid seven eggs (right). Since she’s not actively sitting yet, she has plans to add more to the clutch. Once she has her full assortment of muddied eggs and begins warming them up, it will require 28 days of her almost undivided attention. Unfortunately, she’s easily distracted and the chances of success are about 1 in 10. Stay tuned.

Paybacks are hell

March 29th, 2012     2 comments     permalink

You need a scorecard to plot winners and losers in the tussles of the Dam Tribe ducks. Two weeks ago, the fawn and white Indian Runner was held under water by MooseTracks until he learned his lesson. Now the tables have turned, and he informs MooseTracks he’s a significant rival who demands his respect. At least for today while he’s on a tear.

Moments earlier, both of them gave the uninvited Pekin the Bum’s Rush (below) and did a good job of it, but note how MooseTracks takes a jab at the Runner in the scuffle (below left). Perhaps the excitement of the moment encouraged the Runner to let MooseTracks know that wasn’t appreciated.

The flurry of activity began when the Indian Runner took the lead in chasing away the Pekin who comes calling to his beloved SweetPea (below) quite often. On other nights I’ve been there, however, he’s acted as a disinterested bystander while SweetPea is ravaged.

Following the drubbing by the ducks (above right), the Pekin heads back to the Buda Bunch near Brighton’s City Hall, but takes a poke at another member of the Tribe (below right) probably just to prove he’s not a wuss. Loyalties and displays of dominance change quickly while the mating season is in full swing.

Drama at the dam

March 20th, 2012     4 comments     permalink

Who needs Hollywood when dramatic adventures are brought to you in 3D and Surround Sound at the Brighton millpond! Pardon my dwelling on the brutal mating habits of ducks, but they are in high gear now and quite fascinating. Here’s last evening’s dramatic event:

The large male Pekin dominated by Buda cut loose from his 5-duck flock to swim at a fast clip from the bay near Brighton’s City Hall to the millpond dam. He had made the trip several times before and knew exactly where he was going. Without acknowledging the Dam Tribe’s three drakes upon his arrival, he cornered SweetPea for a unannounced conjugal visit. She wasn’t happy to see him. The drakes in her immediate circle did nothing except quack to stop his amorous advances (both photos below).

The two Indian Runners (Desi and Fred) joined the attack. One has been SweetPea’s prime suitor since mid-January. He didn’t seem concerned the Pekin was usurping his budding relationship.

The Dam Tribe males just watched while voicing some agitation. None jumped in to defend the only female in their millpond family. SweetPea struggled but was easily overpowered by the trio.

Moving into deeper water near the crest of the dam, the Pekin mounted her and one of the Indian Runners climbed on top of him in the frenzy of the moment. The other four drakes hovered but, as usual, offered no assistance as she was held under water by the hefty Pekin.

As this drama unfolded, the ducks weren’t aware they were drifting toward the falls. Suddenly SweetPea, the Pekin, and an Indian Runner were hurled over the edge the rapids and boulders!

This unexpected jolt freed SweetPea from the Pekin’s clutches and she bounced back up into the millpond. The Pekin was swept into the rushing waters (below). Like most Pekins, this one cannot fly. Its wings can’t raise its large body into the air. You wouldn’t believe that, however, if you saw how he managed to get enough lift from his small wings to charge back up the falls using his webbed feet to slap the water.

It wasn’t graceful, but it was effective. Once back in the millpond, two of the Dam Tribe drakes regained their senses and chased the brute back toward City Hall as SweetPea dusted herself off with a couple of wing flaps of her own. Curiously, the Indian Runners, who were quite happy to help the Pekin attack SweetPea only moments before, changed sides and helped MooseTracks vanquish the intruder.

This action-packed drama happened within two minutes. The photos aren’t terrific, but they illustrate how the event unfolded. During the next few months, encounters like this will take place many times each day at the Brighton millpond as drakes vie for chances to father the ducklings to be born this spring and summer.

Crimes of Pond Passion?

March 16th, 2012     2 comments     permalink

One of the two surviving Indian Runners has been courting the lovely, but fickle, SweetPea for a couple of months while he tries to become an accepted member of her Dam Tribe. Her trio of drakes tolerate his presence most of the time, but aggressively chase away his brother who was his loyal companion before the mating season began. The 3-duck jury is still out; sometimes they threaten him but often ignore his amorous encounters with SweetPea. Maybe they turn a blind eye to her casual flings knowing she’ll never reject their own.

There are other moments when, for no apparent reason, one of the drakes decides to brutally attack him. He’s usually not actively pursuing SweetPea’s attention at those times. Perhaps they sense his vulnerability or irrational rutting instincts flood their brains. If one drake attacks, the others join in. In this recorded encounter (top and right), two drakes held his head under water for a couple of minutes. He struggled, gulped air, and finally found the strength to break away this time.

Following the attack, his fawn-and-white brother watched as he flapped his wings (below) to toss off the tension. Later that night, all of the ducks involved returned to SweetPea and bedded down as if nothing happened. Maybe these frequent near-drownings are merely dominance displays and the occasional murders are simply accidents. We can’t read a duck’s mind. The murders might be First Degree, Crimes of Passion by enraged rivals, or simply Duckslaughter where there’s no intention at all. The millpond retains many mysteries.

Christmas Eve: Dining with Friends

December 26th, 2011     4 comments     permalink

Christmas Eve at the Brighton Millpond

Hosting a Christmas Eve dinner party can be a headache. I like to keep it simple, just a casual affair with about 50 of my closest friends. They arrived on time as light snow fell. They were reserved in their greetings although a few shouted to tell stragglers to paddle faster. The Indian Runners looked especially spiffy in their fawn and white attire (top).

There was a bit of confusion as the guests took their places. I had to remind a few of them not to step on the other guests (above, right). Some of the more polite ones were taken aback by this crude behavior.

When the first course was passed, some eager mouths gaped as pellets sailed through the air (above, left), but my guests can’t seem to grasp the concept of gravity at all and the chow landed at their webbed feet. Soon, the guests relaxed as they realized there was enough food for everyone. They politely shared the bounty (above, right) as carols played in the loud speakers and twinkling lights waved gently in the breeze above us. Foraging on holidays is such a bother, I’m sure they all enjoyed themselves. Me? I was thrilled. There were no pots and pans to scrub.

Buda: The biggest isn’t the baddest

November 20th, 2011     2 comments     permalink

Even though Buda (top, left) is the largest duck at the Brighton millpond, he doesn’t throw his considerable weight around. He doesn’t have to.  The smaller Mallards move aside when he waddles near them. Size ranks high in the pecking order so no pecking is required most of the time.

Pekins are a gentle breed. Most of them are like Buda, but SweetPea occasionally loses her temper. If she feels slighted by a duck that doesn’t realize how important she is, she takes action. She shoved a smaller Mallard off the sidewalk and into the pond one night. It was a great example of physical comedy but it happened so quickly, I didn’t get a shot of it.

This past week, Buda had the nerve to walk between SweetPea and Moose Tracks, a member of SweetPea’s devoted Dam Tribe. While both ducks are a bit smaller, they let Buda know he was trespassing and they were not amused. Their quick nips to his neck and sides (below) sent Buda packing. The Dam Tribe and The Buda Bunch keep the peace by maintaining a safe distance between their groups. During the winter months, however, they are forced to interact more because there is less open water.

Moose Tracks gripes to SweetPea

October 2nd, 2011     5 comments     permalink

Since the death of Gramps, the alpha drake, things haven’t gone well for the Dam Tribe. Their numbers have dwindled from eight to four since last spring. I thought Buster, Gramps’ identical twin, would become the dominant male, but he shows scant interest in taking on more responsibilities. He’s not pictured here because he’s lollygagging in the pond. Of the three drakes, SweetPea (center) seems to favor the swarthy mallard hybrid (left) who is still unnamed. Maybe that’s why MooseTracks (right), the only rare Ancona duck on the pond (more Ancona info), is voicing his displeasure to her in this photograph. No matter who winds up chief, SweetPea knows she’s running the show.

Mourning at the Millpond

June 11th, 2011     8 comments     permalink

Gramps (above) was the Alpha Male mallard of a group I call the “Dam Tribe” since they live near the Brighton millpond dam at Main Street. He’d been in charge of 7-8 ducks ever since I started noticing/photographing duck behavior in 2009. He was bigger than wild mallards and had a wider white neckband, probably a Mallard/Pekin mix. His dominance owned much to having a twin who was his bodyguard and fellow enforcer of pond rules. They were surely siblings and difficult to tell apart except for tiny dark patches at the back of their neckbands — Gramps’ was solid while his twin’s was mottled.

Gramps stood between me and his tribe (left) when I fed them. He wanted first crack at the duck chow, but he also protected the others and gave special consideration to “SweetPea,” the lone female in his tribe. Part of his tribal duties included keeping ducks from other tribes away from the food I offered. Upon their approach, he’d lower his head and chase them away.

On June 9th, I received an email containing a photo of a badly wounded duck taken during the day. I visited the pond  later and discovered it was Gramps. He was still swimming and able to bound out of the pond onto the sidewalk. He stood regally while I fed the tribe even though he wasn’t able to eat or drink himself. His wounds were so horrific I won’t show you pictures. Half of his upper bill was gone and his lower bill was hanging by a strip of flesh. Covered in blood, the lower left quadrant of his face was entirely missing so I could see into his skull. A park visitor might have inflicted the devastating wounds, but I suspect one of the pond’s large snapping turtles lunged while he was eating floating vegetation. There was no hope of repairing the damage.

I’m not sure what happened to Gramps after I left him late that night. The police had received several calls from the public. He probably died during the night but may have been euthanized. With the extent of his injuries and blood loss, I’m surprised he lived as long as he did.

Ducks are social animals. They don’t interact like humans do, but they communicate and obviously have buddies, seasonal mates, territories, and pecking orders. His death will have an impact on the Dam Tribe as well as many park visitors who knew him. Rest in Peace, Gramps.


May 11th, 2011     4 comments     permalink

Instead of TV producers wasting their time with silly humans on “Jersey Shores,” they should document the real life dramas along “Millpond Shores.” There’s a constant and deadly serious battle for food, power and sexual favors happening under the noses of casual park visitors. Here’s an example:

“Sweetpea,” the pond’s only all-white hen with a dark bill, has a retinue of 5 to 7 drakes. I call this group the “Dam Tribe” since they stay near the dam (duh). The males have a pecking order: “Gramps” (Alpha-Male), “Buster” (Beta), “Moose Tracks” and “Afroduck” (two of the knights). The rumble started with a “chest bump” by Moose Tracks on Buster, a dominance attempt by the lesser male (above) while the whole tribe was searching for munchies and hanky panky on the Main Street lawn (below).

Sweetpea got out of the way as quacking/turmoil escalated. Moose Tracks realized he was no match for Buster and left, but Afroduck (with the hair poof, called a “crest”) decided this was a good opportunity to pin down Buster and give him a few back-jabs (above, left). Two more knights liked seeing Buster get whacked so one started chest-shoving him while Afroduck got out of the way (above, center). That’s when Buster lost his cool and wailed on the pushy drake (above, right).

But Buster didn’t prevail for long. Afroduck returned to instigate more violence (above, left and center) then headed for the water when Gramps arrived to stop the melee and save his buddy/protector, Buster. Within a couple of minutes, peace returned to the lawn and the Dam Tribe acted as if nothing had happened. Someday, there will be a new Alpha-Male or the pecking order will change. Not today.

Duckling Update

August 26th, 2010     2 comments     permalink

10 Ducklings are Doing Fine

Still prevailing champion of the 2010 Fertility Tournament, Duck Division, the hen of the above tribe lets her brood wander a few feet from her now that they’ve grown a bit. Even though she’s lost one of her eleven within the past week, she a very protective mom. None of the other ducks on the pond have more youngsters to watch or does a better job of it.

The news on the HussyHen, however, isn’t as good. She lost one of her two remaining chicks. The sole survivor seems to be a fighter and looks healthy, but he’s going to have to raise himself. She pays little attention to him and leaves him in harm’s way much of the time. At night, she often hangs with her buddies and leaves him in the pond alone. Predators and hypothermia are major killers of young ducks. If she doesn’t snuggle up to him during the forecoming cool nights, he may not be able to keep himself warm.

The HussyHen's Lone Surviving Duckling

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