Fins and feathers together

August 19th, 2012     0 comments     permalink

The millpond ducks and carp have an interesting relationship. All day long, people toss tidbits to the ducks and they miss about half of them. Those morsels usually sink to the bottom of the pond. Carp are essentially bottom feeders and scour the areas where ducks are fed vacuuming up all of the leftovers. Normally, the carp do their clean ups after the sun has set, but when the water is warm in mid-summer, they are active enough that their hunger brings them into public view at midday.

The fish and birds ignore one another since neither is a danger to the other one. But it’s sometimes comical when they unexpectedly bump into each other. Birds will head for the sky or the fish will zoom into the weeds.

Fight and Flight

November 7th, 2011     2 comments     permalink

Fight: Like most birds, ducks have a “pecking order” and two things determine where one ranks within it: size and strength. Most of the time, it’s determined by minor bouts between individual ducks as shown above. These two hens “chest bump” to see who can push the other one the farthest. The one on the right won this match. The other duck turned away after no more than 15 seconds, a typical length of time. Sometimes, they are forehead-to-forehead during these duels.

Flight: This drake was jumping up less than a foot to reach the sidewalk. He used his wings to provide the extra lift he needed. This front view shows how the thin wings can cut through the air with so little drag. I like the glowing eyes in this shot. The dark green head disappears into the black water but the eyes float there above the bill. Click both images to see them larger.

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.

Growing feathers for migration

August 16th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

When I started this blog, I didn’t know much about ducks. I’ve had to learn so I could explain images presented here. “The molt” (or moult) is an example. I knew it happened, but I didn’t know the mechanics of it. I still have only a sketchy understanding of the whole process that begins with shedding a lot of feathers (above). Hens and ducklings usually molt in late summer.

Big Baby (named by Faith, an intrepid millpond duck watcher) was my first encounter with a molting duck. I noticed a new bright white feather against his otherwise dark markings. In reviewing the larger image back home, I saw feathers sprouting on top of it. Wow. Born last spring, this is a momentous event for the young chap. He’ll be making his first flight south this year (unless he sticks around with the other slackers).

One of the ducks decided to show me what was going on during a typical “duck stretch” (they extend one foot and wing backward). You can see all of the new feathers sprouting from their sheaths along the wing (below). At right is a slightly fuzzy close up at my camera’s maximum resolution. Pretty damned amazing, I say. The whole process of dropping old feathers and growing new ones takes about two weeks. The ducks will then be ready to migrate in the late autumn.


August 13th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

Most people visiting the millpond walk away with memories of the ducks being cute and the ducklings so darling they want to hold them in their hands (forgetting that they poop almost as often as they quack). If they spend more time there, they’ll witness all sorts of minor and major tussles.

Ducks aren’t mean. They simply stand their ground in the competitive wild world to get their share of the food and space. The mallard drake tightly gripping a young duck (above) isn’t trying to kill it. He wants the duckling to stop stealing his food. This is not a love tap. It’s a serious squawk-inducing encounter that left the duckling running around in pain for a minute or two.

A hen with four young ducks violently ejects any duck she feels threatens her youngsters (above). If swimming toward them doesn’t induce the desired about-face, she strikes like a rattlesnake, sometimes holds on for a few seconds while the offender flails, and often ends the fracas with a mouthful of feathers.

Most disputes are quick and don’t involve contact between ducks. A head-down step forward usually sends another duck away. Nips and pokes happen. Feathers fly sometimes. I haven’t been able to photograph these events because they are lightning quick. Brutal, sometimes fatal, attacks happen infrquently. I hear stories of ducks drowning male rivals or females during mating.

Dumped Duck #65

July 29th, 2011     3 comments     permalink

On July 26th, millpond park visitors suddenly noticed a half-grown duckling following them. Their first reaction was to be amused. They continued to giggle until they realized they couldn’t shake his affection for them. Then they’d start to run or shoo him away.

Later, this same duckling swam around the millpond calling for his mom. While I was trying to figure out which hen he belonged to, park visitors noticed he was leg banded with the number 65 on his blue plastic tag (below).  That means Duck 65 isn’t a millpond hatched chick. Someone dumped him at the pond thinking it’d be a nice place for him to live. Maybe. Introduced ducks are not welcomed with open wings by the resident ducks. Invaders have to fight for their rights to space and food or they’ll perish. The jury is still out on this youngster.

Later that night, three guys left a local bar and the duck followed them on their walk home. I heard two days later that, in the late hours, three guys came back to the pond with a box. They opened the box, the duckling came out, and they rushed to their car before it could join them.

A hen with four ducklings was nearby and Duck 65 decided it might be fun to befriend the ducklings. He got bill-to-bill (left) with one of the little guys when mom decided his gesture was threatening to her chicks. Boom! Like shot out of a cannon, she attacked and grabbed one of his wings and held on as the two raced around with water flying and 65 yelling. Duck 65 stayed away from the ducklings for a while but then made the mistake of drifting back into the hen’s territory. She took chase again and forced him 100 years away.

But Duck 65 was still in the same pond and mom wasn’t happy about it. She went out of her way to attack and hold on until he squawked in pain several times. These weren’t friendly suggestions. She was dead serious with her attacks and ripped out feathers on him. Pictures below show the hen in two separate attacks.

Try, Try Again

July 23rd, 2011     2 comments     permalink

We could all learn a few lessons from SweetPea, a millpond duck often discussed on this blog. One of the five all-white ducks on the pond, she’s easy to identify by her dark bill. Less than a month ago, her first nesting was a total failure, but she disappeared a few days ago and I finally found her nesting again near the front entrance of Brighton’s Ciao Amici’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant on Main Street across from the millpond. The first lesson: Persistence.

The second lesson: Plan wisely. SweetPea didn’t. As a domestic (farm) duck, she doesn’t fly but she nested across a busy thoroughfare from the pond she’ll be visiting at least twice a day for about a month. Ugh. Ducks don’t grasp the concept that speeding cars can harm them. Wild ducks at least have a chance by quickly taking flight, but SweetPea’s very existence rests in the watchful eyes of drivers who tend to be window shopping or texting as they tool along Main Street. Many a duck has discovered too late the danger of bumpers and tires. The next month will be tense for us duck watchers. But SweetPea isn’t worried. She’s preoccupied with her nesting duties. She’s laid eight eggs (above) and patiently sits atop them surrounded by yucca plants (above).

I had the opportunity to photograph one of her visits back to the millpond. Nesting ducks need to bathe to keep their chest feathers damp so that moisture transfers to the eggs. I’ve never seen her bathe with such vigor (above left) for several minutes. Following the bath, she spend a few moments preening and then stood on her toes (above right) and tossed off the excess water with a few wing flaps.

Then she headed for the street. She didn’t look both ways, but I did. What I saw wasn’t good. She made a bee-line back to the nest as I begged cars to stop so she could leisurely saunter across the 5-lanes. I was thrilled as she neared the far curb (right). After crossing, she returned to the nest, gazed at her eggs for a moment, and settled in for another long session away from her favorite pond (below).

Waiting at the Imagination Station

July 22nd, 2011     1 comment     permalink

How do duck decide where to nest? I have a hunch it’s a split second decision once they realize it’s time. They have only minimum requirements: some cover, some protection, and access to their favorite pond. That’s it. Once the decision is made, they live with it. A case in point is this beautifully marked hen (above) who decided (probably in the dead of night) that nesting under this low bench was a great spot. The cedar chips were easy to form a slight depression for her eggs and the drainage was good if it rained. What she failed to consider is that her Imagination Station nest is crawling with hundreds of little kids during daylight hours. Since July 6th, she’s been viewing the ankles of kids as they run past her, ride the swings, sit on the bench above her, and scream with glee.

Some kind soul provides a bowl of water and bread bits around her (above right). They change the water daily, but she probably ignores both of them. I’ve offered sitting ducks duck chow, and they won’t take nourishment. I think they enter some sort of metabolic “trance” where food and movement aren’t important. Hens take breaks from nesting at least a couple of times each day to go to their pond, greet feathered buddies, bathe, and grab a bite to eat.

I worry about when she leaves the nest unguarded. She has at least eight eggs in her clutch (below and right). Kids might stomp on them or play catch until they break. Dogs, skunks, and raccoons also visit the play area. If she manages to hatch her brood in this active environment, I’ll be delightfully surprised and I’ll bet her ducklings will be as beautiful as she is.

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.

Shoulda Ducked

April 18th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

This sounds like fiction: As I was watching two ducks court, I heard a duck flying at me from the other side of underbrush along the millpond trail. I turned and snapped the above shot just before the mallard drake hit the vines. You can see a blurred duck in the lower right with its wings up and forward.

That drake ended up hanging by his neck on one of the vines two feet in front of me. At first, it flapped its wings but then gave up and silently hung there. I should have taken a photograph so you’d believe this story <grin> but I was worried about the duck. I reached out and discovered it was just hanging by its chin on the vine like an acrobat at the circus. Odd. I shook the vine a couple of times, released the duck, it flew to the pair I was originally photographing and proceeded to mate with the hen.

Males of all species shouldn’t be allowed to fly or operate heavy machinery when their hearts are filled with amorous thoughts. :-)

Just add soap

April 12th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

All of the characters on afternoon soap operas are replicated at the millpond these days as hormones rage. Here, a mallard drake is quickly asked to leave after he made advances toward another male’s beloved hen. He compiles but will soon be attempting to court other hens who have already selected this year’s BFF. Chances are pretty good that he’ll be able to find a partner for a romp if not a long and meaningful relationship.

Nose-to-Bill Encounters

January 25th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

Hunger motivates. Animal trainers use it to encourage their charges to behave in unanimally ways. That’s what I think happened on a cold night in early January.

A pocket full of duck chow, a nutritious food I buy at Wildernest, is a welcome bedtime snack for the feathered residents at the north end of the millpond. They don’t see many visitors there because it’s a half-mile trek from downtown Brighton.

After I tossed down handfuls from the boardwalk, four different ducks flew up to my eye level and hovered within three feet of me. By the time the fourth duck paid a visit, I was ready and took the top shot. The duck was too close for me to get all of it in the frame. Like the others, it returned to the pond to bathe then flapped its wings to shed some of the water (right). Maybe it was a thank you gesture. I have no other explanation for it.

Stepping into the Sky

January 22nd, 2011     1 comment     permalink

What we dream about, ducks do every day. In the above photo are the footprints leading up to lift-off on the Brighton millpond. It’s one, two, three, up, and away! As the wings sweep downward in their first full swing, they brush their tips in the 5″ of soft snow.

At the edge of the pond where ducks are often fed, I found other wing prints in the snow that are mysterious. There were two one-wing marks. There’s a body print beside one of them (right) so it might have been resting when it suddenly fled. The other print (below) shows no impression of the body and no footprints near it. Maybe it was in a steeply banking turn before it landed farther away.

Waddling Off into the Sunset

January 21st, 2011     0 comments     permalink

At the end of December, this handsome puddle duck allowed me to photograph her in the fading light of day. There are a handful of carmel colored ducks at the Brighton millpond. They might be Buff Ducks which are bred for show (first shown at Madison Square Garden in 1908), but they could just be lucky Mallard/Pekin progeny. Mallards mate with about 50 other duck species to produce what Charlie Moores from the UK calls “Manky Mallards.” Whatever her heritage, this one is striking with her bright orange bill and feet, beautiful plumage, and well-rounded shape. Someday a person more knowledgeable than me will visit this blog and correct all of my duck identification errors. Soon, I hope.

Liquid Composition with Ducks

January 17th, 2011     2 comments     permalink

There’s isn’t anything profound to say about this image. It’s just a nice composition of well-lit ducks against a dark background that has an interesting ripple pattern. There are also some large bubbles trapped under the ice along the edge of the millpond.

Waddling South for the Winter

January 14th, 2011     2 comments     permalink

By January 8th, the nighttime temperatures were in the single digits and the ducks’ beloved open water had frozen solid. Instead of taking action, the ducks continued to remain in place resting on its surface in a tight gathering.

As I approached, they stood hoping I’d toss some food. All of the regulars were there: the Black Dahlia, MooseTracks and the others.

Two days later, they had left their favored spot (between the second and third sculptured geese in the photo below), and waddled southward to where they will probably spend the rest of the winter, a distance of less than 100 yards. You can just barely see them huddled together right in front of the small bridge in the left center of the image. Beyond this bridge, the dam keeps a tiny section of the pond free of ice so they can continue to bathe but be available to visitors who toss them treats.

Another Pin-Up Duck

January 9th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

Last winter, I posted some images of what I called “Pin-Up Ducks.” I’m going to post more this year when I get nice shots of them. This one was taken late at night as the hen floated near the north end of the millpond. The warm colors of her feathers give you no indication of how cold it was. A human wouldn’t last very long in the frigid water, but ducks are quite comfortable as they wait until the sun comes up again.

Above the Ducks

January 4th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

This blog doesn’t lend itself to vertical images, but I wanted to present this photo in the best possible way. It’s one of my best lit, very sharp images of ducks.

I was standing on the elevated boardwalk directly above the ducks at the north end of the millpond. It was cold and the ducks were very active anticipating I’d toss them some chow.

I like all of the glints from my flash in the ripples. They are accompanied by swiggles of light against the dark, clear water.

One of the reasons this image is so well lit is I’m getting some bounce-back of the flash from the water’s surface onto the ducks. This illuminates their sides and crisply delineates their bodies. Although the color palette is limited, it has enough rich hues to give it some punch. It also helps the composition that the ducks are looking at each other.

Click the image to see it larger for details.

A Clean Duck is a Happy New Year Duck

January 1st, 2011     0 comments     permalink

This sequence shows a duck named Sweetpea (aka HussyHen) getting ready for the New Year with an icy bath. She careened around the pool while wildly shaking her tail and flapping her wings. Then to finish up, as her poolmates groomed and showed no interest in her performance, she propelled herself upright (below) to remove the excess water by flapping her wings. This step accomplishes the same thing as your washing machine’s spin cycle but is coupled with her momentary imitation of Winged Victory with no missing parts.

Poopers, No Partying

January 1st, 2011     0 comments     permalink

All of our snow has vanished because of the rain and temperatures in the high 40s for the past two days. The millpond has a fresh sheen on it, but the ducks were not enjoying the thaw just after the stroke of Midnight. They stood on the ice in the center of the pond (above). None were swimming nor were they resting with their bills under their wings. Maybe the amateur drinkers had disturbed them. Their silhouettes in the glow of the Main Street lamps caught my eye (below).

Removing the Grime of 2010

December 31st, 2010     0 comments     permalink

Two days before New Year’s Eve and the millpond’s ducks were already getting ready. Maybe the warmer mid-afternoon temperature made them so active, but it was still below freezing when these shots were taken. Perhaps they do it to heat up their bodies like humans do by shivering. At any rate, duck after duck went through the ritual. Some of them did it several times while I watched.

Here’s the routine: The duck dips its head into the water several times. As it raises its head each time, it arches its back and holds its neck erect like it’s at attention (left and below). The water rolls from head to tail. At the same time, it fluffs up its feathers so the water can reach under them and spreads its wings while lowering them into the water. Then it vigorously shakes its tail as it flaps its wings (above) as the Black Dahlia demonstrates. It’s quite a sight as water flies every which way!

The bath ends with the duck rising out of the water as far as it can, as if it’s standing on its tail, and flaps its wings a few times to shake off the water.  I’ll post a shot of that final step tomorrow.

Okay, I Lied

December 28th, 2010     0 comments     permalink

Yesterday, I said “not a creature was stirring.” That’s not entirely true. On Christmas night at dusk, the ducks were active. It was bitter cold with a moderate breeze yet they were jumping in and out of their small pool (below) and were thrilled when they discovered their only visitor had a pocket full of duck chow.

At the far end of the millpond (above) to the north, the rest of the resident flock were even happier to see me and swam to me hoping I’d toss them some food. I did. I noticed many of these ducks are obviously related. Note their color patterns. You can pick out siblings fairly easily. The north end is more secluded, and my guess is many of these ducks were born this past summer and spent their duckling months where there were less humans. Now, they are still hanging out in their familiar environs with their brothers/sisters for the winter months.

From Millpond to Tiny Puddle

December 23rd, 2010     0 comments     permalink

This is almost too dreary to show you. The resident millpond ducks have kept the water open in a 20-foot circle near Main Street. I doubt this water will remain open throughout the winter. They will have to move to the area just above the dam. That’s where they spent most of their time last year.

I count about 50 “lifers” here. They include all of the farm species that have been dropped off in past years (the five all-white ducks and a few others) you’ll learn more about in the near future. It’s depressing seeing them yarded up like this after watching them enjoy the entire millpond in other seasons, but they all seem quite content to swim in circles and poop on the rim.

Seeing a Ghost

November 23rd, 2010     1 comment     permalink

A duck just about to land on the millpond is only visible because it blocks the rippled reflections from a pondside street lamp. This image has an unworldly quality to it. One is not sure what is “object” and what is not. Only the small glint in the eye of the duck is “real” and all of the rest is the etherial interplay of light and shadow.

Paradux: Grand Finale

November 17th, 2010     1 comment     permalink

In the dark of night, the sound of wings moving through the air filled the sky. The dancers arrived dressed in their finery. The ducks on the millpond don’t give much thought to their ability to fly. They just do it. Most of us humans, however, wish we could ascend with such ease.

I started Paradux because of one photograph I took of a duck with its wings extended as it took flight. There are now about thirty duck flight photos on this site, and I’m still enthralled by the movements, patterns, and colors. Maybe I’ll do a sequel in the months ahead, but I’m sure you’ve seen enough for a while. So the curtain comes down on Paradux. Drive home safely.

Paradux: The Beginning of the End

November 11th, 2010     0 comments     permalink

The ducks in the Corps de Ballet have worked diligently and it shows as the finale begins for Paradux. It’s amazing what you can get these troopers to do with Photoshop and a couple of handfuls of duck chow, don’t you think? They’ve sure shown off their costumes to their greatest advantage. Meanwhile, as the choreographer, I’m still not sure how to bring this performance to closure. Enjoy these performers until I figure out the final splash in the finale, topping these showstoppers.

Paradux: Transcending Duckness

November 7th, 2010     2 comments     permalink

As “Paradux,” the duck ballet I’ve been staging, nears the final curtain, the danseur noble bounds onto the stage and mesmerizes the assembled masses with leaps and daring feats. There are times the audience forgets he’s just a duck. Isn’t that the purpose of art, to transcend something? Anything? Well, this duck has my total admiration.

As the audience catches its breathe following his performance, a member of the Corps de Ballet launches a hypnotic and sensuous flapping of wings unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Gone is the duck as it transforms itself into something more, something beyond our imaginations. Ah, the troupe is doing exceptionally well tonight.

Paradux: Performing through Adversity

November 2nd, 2010     0 comments     permalink

The strength of some of my performing ducks really came to the foreground during the wind storm. It was aerial ballet at its best as ducks took off and landed during a recent performance above the millpond. The glitter in the background (above) is from street light reflections in the water. Wish I could say I planned that visual effect. How to end this extraganza? I think I’ve beaten this Paradux dead horse long enough. Too bad I haven’t determined a finale yet. Hmmm. I’ll have to see what my dancers are willing to do for their meager duck chow handouts.

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