SweetPea’s disappearing eggs

May 22nd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

SweetPea takes a sunset swim with her suitors at the Brighton millpondOn May 18th, I confirmed that SweetPea had 13 eggs in her nest under the canopy of spruce boughs. Last night, while she was taking a break from her nesting duties for a sunset swim with her suitors (left), I had a chance to photograph her nest again. She has removed two of her eggs.

Only 11 eggs remain in SweetPea's nest under the canopy of spruce branchesDucks can tell if their eggs are viable and remove ones that are no longer worth the nesting space. Last summer, a Main Street merchant saw her roll an egg into the middle of an alley and break it open. Presumably, this is done far from the nest so predators won’t follow the scent to the nest to destroy the eggs. Unlike most of SweetPea’s nests, I have some hope for this one. It’s close enough to the pond, partially shielded from park visitors, and close enough to her four admiring drakes that she just might decide to nest for the full 28 days. She’s doing fine so far, but she usually loses interest within 10-14 days and that’s ahead of us. Stay tuned.

Finally sitting pretty

May 22nd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

In early May, two nests appeared near the north end of the pond within four feet of each other (below). A third nest was no more than a dozen feet away (not shown). None of these three nests ever showed evidence of a hen near them. The eggs would be rearranged once in a while and finally, the last nest mentioned had all of its eggs rolled down a slight slope to the water’s edge.

One nest is chock full of eggs, about 11 of them but no hen has claimed them The hen is now sitting on a second nest only four feet away

Finally, after almost three weeks, the nest to the right (above) had its hen identify herself and begin to sit. This is one of Confidia’s ducklings hatched in 2012 so this is her first time to brood. Estimated date for the eggs to hatch is June 17th, but the nest is clearly visible and might be vandalized. Success is not guaranteed.

After weeks of egg laying, a northern pond hen begins to sit

The hen (below left) is a north end devotee. She and her two bonded partners are always there. She’s probably a hybrid Mallard and Buff Orpington and has unusual color markings including a prominent dark eyestripe and a lady-like necklace of white. One of her beaus is a good sized Buff-Mallard hybrid (far right) while the other is a feisty Mallard drake who has lost many of his chest feathers in mating season scuffles with other drakes.

The mystery hen is identified along with her two bonded partners

Marlboro Mallard is doing fine

May 20th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Marlboro Mallard continues to incubate her clutch of 12 eggs

I checked in with Marlboro Mallard who is incubating her eggs in a parking lot far from the Brighton millpond and she’s continuing to sit just like she’s supposed to. Breezes have helped decorate her nest with trash but she doesn’t seem to mind. From the date nesting started estimated by a nearby resident, the ducklings should hatch any day now. Their first major life task will be waddling back to the pond. I’d love to be there when the parade happens.

You want small fries with that, Ma’am?

May 14th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

The hen is virtually invisible behind a small evergreen

I pulled back the shrub to take her picture but she didn't budge.Not far from the millpond, Brighton has a row of fast food establishments on Grand River Avenue, a busy 5-lane thoroughfare. A Mallard hen has nested in the shrubbery in front of one of them that will remain nameless so she isn’t disturbed.

I took these pictures to see if I could identify her as a millpond duck, but she doesn’t look familiar. There are two additional ponds nearby where she might reside. Why would a duck select a noisy restaurant site for a nest? I can think of two reasons: it takes her away from pesky drakes who are in hot pursuit of females right now, and the well manicured restaurant site has less predators than ponds if the humans leave her alone.

A Marlboro Mallard

May 5th, 2013     3 comments     permalink

Even though there is very little cover, this mallard hen is difficult to spot

The Mallard hen lies motionless upon approachDustin, a high school senior who is pursuing civil engineering in college next year, told me about a nest he found in a distant parking lot. The top two photos were taken on my first visit on Friday when the hen was sitting on the eggs. I returned on Saturday to see in it daylight and the hen was away so I was able to count the eggs, an even dozen!

I have no idea how ducks select nesting sites. I sense it’s a random act since some nests are in odd places. This one is on the edge of an asphalt parking lot in front of a cinderblock wall with one scraggly weed as protective cover (bottom right). Whether the flattened Marlboro box, plastic package for a Bic lighter, and assorted other debris was brought to the nest or there when the hen arrived is unknown. Since there isn’t much trash nearby, I suspect the hen collected everything she could find for her construction.

A dozen eggs are surrounded with the soft down from the hens shest and bellyOn my return visit (left and bottom right), I noticed the Marlboro box and Bic package had been moved. Maybe the hen decided they were too gaudy for her taste. Note in the close up (below left) the amount of down she has plucked from herself to insulate the nest from cold nights.

To take the shot of her sitting, I pulled back one of the weed branches. She hissed at me but didn’t budge. That’s typical for wild ducks. They are very protective of their eggs. She’s a pretty duck but doesn’t have any distinct markings that I can see. It will be difficult to identify her once she brings her ducklings to the pond. It will be quite an adventure since the nest is 740 feet from the pond and crossing Grand River Avenue’s five busy lanes with a dozen tiny ducklings in tow presents fatal dangers.

This close up shows all of the tufts of duck down the hen has plucked from herself to keep her eggs warm on cold nightsThe edge of a parking lot isn't ideal, but the hen is making the most of it

A street parade after the politicking

October 30th, 2012     2 comments     permalink

Leave it to SweetPea to miss the mark. Had she lead the parade an hour earlier, 2,000 Americans for Prosperity’s Freedom Rally participants would have grabbed their cell phones to photograph her performance instead of one lonely guy without enough sense to know when the party’s over.

As Brighton returned to normal Sunday afternoon, I noticed SweetPea bathing at the pond. I thought it was a good time to count eggs while she was distracted. She had covered them to keep them warm on this brisk day so I didn’t disturb them ( left). Within minutes, she was ready to waddle across Main Street to resume incubating (right). I played traffic cop.

Three of the four Dam Tribe drakes (Fred, Desi, and Duke respectively) tagged along.

Once across, they nibbled on Indian Corn kernels under the farmer’s roadside benches before giving me a photo opp to show the color of their webbed feet matched pumpkins for sale ( left). Then it dawned on SweetPea her eggs needed attention (right).

As SweetPea ducked — ha! — under yucca leaves beside the large tree, the boys moved away from the nest to (maybe) distract gawkers who might dine on a sitting duck or grab eggs (left). After she hunkered down to invisibity, the drakes stood guard for a few minutes (right) until I stopped traffic again to shepherd them back to the pond.

The dirty dozen are a memory

April 14th, 2012     2 comments     permalink

“Carnage on Main Street” was my first title for this post, but after my “dead cats” headline this week, I decided to decrease the sensationalism before I start losing readers.

SweetPea has had another tragedy. I was about to post the photo of SweetPea’s carefully arranged nest of a dozen eggs (top) the day after I shot it but checked back and discovered all was lost (right). The unknown assailant was likely a raccoon or skunk instead of one from the human species. Each egg was cracked open and licked clean. Most humans wouldn’t do that right there under the protective shrub.

As written at the beginning of SweetPea’s latest nesting adventure, there were never high hopes for success. She is incapable of the long commitment needed to incubate eggs. The eggs were also untended on cold nights before her brooding was to start. The nest was next to the entrance of Beverly Rae’s women’s apparel shop on Main Street. It was well protected. I thought she might succeed. Since she didn’t have to cross the street to reach it (like she did for her last three nests) was also an advantage. It would save many squealing brakes as Brighton shoppers and diners swerved to avoid her.

While being consoled by the members of her Dam Tribe (left), she’s surely planning her next clutch before summer arrives. Three’s a charm, right? Last year, her 20 eggs in three nests brought no joy. Having started in February this year, she’s already laid 18 eggs. While it would be a treat to see her babes in the millpond, I’m a realist. This might be a banner year for failure topping 2011.

SweetPea: Nesting and the Lure of the Pond

August 7th, 2011     2 comments     permalink

August 4: I found SweetPea bathing at the millpond instead of tending her eggs when I arrived. She was one very grungy duck (above). Her buddies, the drakes, were obviously glad to have her pay a visit and they gave her protection but no privacy while she washed up and preened (below left) but she wasn’t as happy to have my attention. She actually distanced herself from me (below right).

But once she was cleaned up, she begged for some duck chow and enjoyed the repast before getting the urge to cross the street to get back to the nest (below). Once she decides to return to the nest, she’s on her way. She doesn’t look both ways before crossing either. I played traffic cop but in the middle of the road, she took a moment to decide whether she wanted to go back to the pond or go home (left). My presence might have made her question whether she wanted to reveal her nest’s location to me although I had visited her daily and knew all about it. I doubt ducks remember such details.

When I saw the nest, I realized why she was so dirty. One of the eggs was broken, and the nest was coated in goo. Even some of the surrounding yucca leaves had yolk on them. It was probably deposited there from her belly when she left the nest an hour before.

Only three eggs were left. She started with eight. I don’t know what happened to the others. No shells are around. I suspect a human is doing housework for her while she’s nesting. Many people are aware of the nest and just can’t let it alone. Maybe the eggs have been stolen? Why wouldn’t they take all of them if that were the case? A mystery.

August 6: SweetPea was already at the pond hanging out with the boys when I arrived at the pond. She never returned to the nest during my hours-long visit. I think she’s abandoned the nest but I can’t confirm that until my next visit. She’s done it before. Twice.

She and her retinue of three drakes swam and then drank from the puddle under the drinking fountains (below). She was very clean. She’s obviously spent a great deal of time preening. Imagine trying to get dried raw egg out of feathers without the aid of soap. She did it! Stay tuned for the sequel. I’m sure they’ll be one.

Mystery at the Imagination Station?

July 31st, 2011     1 comment     permalink

Did a tragedy happen at the Imagination Station duck nest? I found remnants of four of the eight eggs scattered on July 28th and two well-developed dead chicks under the bench. The hen is gone. Perhaps the surviving ducklings hatched and are on the pond with mom? If so, I haven’t found them yet. I don’t think a predator ransacked the nest. The dead ducklings would have been eaten. There are no signs of predatory digging in the wood chips. If anyone knows what transpired, I’d like to know about it. Please post a comment here.

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.

Cattails shield and shelter

April 2nd, 2011     1 comment     permalink

Last summer’s cattails still stand, but most will topple when the new year’s growth begins. Coupled with their reflections, they look like a yin-yang seismogram of a serious earthquake. The reeds present a formidable barrier in remote parts of the northern millpond. They also provide safe locations for nests. Can you see the nest builder in the image below? The female mute swan sits on her mound and stretches her neck out to grab more reeds. By the time she finishes, the nest will be two feet above the water’s surface and probably easier to see than it is now.

Return of the RWBs

March 30th, 2011     0 comments     permalink

Better pictures will follow in the weeks to come, but I wanted to note the return of the Red-Winged Blackbirds to the millpond. They are so numerous during spring-fall that birders simply refer to them as RWBs. Some robins are year ’round residents here, but I don’t think any of the RWBs stick around after the wetlands freeze. As a result, their return is probably a more reliable sign of spring, but robins get all the credit. Upon arrival, the males use last year’s cattails as perches while they court the cryptically colored females. Before long, they will build nests in the reeds, low enough so predators can’t find them.

Duck Returns, Maybe Repents

June 21st, 2010     0 comments     permalink

Hen Resting on Nest After a Wild Night

I’m happy to report the hen I found carousing with four drakes of questionable character on Saturday night (see yesterday’s post) has returned to her nesting responsibilities. Let’s all hope she can withstand the pressures of nesting and avoid those hooligan drakes until her chicks hatch and can fend for themselves.

RepriHENsible Saturday Night Conduct

June 20th, 2010     3 comments     permalink

Ignored Eggs in a Duck Nest

I’m shocked and very disappointed. After 10:00pm on Saturday night, I discovered the four eggs, in the care of what I thought was a dedicated duck, left alone. I found the hen cavorting with a band of four known hooligan drakes at the edge of the millpond. I mean, really, a fling so soon? It’s as if she put on bright red lipstick and leaned against the jukebox at a country-western bar! She’s a common trollop! Doesn’t she know eggs need to be kept at a constant 99.5-100 degrees during incubation and she should only leave the nest to eat and bathe for a few minutes each day? I doubt her eggs should be rescued, but I hope she comes to her senses and I find her back at the nest on my next visit.

Hussy Hen Covorting with Known Hooligans

Still Sitting, Sitting Still

June 17th, 2010     1 comment     permalink

Duck Sitting on Nest

I’m happy to report the duck I photographed at least 10 days ago is still sitting on her very exposed nest at the Brighton City Hall. All the passersby and the raccoons haven’t disturbed her. The incubation time for duck eggs is about 28 days. I’m not sure of her start date so it could be any time now.

A Sitting Duck

June 9th, 2010     3 comments     permalink

A Sitting Duck

A Nesting DuckThe Brighton City Hall is on the millpond. It used to be the public library but their collection outgrew the space. Two walls of the building come together with no landscaping at their intersection. One of the millpond’s resident ducks decided that would be a good place for a nest when, in fact, it’s a terrible location. Besides hundreds of people walking within 30 feet of it, there is no cover for her at all and, since she’s bright white, everyone will notice her.

The Note Duck's Red EyeI hope she and her eggs can survive the 28 days it takes duck eggs to hatch. I’ve found the remnants of other nests, well hidden ones, that have been (probably) looted  by raccoons. Hopefully, the public won’t bother her. She steadfastly sits and doesn’t appear to be stressed when I come within six feet of her nest. Once hatched, the ducklings will quickly take to the water, but that poses other dangers. Predation, parasites and disease are constant threats to the fuzzy critters in their first weeks.

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