Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hangin' with the Ducklings!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by!

As I write this, my cat, Gracie Ellen Tripod - she of the three legs - insists on lying on my lap. I don't mind the company, but she sure can work up a lot of drool when she's in the mood! About the only time Gracie ever asks for attention is when I'm sitting at the computer, though, so I'm happy to oblige her.

I followed through on my plan to change out Freckle Duck's eggs yesterday. When I approached that fork in the tree she's nesting in, I saw four or five slices of bread - whole slices, not even broken up into duck-sized pieces - ranged around the perimeter of her nest. I know that the people who left them there meant well, but come on! No duck eats whole slices of bread. You have to break them up into small pieces. And even then, no mama wants food around her nest: it will lead predators right to it, for heaven's sake!

In any case, when I went to remove the bread, Freckle bit hell out of my hand. Repeatedly. Hard! Every single one of those bites hurt, too, and one of them scraped across my skin and drew some blood! I can certainly understand her desire to defend her nest, but things were getting painful in a hurry!

So I went 'round to the other side of the tree, reached into the fork and grabbed her from behind. I set her on the ground and poured out some cracked corn for her but she spent the time bitching loudly about the felon who was disturbing her nest. I ignored her squawking and set to work changing out the twelve eggs she's laid for the dozen I'd bought at the grocery store.

My friend, "Enslaved by Ducks" author Bob Tarte, has commented on duck bites in past conversations. He seemed to think that they could do some damage - an idea I dismissed at the time because Pretty Boy's bites were always fairly harmless. In retrospect, I'm beginning to wonder whether my favorite duck pulled his punches, so to speak, because Pretty Boy's bites never hurt like Freckle's did yesterday! I was quite surprised by the hostility in her attack. Then again, that's what mamas are supposed to do, isn't it? When I finished my task and walked away, Freckle climbed back onto her nest, none the wiser about the chicken eggs.

It was supposed to rain today, but when I got to the McKinnon's Pond, there was only the odd sprinkle. So I lingered for a time, sitting quietly on the ground as the other Freckle Duck and her ten offspring tucked into the pile of corn I'd set out for them off to my left, while black duck Baby Fuzz nibbled at the pile of corn I'd set out for her off to my right. Baby still has three ducklings, who are all cute as buttons and not nearly as nervous about me as Freckle's offspring. One of Baby's young has black legs and orange feet, which looks endearingly ridiculous, like day-glo orange shoes. I remember that when Pretty Boy was a duckling, he had similarly silly-looking feet.

Because I'm at the pond several times a week, I have the opportunity to see every stage of the ducklings' growth, as they go from tiny little fuzzballs, to awkward, gangly ducklings, to individuals with their own unique personalities. It's fun to be a part of, even if I'm just a spectator. And while Baby's young are fairly brave about being near me, Freckle's young are brave about everything but me!

Take today for instance: when I first spotted Freckle on the far side of the pond, she only had three ducklings with her. "Aw, jeez," I thought, "she lost seven young overnight?" Boy, was I wrong! Turns out the other seven were just off by themselves, looking into things. For ducklings who are barely two weeks old, that's pretty brave! But the minute they see me - that terrifying, hulking human - they all start peeping for mama! They have selective bravery, I guess!

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed today's interlude at the pond. The longer I sit there quietly, being harmless, the more Freckle Duck relaxes her vigilance. Baby Fuzz already seems to know that I'm only interested in taking pictures, and I've gotten some great ones of her and the kids. By the time they're grown, I'll have filled at least one photo album with pictures of them! Meanwhile, I hope you'll all join me in saying a prayer to the Gods that at least some of those little cuties will make it to adulthood.

That's all for now, folks. Thanks again for joining me. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, June 8, 2009

We've Got Ducklings!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by!

I don't know about you, but I was on pins and needles the entire month of May, waiting to see if any ducklings would hatch. Animal Control Officer Jeff and I had scoured the pond area in early May, looking for domestic duck nests, but found nothing. That in itself was unusual because those domestic ducks usually pick easily find-able nesting spots. We walked all the way around the pond, poked into all the shrubs surrounding the nearby apartment buildings, then threw up our hands in despair. Where had those sneaky ducks gone?!

There was one nest that I knew about from the start. Baby Fuzz - the last remaining black duck at the pond - used the same site she had chosen last year, a well-hidden spot under a very sharp and pokey evergreen shrub. Late in April, I replaced all but a few of her eggs, figuring, what's the harm in letting her raise a few; pedators will end up getting most of them anyway. Sure enough, last week Baby showed up at a feed with three ducklings.

All three are cute little nippers, with varying splotches of color on their tiny fuzzball bodies. Since Baby knows me well, she's approached me quite closely at feeds, letting her offspring know in the process that the big hulking human with the bag of food is relatively safe to be around. I hesitate to get attached to her young, though, because I've learned from years of experience that they won't all survive to adulthood. In fact, I've been surprised so far that Baby's managed to hang on to all three ducklings for over a week.

Another domestic duck at the pond had ducklings, as well. Because Freckle Duck is white, I felt sure that I'd be able to spot her nest, but I never did find it. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I showed up at the pond one day to find her with fifteen ducklings! How cute they are, each with their own distinct markings and personalities, peeping and paddling around and poking into things. There's just nothing more entertaining than a batch of enthusiastic ducklings!

As I write this, though, Freckle is now down to ten ducklings and counting, which confirms what I've written previously about all the predators at the pond. And, as sad as I am to see the numbers decrease, I'm also very relieved that over-population won't be an issue this year. I don't want to give the city of Whoville any reason to feel that they have to interfere with the goings-on at the pond. Better to keep the numbers low so as not to raise any questions, I think.

As I was hiding behind a tree today, angling for a better picture of Freckle Duck and her offspring, I heard a familiar huffing sound. I turned my head toward the fork of the tree, only to find the other Freckle Duck (hey - you try thinking up interesting names for every single duck at the pond!) sitting on a nest of her own, huffing at me in warning as she gave me that look which says, "Go away before I bite you to death!" Golly!

Well, there's nothing like hiding in plain sight, is there?! I can't tell you how many times wild mallards have used that same tree fork for their own nests - only to have the nest destroyed by neighborhood children who have nothing better to do with their time than be cruel to animals. Who knew that flightless Freckle could even get up that high off the ground to begin with???

"Rats," I thought, "I'm gonna have to get some more chicken eggs and change 'em out, here." I hope Freckle's eggs aren't too far along, but the deed must be done: it's my job to keep the numbers down, and I take the job seriously. It's not that I dislike ducklings (far from it), it's that I don't want the city of Whoville thinking they need to remove the entire gang from the pond. I've no doubt that they'd end up euthanizing every last one of them, and that would be heartbreaking.

So, it's a mixed bag for me this spring. I'm pleased as punch with all the new little ducklings, but nervous, as well, that the new lives might compromise the safety of the other pond residents. In addition, Pretty Lady has yet to turn up, which leads me to believe that a predator got her, too.

You may recall that Pretty Lady was Pretty Boy's sister. It's sad for me to lose that special generation of ducks, one of the first generations to be born to abandoned duck Missy Miss, all those years ago. Pretty Lady and Pretty Boy were practically fearless about approaching me at feeds, something they certainly never learned from Missy, who remained distrustful during her entire time at the pond.

Meanwhile, I confess that I'm secretly hoping for a duckling to take up where Pretty Boy left off. Not a replacement, of course, but maybe an alpha duck in his own right, trusting and open and ready to make me laugh. Wouldn't that be great!

Well, as with anything else in life, time will tell. I'll keep you posted as the ducklings grow, and, as always, I take loads of pictures of everything. Check out the "view my pics" area of my myspace page, it's where I post the majority of my critter photos.

That's all for now, folks! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters! And please, teach your kids to be kind to critters, too!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hello Old Friend

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope that spring is in full swing where you are!

I came across an interesting quote recently. It might've been said by Dr. Suess himself, Theodor Geilsel, but I can't be certain of that. In any case, it goes like this: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." As with anything else in life, that's easier said than done.

I was at my local Meijer store the other week, where I found a 'Best Of Eric Clapton' CD. I'm a huge Clapton fan, and the CD had a number of songs on it that I love. One of those is a tune that gets virtually no air play whatsoever; I came across it years ago tucked away on another album. But this 'Best Of' included that song, "Hello Old Friend."

"Hello Old Friend" is about running into people you haven't seen in a long while, and how agreeable it is to see them again. It's an upbeat song whose chorus goes, "Hello, old friend, it's really good to see you once again." It never occurred to me that that song would make me think of Pretty Boy Duck, but when I popped the recently-purchased CD in the player, and listened to the song I hadn't heard in years, Pretty Boy sprang immediately to mind. The tears followed soon after.

It's easy to become complacent when things run smoothly. And the longer things run smoothly, the more complacent one can become. After years of looking after the ducks without incident, I guess I just assumed that incident-free was the norm, rather than the exception. How foolish I was! After all, I know firsthand how many predators lurk in the area: the hawks and snapping turtles who always make such quick work of the ducklings in spring; the raccoons that keep Animal Control Officer Jeff so busy; the dogs that people bring to the pond and allow to run free - in spite of Whoville's leash law. In retropspect, there were many painful possibilities that I turned a blind eye to.

I suppose we all second-guess ourselves after some preventable tragedy takes place. How easy it is to beat yourself up over things that can't be changed! I've tried very hard not to do that, but the sadness remains nonetheless, so that every time I hear certain songs that remind me of Pretty Boy, the tears welled up in my eyes. I wonder if he ever knew how loved he was.

While I find the aforementioned quote by Dr. Suess interesting, I think that it's much more suited to optimists. For someone like me - for whom loss has been a recurring theme (loss of innocence, loss of childhood, loss of trust), it's hard to smile about the fact of Pretty Boy's life, and my experiences with him, when the loss of him is so devastating. An optimist would say, "But Pretty Boy made your life special!" while I say, "But Pretty Boy is gone!"

So I listen to "Hello Old Friend" and think about all those days/months/years that I took feeding the ducks for granted. Without fail, Pretty Boy - simply by being his alpha duck self - would brighten my mood, often made me laugh, and always made me smile. Who knew a duck could do all that? Who knew it would come to a screeching halt, out of nowhere, without warning?

This, I think, is the lesson to be learned: that it's important to appreciate the great things in your life as an on-going effort, rather than only on special occasions, and not assume that they will still be in your life for years to come. Change can happen in the blink of an eye, and when it does, there's often no time for I-love-you's, or good-bye's. Such was the case with Pretty Boy.

If I seem melancholy, it's because I am. Pretty Boy was a strong presence in my life. He helped define my identity. He was the reason newspapers wrote stories about me. It's hard to know who to be, without him. Of all the remaining ducks at the pond, not one can hold a candle to Pretty Boy; their personalities seem barely formed by comparison. I will, of course, continue to care for those remaining ducks. But there is a painful void, a screaming quiet, where Pretty Boy used to be. That glaring absence is the reason why I cannot "smile because it happened." The loss is simply too great.

There will no doubt be another strong presence at the pond one day, just as there are now special cats in my life where there used to be other special cats before them. The new special cats in no way take the place of the old ones; they merely add more great memories to the collection. But make no mistake: those previous special cats all took pieces of my heart with them when they left, and there is no replacing those missing pieces.

Time is the only cure for a grieving heart, and even time is no guarantee. Every now and then, I still cry over an amazing cat I knew who died ten years ago. Phil Collins' "You'll Be In My Heart" is the song that goes with those special cat memories, and when the local radio station plays it, I take the time to miss Macavity, and grieve anew. I bet you have certain songs that get to you, too.

I've known people who were so devastated by the loss of their pet that they vowed never to get another. I don't agree with that thinking. Just imagine all the wonderful critter characters you'd miss out on if you closed your heart to anything new! As painful as the loss of Pretty Boy - and Macavity before him - is, my heart will go on (another song that makes me cry for a lost critter!) and savor the next phase of life. But right now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go shed a few more tears.

That's all for now, folks! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

p.s. There's another old friend I want to give a nod to: Tammy Shealey! You know who you are! It's been a long time, my friend. Please shoot me an email, let me know how your life is going.