Posts tagged pond life

Left For Dead (almost)

It was a glorious sunny Saturday and we spent the entire day outdoors, either reading and sipping coffee on the porch, admiring our free-ranging chicks or puttering about the Queendom. But all afternoon, we were bombarded by the screeching of two adult Ravens. The screeching seemed to be mostly taking place over the back fence of our property but these ravens circled and cried from a wide variety of treetops in the neighbouring properties as well.

Around 4 pm, FM went on a fact-finding mission. As he wandered along the back fence, the ravens’ cries became much more alarmed. As expected, we soon spotted a baby raven, a fledgling, hopping along a pile of fallen trees on the far side of our pond. Taking heed to its parents warnings, it hopped and attempted to fly away but ended up in the pond. With wings a-flapping, it managed to climb onto the shore and hid at the base of a tree. FM skirted widely around the fledgling and retreated to the house. We surmised that the little one must have either fallen out of her nest or was just a slow learner when it came to flying. The screeching calls lessened as the evening wore on and we didn’t give it much more thought.

The next morning, I awoke from a lovely lie-in and looked out onto the pond just as FM, in his house coat, was walking purposefully across the island bridge, carrying a big black bird by one wing tip. It was the baby raven. FM had been trying to read on the front porch but those adult ravens were cawing so ferociously, it had caused one of our resident mama ducks to panic. FM went to investigate and found the baby raven completely submerged in the pond with only part of her head out of the water. He pulled her from the pond and found that she was completely stiff and most likely drowned.

As he set her on our kitchen porch, we tried to figure out what had happened. We looked for a wound or some indication that she had been killed by a mink or raccoon, but we could find nothing. She was completely rigid, as if rigor mortis had already set in. Her neck was at an unnatural angle, tilted up so high that her head lay on her back. We looked at each other, both thinking “what do we do with a dead baby raven?”.

And at that moment, her wing twitched. She wasn’t dead but she was well on her way. She must have accidentally flown back into the pond either last night or this morning. We can only guess how long she must have been stuck in the pond water, struggling to swim to the edge and eventually submerging with exhaustion with her wings fully spread. She had managed to keep her beak above the water level but that made her neck cramp and stiffen as she became hypothermic.

FM picked her up and we walked far away from the pond, onto a grassy section of our front yard. We set her down, got a micro-fibre towel and focused on drying her chest down as much as possible. Then we left her, upside-down, stiff and spread eagled, in the full morning sunlight in the middle of the grass.

For the next 30 minutes, we kept our distance, sipped our coffee, watched her and listened to the wild cawing of her parents. They were keenly aware that we were touching their baby but they never dive-bombed us. We looked up to see the baby on her back, still stiff and spread-eagled, but kicking and struggling to move. When we got closer, we could see her eyes looking sharp and bright. FM got a small cloth and covered her eyes in hopes of reducing her sense of panic. Her down had dried and she was looking much more bird-like. She had a bit of mobility in her wings and, with help, was able to fold them. Again we left her to warm up in the sun.

Soaking wet and completely stiff with cold, we set her down in the full sunlight. We towel dried her as much as possible and covered her head in an attempt to calm her while her feathers and down dried.

Soaking wet and completely stiff with cold, we set her down in the full sunlight. We towel dried her as much as possible and covered her head in an attempt to calm her while her feathers and down dried.

A while later when we checked on her, she was clawing at the air and flaring her tail. As we approached, she made her first noise – a loud and alarmed caw. She was unable to right herself and kept rolling onto her back. Her feet were flailing around, trying to get a hold of anything. I put my finger on her foot and soon found that her grip was very strong! I picked her up and repositioned her but she was still unable to hold herself upright. I tucked the various blankets under her breast and managed to prop her up, manually placing her feet under her. Her position wasn’t stable and I thought that she would probably topple over so we left her to get a larger towel that could support her.

45 minutes later, we found her mostly dry but upside down and panicky. She was unable to right herself so we propped her up on the towels and got her feet underneath her.

45 minutes later, we found her mostly dry but upside down and panicky. She was unable to right herself so we propped her up on the towels and got her feet underneath her.

From the kitchen, we could hear her calling out and soon her parents returned and began call back. Before we could even get a towel, she began hopping away.

As we watched her from the kitchen porch, she suddenly stood up, started calling out to her parents and hopped across the grass, down the driveway and across the road.

As we watched her from the kitchen porch, she suddenly stood up, started calling out to her parents and hopped across the grass, down the driveway and across the road.

She hopped towards taller grass and small shrubs and then began her trek down the driveway, with her parents encouraging her all the way. We last saw her at the end of our drive on her way towards the 25 acre property across our not-busy street.

What an amazing thing to witness! Surely she would have died if FM had not pulled her from the pond. Her miraculous recovery, from drowning and hypothermic to regular chick, took all of two hours. That’s another win for the Queendom!

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A Makeover for Our Pond

The pond is the crowning jewel of the Queendom. Our front room looks out over it and, from the comfort of our couches, we can watch the birds, ducks and other beasts who frequent its tranquil waters. It is approximately 1 acre in size and is home to salamanders, water scorpions, at least three species of frogs, thousands of aquatic bugs and, most recently, a red-eared slider turtle. FM and I have spent many a summer evening floating around it in our inflatable dingy, enjoying lemony G&Ts.

When we arrived, there was a pathetic-looking sunken dock that the previous owners built to encourage swimming and launch kayaks. The dock was fixed to the shore and could only be accessed by negotiating a steep, slippery bank. As the water level changed throughout the year, the dock varied in its level of submersion.

Barely Afloat

Barely Afloat (no surprise, considering the downpour!)

Sometimes it appeared to float, tempting you to venture out onto it, only to have your weight cause the entire far-end to sink and cast you off balance. From quite early on, FM and I decided that the dock was a hazard and we chose not to use it.

Neither useful or beautiful, this dock had to go.

Neither useful nor beautiful, this dock had to go.

But the dock had one redeeming feature – ducks and birds love it. A mama Mallard taught her brood of 13 to clamber up onto it and preen in the sun.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A kingfisher used it to spot salamanders.

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A female Kingfisher rests between feedings.

A Lesser Yellowlegs rested there during a migration.

A sandpiper stopped by on his migration in 2012 and 2013

A Lesser Yellowlegs stopped by on his migration in both 2012 and 2013

An enormous American Bullfrog sunned himself there (until he was humanely evicted).

This is an invasive species of frog that is descimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

This is an invasive species of frog that is decimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

The fact that the dock was water-logged, sat barely at the water level and a bit of an eye-sore made it useless to us but enticing to many others.

On a sunny day in the fall, when the pond level was low, FM somehow managed to pull the dock out of the pond. We let it sit on the bank and dry out for sometime. Next, the decking boards were removed from the frame in the beginnings of a complete demolition. But, as it sat there on the shore and we kept looking at it through the winter rains, we realized that the dock frame was the right length to make a perfect bridge over to our inaccessible island.

By using a number of round pencil posts, I was able to roll the whole dock frame over to the narrowest crossing and, together, we were able to muscle it into place without falling in. The decking boards were reattached and *alakazam* we finally had access to the island.

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

In no time at all, we were digging up that colony of alders, tending a bonfire and making plans for an island sitting area.

But what about the ducks and birds that used the dock? FM had the ingenious idea of building a waterfowl viewing platform that we could see from inside the house. Initially he attempted to pull out the one post that had secured the dock but he was not able to extricate it from the muddy clay bottom of the pond. He decided to build a simple cedar plank platform with a hole in the center which fit over that post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

Et voila – the waterfowl viewing platform came to be. Already we have had a family of wood ducklings and another family of Merganser ducklings snuggle and sleep there under their doting mothers.

A female Wood Duck with 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

This female Wood Duck with her 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

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And Then There Was One

Four days ago, early on Saturday morning, FM and I gazed over the pond while sipping our freshly brewed coffee and we noticed a new brownish lump on the far side. Upon closer inspection with the birding scope and binoculars, we discovered that a Mama mallard duck was snoozing on the bank with ten ducklings beneath her.

Mama and her ten ducklings on their first field trip to the Queendom

Mama and her ten ducklings on their first field trip to the Queendom (apologies for the blurriness)

Snoozing on the shore

Snoozing on the shore

Needless to say, the rest of the weekend was taken up with watching the little ones jump, swim, snooze and eat. By our estimates, these ducklings were about a week old. They had probably hatched by the pond next door and were out on their first field trip. Already quite independent and given a wide range, they could often be seen at the opposite end of the pond from Mama.

The brood doing laps of our island

The brood doing laps of our island

Late on Sunday afternoon, the new family trekked back over the bush to their old pond and FM watched as a bird of prey, perhaps a hawk, swooped down in their direction. He could hear the panicked squawking of the Mama duck but couldn’t see what was happening. After the main ruckus had ended, he could hear Mama duck making a new sound – a pained or injured kind of quack. FM quietly climbed over the back fence and began a stealthy bushwhack through the brambles and marshy gloop that edges our property. Eventually, he was able to see the Mama duck hunkered down in the brush with a number of ducklings around her. His guess is that she got injured while trying to protect her brood.

Meanwhile back at the Queendom, there was one duckling swimming alone on our pond. Having ignored Mama’s call to head back home, he had continued swimming circles in our pond, oblivious to the drama happening to his family. After a time, his plaintive peeping could be heard, but there was no answer. Mama duck didn’t return for him and, as night fell, we could no longer see or hear him.

Not a duck or duckling was seen on Monday and we both feared that Little Gaffer had not survived the night. Although temperatures have risen a bit over the past few days, we were scraping frost off our cars less than a week ago and we have not yet reached the frost-free date of the Farmer’s Almanac. It would have been a cold night to be out there alone, dressed only in fluffy yellow down.

You can only imagine the delight I felt this morning when FM hollered, with a mouth full of toothpaste, something that sounded like “He’s back!”. Sure enough, there was Little Gaffer, scooting around the pond, hunting bugs and jumping clear out of the water. Somehow he has survived two nights on his own. There is still no sign of Mama duck and his nine siblings and he continues to appear oblivious to their absence.

Little Gaffer's Big Adventure

Little Gaffer’s Big Adventure

But, just as I have been writing this, our resident pair of Mallards – childless this season – have flown in and begun their ritual of dabbling and preening. Maybe they will take pity on Little Gaffer, adopt him and teach him the ways of the duck. (Or maybe they will become all territorial and chase him off). Either way, today is a day to celebrate survival in the wild!

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The Pros and Cons – Reflecting on the Year

April 1st marks our first anniversary of moving to the Queendom. I still catch myself telling people that we just moved here but, like newly-weds, that status only lasts 365 days. In that mysterious way of time, this year feels like it has passed in both a blink of an eye and a lifetime. So long ago, we were staring wide-eyed at the immensity of it all – the pond, the acreage, the too-large house, the space, the wildlife, the quiet – and now we continue to stare widely at it but in a more understanding way. Now we have figured out what things need to be done regularly and we fall into step with our unwritten after-work chores and weekend tasks. When we look out across the pond or walk the property, we expect to find something new and exciting.

The point of this blog has been to help us remember the events of our new-found life. But, there have been more events than time permitted to sit at a computer and write. Here is the reader’s digest version of the pros and cons we discovered here:

Pros

unbelievable peace and quiet

we discover something new around here almost everyday

easy access to multiple trailheads

endless trail systems to explore (see alongapath)

short commutes to work

surrounded by trees – not a building in sight

easy access to delicious real farm food – veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, etc.

ducks, deer, birds, mink, bears, owls and frogs live here and are sighted often

new chicks and the hope of our own fresh eggs by summer’s end

a regular feeling of satisfaction from completing projects

the brewery is almost complete and the taps will be running soon

groceries, hardware and all other shopping is less than 10 minutes away

endless  possibilities for the Queendom – more so than we ever imagined

Cons

unpacking – it seems to go on and on! So much space and distractions have allowed us to be lazy on that front

the landscape project is huge, very long-term and often daunting

our landscaping crew from last summer did a merely passable job and charged too much money

invasive and unwanted plants are difficult to deal with and chronic, it seems

often a big effort results in a minuscule difference (such as digging out thistles and alders)

the property is wet, marshy, swampy and ugly in places

drainage issues have had us on high alarm a few times (not yet documented!)

our list of potential construction projects is long and very involved (deck, hot tub, garage, chicken coop, island bridge and pergola, etc.)

we are far, far away from our friends and we haven’t really connected with people here

time does not move slower out here.  We need more of it

Not surprisingly, the Pros out-count and out-weigh the Cons. There have been many things happen that we didn’t expect and a few true surprises, both positive and negative.  But we seem to have struck a balance with managing it all and are trying to keep our to-do list short and within reason. Neither of us would go back to our previous life. This smaller town/bigger space lifestyle suits us both so well and our only wish is that we had started on this rural path long, long ago.

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Romantic Spring Break Get-Away at the Queendom

I peeled myself away from the new chicks long enough to cast a glance out on our pond. What a treat this morning to find three sets of paired-up ducks of three differing species!

For about a month now, we have had a resident pair of mallards who fly in each morning and spend all day feeding, sleeping and floating around. The male mallard has done a pretty good job of keeping all other mallards away, chasing them off as soon as they land on the pond. But he has made exceptions for ducks of other species who often join them on their pond tours. (“Nice to meet you. Wanna flock?”) Accepted ducks are the diving variety so I guess sharing a food source is the main issue for him.

After weeks of seeing only one merganser, one bufflehead, one scaup or one ring-necked duck, today everyone brought a date.

Our resident Mallard pair. He stand guard 100% of the time while she nibbles, snoozes, preens and floats.  There has never been a more dedicated mate.

Our resident Mallard pair. He stand guard 100% of the time while she nibbles, snoozes, preens and floats. There has never been a more dedicated mate.

Although he has been a regular visitor to the Queendom, this was her first visit.  Welcome, M'Lady!

Ring-Necked Ducks.  Although he has been a regular visitor to the Queendom, this was her first visit. Welcome, M’Lady!

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Hooded Mergansers.  We have had a pair of female Mergansers who have frequently visited over the past year and, on one occasion before this, the male came and floated around in the pouring rain. Glad to see that he finally managed to nab one of the sisters!

I guess word got out that it is 2-for-1 admission at our pond. The atmosphere is romantic and the food is both delicious and plentiful (if you’re into choking down whole frogs and salamanders). Maybe I should inflate our little boat and ask FM to join me for Date Night!

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A Ducky Day

We spent most of today at the window, looking out onto the pond, taking turns with the binoculars and the bird scope and referring to the wide range of bird references that we have accrued.  Three lovely ladies of three different species spent time with us preening, feeding and enjoying a long overdue rainless day. All three were diving ducks. After much research, misidentification and correction, we have agreed that this is who we had today.

Hooded Mergansers – These ladies are not showing their russet mohawks which made them difficult to identify. They spent the better part of the day finding large salamanders and swallowing them whole (with a fair amount of difficulty)

Bufflehead – Initially we thought that this was the male Barrow’s Golden Eye, but after looking at the placement of the white patch, we decided it is a female bufflehead. She was quite skittish initially, flying back and forth from end to end of the pond, but eventually decided that she was hungry enough to ignore us.

Barrow’s Golden Eye – We are not 100% sure of this identification because she lacks the golden eye, but all other features match the descriptions we have. She is quite petite, compared to today’s other ducks.

What a treat to have so many ducks visit!  Considering that the pond was dug within the past 2 years, it is amazing to think that there is enough food to make it worth visiting.  I would love it if some of the migrating trumpeter swans and snow geese would stop by – but maybe that wouldn’t really be such a  treat noisewise.

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