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!

Things That Go SCREECH In The Night

At 2 am, I was jolted out of sleep by a noise.  As I tried to wake up and focus, I noticed that FM had also woken up and was starting to get up.  Play both of these audio clips at the same time to hear what we heard.

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My initial thought was that there a coyote howling, but soon enough we realized that the sound was coming from the roof, right above our bedroom.  FM thought that it was a peacock – since he had seen one on his bike commute earlier in the week.  As we cleared the fog of sleep away, our guesses became less crazy.

The sound was irregular, with a minute or so passing between calls.  We went out onto the small balcony and tried to crane our necks to see what was perched above us.  Our movement disturbed it and then we saw two shapes fly over to the trees on our pond island.   At that point we could see that there were two owls watching us.  They continued calling but we were unable to identify them with the distance and the dark.  Neither of us had ever heard the sounds before.

FM took this photo a few months after I wrote this post. The owl flew in and surveyed the pond in full daylight in October. Fabulous!

The next morning, I did a little research to try to figure out which owl it could have been.  The Owl Pages is a great website, complete with multiple sound bites of each species.  The clip at the top is exactly what we heard – an adult and a juvenile barred owl, calling together.  In the dark and being sleepy, I thought that the sound was one animal.