We were ready to pack up and head home when I ended my last post. I had been straddling a fallen log for nearly two hours. My butt felt concave ….
Soft splashing interrupts our peace. It’s a Barrow’s goldeneye (duck) at the far end of the, but she isn’t alone this time. Swimming next to her we see one little duckling after another. Seven in all. The pond is as big as a city block, so the little ducklings are far away. Even so I tell Dale I want to watch for five minutes before we start the long drive home. Dale turns slowly on his stool; I switch from straddling my log to sitting broadside on it.
The ducklings look about a week old. The dark brown and white fuzz balls stay within a few feet of their Mama. The family is foraging along the northern edge of the pond, the sunny edge. Some ducklings dive for food, others skedaddle along the surface with their heads mostly underwater looking for aquatic creatures. I know that edge well. It will be full of dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, water striders, caddis larva, tadpoles, and backswimmers. This pond is too shallow for minnows to survive winter’s freeze.
We can hear soft chatter between the ducklings. When Mama dives, water beads on her smooth head and back. The ducklings seem waterproof. All seven of them briefly climb aboard an old log which reaches down into the water. It is preen and fluff time, but not for long. Filling little stomachs takes over again.
Busy, busy, busy. The ducklings are three quarters of the way to us when suddenly, in a mad rush, the babies tear away from us. Tiny wings flail and ripplets sparkle in every directly as the ducklings head to the center of the pond. Mama is close behind. Why did they spook? They seemed oblivious to our presence, but perhaps it suddenly dawned on them how close we were. In any case, the goldeneyes hurry to a far log and clamber aboard. It’s a fuzzy row of nudging and settling: two ducklings on Mama’s left and five on the right. I get the impression all that time in the pond gave them cold feet. As they settle down for a nap, half of them have at least one foot sticking out behind, soaking up sunshine.
The female stays on the log just long enough for her babies to fall asleep, then slips into the pond to feed by herself. Does she communicate to the ducklings that they should stay put? So much goes on that we don’t fully understand.