A Week in the Woods

by Joanna Rufener | Aug 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Water Workshop Grand Prize

Woodland pond
Woodland pond. Photo © Joanna Rufener.

What goes on day and night at a calm, wooded pond in spring?

It was a mystery to me, and this year I found out, thanks to Nature Friend’s Water Workshop. I wasn’t expecting half of the excitement.

Less than a mile away, my brother purchased a wooded homestead with a large pond/lake, and it is the most peaceful, restful place I have known. The Water Workshop was a perfect incentive to spend more time there.

On May 10, a muggy morning just after the last of the snow melted, I biked to the woods to decide if the timing was right to start my Water Workshop week. As I walked the trail to the pond, floods of yellow, purple, and white flowers nearly diverted my attention from my reason for coming.

As I reached the pond, a lone Canada Goose drifted, head down, to the far side. I walked around the pond to a better view of the small island and found my suspicions accurate. Mrs. Goose hunkered down flat and peered at me. I silently willed the eggs to hatch quickly. Goslings would make my week of observations and photos far more exciting.

I settled down on the small decaying dock to watch and listen. Marsh marigolds prepared to burst into bloom. Ruffed grouse drummed in the distance. In trees above me, songbirds burst with praise for their Creator. Under the water, snails crawled sleepily along the posts of the dock.

It was time, I decided. This would be fun.

During the night, all of the Marsh Marigolds opened to greet me the next morning. Fresh with morning dew, they hung out over a tiny trickling creek and demanded photos, lots of them.

On the third day, something on the far side of the pond caught my eye. Zeroing in with my camera, I expected to see waterfowl, but this was different. River Otter? Or Beaver? The animal stood, grooming himself in the morning sun. It was a beautiful, hazy morning after a storm; weather was great for scenic photography but not so great for across-the-pond photography. Regardless, I snapped a foggy photo of the creature.

I spent the next half hour sitting next to the water, enjoying the pond scenery and underwater snails. It was delightful to find a baby snail hitchhiking on the back of a larger one. I found it a fun challenge to do underwater snail photography without an underwater camera. One hand is needed to hold the camera, keep the camera strap out of the water, and take the photo, while the other hand tries to block all water reflections from the lens.

Underwater snails
Water snails. Photo © Joanna Rufener.

As I gathered my equipment and turned to leave the pond, another pair of geese circled overhead and prepared to land. The protective male goose flew at the newcomers, which submissively made their disappearance.

Then there were the male Wood Ducks. Nearly every day I saw at least one. I have never seen such beauty in a duck! They were very shy and hard to photograph.

Friday morning I arrived early, and was well rewarded by watching and photographing the active animal which I soon identified as an otter. His pointy nose and long humped, snake-like appearance when swimming made his identity obvious.

On Saturday morning, we children all had the same idea of going to the pond early to see the otter. Five-thirty found the four of us crouched in several places along the banks. After several minutes, the otter ran across the trail to my right and entered the pond. It dove down, caught a fish, and returned to the top to eat it, ignoring our presence.

River otter on pond bank
River otter. Photo © Joanna Rufener.

Later that morning the boys installed a Wood Duck house on the island. The goose momentarily moved off her nest, and they counted seven eggs. In the evening, my brother noticed the first gosling! Surprisingly, it was the only one that hatched.

On my second-to-last day, a muskrat showed up. It circled the island before swimming to the edge and starting on a long breakfast of grass. The geese and gosling climbed out on the shore and relaxed. Soon the muskrat returned to the water and disappeared.

Next the Wood Duck caught my attention, climbing up the bank and sidling over to the geese. He appeared to want to make friends, but with one mighty peck, Mr. Goose sent him sailing through the air back into the water!

My next challenge was to get a better photo of the gosling. I walked slowly around the pond toward the goose family, hoping they would move into the water so I could photograph them without brush in my way. They didn’t budge. When I was 10 feet (3 m) away, I stopped. What if they attacked me the same way they had the duck? I squeezed a stick under my arm for good measure and continued closer. As they slipped into the water and swam off, I hurried to snap some pictures. Unfortunately, the focus was off, and I still didn’t have a good picture of the gosling.

On my last day, four male Wood Ducks were in the pond together! An unfamiliar gray tufted duck swam past, which we later identified as a Hooded Merganser.

Determined to get a better picture of the gosling, I took the paddle boat out and let myself slowly drift toward the goose family. As I got nearer, they left the water and wandered into the brush and marsh. Deciding to try again in the evening, I biked home.

At 5:30 I returned with my camera and pushed off in the boat again. Hopes of being quiet and graceful vanished as the squeak of the rusty paddles crescendoed to an unearthly decibel. As I neared the geese, they retried their technique, disappearing into the brushy marsh.

Okay, I told myself, this time I am going to follow them! I paddled the boat into a small cove, got out, and willed it not to float away. Wading through water and stumbling around brush, I crept up slowly, intentionally herding them back to the water. When I came within 6 feet (2 m) of them, they ducked back into the water. I poked through the brush and was able to capture some nice photos before they got far. Finally success!

I biked home with a glad heart. My pond observation week was over, but wonderful memories and photos of spending time in nature with God remain.

It was a wonderful way to start summer.

Canada Goose and gosling swimming
Canada Goose and gosling. Photo © Joanna Rufener.

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