Glimpses of Pond Life

by Nancy, Vera Mae, Joel, Galen, and Lucille Horning | Aug 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Water Workshop 2nd Place

Sandhill Cranes dancing
Sandhill Cranes. Photo ©

“Let’s do this project.”

We all agreed. What better time than now, with a pair of Sandhill Cranes nesting in our marshy pond? Glorious spring days were here!

May 11 was our Day One. A haze hung over the lush green fields as we trotted down the meadow. Kingbirds scolded and chattered in the little hawthorn trees.

“Killdeer, Killdeer!” A frantic bird snatched our attention. It dragged its wing painfully, uttering urgent cries.

“Are we too close to your nest? Wonder where it is.” A careful search revealed nothing. Oh, well, we do know of a bigger nest.

That bigger nest was built among brown cattails. It was a pile of cattails itself, cradling two eggs. The parent Sandhill Cranes paraded anxiously around the meadow. Their sobbing cries to us sounded like, “Oh, please! Oh, please!”

Kneeling on the pallet bridge, we peered into the mud. “Ugh, what’s that?” Joel asked. Thin reddish threads covered the mud’s surface. They waved gently in the water.

“Are they actually alive? Or is it just pond moss or something?” I wondered.

Joel poked a grass blade into the water. Instantly, the “things” quit moving. Whatever were they? Parasites? Gross, hope not!

“We need to find a spring peeper yet,” we decided. Their chorus rang around us.

Joel pointed out a dark object in the water. “Better not go wading here. That’s a leech.”

“There’s one! I got it!” Vera Mae announced. Spring peeper caught! The tiny frog, brown all over with an X on its back, leaped out of her hands. Alas, it got caught again! After everyone examined it, it was freed.

Joel was studying the area, attempting to find the blackbird nest. Evidently a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds claimed territory here too. They violently attacked the cranes every time they passed a certain point. No nest appeared, and we left the pond.

Upon research that evening, we discovered the “parasites” were tubifex worms, which are not parasitic.

Day Two was sweaty and humid, and no one felt like checking the pond.

Day Three—what a beautiful evening! The hills and newly leafed trees glowed in the sunset air.

This time, as the blackbirds attacked the Sandhill Cranes, the cranes ducked and dodged. Flapping their wings, they fended off the blackbirds. Having momentarily ridded themselves of the smaller birds, they suddenly leaped around, flapping their wings, bowing, picking up pieces of earth, weeds, cornstalks, and who-knows-what-else, tossing and flipping it in the air. The gangly-legged birds paused occasionally, only to begin the hilarious-looking spectacle again. Lucille couldn’t keep her giggles in anymore, and before long, I couldn’t either!

Besides the cranes, many other birds seem to be making the meadow their home. Killdeers, blackbirds, kingbirds, meadowlarks, Bobolinks, Tree Swallows, Chipping and Song Sparrows…

On Day Five (we skipped Day Four), we found the Killdeers’ nest! Four speckled eggs were tucked snugly into the grass.

Nearing the pond, we noticed the Sandhill Crane stealthily rising. Head low, hunched together, she exited her nest and escaped into the meadow where she anxiously awaited our leaving.

We sat by the pond awhile. Two Mallards flew over, circled wide, and landed in the cornfield.

On Day Six—oops! The heifers had stepped on the killdeer nest. The parent killdeers were nowhere about, and the heifers, innocent of the damage they had caused, were now wading in the pond.

Day Seven—last day already! Wee black tadpoles now wiggled through the pond waters. The Sandhill Cranes performed some dancing again. A few more days, and they should be proud parents.

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