What a Splashing Success!

by Judah Yoder | Nov 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Wood Duck drake swimming
Wood Duck drake swimming. Photo © Cheryl Shank.

Slowly, quietly, yet steadily, I crept along, my binoculars in hand. Surely I can sneak in here without some duck, goose, or beaver announcing their displeasure at my arrival, I thought. The gentle spring rain intended to send me back to a warm, dry house, but I was determined.

Alas! I was spotted by a pair of Wood Ducks, which resulted in their rapid departure. Oh, well, life can go on without Wood Ducks even though I would have enjoyed their colorful presence.

I finally arrived where I thought I wanted to be, situated myself, and waited. While we wait, let me tell you a little more about where I was. Our neighbor has a sizeable pond with a peninsula jutting out on one side. It’s only a three-fourths mile jaunt from our house and…wait.

I hear rapid wing beats in the air just above me, and, lo and behold, here comes a pair of Wood Ducks, whether the aforementioned ones or not I don’t know. They land hardly 30 feet (10 m) away and turn and swim straight toward me. They came closer and closer, until I hardly dared to breathe. In the gathering dusk, they didn’t know I was there. But when they reached the eight-foot mark, they must have decided this was not the place for them. Consequently, they headed toward the middle of the pond where they were joined a wee bit later by more of the same species.

I turned my attention to a few geese contemplating a descent onto the pond. They finally accomplished it and settled a rock’s throw from me. But it was getting dark, and I was getting wet.

Before I head home, I should finish about me. I like nature and bird watching (not that I’m a pro), so I liked being around the pond, especially during spring. Anyhow, I was located on the very tip of that peninsula on this particular evening.

Canada Goose flying
Canada Goose flying. Photo © Rck953/Dreamstime.com.

Do you know how a goose looks when it’s coming straight at you? Well…

I arrived at the pond shortly after daybreak and sat a few strides from where I was the evening before. I got barked at by a few geese who didn’t appreciate my presence.

Oblivious to me, a pair of gaudy Wood Ducks sailed in, landing gracefully a mere 30 yards/meters away. They soon moved on to other areas of the shoreline.

I didn’t have long to wait before geese activity picked up. It became quite a busy airport. Geese were leaving and coming. The numbers on the pond were climbing, so more must have been landing and staying than were leaving. And as each pair came in, the new arrivals had to face quite a gauntlet. First the residents came flying over to them, honking and splashing and carrying on. The new arrivals then had to move, and they, too, were honking until they decided to settle down to enjoy the morning.

So it went down as no surprise when I heard another pair coming. I looked up, since I delight in watching them land. Well, where were they? The fog hindered my sight some, but not too badly. Oh, there’s a goose head with wings out the side, coming straight for me. It kept on coming and coming! At last, at about 20 yards/meters, it banked sharply and skidded to a stop.

After that, activity slowed and my breakfast waited, so I left with a scolding never to intrude or surprise them again. We’ll see.

The next two mornings there wasn’t much happening down there. The one morning a pair of geese was on shore taking a rest when I happened along. We stared at each other for a second or two before they decided I was not a good companion. Therefore, they hit the water and politely headed away.

Farther on, I found three more pairs along a secluded shore. They didn’t raise a ruckus. Were their voices hoarse, or what?

I also noticed the tails of departing Wood Ducks, which must’ve spotted me before I did them.

While walking out, I glanced out over the water one more time. Wait a minute! What’s that peculiar gray object protruding out of the water? Oh, that’s a Great Blue Heron, first one this year. He had perched his long legs on a log in the water, waiting for an unfortunate creature. I thought he looked picturesque, but he didn’t want to pose, so he left.

Great Blue Heron on log with painted turtles and Wood Duck drake
Great Blue Heron with painted turtles and Wood Duck drake. Photo © Kevin Shank.

It was a beautiful evening, and I hurried down to the pond, which was smooth as glass.

The probably-resident-by-now geese weren’t overly excited that I came, but they survived. After settling down, I scanned the far bank.

Sure enough, over in the gathering dusk stood another pair of geese. A little later they took to the water for an evening swim.

While I was still watching the geese, the Great Blue Heron stepped into my view. His long legs stalked through the water so slowly that a turtle could have beat the race.

And then Wood Ducks started flying in and chasing each other. I could hardly get done looking at their neat, dressy feathers since they were so close. Their cries and sharp whistles filled the air, while a V of ripples followed them wherever they went.

And while all that was going on, I heard a woodcock’s buzzy peent coming from the other bank. And then another and another. Soon there were lots of cocks in the air, fluttering around. Their rapid wing beats and long bills are fascinating!

And then just as I began really enjoying everything—Wood Ducks, woodcocks, cardinals, robins—things started quieting down for the night. But to top it all off, the Great Blue Heron flew on silent wings quite close by me to another landing spot.

As I came down there…wait a minute. That’s an unusual spot on the island in the middle of the pond. Binoculars come in handy. That’s a goose very oblivious to its surroundings except maybe under her. She must be nesting. All the while the gander floated so innocently around in the middle of the pond.

Farther on another female goose was in the nest-making business when I came along. She promptly headed for the other bank and stayed there for the duration of my stay.

I looked over to a different bank. A small duck swam hurriedly…blink! There it went. It must’ve been that Pied-billed Grebe I spotted a week ago. I saw no more of him or her, whichever it was.

It was time to head home, so I checked on the nesting goose. Yep, same spot—I kept going.

Last look. What’s that white patch on the other side? A duck? Sure enough, not one, but two, Hooded Mergansers sitting in the water by some brush, watching me go past. H-m-m, I could’ve easily missed them. How long were they watching me?

The three resident pairs of geese were still there this morning. But what else? The pair of mergansers off to the left and a group of ten or so other ducks. H-m-m, this looks interesting.

Black heads, rufous bellies and sides, black and white backs, broad long bills—they can’t be any other than Northern Shovelers.

Their activity? All of them put their bills underwater and away they swam. Then at some unforeseen signal, they whipped around faster than I can say “shoveler” and repeated the process. It looked interesting, almost fun, but for them it was probably their eggs and sausage.

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