About a mile from our house, the storm drains empty out into a system of ponds maintained in a four-square block park by the local homeowners association. It is the year-round home to a large flock of ducks - Mallards, Muscovys and their mixed offspring. Occasionally there are one or two white, domestic ducks, probably Easter escapees. They share these ponds with numerous turtles, an unknown quantity of small catfish, a few black snakes and the occasional green anole. In the spring and summer, a couple of egrets generally stalk around the shallows, probably looking for those tasty catfish. Now and again a few wild cormorants drop by for a visit, but stay to the center of the ponds, away from the overly friendly humans who frequent the shore with loaves of bread and other treats. An alert visitor to the ponds may notice a small woodpecker or two as well.
It is the over-wintering guests who interest me. We always get a small flock of seagulls, but they're not as gregarious at the ponds as they are on their home turf. Several years ago, a large number of Lesser Scaups turned up, and they have returned each year. I don't think they were quite certain about the humans at first, but they have grown accustomed to us and will come close enough to eat what's thrown to them. The Scaups keep to themselves in the western pond, away from the larger, more agressive Mallards, who will nip at them if they are in danger of losing out on a tasty treat.
We had a Wood Duck one year, a jeweled Faberge egg of a duck, but he did not return. For several years we had a shy little Kingfisher who spooked if you even looked in his direction from one hundred feet away. This year, we have new visitors - a dozen American Widgeons. They are strikingly graphic, tri-colored ducks, about two thirds the size of the Mallards, but they get along with their aggressive cousins better than the placid Scaups. They have quickly picked up the trick of eating thrown bread, that is, as long as they can remain in the water. Only the Muscovys will actually get out of the water and steal the bread right out of your hand.
These winter visitors will leave with the oncoming spring, about the time the Cattle Egrets return to our area.
Previous Au Naturel essays
A few thoughts on Columbine High
King of the Anoles
A Turtle's Fancy
Winter in Texas
Harbingers of Spring
Copyright © 1999-2003 Susan Chance-Rainwater