We have both “residents” and “visitors” at the Moorings. The herons drop by on an almost daily basis – one never knows when or if they will be visiting while walking around the grounds. The other day, we saw this white heron wading in East Pond.
Today on our walk, we saw this gray heron in almost the same spot. The gray heron we have seen before is bigger than this one, so I think it must be younger and perhaps new in town!
Ducks and swans are permanent residents (the swans leave in the winter and are brought back in early spring). Alas, no cygnets this year – second year in a row! But there are lots of duck families and recently a large group of Canada geese with their half-grown broods came for a swim on East Pond.
There is a red-wing blackbird always scolding us with his tsks and sharp calls. He flies from tree to tree, following us as we circle the pond.
Residents in the Moorings community have been concerned for some time about our female swan on West Pond. She has been sitting on her eggs for eight weeks at least and seems to be getting skinnier! In spite of her perseverance in incubating her eight eggs, she has shown some frustration of late, even pecking at the eggs to try to get them to hatch!
We took a walk just after noon today. It was a beautiful day with high temps in the 70s, so taking a walk at this time of day was delightful. We saw both of the swans leisurely swimming in the pond – the female’s eggs never hatched and were taken away last weekend in a bucket by personnel from the swan farm. So sad! Feeling carefree, the cob kicked his legs for momentum and then just let them drag behind him in the water – I’d never seen this behavior before! I didn’t get a photo of that, but I did get a close-up of him standing on the bank with his wide webbed feet! (I was able to get surprisingly close to him and the ducks, so these photos taken with my cellphone camera came out great!)
Surrounding him was a group of mallard ducks, mostly drakes, just chillin’ in the sunshine or taking naps. We saw one mama duck followed by eight ducklings, a family that I had not seen before. The ducklings were several weeks old, I guessed. They were too far away to get a good photo, since I had only my cellphone with me today.
These ducks and swans were on West Pond. As we passed East Pond, we were surprised to see a large number of Canada geese coming down the bank and into the water. Once they were in the water, they separated into family groups and we could see that several of them were goslings, who followed their respective parents. There were nine goslings altogether! I had not seen these families before; these goslings have already passed the “cute” stage! It was interesting that they were all together, instead of the adults threatening each other to stay away. Perhaps they’re all related!
The adults were wary of us, though!
Here are some mallard duck families that I photographed earlier this month, one with two half-grown offspring, the other with seven little ones. Ducklings don’t ever pass the “cute” stage!
The red-winged blackbird made all his noises at us, thinking he was threatening us as he flitted from tree to tree, following our movements.
Meanwhile, a mallard drake showed off for us – thank you, drake! You let me get a great photo of you!
Canada goose, mute swan, and mallard pair (Arlington Heights, IL – USA)
These are the most common species to see in our ponds. The swans and ducks are welcome, but the Canada geese are always “crashing” and they make a mess of our walkways!!
Heron, swan and ducks (Arlington Heights)
This gray heron is a daily visitor to our ponds. He wades in the tall grasses and looks for fish – a few days ago we saw him catching and eating a fish, but alas! We didn’t have our cameras with us!
Vultures and marabou stork (Tanzania)
These scavengers clean the bones from a kill that the hunter has already abandoned. We often saw a sort of scavenger hierarchy, waiting in line for their turn: hyena, jackal, vulture, stork – all eyeing the carcass as a lion made a meal of its kill.
Snowy Egret and Gray Heron (Aswan, Egypt)
We had few opportunities to photograph wildlife in Egypt – most of our days were spent at ancient Egyptian temples and ruins. But our last day in Aswan, we spent part of a morning on a leisurely boat ride to look for wildlife. Mostly we saw birds – this egret and heron, cormorants, and a few unidentified small birds.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #145, hosted by Scillagrace, has the theme “Getting to Know You” (I am already singing the next line of the song from My Fair Lady in my head: Getting to know all about you…).
This is how Scillagrace describes the theme: My invitation to you is to present a “Getting To Know You” post showing your relationship with a subject you’ve photographed. The subject could be a Person, a Place, a Culture, an Object…anything that has captured your attention, won your affection and taught you a thing or two.
I have chosen a selection of my photos and observations of the birds on the ponds of our community, especially the swans, but I enjoy the ducks too! While observing these birds (which was one of my main entertainments in 2020 during the pandemic), I was curious about some of their habits, and did some research to learn more.
We have two pairs of swans that arrive in March to occupy our ponds until late fall. Last year there was a contest to name the swans, but I had my own names for the swans, especially those on West Pond: Sidney (cob) and Celina (pen). Swans mate for life and we were able to observe their mating rituals. One afternoon in March, we actually saw them mating. I was so awed I didn’t even think to pull out my camera and take pictures, although I did get their post-mating “heart” – where they put their heads together and form a heart shape – it’s like their kind of kiss!
Two weeks later, Celina began laying her eggs. Swans lay one egg at a time, usually two days apart. Even though they may lay several eggs, their method of incubation causes the cygnets to be born about the same time. The pen doesn’t spend as much time sitting on her eggs until all have been laid. She pulls feathers out from her belly so that the clutch will have direct contact with her skin to maximize their warmth. One of our photographer friends spent a lot of time observing this pair, and he not only got photos of their actual mating, but even one photo of Celina in the process of laying an egg! With my cellphone camera, I only got a photo of her with two eggs, and then 5 eggs when she was temporarily in the water feeding. (She laid a total of 6).
To keep us entertained during the pandemic, there was another contest to predict when the eggs would hatch! I’d found out that the incubation period is about 35 days, so I calculated May 21 as the date we would see the hatchlings! Unfortunately, there was a huge storm that swept in on May 18 with high winds and rain. Alas, all the eggs were lost, blown into the water where their precious cargo immediately drowned! (Bird eggs cannot be saved from the water – since oxygen does permeate the egg shell, once they fall into the water, the babies drown.) It was a great disappointment to many in our community, since we were greatly looking forward to watching the cygnets grow. Because of the pandemic, their loss was particularly devastating for us.
But Sidney and Celina carried on, not laying any more eggs to replace those they’d lost (sometimes swans will do this). The photo below was taken the week before the storm. Sidney had been vigilant about keeping potential intruders away from the nest. Here he chases a Canada goose out of the water. (Once the eggs were lost, both swans lost interest in chasing geese away.)
More tranquil scenes, in July
A daily visitor to our ponds last year was this heron – he’s back again this year, but I haven’t taken any new photos of him (or her – I don’t know which it is)!
Sidney and Celina were returned to us this spring, but within two weeks, Sidney died of unknown causes! Instead of taking the pen back to choose another mate, a substitute cob was brought to the pond two days later. This year, Celina has laid 7 eggs, but I am unsure whether these were fertilized by Sidney or the new mate – perhaps a few of each. I haven’t been able to find out whether this is possible. As a stepfather, though, it remains to be seen whether the new mate will bond with the cygnets once they are hatched (if in fact, he is not the real father). Surprisingly, Celina and her new mate (I will have to come up with a name for him) seem to get along well, so I hope things will work out between them and their new family!
Although we had no cygnets last year, we did have plenty of ducklings! Ducks, unlike geese and swans, do not mate for life. In fact, they can be quite promiscuous, mating with multiple partners during one season! But usually they are seen in pairs, until the hen is ready to make a nest.
Once the female goes off to nest, the male stays behind and doesn’t participate in duckling rearing. Over time, as the females went off to nest, there were an increasing number of mallard drakes (males) hanging out together, which I dubbed “the bachelor club!”
I loved watching these families grow – the ducklings were so cute!!
It’s a new season and the life cycle of our swans and ducks has begun again. Celina has seven eggs, but the swans on East Pond, in spite of diligently working on their nest, and even squeaking at us when we got too close, have not produced any eggs – they didn’t last year either, but it was their first year as a couple. Often swan pens don’t produce eggs until three or four years old.
A couple of weeks ago, before the swans returned, my husband and I were taking a walk around our campus, and saw an interesting bird on West Pond, the larger of our two ponds. It was a group of six black & white ducks (or they seemed to be ducks), smaller than mallards, and they were diving birds, unlike mallards. They would dive and not surface for several seconds, then one by one, they’d pop up again. They reminded me of loons in that way, but I knew they weren’t loons. And also they seemed to have choreographed moves: they would swim one direction and then, all together, they would switch and go the other way. We had never seen these ducks before. I went home and searched on the Internet and concluded that they were bufflehead ducks. We grabbed our cameras with telephoto lenses and headed back to the pond.
After downloading the photos, I could see that they were indeed bufflehead ducks, which have somewhat enlarged heads, black & white with fluorescent green around their neck (which we couldn’t see in the photos – the birds were too far away). I concluded they were all males. Someone told me that they are often seen on Lake Arlington, about a mile north of here. So I guess they just decided to drop in and check out our pond! The next day, they were gone.
The great thing about these two challenges this week is that these ducks are basically black & white, so there’s no color missing in their plumage in these monochrome photos!