CFFC: Bird Life on the Ponds

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week has the topic of animals in nature.

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!

Bird Weekly: Swans, Geese, Ducks and …?

Lisa Coleman’s Bird Weekly challenge this week is more than one species of bird in a photo.

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.

CFFC: Males & Females

More comparisons this week for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge! This week it’s males vs females. But I am going to make it females (first) vs males (second)!

Lions – I’m not lyin’! (Ngorongoro, Tanzania)

Maasai people – in a village

French people with dogs by the sea in Normandy

Mallard ducks

Ancient Egyptians: Queen Nefertari and King Ramses II

Selfies: Amsterdam

Two people making funny faces & wearing glasses: father and daughter

Artwork by American artist Charles White: Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep (1956); Harvest Talk (1953)

Children laughing: Chicago Botanic Garden

L-APC: Getting to Know You

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.

A mallard couple last April

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!!

This is my favorite photo of a duck family – the ducklings were so adorable, always following Mom!!
As the ducklings grow, you can begin to see their tiny wings, and gradually they take on the colors of male or female adult mallards.
Two duck families – usually they didn’t swim so close together.
A mallard hen preens herself.

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 pair of Canada geese – I don’t know where their nest is, since they are not “permanent” residents here. Still, geese tend to return to the place where they were born, so these two quite possibly were born here a year or two ago. Last year, we had one family of geese that was always around – the parents and three goslings.

Just One Person … and Many Ducks (Sweden)

We took our first cruise in 2015, on the Baltic Sea, stopping at interesting historic ports, such as Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as some of the major Scandinavian capitals. I captured this wonderful scene in the town of Sigtuna, Sweden, which has a renowned boarding school and is often a destination for church retreats.  The name of Sigtuna comes from an old English word for town (tuna), which was originally a Viking word.

After a wonderful lunch and a tour of the historic parts of town, learning about runic stones and mythology, visiting a 13th century church, and seeing a scary-looking contraption that was put on people who were jailed for drunkenness at the Town Hall, we were free to walk around on our own. We strolled down the street with lots of souvenir shops. Then we headed down to the lake on a sloping street past picturesque houses (some quite large) with pretty gardens. Along the lake was a park, including a spiral path with a faux runic stone in the middle, a miniature golf course that used tiny versions of local buildings for the holes, and many ducks who hoped for tidbits from an old couple sitting on a bench. There were lots of ducks in the lake as well, and this little girl on the lake shore trying to attract them. She was the picture of innocence and inquisitiveness of childhood and I loved her black hat! She is just one person (with many ducks!) in Sigtuna.

Here is a gallery of photos taken in Sigtuna.

WWE: Reflections

Jez’s Water Water Everywhere is an open photo challenge, to post photos with water. Right now his theme is reflections. Here are some of our water fowl, reflected on the water of our campus ponds.

A swan fluffs up his plumage as he chases a Canada goose.
The goose found its way into the water anyway!
A swan pair readies a nest for laying their eggs.
Is this mallard drake swimming in red water? No – merely a distorted reflection of a nearby building!

Buffleheads in Black & White

Bird Weekly has as its topic this week Birds in Black & White (Monochrome). Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge is Anything in Flight (or capable of flight).

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.

This was as close up as I could get with my 300mm lens. They’re so cute!
Taking flight in tandem

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!

Month of LoveLoveLove, #14-15

Continuing with things I love for Paula’s February Love challenge, here are my days 14 and 15.

Feb. 14: I love…Dale. Valentine’s Day is a special day for me, because it is my husband’s birthday! I married my valentine 25 years ago, and we’ve been together for almost 30 years total! For our 25th anniversary (last November) we had planned to take a round trip cruise from the Caribbean to the Amazon, but of course it was cancelled due to Covid. We will go in 2022 instead. Years ago, I bit Dale with my travel bug and now he loves it as much as I do!

He can be very sentimental at times, much more so than I. He loves joking with puns, but he has used some of them so many times that other family members have to tell him to stop! Dale is a former high school history teacher in the inner city of Chicago, and retired after 33 years. Since then, he’s had more time for his favorite pursuit – golf! In the winter – especially this pandemic winter – he gets bored!

Imitating a stone statue behind us, in Scharding, Austria, 2019
A bite to eat after touring the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
We had a fantastic suite in our hotel in Amsterdam in 2018. Dale is checking Facebook, as usual!
Being the only Jewish person on a Christian trip to Israel in January 2019, Dale proudly posed in front of the Golden Menorah in Jerusalem.
We took pictures of other couples, and they took photos of us while waiting for the Sound and Light Show to start at the Abu Simbel temples in Egypt, Jan. 2019.

Dale turned 77 yesterday, and a few unexpected health problems have arisen lately. Still, we hope to enjoy as many more years together as we can!

Feb. 15: I love…animals. I have already written about my love for cats, but we took a safari in Tanzania in 2018 that was the most unique and memorable trip of my life so far! During this pandemic, we are homebound, but we are lucky to live on a beautiful campus with two small lakes. Every spring and summer, I enjoy watching the swans, ducks, and other fowl that visit our lakes. I’ve also made friends with a couple of the dogs who I see on my walks (when the weather’s warm enough!).