Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Duck Armada

Several weeks ago I wrote about the mother mallard duck who ushered seven little ones to the lake edge to feast on snails. Momma duck is still bringing the kids around; now there are six. I’ll never know if number seven chose to go it on his own, or if he is no more.
The youngsters have grown to teenage size or at least, they are young adults. They are almost as large as momma. The only clue that they are not full grown mallards is that they are entirely brown. Only momma duck sports the lovely blue chevron—the hallmark of a mallard—on her wings, and none of them have the striking green head of the full grown male mallard.  I’ve read that normally, there will be more males than females in a duck population; maybe I’ll start seeing green in a few weeks.
The ducks are still gulping down snails, and I wonder how the snail population will ever recover from their daily repasts. I am still astonished to see – first the snail in a ducks beak, as he snaps it open and shut to adjust the shell toward the back of his mouth,  and then the lump in his throat as the snail goes down. I can’t imagine how any-creature could be comfortable with a tummy full of snails—in shells!
I found the on-line Princeton Science Library, “A Natural History of Shells” that says “The prey is swallowed, enveloped, or smothered without damage to the shell; the flesh is then slowly digested before the empty shell is expelled…Shell destruction after swallowing also occurs in the gizzard of the ducks.”

 In the afternoons the entire duck population of the lake now gathers to socialize. An armada of 15 ducks cruises together, their wakes trailing multiple V formations. 
I wonder if they’re drilling for the time, in the fall, when they will depart the lake as a group and head for a warmer clime. Four males travel nearby; they don’t seem interested in traveling with the flock. Are they old timers? Been there. Done that?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dragonfly Season

Weedy mats float at the edge of the lake, heralding the season for dragon and damselflies to lay their eggs. They normally blanket these floating weeds with their bubble-like egg clutches.
The larvae cycle of the damsel and dragonflies includes two or three years of living in the water as some of the ugliest bugs I’ve ever seen.  Then they crawl out the water and right out of their skin! 
A dragonfly exoskeleton
Well, it’s really an exoskeleton. They uncurl their needle-thin bodies and, similarly to butterflies, unfurl their wings to dry in the sun. Then follows a few frantic summer weeks of consuming mosquitoes, mating and laying eggs and dying.
In previous years, I’ve found dozens of the empty exoskeletons clinging to the edge of the dock. This year, there’s only one, and fewer of these jewel-like insects—less than a dozen of two varieties of damselflies and only three or four dragonflies flitting about.
I know that when an area is polluted, the first to leave are the dragon and damselflies. But that is not the problem here, nor can I blame Monsanto for this dearth, as I do for the diminishing monarch butterflies. A recent report assured us that the lake is pristine and protected. It is home to ducks, geese, swans, heron, frogs, snapping turtles, snails and muskrats, and a variety of fish as well as damselflies and dragonflies.
So what could be the explanation for the shortage of our gorgeous mosquito-eaters? 
Damselfly - image from Google

I blame the fish. The lake is seeded with bass, catfish and others and is home to an abundance of sunnies. They need to eat too. There are a couple of fishermen who take the sport seriously—but very few others around the lake actually fish. I may have to start fishing and encourage neighbors to do the same, for the sake of keeping the environment balanced for dragonflies. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Renter’s Serenade

We’re being treated today to almost constant music from a tiny bird who appears to be our tenant. Though I repaired, repainted and mounted a birdhouse from the deck two years ago, till now it’s been a disappointment.  Previously, a tree swallow showed interest, but his mate insisted on nesting in a tree in our neighbor’s yard. My husband suggested I post a sign on the house, “For rent—cheap,” or maybe cheep. 
But the new tenants do so much more than cheep.
This bird’s song is a trill—just hearing it makes one happy. He sang from a nearby tree all last evening and made frequent trips to and from the house.  I can’t see inside, so I have to assume there’s a lady bird there, and perhaps little ones?  It seems late in the season to me, but why else would he be so attentive?
Veery sitting on the Bird House
My husband says we should be charging rent. But it seems to me that his lovely song is more than ample payment for his one-room flat.
There’s a wonderful website, http://www. whatbird.com, that I used to try to learn our senenader’s name. I checked “New Jersey,” “Small size,” “brown,” “all purpose beak” and “forest habitat” and it came up with a Veery. Our bird looks a bit deeper red-brown and a little more slender than their picture, but his song is very like their veery recordings and, apparently, eastern veery have a deeper color than others.
Another veery recently showed itself and the two are flitting about, perhaps looking for their favorite foods, bugs and fruit. Their presence may explain why there are no wild blackberries left for us on the vine beneath our deck.  
The website says that our veeries spent the winter in Brazil. What travelers they are!

You can hear the veery’s song at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Veery/sounds.