Sunday, June 27, 2010

Encounters with Nature and a Small Boy

(Pictures: Clementine and her seven babies, one of whom swimming beside her. "Brad and Angelina" the matriarch and patriarch of the Meer. Feisty Matilda and her two surviving ducklings. New Mom, "Gracie" and four of her seven newborns.)
Last night, I went with my dogs to Harlem Meer to check out how Joey was doing, as well as Clementine and her growing family of 7 ducklings. (Originally, Clementine had more than ten ducklings, but as noted, nature and spring can be cruel.).

To my horror, when first arriving at the Meer, I saw the Mama duck with only two ducklings!

Oh my God! What happened to the other five?! Could they all have died within just a couple of days?

But, as I hung out longer, I began to wonder if this Mama and ducklings were in fact, Clementine and her family?

For one matter, the family was at the east side of the lake, an area that I don't normally see Clementine. For another, the family was swimming around a number of other ducks. (Clementine usually keeps herself and babies more isolated from the other water fowl of the Meer.)

But, perhaps the big tip-off that this was not Clementine and her brood was that the Mama duck in this case, was much more nervous and combative, particularly with other female ducks than Clementine. So much so, that she would sometimes leave her two ducklings to harass and chase off another duck! I named this Mama duck, "Matilda" and ultimately decided that under the circumstances, she could not be Clementine. The behavior was just too bizarre and different although her ducklings appeared to be the same size and age as Clementine's.

Perhaps poor Matilda has had a much rougher time than Clementine? After all, she only has two remaining ducklings.

As Tina, Chance and I traveled around the lake, I found Joey (the surviving white Peking duck) resting in the grassy (protected) area near the Dana Discovery Center. He was with a group of mallards and a couple of Canadian Geese. I tossed some bread and seed to him which he and the other birds happily ate. There was no fighting among them.

I also noted two other ducks with whom I have become very familiar over the past year or so. "Brad and Angelina" are a very interesting pair of mallards. For one matter, they are of different coloring than the other ducks at the lake. Brad has very bright markings with large patches of white. Angelina is a very light colored brown duck. --More beige and cream shadings than the usual, darker brown of the female mallards. Brad and Angelina (like the white ducks) are ALWAYS together. Part of me believes they have produced and parented many of the young adult ducks at the lake as it is easy to see some of the unusual coloring repeating in the offspring. I believe Brad and Angelina are older ducks than the others, based upon their sizes, routine and ease at the lake. Nothing seems to bother or make this comfortable pair nervous, including the fishing lines and heavy human activity at the Meer.

Brad and Angelina too, were resting together in the grassy patch, near Joey.

Eventually leaving the grassy patch, satisfied that at least Joey, Brad and Angelina were OK, I finally found Clementine and her seven surviving babies in one of their usual places --a grassy marsh near the north side of the lake.

A very young boy was waving a wand-like stick at the family from behind the small wire fence that separates the marshes from the public park area.

"Please don't do that," I calmly said to the boy. "You will scare them away."

"Oh, I was just trying to get their attention," he answered.

"Trust me, they know you are there. But, its better to be quiet around them."

I removed some bread and bird seed from a bag and tossed it to Clementine and her ducklings (who are now rapidly growing.)

"See, they like that," I said to the boy who was about ten-years-old.

"Should I put some bread in this and throw it to them?" he asked, showing me a small, plastic red ball.

"No, no. The plastic would not be good for them. Here, toss some of this," I said, giving him some small bits of bread.

"I would like to take one of the babies home with me," the small boy said.

"No, honey, you can't do that. This is their home and that is their Mommy. They cannot survive without her. You wouldn't want someone to take you away from your Mommy, would you?"

"No," he smiled sheepishly.

I then took out my camera and began to take pictures, while dropping the leashes on my dogs.

The young boy grabbed Chance's leash and began to skip around.

I was lucky that Chance (my Pomeraian) didn't try to bite him!

"Oh, honey, please be careful with him! " I said, gently taking the leash away. "He's a little nervous with people he doesn't know. Would you like to see the pictures I just took?

I showed the boy the pictures in my digital camera and a smile came across his face.

"Those are nice!" he said.

A couple of minutes later, the boy ran back to his parents who were lying out on the grass.

He returned with his Mom's cell phone.

And without saying anything to me, the boy began to suddenly take pictures of Clementine and her ducklings with the cell phone!

And amazingly, the pictures were great!

"Wow, those are better than the ones I took! Your Mom is going to be so proud of you!"

The boy smiled a big "thank you" to me and turned to take more pictures. Its amazing how tech savvy these young kids are these days.

Feeling very good about the day, I walked to the west side of the lake with my dogs in preparation to leave Harlem Meer and return home through the park.

And to my surprise, there was yet another Mama duck with 7 newborn ducklings!

This mama too, was swimming with other adult ducks, but she did not appear so nervous and feisty as Matilda. The other ducks did not bother her and she did not bother them. I named this new Mama, "Gracie" (as she seemed calm and peaceful). Her seven tiny ducklings seemed a bit independent for their young age, seemingly swimming all over the place. Perhaps the other ducks in the area served as added protection?

All in all, it was a very pleasant trip to the Meer last night. There were fewer people out fishing and the birds all seemed much more relaxed (well, with the exception of Matilda).

But, perhaps the most fulfilling part of the evening to me was the brief encounter with the young, 10-year-old boy.

From waving a stick at Clementine and her family of ducklings, to joyfully taking pictures of them with a cell phone.

Yes, it had been a very good -- and I believe, productive evening.

Anytime we can hopefully reach and touch a member of the future generation with a positive, humane message, its a good day. ;) -- PCA


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