Saturday, 19 July 2014

Nature on the Way to Work

I am fortunate to work in the next city down the road and have to commute through beautiful agricultural land, mixed forest, pot hole lakes, puddles and sloughs. I often leave fifteen minutes early or dilly-dally on the way home so I have time to pause at any highlights I may spot along the way. Right now these trips are most often highlighted by babies. Baby deer, fox kits, moose calves and many ducklings and goslings. I particularly like one of the back roads that I use. The road loops around the edge of a cattail lined 40 acre pond. The opposite side of the road is planted to field peas this year. Every goose worthy of its goosey name is spending part of the day grazing in the first 30 meters as well as teaching their goslings what great food peas are. 
Young Goslings
These goslings development are a fair bit ahead of others I have seen in this region, perhaps because of the great food. The road is slick with goose droppings between the field and the pond. I don't know what the insurance company would think of your excuse of your car losing traction on a goose crap covered road and splashing into duck weed covered, water filled ditch. 
Killdeer chicks are seen scurrying along the narrow beach from reed tussock to cattail cluster while mother limps along with broken wing crying in phony distress. I parked along this quiet road and watched quietly as a soft breeze ruffled the pond and reeds rustled against their neighbours. Cattail seed heads have not yet begun to form puffy heads but tall reeds do have green seed heads already developed. Red-winged blackbirds still call their distinctive notes and gulls cry overhead. The sweet odour of pond, goose crap and flowering peas wafts through my consciousness as I peered intently through the camera viewfinder. 

Sora Feeding Soralet
Quick movement amongst the reeds draws my attention to a tiny black critter running across the duckweed crusted pond. It looks like a baby turkey vulture, black body with bald looking red patch above the bill. I didn't know vultures could do that. As I watched, another black chick, then another one emerged, muttering to each other. Mystery is soon solved as a mother Sora emerges briefly from the deep cover of the reedy shallows. I watched as she fed one of her Soralets and then ran off. They don't stay close but there is a quiet chatter between all members of the family. I spot a muskrat falling young cattails like a lumberjack, then chewing them up like a wood chipper. Cattail stubble is then noticed all along the shallows so this rat is making a fine living here. 
Muskrat Feeding on Reeds
A little way off is a Green-winged teal mother watching over her flock of about 8 or 9 ducklings. Further out in the lake a mallard family paddles, sans Dad. 
Mother Bufflehead has a flock of about 8 chicks in tow as 3 Short-billed Dowitchers probe for hidden bugs buried in the soft shoreline. (why is it called short-billed? It isn't short billed at all. Perhaps in comparison to the long-billed Dowitcher) They look like lively long needled sewing machines probing rapidly into the mud for insects, worms or bugs.
Short-billed Dowitcher
I find it interesting when I see the youngsters of these varied families. How do they know to probe, tip, dive, scurry or dabble for food? Did Mom show them already or is it instinct? How do they know what to eat; bugs, grass, seeds, peas, worms or fish?
How many times I have driven past varied ponds and puddles similar to this one with little regard to the life happening within its reedy shoreline? I have never looked into the pond itself that a small dip net and microscope would reveal. (I must someday) Baby ducks know about this hidden life already, perhaps not by name but certainly by texture and flavor. 
These few minutes of observation every once in a while not only revives my wild spirit but also demonstrates the value of each puddle, no matter how insignificant it may be to the people who speed past daily. Each part of the pond is dependent upon clean water entering as runoff from the sky, the road the forest or neighbouring field. Is this field water polluted by glyphosate, phosphorous fertiliser or fungicide sprays? Is there oil dribbled onto the road or too much sediment running in from salted roads in winter? I just know that we all have a duty to do what we can to protect our wilds, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to be to us.

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