Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Our Little Lake

Grebe Babies and the Pelican
     A few weeks ago, I noticed a nest made up of mud, sticks, grass and garbage settled by an obviously incubating Red-necked Grebe. Its mate paddled, dove and groomed in the small pond nearby. The nest was partially screened by a clump of over-hanging willows so I had to very cautiously approach along the pond bank. I was concentrating on the body language of the grebe so closely that I almost stepped on a Canada goose nestled onto her own downy nest. After apologizing profusely to the agitated goose, I stepped back and settled down to watch both setters for a few minutes. I was unable to tell if either incubator were male or female by looking. After a while the grebes gingerly changed places, after a raucous discussion, I assume about equalized parenting duties.     
Dinner is Served

     I watched both nests for the next few weeks with little change. One morning the goose was gone leaving only the feather lined nest. I never did see any goose family here. The grebes continued to set until on the 2nd of June, there was a distinct rustling under the wings of a protective setter. The swimming grebe seemed to be unusually aggressive towards my approach too, so I settled down in my usual spot, but now the stinging nettles had emerged. I noticed too late to prevent a stinging reminder on my exposed hands and wrist. It wasn't too long until a tiny head poked out into the sunshine from beneath protective parent wings. A tiny body with black with white spots and a stubby little beak searched for a meaty meal from a swimming parent. It was only a moment before it was rewarded. Two other similarly dressed chicks also clambered their way into the open in hopes of a meal. The grebe whose job it was to gather and feed the clan got right to work; diving, gathering, swimming and feeding, back and forth while the setter watched calmly. For an hour or more, I watched this family dynamic until, with another vocal discussion about parenting, the adults switched places.
     The grebes ate mainly small fish, minnows about an inch or two long. I was not sure that the little guys could swallow them, but down the hatch they went. I watched for two hours one morning and the fishing parent had very little time to groom itself. Back and forth it swam and dove for fishy meals. I noticed that the new nest keeper was very restless and had a hard time getting comfortable. It stood up and circled, dog-like, trying to find a good position whilst not stepping upon a chick. Every time it stood, the chicks would slide down its back tumbling in complete disarray to the nest. One even got dumped into the water where it naturally took to instantly. After a couple of circles, it managed to scramble back into the nest, then into the comforting warm embrace of parent wings.

     As I sat enjoying the grebe family, an American Pelican paddled along the opposite shoreline, also scooping up beakfuls of tiny fish.

 I’m always reminded of the limerick by Dixon Lanier Merritt when I see these giant white birds:
A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his belican
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I’m dammed if I can see
How the hellhecan.

Running Liftoff

     The black tipped wings with orange colored bill and feet seem to highlight the brilliant white plumage of this big bird. They are very graceful swimmers and fliers but seem quite ungainly while walking on the beach. It does take several feet to lift off the water on large powerful wings but once free of the water seem to be quite effortless in flight. I have most often seen pelicans in groups rather than single birds like this one.
     This little lake is a drain-water pond that accepts rain runoff from Sherwood Park. The water level  fluctuates with the weather. It has become very valuable habitat for many creatures residing in the city. I have seen and heard coyotes and red fox as well as several species of birds. The bushes and water provide welcome places for kids and adults of all ages to enjoy a wee bit of nature in the city.

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