We’re lucky. Our village has not just one, but three village ponds. It’s home to a variety of geese, to coots and moorhens … and to any number of mallards. Males seem to outnumber females. Most days in the spring and summer the laddish drakes – if they’re not lazing around on the grass – like so many teenage boys, mob the younger females in a rather aimless and half-hearted fashion.
We’re nearly at the time of year when ducklings will hatch and charm us all. The ponds are on both sides of the main-ish road that splices the village in two: the mother ducks march their broods back and forth, confident that traffic – yes even huge and heavy municipal dustbin lorries – will instantly grind to a halt to let the young family cross.
Nevertheless, few broods grow intact to adulthood. Jealous mallards despatch ducklings not their own. Geese kill them. Foxes take them to feed their own young. Herons visit. And despite the care most drivers take, there are traffic accidents. We often wonder what happened to the brood that Malcolm spotted one day on a lane near here: a mother duck leading fourteen – yes fourteen – ducklings along the road.
Wildlife has had a tough time getting going this year. Bluebells late, lilac late, bird migrants late – where are our swifts, diving and swooping in the evening skies, gorging on feasts of flies before night sets in?
At last though, mallard ducklings have appeared on the village pond. There seem to be three families: tiny ducklings; some a few days bigger; and one lot who could be described as teenagers. Apart from having little in the way of wings yet, they look pretty grown up. We idled away part of the afternoon the other day, just watching them scuttle and swim.
It’s as well they breed so prolifically, those ducks. The babies have little chance of making it to adulthood. The resident goose doesn’t like them. Jealous drakes don’t like babies who aren’t their own. Foxes like them alright, but as a snack. And then there’s the road, though drivers try hard to avoid these creatures, who simply haven’t learnt their Green Cross Code. My favourite sight from last year was seeing a mighty dustbin lorry shudder to a halt, and wait while Mrs. Mallard led her brood of seven efficiently across the busy road.
This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge invites us to share images of those things that distract us from the important business of Getting On With Daily Life.
This is an easy one. Since about Easter, here in our village, the distraction has been ducklings. Sweet little balls of fluff that appeared at Easter, rapidly matured towards lankier childhood then … oh! …. vanished. A jealous mallard? A fox? Who knows? Another brood appeared soon after. Here are two of them.
This time, they’ve managed to grow up. They sit around the pond in bored huddles in the manner of teenagers everywhere. They’re still charming enough to be distracting when they put their minds to it though.
But those moorhens who moved in. They’ve been nothing but a worry. One day, a chick broke its foot, and distressed us all by somehow rolling and dragging itself forward across the grass as its mother looked on with apparent indifference. Since that day, we’ve had occasional sightings of a lone parent, a lone chick. But the family seems to have scattered. This has been distracting too. But not in a good way.
It was a couple of days before Good Friday when we first saw them. Mrs. Mallard swimming on the village pond with her eight tiny ducklings. We kept a proprietorial interest in them, and were dismayed when over the next few weeks they became seven, then five …. then only two balls of fluff. These two kept growing until they were, in duckling terms, almost teenagers. Then they too vanished.
No more ducklings on our pond. Just a single baby coot.
Last week though, walking along to a friend’s house, I spotted them. Mrs. Mallard had hatched another brood. Seven this time. I wonder whether this little lot will make it? It seems as if there have to be an awful lot of ducklings put upon this earth even to maintain the population at replacement level. Both male and female mallards will attack and kill ducklings who are not their own.
It’s eleven weeks since we first saw those baby ducklings. Mrs. Mallard is still no nearer to successfully rearing the next generation of mallards to replace her. In some ways, time has stood still.
WordPress Photo challenge: Delta. For this week’s photo challenge, share a picture that symbolizes transitions, change, and the passing of time.
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