Saturday, August 22, 2009

PEEKING DUCKS

Most days, when I take the dog out for her morning constitutional, we follow our respective routines—she heads off toward the cedars near the fence, while I amble over to the top of the stone steps leading down to the river and have a look at the river.
If I’m lucky, and sort of ease into place where I can get a good long view both up and down the stream, I sometimes see something interesting—a heron wading the gravel shallows above the cottage, a mink humping along the island’s bank, a turkey vulture balancing on a midstream rock in a most un-buzzard-like manner.
A few mornings ago I looked upstream and was startled to see a pair of domestic ducks staring back at me from the upper end of the riffle. Their feathers were such a radiant white that in the dim half-light between dawn and sunrise, they seemed to glow from an inner luminescence.
The two had obviously arrived sometime in the middle of the night, for there’s no way I could have missed such obvious visitors when I took my final upstream look the previous evening. The real puzzles were—where had they come from…and how had they gotten here?
The obvious answer to the first is a park and flood-control dam complex located a couple of miles upstream.
One of five similar flood-control sites in the area, the dam was built following a terrible flood in 1913, when in late March, three storms in three days sent more water into the area’s river system than passes over Niagara Falls in a month. At Third and Main, the city’s downtown center, floodwaters rose to twenty feet. Sixty-five thousand people were displaced from their homes, twenty thousand homes were destroyed, and upwards of 400 folks lost their lives.
It was the worst natural disaster in Ohio’s history.
The dam itself is a huge earthen affair, 4,716 feet long, 110 feet high, and 739 feet wide at the base. A main roadway runs along the top. The leftover hole, from which the earth was taken to construct the dam, is now a sprawling, shallow lake—home to all sorts of waterfowl and wading birds, and occasionally an osprey or bald eagle.
Human nature being what it is, from time to time a pet duck or goose is surreptitiously smuggled into the park and dumped beside the lake—where its former owners assume it will live happily ever after alongside the wild mallards and Canada geese. That some of them actually manage to survive marauding coyotes and foxes and raccoons, cold weather and disease, passing cars, and the immediate necessity of foraging for themselves instead of having their meals tossed out regularly from a feed sack—says more about the resiliency of the birds than the foresight of their abandoning and irresponsible former owners.
This park lake is certainly the most logical source for my bright white duo. No neighbors keep ducks. But seeing as how the park is on the upstream side of the dam—and the dam being upstream from where I live—there’s a complication to this theory. In order to reach this lower stretch of river from the park pond, the birds would first have had to travel through the spillway tunnel. This is a long concrete conduit—dark inside, of course—which carries the river under the dam. It’s not exactly a place I can envision even two rather adventurous ducks entering and float-tripping through.
Moreover, one they’d reached the lower, downstream, side, they’d still have to paddle and float the two miles of river below to get here. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a long float by duck standards. But I do know these white ducks must either float or waddle to get anywhere, because they can’t fly…I’ve watched them try.
At any rate, I’m now faced with a personal dilemma—do I feed them or not? I haven’t been putting out scoops of cracked corn since the Canada geese departed temporarily on their usual summertime domestic sabbatical. While I don’t specifically provide feed for wild ducks and geese though the fall, winter, and early-spring months, they soon spot the cardinals and sparrows enjoying my handouts and flap over for their own share of the free victuals. So I suppose I could begin my food subsidies a bit early.
But…should I?
In the meantime, the white ducks appear content to remain in their riffle home—always within a few dozen yards one way or the other of where they were when I first saw them. Apparently they’re doing okay in regards to meals—at least for now. I would think the Cottage Pool below the riffle would offer more food…but then, who am I to tell a duck where to eat?
For now, we’ll just take our occasional peeks at one another, and I’ll ponder whether or not to take them on as boarders.

22 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

They may well pay for their keep with Have a lovely weekend. a supply of eggs, Scribe. We do have white ducks on our beck sometimes - often they are wild ducks - maybe wild mother has met up with domesticated father or something like that. I would have thought that once they had tasted the freedom of your lovely river they would not want to return to their usual home. Enjoy them - and their eggs.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

Amazing journey if they in fact embarked upon it as you describe it to be for them to have arrived in your world. I am glad you found one another, and yes, take them on Grizz - they traveled long and hard to get to you and now should have their "just-rewards".
Love to you and your new boarders
Gail
peace.....

Bernie said...

Oh Grizz you must feed them, they are so beautiful and obviously worked very hard to find you.
Loved reading the history of "the" Ohio flood, tell me did the flood control sites work, have there been anymore floods like the one that took so many lives and homes?
So much water in such a short time, I could actually feel for those families.
Have a great weekend Grizz..Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I'd be happy to trade cracked corn for duck eggs. Maybe those ducks and I can work out a deal. In the meantime, I'll simply enjoy my glowing snowy visitors, try to watch out for them as best I can, and allow time and the ducks to guide my future decisions.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I will, as you suggest, take care of my visitors. Hospitality and solicitude would be satisfied with nothing less. And if they do elect to become more permanent boarders, they're welcome.

How's the storm looking?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I will take care of them.

I'm glad you liked the piece. As to the effectiveness of the area's five flood control dams—they've done their job. Prior to being built, there was it least one serious (but nothing like 1913) flood every decade. Since their construction, there's never been even a minor flood. Some houses along the riverbank that are close to the water—my stone cottage being a prime example—are periodically flooded; this build have had water in in (only a few inches deep) three times since it was built in 1919. (One of those times, however, was due to a new bridge being built just downstream, and the construction setup in the stream itself trapped a lot of floating rubble washing down, which made a sort of dam and backed the water up; not the amount of water at fault but an untidy building site.)

When I was a kid, there were still many buildings downtown where it was possible to see the highwater mark from that 1913 flood. Some may be there yet. Often they were allowed to remain because no one wanted to forget that time in history.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

Phew. I am glad. :-)
I felt that they came to you for a 'reason'.
I also saw the journey they perhaps took as a metaphor for life - and how we have to fight our way some times through bramble and brush and over hills and mountains and some times we don't know where we are, or where we are going - so we spin for a bit. And then just over the horizon we know we made it, found our way and we can rest. And we know we have arrived. Those ducks "arrived". I will so be wanting to hear the details of your welcoming them and caring for them and in their own right, caring for and about you.

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I will certainly keep you apprised of my relationship with the ducks. So far, they seem perfectly behaved—good ducks. So do not fear for either my safety, or theirs…it's simply ducky here along the river.

Wanda said...

So now you have ducks to watch and photograph...their stark whiteness was beautiful on your dark waters.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

Well, I actually have a mallard and her one half-grown duckling on the Cottage Pool, but now I have these two white ducks to watch and photograph, too. The flock will increase considerably as the water cools and fall arrives.

Jain said...

“But...should I?” Since you asked the question, I’ll play devil’s advocate. After an entire 5 minutes of internet research, it appears that domestic Pekins* are able to breed with wild, native Mallards, and the resultant ducklings could... conceivably... eventually... thin the Mallard gene pool. Since Pekins are bred for meat and eggs and are often too fat to become airborne, their ability to migrate when lakes and ponds freeze would be hindered.

But I’m a freshman naturalist at best. It would be interesting to hear from a genuine biologist about this.

*Re: the spelling, “Peking Duck” is a crispy-skinned dish from Beijing; “Pekin Duck” is a breed of domesticated duck.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Okay, the post title was an attempted wordplay that obviously failed—but it was intentional, not a misspelling. I haven't entirely quit considering the advice of my speilchucker…uh, make that spellchecker.

I was having fun playing off the words "Peking Duck" which I know well—both in spelling and by palate—having eaten it at a number of really fine Chinese restaurants in several countries; it is indeed a crispy duck dish which, when done properly, takes a couple of days to prepare, but is always worth the notice ahead. (The 30-minute imitation version served by most places is not even close to the real thing.)

Anyway, I tried to echo that name with a word twist and so titled my piece "Peeking Ducks" as in my river ducks (plural, since there were two) sneaking a look at, in this case, me. Hoping to reinforce this in-the-title joke, I stuck the line in my last paragraph: "…we’ll just take our occasional peeks at one another…"

My only excuse for such writerly foolishness was that it was cold and kinda early and I hadn't consumed sufficient coffee.

But the real kicker, as it turns out, is their name. You see, until your comment, I had no idea "pekin" was the breed name for this domesticated duck. Now I ask you…is that a cosmic coincidence or what!

My typical thinking on such as things heretofore was this: white duck=farm duck=domestic duck. Which means no need to thumb through Peterson's worrying about a species name. The only domestic duck breed name I know—unless you are willing to count the redneckish "white duck"—is Muscovy. I can recognize Muscovy ducks by that head thing they have going on, which looks like they've had a serious genetic run-in with a turkey.

All of which means the joke's on me re. the post title.

As to my white ducks—should they even decide to hang around—one day fraternizing with wild mallards and producing bi-colored and flight-challenged little ducklings…well, if I feed their parents, I'll feed them too, I guess. And they'll feed the snappers, and owls, and coyotes, and Cooper's hawk, and—well, you know how that goes. And I wouldn't kick those birds and critters out of my pool for eating quackers…

(I can't believe I said that.)

Jayne said...

How odd it must have been to see them there! Well, if they've chosen you, maybe you can toss out a hand full now and again? Then again, hope they are prepared for the wildlife along the river... including the hawks...ahem.

Jain said...

Oh, I can believe you said that. :)

I knew you were wordplaying but wanted to slip the name in because I was so surprised myself when I discovered the white ducks' proper name.

Hmmm, breeding for carnivores, interesting concept.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Believe me, these are, um, chubby enough ducks that there's not the hawk around going to carry them off. Coyote, for sure—but not a hawk hoping to get airborne.

I will give them their handouts, as needed—though I see this morning there's have descended the riffle to the pool in front of the cottage and seem to be paddling and diving happily for their own breakfast.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Well, that's a relief…I was worried there that you jist thut I wuz a poore speler.

Hey, country folks breed for carnivores all the time—especially since the invention of the cast-iron skillet.

(I still think it's funny about the duck's breed name…who knew?)

KGMom said...

Well, no neighbor keeps ducks, but you could be the first?

So, duck eggs in exchange for cracked corn. And blog post material--not a bad deal all around.

I was fairly sure you were word playing...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

This is just not a duck-keeping sort of riverbank neighborhood.

Actually, on my side of the river, there are only about five houses upstream from here along this same, dead-end road, all in a clump, one 50-foot-wide lot after another, and all built on a steep, high bank going from the road to the water; no yards, really, just a series of decks or terraces, depending. I'm the only one with good access to the river, or any extensive river frontage. Above them, there's not another house on this side of the river for perhaps 6-8 miles (up to the town where you stayed that summer). The other side of the river doesn't have a single house along that lengthy, 6-8 stretch. Not many houses below here, either, for quite a ways.

I don't think I can do much egg-for-corn trading this late in the season. But I could consider these new ducks potential Peking Pekin Duck on-the-hoof…uh, make that on-the-webbed-foot. If you can't have serendipitous ducks for dinner, well…

Re. wordplay—you know, I come up with such silliness because I spend too much time staring at a computer screen, and because I'm genetically disinclined toward seriousness. For example, I've just been thinking as I typed this reply—I believe a perfect name for the Mensa Mooning Society would be "Wisequackers."

Robin said...

Ducks must be the theme of the week, because I've been going through my own craziness.

Feel free to click and read.

I, for one, think you ought to take them on... but I like your idea of letting them lead you to a decision in time.

Hell, I like you for noticing them to begin with.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Robin…

I did click and read…and it sounds like you have indeed been having a time of things recently with Pavlova and her brood. I know something of what you're going through…besides the two white ducks recently arrived, there's also a mallard hen with one half-grown duckling—which is all that's left of the 9–10 she hatched out no more than a month ago.

(She lost her entire spring brood within two days after hatching when high water swept them away after she coaxed them across the river—then had them all try to swim back to the island. I watched the whole bunch go shooting downstream on the high, swift water…and never saw a one of those ducklings again.)

Anyway, she hatched a second small brood, and this is all that remains of that one. But every so often, mom and duckling become separated. The duckling begins peeping like crazy, getting more frantic by the minute—and at some point, I begin to get frantic, too. So far, the hen has eventually returned and found her missing "only child." You'd think she could keep better track of just one, right? But I'll tell you, we'll both be glad when that duckling grows up and heads out on its own—and I'm pretty sure the duckling will be safer on his own, as well.

Duck foster care is tough.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: I'd go ahead and feed them if they hang around. It remains to be seen if that will happen, though. once they get a taste of freedom, they may just keep on roaming around.

CarolynH.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

That's pretty much my thinking, too—though they seem to be be doing okay feeding themselves at the moment. But if I were a duck and had the choice, I'd opt for freedom.