Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Duck Pond

I stopped by the Duck Pond yesterday after work and watched for about an hour. It always amazes me the frenetic activity that goes on. I only see it when I stop to look.

So yesterday, I sat on a bench with a bottle of water and a snack and a book. After a few minutes, I finished the snack, put down the book and just looked at what was happening.

Two women were occupying the bench down from me. One seated, smoking a cigerette, and occasionally yelling at pigeons flying too close for her comfort. Her partner was standing, waving the bread bag in one hand, and tossing torn pieces of bread from the other. In the pond, about a dozen pigeons in a wedge, mallards, the old geese with the red blobs hanging from their chins and a pair of egrets.

The bread-thrower takes a break and all the birds abandon her. A mallard is screwing a white duck, stepping on its body and holding it underwater. The white duck's head surfaces; I see its yellow bill, black eyes, and then the mallard pushes it under. The white duck surfaces, and a second mallard helps out, stepping on the white one. I watch to see if they are purposely drowning the white duck. It seems they've finished their business of breeding, and move on. But yet another duck takes advantage of the white duck. Poor thing! It pulls up and makes a flurry of movement over water and escapes. A mottled duck paddles by - mostly white body with brown markings on its head. Maybe this is the first inbred of the Duck Pond.

On the island, a snowy egret has landed on the wispy tree, walks from spindly limb to limb, eating leaves. A brown bird the size of a grackle, maybe it is a grackle, is diving at the egret. But it won't budge.

I hear these sweet sounds and look up. On a light pole is a crow. It's balanced on the cone of the light, watching over the pond, the island and the tall oak trees in the distance. Now the shiny black birds are obvious, their raven flash and sweet notes recognizable from the grunts and gobbles of the egret and the silence of the ducks. There are at least four crow, two pairs.

Now a white sprite is stabbing at the water. A petite bird, it circles round an expanse of the pond, then drops, plummets and dives sharply into the water, all in a few seconds time. Again and again it circles, spots something, drops, makes a quick dash with its beak and flies off. I wonder if it has that stomach-in-the-mouth sensation each time it drops.

Below me the head of a red-eared slider, looking like a vegetable and when I call to it, the turtle bobs up, moves toward me looking, recognizing human voice. From the ouitline of a shell, I can tell that's probably five years or older. It's fat and healthy looking despite the muck of the pond water. But it's shy and I have no food so after a few bobs and dunks, it's gone.

The snowy egrets look fine but have a nasty disposition and a guttural call. They're invasive and territorial, even to their own species. One chases another just a few feet away, needing its space. From out of the sky, a goose lands on the island. Just as quickly, beak first, neck outstretched, another goose chases it to the other side of the narrow waist of land.

Three of these guys swim by.

It's getting toward dusk. The birds are coming home to roost. Time to go home.

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