Friday, July 31, 2015

The Smorgasbug

At the pond recently, I spotted a Wood Duck which appeared to be a little young-of-the-year male. He snuck up pretty close to me without me noticing him. I don't think he noticed me. At least he didn't act like it.

If you look at this photo and the next, you can see what looks like rice scattered around the images. Those are actually some type of small fly that tend to stay under the leaves. The number of insects surprised me since I have never been bothered by flies while standing there.

The attrition rate for these broods of Wood Duck chicks must be very high. They can swim within a day of hatching and early in the season, I saw families of as many as ten or twelve following the mother duck through the spadderdock. By this point in the season, however, all you see are single almost-grown chicks or perhaps two swimming together.

In this image and the last, you can also see drops of water falling. What was happening was the duck would glide from one group of pads to another and at each, it would bump the stem of the leaves. This caused both the insects to fly and the dew that had accumulated in the cup just above the stem of the leaf to pour out.

I am not sure if this duck can fly even at this late stage in it's development. Until they can fly, the chicks tend to stay out in the middle of the pond hidden among the lily pads. So, what preys on them and reduces their numbers so drastically? My guess is big carp. Osprey can prey on chicks, but I don't think it is very common. I have never seen it personally, but one time when my wife and I were fishing, she witnessed an Osprey take a duckling. That doesn't leave too many alternatives and I have heard (and seen) some really large splashes caused by fish from time to time.

Here is an example of what I am talking about. I took this photo back in April. The mother and her brood of nine chicks are about to swim through an area where (probably) a carp is thrashing around in the water. It may be spawning, but you can see the break in the duck weed where it had broken the surface and you can see it's dorsal fin sticking up out of the water like a shark fin. At the time, I was thinking that mother wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.

I thought at first the young duck was trying to eat some of those small flies, but I changed my mind after seeing what it was doing in this photo. He was looking for dragonflies and knew he could get them to fly by bumping the leaf stems.

Smart little duck. You can see dragonfly wings hanging out of it's bill a second later.

Many young birds can look somewhat dissimilar from adult versions of their species. Female Wood Ducks have a teardrop-shaped white eye ring which this bird lacks. Males, on the other hand, have a noticeable white line extending from the jaw up towards the back of the eye which this one has. That is why I think it is a male.

I have been hoping for a couple of month to have a Wood Duck swim in this close. He actually swam through the area close on two different occasions, so I was pleased.

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