This morning’s walk yielded one extremely pleasant surprise. In fact, it’s the main reason I wish the light had been a bit better and the lake a bit less crowded.
As I aimlessly walked along the shore in Sunset Bay, I noticed a female mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) loitering in the shallows and nearby ground vegetation. It was too dark to see her clearly or determine what she was doing. But as I approached, it all became very clear.
She had a sord of eight ducklings with her. While she watched them and their surroundings with much care, they bobbed and waddled and enjoyed chasing breakfast in the muddy puddles.
Unfortunately, her eyes never left me, and when I tried to get closer to the water’s edge, she would offer up a single quack that would immediately cause the ducklings to rush to her side. Terribly cute, yes, but not convenient at all when trying to snap pictures in this particular dawn’s cloudy and feeble light. Besides, my camera isn’t powerful enough to zoom in on much of anything. To complicate matters, mother and offspring never stopped moving, so any attempt at natural light photography proved futile at best. What I got for the effort was a series of dark and blurry images that could easily have been dust bunnies under the couch.
Despite the poor setting, I still found I could use fast shutter speeds and the flash to get at least a few presentable moments.
Although in terrible condition, that photo gives you a bit of an idea about their disposition. You can even see the flash’s reflection in their eyes.
I snapped a dozen or more photos like that one and found only one of them to be salvageable. Finally realizing they were too far out in too dark a setting to make for a good picture, I settled into a crouching position and decided to sit still and watch them instead. Even if I couldn’t share the experience, I certainly could enjoy it myself.
But prudent patience can pay off. Not always, I know, yet from time to time it’s the right move. This was just such a time.
As I knelt in the wet grass and mud, the entire group worked its way closer to shore. The ducklings seemed to control direction, and the lot of them slowly paddled and stumbled until they found themselves in grass taller than their own heads. Meanwhile, their ever watchful mother remained close and followed their every movement.
When all nine animals made it ashore, some of the ducklings began working their way toward me.
Their mother stood fully upright and watched them carefully. Very much unlike my attempted approach, however, she didn’t call them back to her as they ambled toward me. I felt better about that and about the possibility of them getting close enough for a picture or two.
Yet her discretionary distance never hindered the young’uns from making their way to my position.
I sat as still as possible and moved only enough to aim the camera. I didn’t even lift it to my face for fear I might scare them away, so instead I surreptitiously looked down at it and made a best guess on each shot.
I also feared the flash would frighten them, but it never did. A few times they paused afterward to look at me, although I believe it was more from curiosity than fear.
How amusing they were! None of them seemed sure about what to do with those big webbed paddles dangling off each leg, let alone the legs themselves. All the way across the wet grass they rummaged about looking for food, and all the way I kept expecting one or more of them to tumble over as feet too large for such small bodies continued to get in the way of forward momentum.
In fact, one of them seemed to attempt the splits at one point as it tried to make a sharp turn. I suspect it found lugging those feet around at high speeds and in quick maneuvers makes for some very interesting movements.
More than once I had to stifle my own laughter at their shenanigans. And throughout the experience I wore a broad smile as I listened to their tiny quacks, inconspicuous noises meant to keep Mom informed of their whereabouts while simultaneously keeping in contact with each other.
As for their quest to find breakfast, it never once stopped as they investigated every little thing.
I found myself totally enthralled with each of them. With different colors and patterns, and with different approaches to every little thing, I could already tell their parents had their
hands wings full with the whole juvenile sord.
As with all tiny creatures, I fell immediately under their spell and wanted to scoop them all up in big hugs. Instead, I sat motionless and let them get as close as they wanted.
One thing that disappointed me was that I never could get a clear picture of the little black duckling. It stayed pretty close to its mother and never would approach me. It was the only black one in the whole group.
You can see it in this picture. It’s near the top-right corner opposite Mom in the top-left corner. You can probably get a better view of it in the larger version.
When she’d had enough of their Curious George moment, the mother duck moved back to the water and gave one soft quack. Amazingly and again, they all responded immediately by turning and heading quickly in her direction.
They all scooted by me with ease, each of them disappearing momentarily into the grass that cloaked them from head to toe, reappearing at the water’s edge as they erupted from the vegetation, and scooting into the shallow water to join their mother as she slowly meandered away from land.
At the last minute, even as the black one scampered by, the last little one stopped and turned, took a quick look around, then followed its siblings.
Until the entire family moved out to deeper waters, I hadn’t noticed the father standing atop a log a short distance from where I knelt. He had watched quietly as the children played and ate. His watchful eye undoubtedly was focused on possible predators as well as the other animals milling about in normal morning routines.
He joined his mate and children as they passed by the spot where he stood, and together they paddled out along the shoreline and toward some other safe spot.