A day of babies

Before dying early under the garrote of rain, yesterday morning’s walk at White Rock Lake proffered a great deal of the season’s new life.

A mallard duckling (Anas platyrhynchos) swimming alone far out on the lake (20080614_06724)

Plaintive cries drew me toward shore, toward the echoing yet weak sound of a mallard duckling (Anas platyrhynchos) alone, lamenting the dearth of its parents, calling for familiars absent.

I worried for the little bird, wondered about the father and mother nowhere to be seen.  I feared the worst.

For some time I shadowed the duckling as it swam parallel with me.

A mated pair of mallards eventually moved from nearby and headed toward the little one.  I felt at last a happy reunion would ensue, a family would be reunited, and a frightened child would be comforted.

Not so.  When the male adult neared the duckling, he immediately began chasing the small one and threatening it with loud challenges.

At that point, I felt certain the juvenile had lost its parents and had to fend for itself in a world full of threats and dangers.

Further still along the shore, its poor body certainly tired from the endless search, I finally heard the telltale call of a mother seeking her young.  From beneath a cloak of aquatic plants came parents seeking their child, and from far out in the water a young one responded in kind.

A mallard duckling and its mother (Anas platyrhynchos) after they are reuinted (20080614_06740)

I felt better, relieved, so I moved on.

Not too distant a walk from there I chanced upon various plants and insects which caught my eye.  Pausing to snap a photograph or two, I soon found myself the target of two adamant avians who made it clear I had trespassed into sacred territory.

When at last I sought explanation for the assaults, hidden amongst verdant shore cover was yet another baby.

An immature female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) hiding in the reeds on the shore (20080614_06772)

It stood perched atop a cattail watching me closely and remaining utterly silent.  Its best defense was camouflage and the diversion created by its parents.

As for the mom and dad, they vehemently protested how near I stood to the baby, her from in front and him from behind, and each from their respective perches would complain loudly and make bombing runs toward me.

Had I been a predator intent on consuming their young one, all the commotion undoubtedly would make me think twice—or at least give me a livelier meal to chase.

Only the mother offered a brief pose as she made her way through the brush and reeds to position herself between her child and me.

A female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) peering at me through the brush (20080614_06758)

Finally the young bird’s appearance made sense.  A red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), and one who happened to take after its mother.  That meant it was female.

I walked away and left them to their morning chores.  Mind you, I also had grown weary of the constant chiding I suffered from two very upset parents.  I wish they could understand that my stumbling upon their child was a testament to how well they keep it hidden, for I likely would not have seen it had I not known from their actions that something important was nearby.

Ominous clouds moved in over the course of hours, the sky growing darker and darker with each step.  I did not remember seeing rain in the forecast; nevertheless, I made my way toward home since what is predicted does not always equal what is made manifest.

Rain began to fall as I leisurely strolled along the shore of Sunset Bay.  The drops large and cool on such a warm and humid morning, I took steps to protect the camera but otherwise did not hurry my pace.

I paused beneath a large maple in response to the machine-gun chirps of a bird high in the branches.  Such excited calls.

An immature orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) hiding in dense foliage (20080614_06779)

There hidden behind dense foliage near the end of a branch was yet another baby, various shades of gold and gray masterfully suited to bedazzle and beguile.

Its perch limited my ability to see it.  Either I had to look directly up at that place where the sun struggled to pierce the deepening cloud cover, or I had to peer through a tiny space between the leaves and hope the wind stopped long enough for me to snap a photo or two.

The first position deemed impossible due to the bright sky and dark leaves causing too much contrast, I moved from beneath the tree and took up station where I had the best view of the small window in the branches, which of course placed me standing in the rain that continued to increase in intensity (although, at that time, still but a sprinkle, yet a sprinkle of large raindrops I might add).

My jockeying for position had not deafened me, however, for I could hear the rain and other wildlife and wind.  What I couldn’t hear was the bird.  It had been so vocal just moments before, so full of spring sound that tickled the ears like harps plucked by master hands.

Then as quickly as it had fallen silent, the juvenile burst into melodious refrains overflowing with anticipation and enthusiasm.

Even with the rain falling onto the lens, I lifted the camera and focused on that tiny hole in the leaves that offered the only view of this hidden perch.

Then she arrived like lightning, appearing from out of nowhere and taking position just above the child.

A female orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) feeding her young (20080614_06782)

An orchard oriole (Icterus spurius).

In response to her approach and arrival, the immature bird sang a tune so magical that I felt childhood welling up within me, a sense of wonder and beauty at the simplest of things.

But the rain came harder, the drops larger, and the wind closed my eye on this family more often than not, so I turned and sought shelter on the trail that skirts the woodlands.  It would carry me all the way home without exposing me to the storm that brewed overhead.

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