While watching some Eared Grebes along a small wetland east of Erskine, AB on June 21, we noticed one individual clamber up on a pad of partly submerged vegetation. Suddenly she (as we would soon to determine) extended her neck and then laid down on the pad. Her mate came up behind the pad and, after what looked like a few seconds of serious contemplation, jumped up out of the water and onto her back. They mated for a few seconds, then he slid off her head back into the water. They both stood still for a few post-coital moments before swimming off a short distance to find additional material for the pad (which we assume will become their nest). They mated five times in the 45 minutes that we watched. We were facing the sun, so the lighting wasn't the best, but we felt blessed to witness and photograph these intimate encounters!
One evening last week, I checked the duck boxes along our Sylvan Lake shoreline. Sure enough, in one of the boxes sat a female common goldeneye atop her family of little black and white ducklings. I knew that “the jump” would take place sometime the next morning, so we quickly and quietly set up a blind.
Several years ago, I was able to get some “mid-air” images of baby bufflehead ducks jumping. This time, I was hoping to capture some other aspects of remarkable event: the female looking out, the young at the entrance hole and on the ground, and the trek to water.
Worried about missing it all, I was up early and into the blind well before 6:00 AM. For the next four long and tentative hours, I waited. And waited… Finally, just before 10:00 AM, Mom appeared at the entrance hole and looked out. She carefully surveyed the landscape for a couple of minutes before dropping back down.
Twenty minutes later, she reappeared and again did a thorough scan of the surroundings. Determining that all was safe, she dropped to the ground and began clucking instructions. Within a few seconds, the first little duckling jumped out, landing with a soft thud.
I quietly eased out of the blind and, positioning myself to minimize disturbance, watched as one duckling after another appeared at the entrance hole and launched itself into the air. Each landed with a soft thwack, but were quickly back up on their feet and—peeping loudly—waddled to the safety of their mother.
Within a few minutes, all the clucking and peeping ceased. I tiptoed over to check the box. Only four unhatched eggs remained. While I was standing quietly by the box, Mom appeared with all 13 little ones in tow. Off they trundled down the path before disappearing into the embankment shrubbery.
Truly a heart-warming and soul-filling encounter!
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