Muscovy Ducklings

This month a couple of broods of Muscovy Ducks hatched along our backyard pond.  Their mothers have been proudly parading them around the neighborhood, showing them the ropes.  Unfortunately these cute little ducklings will one day grow up to look like their parents.

Juvenile Muscovy Ducks (Cairina moschata)

“Hey, Mom!”

More ducklings.

This one looks just like my daughter’s bathtub soap tray .

Nature vs. Video Game

Last Sunday I called my six-year-old daughter to come outside to see the American Coots chasing each other in the pond behind our backyard.  She had just started a video game, so I was surprised when she readily agreed and stepped outside.  We watched their game of tag for a little while and then decided to take a walk around the small pond.  It was a beautiful mid-November South Florida afternoon — perfect walking weather.  We began by tossing some bird seed at some of the Muscovy Ducks who roam our community.  Then we continued along keeping our eyes peeled for what the Great Outdoors had to offer.  I scanned the trees for sparrows and finches, while she was fascinated by the little rust-colored butterflies fluttering in the grass.  Eventually she announced that I was the bird explorer and she was the the butterfly explorer.  That was just fine with me.

Feeding Muscovy Ducks

Along the way we ran into a Greater Yellowlegs that I had first spotted a few weeks earlier.  At the time I had first seen this very interesting wading bird, I hadn’t been sure if it was a Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs, but this time he let me get pretty close and I was able to watch him for quite a while.  His long bill was approximately twice as long as the thickness of his head and had a slight upward curve. A Lesser would have had a shorter, straighter bill.

Greater Yellowlegs

We continued our walk and approached a group of approximately twenty birds that had been swimming in the middle of the pond.  As we drew near they suddenly took to the air in unison and flew away from us, resettling seconds later at the far end of the pond.  I had been watching them from my window the last few days and they had been diving below the surface so I had just assumed they were more American Coots.  We have had coots in the pond ever since we moved in this past summer.  But when these guys left the water and sped across the pond it became very obvious that they were not coots.  They were ducks.  They were a lot smaller than the Muscovy Ducks, but duck nonetheless.

Ring-necked Ducks

We slowly made our way toward these newcomers, not wanting to startle them, but needing to get closer if we were going to have a chance at identification.  It seemed that every time we got within a certain distance they would relocate further away, but eventually we found a spot under an wooden overhang that allowed us to watch from a comfortable distance.  The ducks had black heads and backs. Their bellies were gray.  They had small yellow eyes and black bills marked with bright white stripes.  Some of them were a little brownish in color with less striking features.  Later when I was able to identify these shy swimmers as Ring-necked Duck, I found out the brownish ones were the females.

American Coot and Muscovy Duck

We eventually closed the loop around the pond and were back to our yard.  I expected my daughter to run back in to finish the video game she had paused an hour before, but when I began to walk toward the door, she said that she wasn’t ready yet.  So we hung out under the shade tree in our backyard and talked and picked some of the little flowers growing in the grass until she was finally ready to go back inside.  Nature won this round.

Until Next Time,

The Bird Explorer with the Butterfly Exploring Daughter

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

I snapped this photo of one of the multitude of Muscovy Ducks that roam my community.  It is not the most exciting animal to photograph, but I was able to get a decent picture for once.  So I decided to share it. These ducks are in abundance in South Florida.  Wherever there is water you will find them.  I can remember as a child my father and grandfather taking me and my brothers to a little pond to feed the ducks.  We took a few heels from loaves of bread that my grandmother had been saving, probably for that very occasion.  I can still feel the anxiety that came from these bold animals surrounding me as I held up the first piece of bread that my grandfather tore off for me.  I remember the the thrill that I felt as I threw out the bread and watched the ducks react, darting after them and then eagerly returning their attention to me, waiting for the next toss.

Throughout childhood the sight of ducks would always excite me.  I loved watching and feeding them.  But as I moved into adulthood, the excitement quickly faded.  When I was twenty I moved out on my own and my first apartment was on a canal, where we had an overabundance of ducks and an elderly neighbor who treated them like her own children, feeding them constantly.  The result was mobs of ducks waiting for me as I came home each day, and when they couldn’t be there they kindly left little “remembrances” that I often stepped in.  My opinion of the Muscovy Duck quickly changed.  Throughout the years I began to see these ducks as pests and nuisances.  They take forever to cross the street.  They do not share the healthy fear of humans that most birds do, because they are used to grandfathers and fathers and children feeding them.  They are also, in my opinion, the ugliest of the duck family.

Now I have a six-year-old daughter of my own and we recently moved to a new home that features backyard access to a small pond.  I love watching her excitement as the Muscovy Ducks come up to our back door.  I even find myself looking for them some days.  The other day they were congregating in our back yard so I took her outside to hang out with them as I snapped a few pictures.  She wanted chased them and tried to pet them, and for the first time in a long time I was glad they were there. Then my daughter asked if we could feed them and I responded, “Absolutely Not.”

The Broken Foot Birder

I have been fascinated by birds for most of my life, and during the last few years I have flirted with the idea of taking up birding (bird watching) as a hobby. But, like most of my bright ideas, this one remained an idea that stuck in my head but never turned into any real action. Then one day as I was rescuing a small child from the jaws of a rabid alligator, I broke the fifth metatarsal in my left foot. Actually that is a bit of an exaggeration; alligators don’t get rabies. Now back to the story. I broke my foot. Okay. Fine. I was moving a bed downstairs and I missed the last step. The way that my foot was broken isn’t really the point of this post, but it was very painful and I was heroic as I bravely fought back the tears and asked my wife to drive me to the emergency room.

So why am I talking about my broken foot on the first post of my bird blog? The reason is my broken foot was the catalyst that moved the idea of birding from the back of my mind into action. The broken foot kept me still and grounded and forced me out of the fast-paced, “what’s next?” tempo that my life had become. For several weekends all I could do is watch the little slice of the world that was available to be viewed through the sliding glass door in my living room.

My back yard runs into a man-made pond that was carved in between two rows of town houses, but, as I was to find out, just a little bit of water will attract all kinds of life. When you have nothing else to do but sit and watch you really begin to notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. During those few weeks of watching that pond I saw several species of birds. A King Rail perched on the concrete rim of a drainage pipe scanning the water for fish. Small groups of juvenile White Ibises combed the grassy slopes in search of insects. Muscovy Ducks patrolled yards surrounding the pond, some with ducklings in tow, and some leaving little dropping on my back porch. A Great Egret waded in the shallow waters and then stretched is large white wings and glided away. Chimney Swifts buzzed all around one evening feeding on flying ants, but unfortunately not getting all of them. I also discovered that a lonely American Coot has burrowed a home base in to a grassy hill just yards from my back yard. Altogether I counted nine different species of birds, viewable just outside my window.

The last few weeks have been refreshing and eye-opening and have inspired me to get off the couch and out into nature. If I can see nine different types of birds from my living room just imagine what I will find when I go out looking for more. I have a couple more weeks of until I can walk again, but I already have plans to begin exploring all of the wonderful venues for observing nature that South Florida has to offer. I plan to take pictures and to write about my adventures here. I also hope to get my soon-to-be-six-year-old daughter interested in birding too, but that might be pushing it.

Until Next Time,

The Broken Foot Birder