I have a pool.
Having only moved into my house last fall (well after swimming season), I often looked with chagrin during the late winter and spring at the black swamp that was the pond on top of the protective black tarpaulin . The extremely heavy snows nearly raised the water to ground level, and a heavy slurry of leaves, migrant seeds, branches and detris filled it otherwise. As the weather reluctantly edged upward and as the leaves returned this spring, returning locals made several surprising appearances and visits.
I speak of my mallard aquaintances.
Mentioned in an earlier diary, several of the mid-sized ducks had landed with regularity in my tarp pond. My backyard pool had many advantages and attractions that I could see: a nearby poolhouse to land on and from which to survey things on the ground in safety; two nice long flying routes from which to enter and exit the pond, despite the abundance of foliage about; the relative safety and peace of our backyard, devoid of children, dogs or boisterous activity. All of this, coupled with the attractiveness (to a duck) of what closely resembled a marshy backwater, and it was no wonder that the birds chose our pool over many others. One neighbour has a fancy mesh covering their pool during winter; the other has an above ground pool with a less inviting amount of water and, more importantly, has two yappy dogs. It was a duck no-brainer.
While pleasant and, I must admit, somehow flattering, I silently thought to myself that they would surely move on after I began to open the pool. After first draining the enormous amount of water (greatly aided by a borrowed sump-pump from my friendly neighbour) and cleaning out the copious amounts of leafy sludge, I managed to remove the large, cumbersome tarp with the help of my father, Old Oake. Putting leaves and tarp aside revealed a greenish, murky pool, from which I plucked a drowned mole. Nonplussed by our activities during the tarp removal, a pair of mallards landed shockingly close to us with a splash, and swam around unafraid and content. After shocking the water days later with chlorine to initially eliminate the cloudy algae, I managed to open the pool officially last weekend and get the pump motor running with Olde Oak's supervision and advice. After getting rid of some of the more attractive qualities of the former duck pond and making the water somewhat toxic, I assumed that we wouldn't be seeing the ducks again unless they were flying overhead.
Never underestimate the adaptability and stubborness of animals.
Incredibly, the ducks persisted on landing again and again in the now clear water of the pool, and absently wandering the yard. Most surprising to me was the fact that they appeared unaffected by the chlorine content in the swimming area, as they ducked their head under water and gargled and spittled it in their bills as ducks are wont to do. Either the chlorine had dissipated enough in the few days after the shocking, or the chlorine just didn't have such a detrimental influence on the birds - either way, they seemed quite content with the state of things.
They appeared to be making themselves at home, in fact.
I thought this as I got home yesterday, and put together some leftovers for a quick bite before volleyball. Sitting on the porch steps, I quietly watched our pair of mallards waddle about lazily and then hop in with a tiny splash to gracefully glide through the water. As I hungrily ate the barbequed duck I had warmed up (purchased a week earlier at the market) with rice, the twosome waddled over for a closer look at me. Tentative at first, but with growing confidence, they made their way towards me with what appeared to be a deliberate aim at communication. Feeling slightly embarrassed at having chosen to eat the kin of my newfound friends at our first formal introduction, I nonetheless continued chewing the succulent meat and fat, as I now looked directly at the ducks, who were looking intently at me. Perhaps only three feet away, they made quiet little quacking whispers as they seemed to be asking me something. I translated their attempt at speaking with me into an admonition of eating one of their cousins, and apologetically threw some rice in their direction as a peace offering. It wasn't what they were looking for, I think, but they seemed satisfied at last with that response, and continued wandering about, the tame birds. I could only smile and shake my head at these semi-wild creatures.
I have begun to think the pair of them are looking for a good nest location in my backyard, judging by their behaviour and the season. The female goes around inspecting every shrub, bush and leaf, chattering away, while the male follows behind, dutiful and silent. Every corner of the yard has been explored, and I think it's only a matter of time before the female settles down for egg laying, or decides to keep looking.
YJ and I are kind of excited about the possibility of ducklings.
* * * * *
In a related story, another pair of birds have already made a nest and had children on my property. The nest is actually inside my house to some extent, in that the birds have managed to use my dryer vent as a viable entrance to a warm, safe home. I haven't solidly identified them, but they seem to be some variation of largish sparrow possibly, with a very dark body and not too many other distinguishing features.
When I first moved in, I noticed that the plastic flap that would have usually covered the opening of the dryer vent was missing; and wishing to stem any heat loss because of it, I manufactured a poor imitation of a moving flap with a thin piece of foam (carpet underlay) and staples. I also replaced the old plastic tubing with the required metal tubing, inserting it snugly and securely on one end and fastened tightly to the dryer on the other end. At any rate, the opening on the outside has curled up slightly, allowing for the landing and entrance of small flyers.
In the very early spring, we were awakened one morning by the sound of young birds chirping madly. Shit, I thought, some bird found its way into the house? I cautiously descended the stairs, expecting a flash of wings to appear suddenly at any moment. Instead, I located the source of the noise around the dryer vent, from which could clearly be heard the sounds of young chicks, demanding their breakfast of worms and insects. I confirmed my suspicions with a peek from the outside, when a bird flew out of the vent in panic and from whence the distinctive chirping could be heard. At first I thought about the possibility of young ones (or parents even) going too deep into the shaft and falling to their doom, but quickly put this notion to bed. The total length of the air vent was about 5 feet in the shape of an L, and the most likely spot for a nest therein would be at the bend, or crook, of the passageway. It was highly unlikely that they would venture so far along the darkness, I thought, although I was sure to watch for the potential bird accident.
Walking past that side of the house (although largely unused by us) a taller person such as myself has to be wary of air traffic now. At one point, I had to quickly duck as a frightened parent flew out in a rush past my startled ear, and I have to be a bit careful. In an attempt to make the harmless birds feel safe and secure, I have also refrained from the curious urge to fully peel back and reveal the home to have a good look inside. I don't want the parents to abandon the nest, and I don't want a beak in my eye either. This decision was most difficult to adhere to when I was showing nature's majic to my curious niece last weekend, but thankfully, she isn't nearly tall enough to reach up and disturb them.
When either of us have to go into the laundry room, we are often serenaded by chirping, and it brings a smile to our faces.
* * * * *
Perhaps the animals feel safer rearing their young around other parents to be . . . at any rate, I feel we have been greatly blessed with nature's grace and approval.
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