Frisky is back!

August 11, 2022 • 10:45 am

Among old waterfowl friends who have returned this year, we still have Honey (who is here for her sixth year, haaving come back to molt), and this morning Frisky the wood duck (Aix sponsa) showed up. This is the third year he’s been here, presumably after he’s helped rear a brood.  He’s just beginning his molt.

How do I know it’s Frisky?  First, when I tossed him a few food pellets he immediately went for them. The first year (this is true of many ducks) they have to learn that a pellet is food, which can take from five minutes to a day. Frisky took to them without hesitation.

Second, he’s sitting on his “Sacred Knob”: the knees of the Bald Cypress on the South Duck Island. I don’t know how long he’ll be here, so I took a few pictures this morning in the dim light. I do hope he stays through his entire molt, when he develops his most spectacular colors.

Frisky this morning:

He’s a bit tired. . .

Here’s Frisky from two years ago after his molt; he was in full splendor (and sitting on his knob)

A head shot. You can see why wood ducks are America’s most beautiful ducks:

Frisky nuzzling Ruth, his girlfriend at the time. She took off before he did, leaving him bereft:

Honey is back!

July 31, 2022 • 10:30 am

My favorite duck among all ducks is back in Botany Pond! Yes, Honey has returned!

She may in fact have been here for a while, as we’ve had some itinerant hens in the pond for a couple of weeks. But yesterday a member of Team Duck noticed that one of the itinerants was not only acting aggressively towards the others (Honey’s an alpha hen), but also had black triangles on both sides of her upper bill: a trademark of Honey.  Not believing this duck could actually be my beloved hen, I took a few bill shots with my camera. It was hard because of the contrast and the fact that she stayed in the shade a lot; but matching yesterday’s photos with ones from earlier years, I’ve concluded that yes, Honey is back.

Judge for yourself:

Right side of the bill of the itinerant yesterday:

Right side of Honey’s bill, 2020. This is as close a match as I’ve seen across years. the black triangle is there in both cases, and the other markings are nearly identical.

Left side of putative Honey’s bill, yesterday.

Left side of Honey’s bill, 2020. It’s a good match, not only in the black triangle but the other patterning as well:

This is good enough for me, and I was doubtful of a match.

As you may recall, Honey came here at the beginning of the Spring, but didn’t stay long. I have no idea where she went, nor whether she raised a brood. But I find it ineffably touching that, whatever she did during the summer, she returned to the pond to molt. She’ll be here for a while, as she can’t fly during molting, and we’re feeding her up well with mealworms and corn (her favorite). We’re told that Botany Pond will be dredged and drained next year, and so I doubt I’ll see her in 2023, but here’s hoping that she’ll return in 2024. She’s a Senior Hen now, with an age of at least six years, but a mallard can live up to ten years in the wild.

Two other pictures:

Honey in molt: her primary feathers will be growing back soon.

And a rather plump Audrey, who now has only four babies left, and she isn’t really looking after them that much:

Duck at rest

July 29, 2022 • 12:30 pm

As I wrote yesterday, one of Audrey’s babies flew away, but didn’t fly very dexterously, as it crashed into the side of the Regenstein Library across the street from Botany Pond, and died from the collision. We were all heartbroken, as it was just starting its voyage into the Big World Outside.  I went across the street to retrieve the body, which was surprisingly hefty, carried it back to the pond, and put it on some steps going down to a building basement so nobody could see it. I than asked about removal, and was told that there was a procedure on campus for disposing of dead animals.

I asked that they do it, told them where the body was, but nothing happened. Late this morning it was still there, and the flies and ants were starting to go after it. It was disturbing on a number of counts; the unfilled three requests, the fact that I had to see it when I went to the pond, the fear that it would attract a predator (we have coyotes around campus), and the nagging feeling that, after having helped raise this duck, we were treating it disrespectfully.

I’m not religious, but when a Team Duck member volunteered to take it home and give it a proper burial in her backyard, I thought that was a great solution.

And so it is done. Here’s where the duck lies, underground and covered with a handpainted stone. My mental epitaph is this:

“Here’s lies a beautiful unnamed mallard, gone too young, and known but to Mother Nature”.

It rests in the shade, under a tree, and has a lovely headstone. This is all we could do.

Three more juveniles are gone today, undoubtedly flying away during the night. They always leave before dawn, which of course can lead them into colliding with buildings.

RIP, one of our juvenile mallards

July 28, 2022 • 10:00 am

We have had two young ducklings, offspring of Audrey, disappear in the last two days. Since they’ve just learned to fly, I hoped that they simply flew away.

And indeed one did, but to its death. I was called this morning by a student who knew me, telling me that there was a dead mallard in front of the Regenstein library, right across the street from the pond. I immediately knew what happened. I ran across the street, and sure enough, it was one of our “babies”. It had flown away, but wasn’t able to see the building. It had clearly been killed instantly.

I am putting up photos, but you don’t have to look.  I just hope the first one that disappeared yesterday made it to safety.

In situ:

Our baby. It was so beautiful.

These wings were meant to help it soar high up and away to the south.

Please don’t tell me that the library should do something about its windows so this won’t happen to birds. I will ask about that, of course, but today I don’t need advice. Posting will be light or nonexistent for the rest of the day.

Facilities has a procedure for disposing of dead animals, and I’ve asked them to take care of it. But first I carried it back to the pond where it grew up, and laid it down there. It will be taken away.

It’s been a tough year at the pond, what with the antagonism, the need to rescue newborns, the separation of mothers from babies, and now this. This baby never got the chance to live out its life in the wild as a free mallard.

RIP, sweet duckling. We helped them grow up from the very first day they entered the pond. I hope the others don’t meet this fate.

An ad for the University of Chicago

July 26, 2022 • 8:30 am

Yesterday, while tending my waterfowl, I came across this student hitting the books—or rather, the computer—on a table next to the pond. On the pond ledge right in front of her, Audrey and her entire brood of 12 were resting. (They’re almost all grown up now, and all of them can fly.)

Normally the ducks wouldn’t tolerate anyone being this close (except me with food), but the student was very quiet and didn’t disturb them. I complemented her on her respectful behavior, and we had a brief chat about the ducks. There are two types of pond-frequenters: those who love the ducks and those who couldn’t care less. She was in the first group, and had lots of questions. When I told her I was looking at a mother and her entire brood, the student became even happier, and was elated when one of the “babies” fell asleep with its head tucked under its wings—a very cute posture. Note the big smile on the student’s face (I asked permission to take the photo). It’s genuine.

Anyway, when I looked at the iPhone snap later, I realized it would be a great ad for the University of Chicago, with a header like this:

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 23, 2022 • 8:15 am

We have two batches of photos today. All captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them:

The first: birds from Christopher Moss:

Drama at the pond with a flock of cawing crows escorting in a visitor (Haliaeetus leucocephalus):


Did these mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) ever move fast! This is the far side of the pond, about 80m away. Nikon D850 and 200-500mm lens.

Whilst the hen mallard seems to be in charge of these ducklings, they are awfully big for ducklings without any spiky feathers showing through. And with them is a female Wood Duck. I know Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are prone to ‘egg dumping’ where they lay in someone else’s nest, but I think they stay within their own species for this. And mallards like to adopt other ducklings. Maybe they’re just a non-traditional family!

Reader Lorraine sends some photos from her walks in Virginia.

Bend, Reedy Creek:

Rocks, Reedy Creek:

Non-native Osage Orange tree (Maclura pomifera):

White Oak (Quercus alba) with large tumor:


And their cat Buford, who apparently had too much to drink the night before.

 Buford is such a sweetheart. Very mischievous, but that’s pretty normal. 😉



Readers’ wildlife photos

July 19, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s batch of photos comes from our regular contributor Mark Sturtevant. His narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These are pictures of spiders and insects that were taken a couple summers ago near where I live (in Michigan).

To begin, here is a dead Syrphid fly. Can you spot the reason for its demise? I will just say that Misumenoides sp. is the reason. 

Next up are some local tiger beetles. These interesting predatory beetles can be a bit of a challenge to photograph, although patience and some luck can bring results. What helps is they soon forget what disturbed them, so if one lies in wait they can wander back and even crawl on you. The first is a twelve-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela duodecimguttata), a new species for me.

Next is our spectacular festive tiger beetle (Cicindella scutellaris). I think these may be our easiest tiger beetle to photograph. This is a focus stacked picture. 

And finally, here is a big sand tiger beetle (Cicindela formosa). I can’t identify its prey.

There is an interesting new park that I visit, with no fewer than three species of carnivorous plants (more on those later). An isolated sandy beach in the park is quite a hot spot for tiger beetles as well as for burrowing wasps that paralyze various prey to feed their next generation. One of the largest of these wasps is the thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila procera), and here is one with a caterpillar. I think the caterpillar is a walnut caterpillarDatana integerrima). The wasp had managed to get her prey completely stuck between some rocks, so I freed it for her. She snatched it up out of my hand, and then I took this picture. 

Her burrow was nearby. As is typical of their kind, its entrance was filled in to conceal it. She put down the caterpillar at the entrance (they somehow know where it is), unplugged the burrow, and then hauled the caterpillar inside. The next sequence of pictures were taken in great haste, but it helped that the fuzzy caterpillar was a snug fit. 

After a time, the wasp re-appeared and industriously covered up her burrow entrance. She then flew off to look for more caterpillars, since there will be several chambers, each with young, to provision in this one burrow. 

Finally, I had spent some time getting to really know the funnel web spiders in the yard. Spiders from different families around the world have this name, since the characteristic sheet-like web with a tunnel retreat has been invented more than once. Our funnel web spiders are from the family Agelenidae, where all species build these kinds of webs. The one shown here is Agelenopsis sp. She had built her web at the top of a large weed, so it was a simple matter to take off the top and set it in a bowl on the dining room table for a focus stacking session. If she was spooked, she would just duck into her retreat rather than run off somewhere. It was a nice arrangement. 

At night, funnel web spiders are easy to find because their eyes produce a reflective eye shine from flashlights. So the last two pictures are of the same spider, taken in the dark except for with this kind of illumination. It took some fiddling to get eye shine to appear while up close, although the effect is super obvious from a distance. 

Although the spider was a total sweetheart to work with, I am here reminded of Shelob, the giant spider in Lord of the Rings“There age-long she had dwelt, an evil thing in spider form…


Mark also sent a photo of a  “blonde mallard”, which is leucistic (the result of a mutation) and clearly a female. (One site says that in mallards the phenomenon is nearly always seen in hens rather than drakes, though I don’t know why.)

Friday ducks

July 8, 2022 • 1:45 pm

I can’t prepare a long duck post today, so let’s just have a peek at Audrey’s brood over five weeks.

Here they are on May 28:

And on July 6, two days ago. Audrey still watches them constantly and intently:

See how fst they’ve grown! People are always amazed at their rate of development.

They’ve gone from fluffball to scruffy teenager to mini-duck to midi-duck, and now they’re almost full ducks. (That’s when they fly.) And it won’t be long until their first flights. They’re six weeks old, and they normally start flying around seven weeks or so. That will be a sight to see!

Team Duck are proud parents of this brood, despite having to rescue many ducklings who didn’t get to grow up in the five-star duck hotel called Botany Pond.

Just a few shots of my grandchildren

July 6, 2022 • 1:50 pm

I have a lot of videos and photos of Audrey’s brood when they went through a recent growth spurt, but here are a few shots I took today to show you how large those babies have gotten. They’re nearly Audrey’s size, but haven’t yet got full-sized flight feathers, though they run and flap their wings quite often. I suspect they’ll start flying within the next ten days. I’ll show a video of the flapping soon.

In the meantime, they’re nearly GROWED UP! (Note the errant turtles.)  Here are all 12 babies. No, their greenish heads don’t mean they’re all going to be drakes: all juveniles have the same coloring, and we won’t know their sex before they fly away. (There are two sexes in ducks, as there are in humans.)

Well-fed babies, watched by Audrey, hanging their food-swollen crops over the edge of the ledge:

Resting on Duck Plaza, overseen by Audrey, of course:

What we call “duck ballet”, as a duckling shows off a plie, sticking out a leg:

Here’s Audrey: this is a bill-identification photo of the left side. I have several of these from each side so we can identify her if she ever returns. She looks sweet and amiable, doesn’t she? You wouldn’t know that she’s a Psycho Killer duck, the most aggressive alpha female mallard I’ve ever seen, but also the most attentive mother I’ve known (the traits are connected, of course).

Her long neck, which looks like a periscope when she sticks it up, is where she gets her name (after Audrey Hepburn):

And we mustn’t forget the turtles!

p.s. I’ve seen these caterpillars several times around the Pond. They seem aposematic (warningly colored). Does anybody know what species this is? It’s yellow with back stripes (definitely an aposematic pattern) and has a red head.

One more rescue today

July 3, 2022 • 3:38 pm

I’m not sure how long I can take this, but, at the afternoon feeding of Audrey’s brood, a newborn duckling showed up in the pond. It had no mother. (I wonder if someone tossed it in the pond.)

So, bandaged up, I had to go in once again and rescue it. This was another tough one, as the duckling was lively and very clever about escaping. After I ran it across the pond a few times, though, it got tired and was easier to snag with my butterfly net.

The little one was in superb condition–very lively and squirmy.  And Alia and Lorenzo, for the second time today, drove it to a rehabber, this time a different one. The tiny mallard is now safe and warm.

And I had to go through the hour-long process of delousing, showering, and getting myself re-bandaged and re-antibioticed by Team Duck member Jean (thanks!).

I guess it takes a village to save a duckling!

Here I am with the singleton. It’s almost as if it showed up so I could rescue it and make up for the one who was pecked to death earlier today. I know that’s superstitious bunk, but I’m happy to have rescued this one. Total now: 31 saved and rehabbed out of 36 that needed to be saved.

Photo by Marie of me and the singleton:

Thoughts and prayers to the Duck God that this be the last rescue of the season!