Monarch of the pond

(Audrey)

The pond behind my house is quite alive: peepers, newts, frogs, turtles, ducks, geese and an occasional crane. The peepers have ended their romantic endeavors and are silent. The frogs are the next deep-throated vocalists to fill the night air with their tune to charm that special croaker for a rendezvous.

The salamanders and newts are quieter; although it is said they do make endeavors to attract a mate, I have not ever heard a single sound. It is said their wooing is a “bloop” or a “chirp.” A chirp sound I can understand. The bloop a bit harder. Could it be the sound that happens when you drop a cup into a sink full of water, or more like a present-day computer game, or that sound the slot machine makes when you don’t hit the jackpot? That last is a sound with which I am familiar with.

I enjoy an assortment of ducks. The bufflehead, with a little body and a large head, will move into an empty hole to nest. The streamlined merganser with pointy bill will dive out of sight to retrieve a fish. The forest-flying wood duck lands comfortably in a tree, its best nesting spots; the male, with vibrant green and purple-crested head with white stripes and red eyes, is beautiful. The mallard, whose metallic green head stands out from the crowd, is called the dappling duck because it feeds by tipping up in the water to feed off the bottom. The most abundant duck in the world and the most heavily hunted, the mallard is the only duck that actually quacks.

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Recently I saw a crane sitting on the mini-pier that is on the edge of my little muddy. He was standing stock still, apparently waiting for the lunch special to swim near the top of the water. My determination to take his picture interrupted his brief moment, and he left. I have not given up hope that he will return.

I have some castoff decoy geese, shot full of holes by a nearsighted neighbor. I have planted them in and around the water. I am not sure it attracts those Canadians find my pond the ideal location for family rearing. I have yet to see any brant geese, a goose my dad hunted with much success in the Chesapeake, at my pond. Flying over very high, they may find it a bit too bland to visit.

My pond also supports interesting aquatic creatures. I once had a tenant who moved and left a tank with several little fish. It was suggested I simply flush them away, but I decided that was not a fate I could live with. I brought them home and put them in the small water fountain in my rock garden. Having been built by an amateur (me), this  water feature was not deep enough to support life during the winter. I was sure that these wiggling creatures would not make it through their summer, but I was wrong, so come fall I put them into my pond with good wishes for their success.

I watched for them, to no avail. I was convinced they had not made it. Several years later, my pond needed some additional excavation. My neighbor came over with his backhoe to make it deeper. He was at the job for half an hour before he stopped and called me over. It was the first I had seen those little fish I thought were guppies, now koi or carp, now ten to twelve inches long. They were delightfully colorful, healthy and apparently happy. Digging had apparently disturbed their living quarters, and they had come to the top in full display.

Those turtles which I rescue from road crossings are a bit like the fish. Placing them safely in my pond does not assure I will see them again. I bring them home whenever I encounter them, so I’ve brought in dozens.  My forest-covered pond is in the shadows. I suspect they may be migrating to the neighbor’s pond, just south of me, where the sun shines brightly.  He has mentioned a plethora of turtles basking like tourists on the large rock he placed in the middle of his mere.

My little muddy pond has not inspired me to compose a rough draft for a future book, but like Thoreau, “I am monarch of all I survey.” I look down on my pond, this natural water feature that I would sorely miss if it weren’t there. I hope that I will always live near this kind of wetland.

I have read somewhere that a pond can contain examples of virtually every single major group of animals on the planet. Little did I know that I would have been privileged to experience this phenomenal event right in my back yard.