Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My dad use to say "a bad day fishing is still better than a good day doing anything else". Now I understand that he was probably not the first to have said that but it is one of the things that has stuck with me all these years. My dad was not a great fisherman, he never had much time to fish. For most of my life he worked from 6am-10pm 7 days a week. I think he inherited the saying from his dad. My grandfather died on Christmas day 1962. He was 80 yrs old; I was 7. He loved to fish. My grandfather founded Morgan Furniture Shop in 1921 and worked hard all of his life too. But I do know that if one of his fishing buddies named Burt pulled into the driveway, he would literally have his fishing pole and gear in hand before Burt made it into the shop. They would typically disappear to Morgan's Point or Cedar Bayou for a day or two. When they came home they would cook up all the fish and invite family and friends over for a huge fish fry. What a fun memory! My grandfather Arthur Clark Morgan (Oct. 11, 1882 - Dec. 25, 1962)

My saying would be " A bad day living on the lake is better than a good day living anywhere else".  I can think of a few exceptions -  like being able to live close to my two daughters if they lived close together. I hope I still feel this way after surviving the Spring though. I envision bugs of ever shape and size not to mention being attacked by huge mosquitoes. Oh well, we'll see.

I get so frustrated feeding Hester and Arthur these days. It takes awhile to feed her since she can't come up on the land anymore. Plus these other ducks are getting more and more use to being around my bulkhead sometimes even chasing after Hester! That I find totally unacceptable!

Since I wrote that I have switched back to Cheerios. This is working much better. The Cheerio is much smaller and easier to control. Hester seems to like it better too! Another positive is that the other ducks don't like them. If one goes astray, they will very cautiously get within about 6 inches of it then turn away. Now if only I can get David not throw bread out to them. I guess in life you can't have everything...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Today feels like the beginning of spring! No more winter; no more below freezing temps at night; no more having to wear 3 layers of clothing to come out to feed my ducks and no more having to immediately go back inside afterwards to my little room.

There are so many different kinds of birds that I have seen in the almost 6 months that I have been here. Besides the mallards, I have seen the huge white pelicans, grey and white cranes, American coots, beautifully red cardinals, blue birds, finches, sparrows, crows, hawks, the American bald eagles, vultures and some little birds that I don't know the name of. I remember as a young child sitting in the kitchen of my grandparents house in the Houston Heights, looking out the window at the birds that would gather at the birdbath in my grandmother's garden and my grandfather telling me the names of the birds. That house would eventually become my father's after the passing of my grandfather and thats were I spent most of my growing up years. My grandmother's garden became run down and wild but the birdbath always remained and the kitchen table in front of the window was always my favorite place to sit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

History of Hester

I moved to this RV park on Lake Conroe Tx on Sept. 25, 2013. That is also the birthday of my dad (he would have been 105 yrs old!) and my granddaughter, Avery. Anyway, I started spending a lot of my time sitting outside by the lake just sitting and enjoying all the nature and water around me. I occasionally fished but never caught anything. I tell people that I just practice casting more than I really fish - I don't know what I would do if I actually caught anything. So I was outside one day when I saw a small young looking female mallard duck walk from the beginning of the bulkhead that is closest to the street, all along the edge of the bulkhead and follow it to the very end , around the point, and then down to the boat ramp. She walked down the boat ramp, got in the water and swam away. She had passed by where I was sitting without taking any notice of me.  The lake at this time was very low - there was a small area of dry land all the way around the bulkhead except where the boat ramp was.
I saw this same little duck several more times in the days after. I began to notice her interactions with the other ducks or should I say the lack of interaction. The other ducks would not let her in their "circle". If they were in the water, one of the ducks would chase her off; if they were sunning on the dock, they wouldn't let her up there with them. The name Hester came from my daughter Deborah. She suggested it from the book " The Scarlet Letter". At first I wanted to be friendly with all the ducks so I would throw them plain old white bread when they swam by. I learned my lesson rather quickly - I didn't like how they would fight over it and what would begin from feeding a small group of maybe five or six ducks would quickly escalate to as many as thirty! They would become very aggressive fighting with each other - there would be a lot of feathers in the water when things would finally settle down.  Since this one duck was never allowed in these gatherings, I would make it a point to give her some bread whenever I saw her. Sometimes she would be out in the water but more and more she would come over to the dry strip of land below where I was sitting.  I looked on the internet and researched what wild ducks ate - found out they eat almost anything but that white bread that most people throw to ducks was considered " junk food", I decided to try Cheerios as a less than evil alternative. She loved them. I also experimented with other foods - apples, grapes, bananas, lettuce, cabbage, just about anything that I was eating. She did eat them in small quantities but seemed to still prefer the Cheerios. The grapes had to be cut at least in half so I would eat part of it and give her the other part. This only lasted for a few days though. She would not eat them anymore and by this time I was feeding her while she was on the land and I wanted her to continue coming up to me so I switched back to the cereal. I gradually put the food closer and closer to my chair where I was sitting. This process took several weeks. Eventually I was feeding her from my hand. At first I would put several Cheerios in my hand and hold it out to her. She would peck at my hand and the Cheerios would all drop to the ground. It took a little more than a week before I gained enough of her trust to hold each one out and have her eat it. During this entire process I always talked very softly and soothingly to her - saying "Hester" while I held out the cheerio and then telling her how pretty and brave she was. She learned to pair her name and my voice with the food. An example of basic behavioral psychology. I'm still not sure who trained who! Lol. I learned to make sure I had cheerios or whole bread on hand! She was also coming over to me by flying from a dock that was on the other side of the boat ramp or she would walk along the bulkhead on the other side of the boat ramp and then fly over.
 She also would spend a good amount of her time with me. After she ate she would waddle over to the point of land and preen herself, bring one leg up, tuck her little head under her wing and take a nap. I learned from my research that ducks can sleep and be aware of what's going on around them at the same time. Apparently each eye is controlled by a different hemisphere of the brain. When she would wake up she would stretch her little legs, preen herself some more and jump in the water and swim away. I really began to be curious about her behaviors. I didn't want other ducks coming around to beg food so whenever they did I would stand up to shoe them away. Occasionally one would try to fly up and on those occasions all I had to do was stand up and they would quickly redirect their flight plan. During the times that this would happen, Hester would quickly waddle to her point but not fly away. I'm not sure if Hester picked up on my preference for not having other ducks or if it was a coincidence that she didn't want them around either but I started noticing that when other ducks would swim close she would walk along the bulkhead making a clacking sound while jutting her head to the side. It seemed that this was a signal to them that they were not welcome! I have since seen this behavior repeated over and over again and by other female ducks. The males do not do this. Anyway, there was another trick she did when she didn't want others around. One time I wanted to see what would happen if I did let another duck come up. A male and female duck were swimming by and the female decided she wanted what Hester had. Hester had already eaten and was standing on the bulkhead preening. The female flew up within about 4 ft of where Hester was. Hester immediately stood on one leg and tucked her head under her wing like she was napping. The other female walked over to Hester and stood there along side of her. After waiting a minute or two the female jumped back into the water and they swam away. As soon as the other female left, Hester came out of hiding, so to speak, and continued preening.

When Arthur arrived on the scene, Hester was very comfortable eating out of my hand. He would wait patiently below on the water until she was ready to join him. It took me a little while to make the connection. For one thing, she didn't try to shoe him away like she did the others and she would swim away with him when she was ready. After I became aware of him I started to accept him too.

There is a lot more to my and Hesters history but I will go ahead and post this. My other observations will be included sporatically in future posts. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I have not forgotten about this blog - I've been working on a post about the history of me and Hester. The more I write about it, the more I remember, then I have to go back in and edit it. It shouldn't be too much longer.

In the meantime, Hester continues to come by - she eats only a small amount then moves on. There are a bunch of new ducks that I haven't seen before. They have a serious female shortage. They are also more aggressive and have no qualms about swimming up close to the bulkhead. In part I blame David. I understand that he wants the joy of feeding the ducks too but he messes with my system. He thinks its fun to throw a whole piece of bread in the mist of them and watch them fight over it. It is pretty comical to watch a male chase another male duck around sometimes but it is also incourages them to be aggressive. Hester has become more and more finicky and timid especially when the other ducks are near. She doesn't even like Arthur to eat because it seems that once he has been lucky enough to grab a bite from her, he gets a little more aggressive too. She will usually immediately start swimming away. She knows that Arthur has to follow her.  Smart girl! She has been spending more time again at her nesting area. For a day or two she didn't seem to be over there too often.

Pearl and her mate have been coming over frequently too. Most of the time they are there before Hester. I am still trying to train her to come closer to the bulkhead. This is another thing that those mean ducks interfere with. There is one particular Daryl that thinks that he deserves food more than Pearl. I don't feed the Daryls but David has said he does. Arg....

I know these are wild things and I have read about this happening but I didn't expect it to happen so close to me. It was very disturbing. I have already described how ducks mate. I have read also that sometimes a group of males will isolate a female and "have their way with her".  I was out feeding Hester and there were several pairs of other ducks waiting a little ways out. A rogue group of 4 male ducks intruded into the scene and within just a few seconds had a female duck pinned down under the water. One of the males was mounted on her but that wasn't the worse. Two of the other males were trying to mount her all at the same time! All three males had this poor female completely and totally submerged and they wouldn't stop! I couldn't believe it! I was afraid they were going to drown her because they were in this fringy. I had my stick I use to shoe away unwanted ducks near by . I tried swinging it in the air, I banged it on the bulkhead as hard as I could and this finally got their attention. Needless to say this also frightened the others away too. I really really really want to get a sling shot! I don't want to hurt the ducks, I just want to get their attention and selectively dissuade them from coming around. I have tried throwing a rock but they only think its food that sinks really fast. I know I would have to practice a lot but that is something else to take up my time. I am sure that the closer we get to spring the more aggressive these males will become.

Friday, February 7, 2014

news about Hester

It continues to be very cold and wet here on the lake. The nights have been below freezing and the days just barely above it. Nasty, nasty weather. Since we have had a noticeable and uncharacteristic fall and a very long and unpleasant winter, I am hoping for a beautiful spring!

Although it has been freezing and wet, Hester and Arthur continue to be faithful. They had been coming by 2-3 times a day. This morning while I was getting ready to go outside and feed them as usual, I saw Hester take off in flight! Arthur of course followed her. She flew around the cove in a wide circle 3 times and then landed on the over side of the cove. I was astonished! This was the first time I had witnessed her flying since she began nesting! She swam back over and I was hoping she would fly up and I would be able to feed her like before. I threw some bread up in the air so she would see it and prompt her to come up. She did a little head bobbling like she would do before flying up but she didn't follow through. The only thing it did was to attract a big black crow. That crow was pretty determined to get the bread. I would shoe him away but he first just flew up on top of the light pole. I took my stick and waved at him and he flew about 5 ft further. It took 4 more times to get him discouraged enough to leave. I then gathered up the bread and give it to a very patient Hester a piece at a time. She ate her fill and instead of swimming off in the direction of her nest, she swam to the other side of the cove. Later in the morning I looked out of my window and she was back. I quickly slipped on my shoes and put on my coat. I opened the door and she again took off in flight! I wonder if the consecutive freezing cold weather has had an impact on her eggs or if a predator got to them. She is definitely acting different. I will continue to try to entice her back up and feed like she use to. I miss being able to hand feed her.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Well, this weather certainly has been very strange for Texas. I watched the trees around here turn orange and red in the fall last year. It seems in the past we have only had 2 seasons - spring and summer with only a very mild winter ( people up north would definitely not call it winter). Fall was very nice to observe. Now we are having a very cold winter. I am extremely tired of this. I want to wake up in the morning, get my coffee and go outside and commune with my ducks and watch the other activity on the lake. I really miss that. My routine now is to wake up, get my coffee, go outside to feed my ducks then immediately come back inside. If it is raining I have to use the umbrella and Hester is definitely afraid of it. Even when she use to come up on the land she was leery of it. Back then I could sit in my doorway, prop the umbrella between the roof and the door and throw their bread to them. Instead of being able to sit outside and have the view of the entire lake as my living room, I now come back in and have a 12 x 8 room for my living area. This room only has about 8 x 4 as a walking area - very small and cramped feeling. I do have a TV in it so I have a means of entertainment. The redeeming feature is a nice big window that looks out on the lake. I do have several projects to also occupy my time. 1 is writing the history of my experience with Hester and the other is a 27"x20" latch hook wall hanging for my grandson.

Hester and Arthur continue to come over several times a day and immediately swim back to her nest area afterwards. Whenever they swim over there is a Daryl that thinks he is entitled to his share also. I don't feed him but unfortunately David does. I have asked him not to but I know he wants to feed them also.

In the last several days the people at the end of the bulkhead have been throwing out some sort of food that is very large and floats. I can't see exactly what it is but it looks like large rolls. Its too large for the ducks so it attracts a large amount of gulls. They fly over, swoop down and grab 1 then fly to the end of the bulkhead where I am. I guess they drop chunks of it when they fly because about half way thats where the ducks gather. The gulls turn around and head back for more. And this is repeated over and over until its gone. Its funny to watch - I'm not sure who comes out ahead - the ducks that just sit on the water and wait for food to mysteriously drop down from the sky or the gulls who grab this enourmous quantity of food and not be able to eat it because it's too big.

The lake is wonderful to watch in all kinds of weather - I don't think I will ever be tired of it. When it's windy there is the white caps that rise and fall; when its calm it looks like a mirror and I see everything reflected in it. I wish I was an artist so I could capture all the beauty of it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I have made 3 attempts to make a entry. I would write wonderfully long witty descriptions and for different reasons would lose them. Very frustrating. I think I will try to make them shorter and try to put the pics in as I go.

Hester is definitely nesting. No ifs  or maybe about it.

She spends about 90% of her time here now. She still comes over a few times a day but doesn't stay long. She will leave immediately if another duck looks like they are headed over there or even if other ducks start coming over to me. She avoids conflict by just leaving. I think 1 problem is that there is a new flock of ducks in my cove. They look like a younger group. There is a gorgeous female that I have named Pearl.

I can tell this is a new flock because Hester and Arthur and I have trained the flock she was part of not to come around. This new flock is made up of about 14 males and females. They didn't show any caution about swimming over.  I have a piece of lumber that is about 3 ft long and 1 in wide. I use this to swing at the ducks and they scatter.  Its pretty effective. They think its about 20 ft long.  Pearl scatters too but she comes back. This morning she flew over as soon as I came outside. My goal is to eventually train her to come up on the land and then to eat from my hand like Hester did. Her feathers are a lot lighter than the others and I love the marking around her eyes.

The other day I went out and saw 2 beautiful big pelicans.

I have never seen them this close before. They looked amazing! The other thing about training a new duck is she is still leery about coming close to the bulkhead so I have to throw the bread out. This attracts the gulls. One will appear and then more just seem to appear out of nowhere. Later a bunch of young gulls showed up too.