Summer’s Snowflakes…

Well, it was snowing at Green Heron Pond last evening…yes I know it is the end of June but by looking at the pond and yard, you might think like “Christmas in July” we are experiencing “Snow in June”…  Snowflakes in the form of tiny cottonwood seeds, courtesy of the “female” cottonwood situated by the shoreline and dock.  After last weekend’s fish kill and clean-up, all of us are ready for a break from the heat, the faintly lingering dead fish aroma and all the white stuff clinging to EVERYTHING!

cottonwood and willows
“snow drifting”…@ the pond…

I had on a dark colored tee shirt when I strolled out to water the garden and flowers earlier only to come in coated with white clinging fuzz…even the birds are tired of the stuff…every duck and goose has cottonwood fuzz plastered all over their bills, songbirds dodge the floating wisps of white as they fly through the yard…I can’t remember a year it has been more prevalent and less welcome.

I am thinking the cottonwood fuzz may have actually contributed to the fish kill as nutrient rich water is one ingredient for the deadly mix that creates oxygen free water… and the pond has had a haze of white over a vast expanse of it. Though I have to say I am encouraged after a conversation with the local Kansas Parks and Wildlife Fisheries biologist about the general state of the pond.  Basically, Nature cleaned out our pond when we could not accomplish it…now we have a clean slate so to speak to work with and do a better job of complementing Mother Nature.

boat, dock fuzz
rather sad little fuzzy boat and dock…

There are some remaining small fish, turtles, frogs and avian visitors, so now we will research aerators as our only intrusion- due to the pond’s vulnerability to dense cottonwood population, age and lack of fishing…  An aerator will provide additional oxygen in the sluggish warm water months and we will depend on the herons and turtles to help out a bit too.  In the meantime I am staying indoors, drinking tea (tall glass with ice- not a steaming hot mug) perusing books, magazines and other cold weather projects…pretending that pleasant summer weather might be on it’s way…

Fish Kill on the Pond

Wednesday and Thursday were stellar viewing days on the pond as a Great Blue Heron and Great Egret alternated early morning and afternoon fishing off our dock.  The Greenback Heron was also seen along the shoreline choosing to go under the dock’s walkway without meeting one of his larger relatives on the dock.  And they caught fish…I was amazed particularly as I watched the Great Blue catch three perch in a time frame of less than 20 minutes.  One of the little sun fish (as we call perch) was caught by the heron launching itself off the dock, out over the water like a parachute coming down- wings poised out, then floating and spearing the fish.  The Great Blue maneuvered back to shore with its catch speared “shish kabob” style. In great long strides it moved up the lawn, shook the perch loose from its bill, flipped it up and devoured it.

great blu dock
Great Blue’s big fishing day, shortly before the algae bloom…

Now I know that herons of all types are stealthy and successful fishermen but I had a fleeting thought that the succession of fish caught and consumed was quite rapid. Then I promptly forgot that until Dan came home the next evening, looked out the window and asked if that was a dead fish on the pond.  I grabbed my binocs, headed out the door to the dock for a better view only to discover the small sun fish bobbing on their sides, eyes open-sightless along the rocks of the shoreline.  Even then I wondered if the herons had possibly lost a catch that then succumbed to injury…until I saw a larger fish float lifelessly by. Then I knew- the Green Blue Algae had bloomed and it was a toxic fish kill.

carp 40 lbs (2)
one of the big Grass Carp…over 20 yrs in the pond…lost them all…very sad!

There had been signs of the algae over the last couple of weeks, but we had hoped (by now) to have dodged a fish kill…not so this time.  The hot temps of last week, stale water with little oxygen…all part of the perfect mix for disaster and death at the pond.  Dan worked Friday evening to remove what perch (and a large catfish) that he could…using a shovel and then bagging them…the stench of dead fish already beginning to hang in the pond air.  We hoped our large grass carp would survive and that just the tiny perch- which have been overly abundant- would be the only victims…Saturday morning revealed the worst, our large carp their diamond scaled bodies, bloated, floating vessels, moving through the water at the wind’s every whim.

One of our neighbor’s worked tirelessly yesterday to remove the dead fish from his shoreline- to prevent further movement to our part of the pond.  He had picked up myriad sun fish, small mouthed bass and another large catfish.  Dan and I still had many hours of retrieval left today and hopefully the stench- which has spread up and down our neighborhood now at every breeze and which I could still detect as I fell  asleep last evening- will abate and then we can access what and when to renew and refresh life here on the pond.

But this morning I was awakened by ducks moving about the yard, quacking, squabbling for me to come out and feed them.  As I looked across the pond- though there was no movement on the pond- no rounded rings of a fish ping on the surface or motion just under- there was a Momma Mallard with her 3 tiny ducklings, the usual duck crew waiting for a cracked corn breakfast and even a bullfrog “harumphing” along the shoreline.   I am encouraged and it is my hope and prayer that the waterfowl, shorebirds, turtles and frogs survive and life in the pond returns-  its dark  depths replenished and flourishing once again.  I look forward to being unaware of who, how many or how big the residents of the dark waters of Green Heron Pond are….I will wish for a fish ping on the surface or a leap out of the water for an insect and will throw a bit a fish food off the dock for hungry carp, bass and sun fish.  We will welcome the herons back to fish off the dock too- the next time the little fish will have a sporting chance!

great egret dock
Great Egret on dock prior to algae bloom

(Note: Blue Green Algae, Cyanobacteria- blue bacteria: toxic in its bloom form, will be approached and treated with caution on Green Heron Pond.  If you suspect Blue Green Algae at a water source near you, keep pets and children out and away from it and use caution if you have to enter area.)



Mallard Melee

Monday was the first day of Summer and there was a strawberry hued full moon in the evening to prove it…solstice and a full moon…it was beautiful!  But by the time the pinkish orange orb appeared over the cottonwood tree line of the pond, it was well after dusk and the pearlescent moon glow cast all in its path in a most favorable light….like the pond- which has actually been coated with cottonwood fuzz, molted duck feathers and the last remnants of a possible Blue Green Algae outbreak for several days now. And though the calendar may state the beginning of Summer, here it seems like late mid season, pond and waterfowl past their Spring time prime.


tired pond
Tired summer water @ Green Heron Pond

Except the Mallards on the pond keep surprising me…all the colorful migrants have come and gone.  The Canadas only appear on a Sunday outing occasionally, so now it is the songbirds at the feeders, the Mallards and me.  The Mallard drakes are losing their brilliant emerald and rich brown colorings. They spend much of their time preening by the water’s edge…they have begun to leave the females alone- not interested in mating or maybe the heat just keeps them in check.  But somehow after 15 ducklings (with only 5 surviving) there are now 2 new sets of ducklings.  They are not newly hatched but rather one group of 3 mid sized and a set of 5 just large enough to escape the big catfish and turtles as they swim across the water. I could hardly imagine  where they could have been.

Apparently they have marched from one of the other ponds or been kept in tall grass at one end of our pond- just now appearing.  One of the neighborhood ponds has had a recent fish kill due to the algae so maybe these ducks came here in search of a better aquatic situation.  Whatever their reasons for appearing it has refreshed my attitude towards the tired, hot pond and I have been enjoying their various interactions with the other resident ducks.

Now you would think the newcomers would be tentative, possibly reserved or hesitant at an unfamiliar pond, but no… and who rules the roost?  Why it is the 5 little ones and their mom.  She is aggressive towards the drakes and her little ducklings have observed and learned the lesson well.  What a melee!  Heads down and little Mallard tails up, they chase the bigger ducklings away from the feed and have their fill before heading off, leaving remnants of corn chops behind for the bewildered and beleaguered older ducks.

ducks at feeding area
Ducks in repose by a shaded feeding area

So, I have expanded my feeding area to include smaller isolated spaces so everyone can feed peaceably at the same time or at their leisure- otherwise feeding becomes hectic, noisy, no one eats much and all gets scattered.  Scattered across a dirty white fuzzy lawn dotted with the residue of rich brown, dark green, pale blue stripes- discarded plumage… Summer has come to the pond.




Chronicle of the Canadas

Recently someone asked me if I had ever witnessed the life process of Canada geese “egg to adulthood”.  In a round about way I have through my few years here on the pond. But this spring has been the most chronologically accurate due to the nesting area being about 30′ from the house.  In February and March we were able to view the courtship and mating of the two adult geese (who probably were born near here).  Then came the search for the perfect nesting spot, which turned out to be right next to the dock area and walkway… and then Mama satisfied with her nest, strained to lay eggs, cared for them and hatched them exactly 28 days later.  All the while the gander stood as sole guard and protector except when I lent a hand by shining the flashlight and shouting at a coyote trying to steal all the eggs.

goslings newborn
Back on April 12th- Goslings are hardly a spec next to Dad and Mom

On April 12th three little yellow fuzzballs poked their heads out from under their mother’s down and the next saga began.  From 5 eggs to 4 eggs (after the coyote visit) to three goslings, life was just starting for these little ones.  They stayed a few days and wandered on to other ponds.  They came back to visit and then there were 2 goslings.  Much growing had taken place but not enough to outdo a predator such as a hungry coyote with kits.  Nature’s bittersweet balance…producing such beautiful innocence and promise and then all that gone so another species might survive and thrive.  I attempt to put it in perspective.

goslings today
Taken today- looking just like Mom (eating with them) and Dad (watching me) not getting too close to photo these geese…

Today two sets of Canada geese parents and their goslings (2 a piece) swam to shore and came up for a breakfast of corn chops.  They eyed me a bit warily but continued eating, the ganders ever accounting for my movements on the deck or peering inside through the window.  The color shifts of the goslings have morphed from the just hatched sunny egg yolk yellow to dull awkward beige-ish  brown with darkening tops of heads, to now- smaller replicas of their parents.  Black head with white chin strap, chocolate-milk colored back and wings- only size and curly white tail feathers separate them from adult plumage. Their legs are long and wings short but flexed often- not quite fly worthy yet. Flight feathers are maturing- gaining strength and these young geese might possibly fly in with mom and dad for breakfast in a few weeks.

I have shared my watching a group of Canadas a few years ago form a V pattern on the pond, wings poised, starting take off- only to settle back into the water and practice the maneuver repeatedly.  I could only think they were coordinating wing span distance between birds and strengthening their wings preparing for long flight.  It was amazing to witness.  But so much of these often maligned water fowl amazes me.

gosling 2 weeks ago
The awkward stage…about two weeks ago…still not getting close to do a photo…geese are very protective parents!

I realize there are no lack of Canada geese.  I have witnessed their noisy territory issues, I have cleaned up after them much like a dog owner might; shovel and bag in hand. But I have watched a Canada couple greet each other- genuinely happy to be together.  I have witnessed them mourn over a lost mate or over lost eggs.  I have watched parents protect, scold and nurture their goslings and I have to say I am fascinated, amazed by the process and love these noisy, pest-y geese…. Scratchy hand written accounts of  geese antics appear often when I write about the wildlife on the pond in a little year by year journal I keep. Thus Chronicling of the Canadas will continue at Green Heron Pond.  I will keep you posted!