The ill-behaved chicks, the groundhog & the awkward goslings


I went to a secret spot to see the next stage in gosling development where the last inches of fluff covering an elongating body are losing the battle against developing big bird feathers. These birds are funnier than their baby counterparts and nowhere near as elegant (visually) as their parents. Good for a smile, with luck, one that elevates itself to a chuckle.

IMG_2102 haverhill water dept plover ducks winnekenni basin ground hog

Which end is up? Not the gosling’s best side.

Saw a bird on a rock that was unlike the others and focused my camera on that. Damn is that a piping plover and I’ll be banned from my secret spot? They are a protected species in my area. I mean I wasn’t even on a saltwater beach. On closer examination when it turned to face me head on for a moment,  I saw two vivid black rings, three if you included the skull cap, four if you counted the moustache. It was a killdeer. Funny, though I heard a lot of chirping, I never quite caught anything that sounded at all like the bird was suggesting someone take out Bambi’s mom. According to the same bird guide that told me that the rings meant this was a killdeer, there is supposed to be a distinctive “Kill deer!” call.

I kept a good distance away (no problem with my 100x digital zoom), made minimal movements beyond the index finger pushing down on the shutter, and watched. The bird seemed unconcerned by my appearance.

IMG_2189 haverhill water dept plover ducks winnekenni basin ground hog

Another bit of nature stole my attention for a while. A groundhog/woodchuck (whichever we have here in New England) rapidly skimming across the lawn like a low slung chunky brown ribbon blowing in the wind. Its feet hidden in the grass, the body appeared to ripple as it ran. Those things can move! I guess I moved, too, as I watched him.

After a jaunt from grass to rock  and back again, he sunk even lower in the grass. Kind of like my rabbits when they are falling into the patting coma of peace and relaxation. But his eyes were alert, steely, dare I say ‘predatory’?

IMG_2169 haverhill water dept plover ducks winnekenni basin ground hog

The bird became more vocal and I sensed a mini panic. “Oh my gosh”, I thought, “is she afraid of the skulking groundhog?” Though I’d never seen one eating anything other than dandelions and grass and there seemed to be no shortage of either, I wondered if the occasional slug might have given this Chucky a taste for flesh in the poultry vein.

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I zoomed in on the bird and shot a few photos before realizing there were two chicks nearby. Chicks who, it appeared, refused to listen to their mother or come back to the covering grass immediately as she so obviously instructed. They dallied at the water’s edge and could not make it back up over the curb even when they tried and so were out in the open. Fortunately their coloring made it near impossible for me to distinguish them from the sand spattered concrete. I hoped their camouflage protected them from the interloper, as well.

IMG_2126 haverhill water dept plover ducks winnekenni basin ground hog

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Check out those wing nubs. No wonder the legs are so big, these guys aren’t flying anytime soon

 

The mom then put on a spectacular display. Wings akimbo, flopping helplessly at some distance from her offspring.  I stayed put, ready to intercede on the babies’ behalf if Chucky should make a move. The mom’s antics got more pronounced. I mean if I were honest, I’d have to report her lame duck performance was far from nuanced, a common mistake of newer actors. One chick ran up the ramp to where the curb was lower and made it into the grass. The other still splashed and pecked and ignored sound advice.

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The mother brought her garish act even closer to me as I stayed as still as a camera and wind and gravity would allow. She flopped closer and then moved a little bit away, flopping more pathetically at that distance. “I will defend you Momma!, I will ….. hmmmm” those actions seem directed at me. Though I stayed my stillest birdwatcher still,  a sad realization descended; I was the root of, not the cure for, the anxiety.

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I finally moved, slunked back to my car, fully aware I would not be discussed among the birds as the human super saver of feathered friends, there’d be no tiny mom bird head leaning against mine in solidarity and appreciation (you know like the caught swan and that guy on YouTube), no aerial acrobatics of gratitude like the whale cut free from the fishing lines. The best thing I could do for this little family was leave, so I did.

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(c)Alison Colby-Campbell

 

 

 

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