The Pond is a Flight School

This is my seventh year watching Gander raise goslings.  The first six years, it was Goose and Gander, but she was frail last year, and didn’t make it back.  This year, it was Gander and Sweet Young Thing . . . plus four of his older descendants and their mates.

In the past, Gander has made solid efforts at training his goslings in formation flying – starting with water landings from the dock before they could fly.  Eventually, the formations tighten up – but this year is different.  First he trained this year’s goslings, then one hatch at a time he has been incorporating the grand-goslings into the flight.  It’s a small pond for 40 geese to land simultaneously.  He started ground landings when I mowed the hay – and it looked like raking the hay just added another training complication for his flight school.

The youngest hatch are still on the pond – but I expect most of the geese will be gone by the end of the month, living on larger lakes, and then there will be the last landing and overnighter of fall, as the young geese make the final imprint that will lead them back to the pond next year.  Most won’t return, but some will return with their mates to raise their own hatches – returning in pairs where they left flying formations.

There are seven little coots on the pond – they will probably make it . . . though the parental coots are about as far removed from Gander’s family responsibility as can be.  This year has been good for coots.  The Cinnamon Teal has four little birds following her.

The blue heron has perched on the top of a Ponderosa pine – and I think the heron is the source of the small perch I see in the canal.  I think the perch in Rattlebone lay eggs in the grass along the shore, the scales on the heron legs attach a couple of fish eggs, they’re dropped in the pond . . . and most of the time the tiny perch becomes a snack for the little diving ducks.  Someday, there will again be fish in the pond – life finds a way.  When they do, the aeration will make their lives a little more secure in the winter.  The pond really does have too much shallow water.

The multitude of geese increase the algae production – too much natural fertilization.  Last Fall I noticed a goldfish – I don’t believe the birds helped it along.  I figure someone decided the pond looked like a home for it – since I haven’t noticed any carp in the pond, I think that was an introduction that failed . . . or possibly a single large goldfish is working the algae.  If so, that fish has its work cut out for it.

The last couple of years, the fluctuation between high and low water seems to be more than the resident muskrats could handle – but others will hike in and make the pond their own one day.  Life finds a way.  The crayfish are there – and I should probably set up some traps for the mini-lobsters.

I think I get to pay the taxes on the pond, and do the maintenance to keep it going – but the owners are the frogs, the birds, the missing muskrats, the barely established fish that might, or might not, make it.

The salamanders from the shoreline, the voles along the edge, swimming like their larger relatives the muskrats as they evade the small predators – the least weasels. The red winged blackbirds do their best to protect all nesting birds from eagles and ravens.  The nighthawks have hatched and are learning to fly and catch insects on the wing.

Thoreau had Walden as a young man – my two acres of pond provide an old man a lot to watch.


Wild Geese Have Flown

Another hatch of goslings have taken flight from the pond.  In the flyway we saw huge numbers of Canada geese – here, we see a single pair, year after year, who are our Summer neighbors, and traffic slows to watch them.

Gander seems as strong and youthful as ever, but the years are taking a toll on Goose – the cold Spring months that she spends on the nest have aged her more  She walks slowly, spends more time with her head held low, and leaves the flock leadership to Gander.  Hopefully, she will winter easily and return to raise another flock next Spring.

They chose the pond because the island makes a safe nesting spot as soon as the ice goes out.  They arrive early, to beat the competitors, with last year’s flock.  This year, the hatching took two rainy days – Goose remaining on the nest, Gander on the goslings.  Their parenting dedication is impressive.

July has been the month of flight training.  Gander starts training them on water landings before they can fly, with flapping runs from the dock to drop into the water, move to swimming mode, and leave open space for their siblings.  The next stage of flight training includes a walk into the mowed field, then a takeoff, circling until organized, and a water landing in the pond – repeated until everything is satisfactory.  Eventually they move to landings on solid surfaces, then to forced takeoffs when he leads them close to the house and the small dogs.  Then one day the flock flies off to other sites in the area, returning occasionally to the home pond. 

Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

Around the Pond

New on the game cam this week is a badger.  The badger tends to be transitory with few Columbia grounds squirrels residing in the field to become dinner. The geese are being geese. The goslings are growing and hiking along the pond’s edge.  The turkeys are being camera shy.  The deer look like they need a good combing.-Patches


The Goslings Hatched

Each Spring, before the ice thaws in the pond, Goose and Gander return, to make sure that no other goose couple takes her nesting island.  In 2015, they were alone, and Gander worked to chase off all other nesting birds – the next year, some of the year-old goslings returned with them.  By now, he’s an old hand at this – about a half-dozen yearling geese and their consorts hang out in the big pond, and ducks nest along with Goose on her island. 

So we’re watching Goose, Gander, and eight offspring stroll and swim around.  The pond isn’t really ours.  It belongs to the waterfowl that use it as a place to raise their young.  We just get to watch them more than anyone else does.

This year she started her nest 3 days before the ice went out – and the hatching was spread out over two days and a night.  It was easy to observe – Gander came ashore to keep the goslings covered as Goose continued her nesting, and last year’s young geese circled the island and flew patrols overhead. 


Usually I don’t see Salamanders

We seem to have made a good location great for salamanders – ours are long-toed salamanders.  Despite being in a near-perfect location for salamanders, most of the time we don’t see them.  The information is online– and the field guide does a pretty good job explaining why we see them rarely.  They’re classified as “mole” salamanders, which kind of suggests they spend their time in the dirt rather than walking around on top of it.  I am pretty much just excerpting from the field guide – and I strongly suggest that if you ever notice one of these little guys around your house, you really want to read it. 

It explains how we built a great salamander environment by accident.  Stretching out a few logs in a stack gives a cool, shaded spot on top of moist soil – kind of a great place for a foraging mole salamander.  The pond, with its still water, provides a great place for laying eggs and hatching the little amphibians.

 Finally, leaving a thick piece of plywood alongside the dripline from the garage roof built a near-perfect mating location – covered by the plywood, and with wet, uncompacted soil, less than 100 yards from the pond.  The females will wander down to the pond, lay eggs, and along will come the next generation.


Muskrat Watching

As Fall moves the evening hours earlier, and the migratory birds begin their migration, the evening pond watching moves toward the muskrats.  Muskrat watching is not a sensational experience, like watching eagles bank, or hawks dive.  The muskrat isn’t impressive like a bear or cougar.  Our muskrats are near-sighted, hard-of-hearing, and have a poor sense of smell.  In short, they are just about perfect to watch if you stand still in the day’s fading light, and follow the wake in the water to the muskrat.

A muskrat, photo by Renata Schroeppel

I like muskrat watching – and I have the tight, glacial silt and clay soil around the pond that let’s me regard their tunneling calmly.  Our pond in South Dakota was in sandy clay, and a single tunneling muskrat could drain it, so the muskrat was the enemy. Here the tunnels are only a problem when they collapse and create stumbling hazards.

Havahart, known for their traps, has a webpage on muskrats – appropriate, since they are one of the most trapped animals in history.  In southern states, some served them up as “swamp rabbit”.  As a rodent, they are relatives of the rabbit, but one of my cats believed they were just big voles.  Here, they eat crayfish, snails and vegetation.  The wagging tail helps propel them through the water, where the head and back both show as they swim.

I understand the trappers – but being able to watch them swim around the pond has a non-cash value to me.  Montana’s FWAP has a good website about them.

Muskrat Swimming towards a boat, video by Renata Schroeppel