Enjoying some of our favorite neighbors

<p>‘Tis the season for ducklings on the Peninsula, with countless hundreds of cute babies waddling here and there. Keep an eye open for them on area streets and always keep pet cats indoors.</p>

Some of my favorite neighbors hang out under the flower-filled wheelbarrow in our front yard. A mallard couple, attentive male and non-breeding (?) hen. I think “non-breeding” because it seems like she would have peeled off by now and found a secluded place to build a nest for the coming eggs. Mallards nest in reeds and other grasses on lake and pond edges. But this hen is staying with her man.

Mallards are what are called serially monogamous: they stay with the same mate through the year, but can switch to a different mate each year. I wonder, because this couple has been neighbors for going on four years. Maybe she has the wiles to keep the same male by her side even if she isn’t interested in nesting. Early in the morning they can be found comfortably roosting just under the lip of the barrow. When the garage door opens, signaling the approach of the human with the can of cracked corn, they rise and the male begins a soft, muttering conversation. He watches me cautiously and from a distance. She is more trusting, waddling almost right up to me when she hears the grain rattling. I toss a few handfuls high in the air and both hurry in to enjoy the corn before the crows arrive. The male keeps a weather eye on the surroundings, guarding the hen from any danger.

The Canada goose couple still lives across the pond, and again, the female shows no interest in beginning nesting activities. The male guards her jealously, arching his neck and hissing at any perceived intruders. She hangs back, grazing and enjoying the sun. They move up to the big lake for the night, into bigger, safer water. Their leave-takings and arrivals back are heralded by lots of loud and joyous honking. They return about 5:30 in the morning, and I usually awake to hear them. The riffles from their landing are reflected in the moonlight on the water.

More productive neighbors are the violet-green and tree swallows. We have six nest boxes up, just on the shore. It’s hard to tell how many are occupied because the swallows are very wily and fast in their comings and goings. Swooping and diving over the water, hawking insects to carry back to their broods, they make wide, graceful loops and at the last minute, make perfect dives into the small nest box holes. I make the holes oblong and small, that way foiling house sparrows and starlings that would love to nest there. It’s fun to watch a frustrated sparrow try to squeeze his rotund body into the small hole. Determination isn’t enough: it’s too narrow and they finally give up. The sleek, silky swallows have no trouble entering.

At dusk, the water is still, reflecting a perfect blue sky. The geese rest quietly opposite, bodies touching, and the ducks are again bedding down in the soft grass under the barrow. The wheeling, chittering swallows, purple-green backs flashing in the low sun, make a last food run for their hungry young and disappear into the safety of the nest boxes. It’s so lovely, and it will all start again tomorrow.

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