A Mother’s Day Surprise

We had an interesting, but sad, experience on Mother’s Day last week.

My wife and I live on a large lake in Palm Beach County, Florida.  I’ve referred many times to the wildlife shows that we are privileged to view on a daily basis.  When we think of the money that we have spent while on vacations to go to bird sanctuaries or animal refuges, I have to laugh.  Right in our backyard, we have a never-ending display of the richness of the world of nature.

Young otter on our “beachfront”

Last week, for example, we had a family of lake otters playing on our “beachfront.”  Since the lake is at its lowest level before the rainy season starts in June, we now have a strip of sand which is about six feet wide.  The two young otters were rolling around in the wet sand while their parents were nearby eating the fish they had caught.  

About two weeks ago, we noticed that there was a large male duck hanging around the kayak that we keep just on the outside of our screened-in patio, only a few feet from where we have been having almost all our meals for the past year.  We figured that he had defined our backyard as his territory. 

The view from our patio

One morning while having breakfast, we started to hear occasional knocking sounds from inside the overturned kayak. We hadn’t been in our kayak in about a week because it had been very windy.

Later that morning, I decided to investigate the source of the noise and I discovered that there was a lone duck egg in a carefully dug out depression in the grass under the kayak.  Surrounding the egg were several feathers the mother duck had plucked to provide cushioning for her future clutch.  We figured that the noise we were hearing was the bumping of the mother duck against the sides of the kayak as she constructed her nest. 

One egg…….

As the week progressed, we understood why the male duck was guarding the area.  A few times we would see the female squeeze out from under the kayak and the two of them would “go for breakfast,” as we called it. 

As the weather improved, we were anxious to get back to our excursions on our lake in the kayak, but we were reluctant to disturb the nest.  We checked it several times over the course of the week and discovered that each day, the nest was deepening and there was a total of four eggs along with more of her feathers and some repositioned garden stones.  

Later that week, three eggs……

On Mother’s Day, we remarked that we hadn’t seen the male duck standing guard over his incubating progeny.  When we turned the kayak over, we were shocked to find the female dead lying next to her four eggs.  Her neck had been slashed.   Her eggs were untouched.

Dead mother duck and her four eggs

Although we were sad to see the carnage and the incomplete incubation the eggs, we understood that this was a perfect example of the cycle of nature.  It was just that we had become such close observers of the potential miracle of life, and ultimately, the reality of death as well. 

We gave the mother duck and her eggs a proper burial on the shore of our lake.  An alternative could have been to leave her to the army of turkey vultures who are always nearby to do the clean-up job as nature’s ultimate recyclers.   

The proper burial on the beach

The only benefit we had from this “event of nature” was that we were able to reclaim our kayak.  After giving it a thorough cleaning of the scattered feathers and blood, we had a beautiful ride on the lake.  It was especially poignant on Mother’s Day when we saw several other mother ducks and geese carefully leading their babies behind them. 

Our Daily Wildlife Show

Sitting at our breakfast table every morning during the pandemic, we think about the many opportunities we have had to travel over the past ten years.  As I look back on the places we have visited, I realize that sometimes the best place to be is at home.

Following our hour-long walk, we prepare our breakfast and sit facing our backyard lake.  Within minutes, the nature show begins.  On a typical morning a lone roseate spoonbill flies onto our lawn. He spends a good half hour enjoying the vegetation on the lakefront.  A wood stork , a noisy limpkin, a two-foot-long iguana and a couple of ibises often join him, oblivious of one another.  A mother duck and her brood of 12 newly hatched ducklings wanders across the lawn and makes their way down to the lake. 

On other days, a gaggle of Egyptian geese flies onto the lawn, squawking away.  We often see egrets, herons, anhingas and an occasional colony of tortoises.  Once in a while, we see a group of playful but aggressive lake otters.  

More than once, my wife has reminded me of the times that we have paid for expensive excursions while traveling so that we could witness the local wildlife.  Most of the time, we are disappointed because by the time we finally arrive at the location late in the morning, the animals have already escaped the hot sun. The only time that I can recall seeing a truly amazing animal show was in South Africa where we would go out before sunrise in order to capture the early morning activity of the wildlife in search of their food. 

I have to say that this has been an enjoyable summer for our bird and animal viewing.  From the comfort of our early morning kitchen table inside our air conditioned home, we have witnessed some of the best nature shows.  The price is right, our view is completely unobstructed and we don’t even have to dress up for the occasion!