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. 

The Otter Family

While my wife and I were having breakfast out on our second-floor patio, we noticed a flurry of activity in the lake behind our house.  We often have a morning wildlife show by the resident herons, egrets, anhingas, limpkins and iguanas as well as the Muscovy ducks and the noisy Egyptian geese. Sometimes we have a visit by a group of pelicans who entertain us with their diving skills. Once in a while we see a lone roseate spoonbill.

A rare roseate spoonbill visiting our lake

This morning however was very different!   A few unusual-looking heads were bobbing up close to the shore and then four otters came ashore.

This wasn’t the first time that we had seen the Otter Family.  Sometimes on our morning walks, we had seen them playing in other parts of the lake.  Since they are known predators, they are often blamed for their attacks on some of the other wildlife in the lake.   

This morning when they were right behind our house, they began to roll around on the sandy bank.  The water level is lower than usual this time of year before the rainy season starts next month (June), so we now have a sandy beach.  They were all playing on the sand, two adults and two smaller ones, presumably children, oblivious to us observers.

I ran downstairs, grabbed my camera, and headed to our backyard.  I proceeded slowly, thinking that they were going to move immediately back into the lake.  They are usually skittish and don’t like us humans to get close to them.  But this time was strange; they stayed in place rolling in the wet sand and even looked up at me several times and made some grunting sounds.  I think I was more afraid of them than they were of me. 

One of the young otters

After I snapped away for a good five minutes while I enjoyed watching their playful behavior, they took off along the shore.   I was actually happy to see them leave in the opposite direction since I’ve read that they can be aggressive.  I’ve never heard of any attacks on humans, but on the website of the Florida Wildlife Commission (myfwc.com), they say that their prey ranges from fish, birds, reptiles all the way up to small mammals!  

Dog owners beware!