Friday, May 15, 2020

A Blessing at Our Door Step

Living through the everyday turmoil, apprehension, and strife that the corona virus has inflicted upon us these days has not been easy, to say the least.  However, one of the many blessings I count every day is this glorious Spring God has given us -- perfect temperatures, brilliant blue skies, green everywhere you look, and profusions of flowers brightening our days.  

We have received another one of Spring's greatest blessings ... new life ... in the form of a sweet little mallard hen who chose, literally, our front door step as the place to build her nest and to bring her babies into the world.  You would think that would be last place she would want to be ... with people coming and going and me watering plants, and the garage door going up and down at all hours of the day.  But there she sits for hours, still as can be, totally camouflaged and safe and warm nestled under the dense foliage of the boxwoods and pine straw.  

We're not sure how long she has been there, but it's been at least a couple of weeks.  My husband was loading some things in the back of his truck one morning, and a Mallard drake and the hen flew across the driveway close to the truck.  The drake kept going, but when my husband went around to the back of the truck, the little hen was just sitting there on the driveway.  A few minutes later, we discovered the nest hidden behind the boxwoods in a flower bed beside the front steps, as shown in the pictures below:

Even though she chose one of the busiest areas in front of our house, she is actually quite safe there. If my husband hadn't seen the ducks flying that morning, we probably would have never seen the nest. 

Yesterday afternoon I decided to try to capture some pictures of the little hen.  She is so well camouflaged that I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I did manage to get a few good ones, I think.

I took this picture from the door steps looking down on the nest, and it shows how well camouflaged she is ... if you didn't know she was there, you'd never see her!

All of these pictures were taken from the steps using a long lens ...

Notice how she covered her bill with her wing.  It's like she's trying to hide
herself even more, which is truly mind boggling when you think about it!

I was amazed to see the distinctive camouflaging on her bill.  Cabela's will never even come close to duplicating that!

Isn't she beautiful!

There are six eggs in the nest, which she leaves only for short breaks to feed.  We never see her coming and going.  I took advantage of one of her rambling times and captured a picture of the eggs.  Notice the tufts of down sheltering them and keeping them warm while she's away ...  


I googled "gestation time for mallard ducks" and found that it usually takes about 28 days after beginning of incubation for the eggs to hatch.  I also discovered that "it takes about 24 hours for them to hatch, and the ducklings stay in the nest for at least 10 hours while they dry and get used to using their legs.  Then, usually in the early morning hours, the hen leads them to water.  Bad weather may delay their journey, but the sooner the ducklings get to water to feed, the better their chances of survival. If the nest isn't close to water, this first journey can be a long and potentially the most perilous time in a duckling's life."  

There is a small pond down the street from us which serves as a pooling area for water drainage after rainfalls.  

Even though we haven't had much rain lately, I walked down to the pond and found a couple of areas that had water in them, and they looked like the perfect habitat for little ducklings.

There is plenty of vegetation around for the mama duck to hide her babies from predators, and it appears to be a perfect food source for them, too ...

I think this will be where the hen will take her babies and, thankfully, it isn't too far from the nest. The only hazards between it and our house would be children playing, and there won't be any children playing in the early morning hours, so their journey should be a safe one.  Can't you just imagine the mama duck leading her babies, all in a row, down our driveway to the sidewalk and proudly marching them down the street to their new home!  I'm an early riser and hope to be close by to capture that awe-inspiring moment with my camera. 

And speaking of awesome moments, I was pleased to read that although the nest is abandoned, if it is close to the feeding area, the family may continue to use it for brooding and roosting.  Wouldn't that be something!

Thank you, Lord, for this little mama duck ... and for the countless blessings of Spring and "How Great Thou Art" moments we experience every day ... even in these most difficult of times.   


Thursday, April 4, 2019

From 2011: "An Earthworm Story"

The recent rains and winds we've been having here in Mississippi finally took their toll on some of my Snapdragons. A week or so ago, they looked like this ...

After each battering by rain and wind, they became more and more bedraggled, and finally got to the point that they couldn't straighten back up. Poor things ... yesterday, I took them out of their misery and pulled them up and transplanted them in one big clump in the backyard.

Before I pulled them up, though, I cut some blooms and stuck them in a glass and put them on a table under our porch.

My "stick-in-a-glass-or-jar" bouquets usually turn out better than the ones I try to arrange, and I'm sure we'll enjoy these pretty Snaps all weekend.

I replaced the Snapdragons with a few Sunpatiens, and love the color they added to the courtyard.

While digging the holes to plant the flowers, I disturbed quite a few earthworms, and stopped to watch as they wiggled and burrowed their way back under the dirt. As I watched them, I couldn't help but wonder if my probings with my trowel hurt them, or if the bright sunlight hurt their eyes ... or if they even have eyes!

The more I thought about them, the more curious I became, and after doing a quick Google search, I came across the University of Illinois Extension's website, which provided some interesting facts about earthworms (comments in bold are mine).

  • A worm has no arms, legs or eyes.

  • An earthworm can grow only so long. A well-fed adult will depend on what kind of worm it is, how many segments it has, how old it is and how well fed it is.

  • There are approximately 2,700 different kinds of earthworms.

  • Worms live where there is food, moisture, oxygen and a favorable temperature. If they don’t have these things, they go somewhere else.

  • In one acre of land, there can be more than a million earthworms.

  • The largest earthworm ever found was in South Africa and measured 22 feet, from its nose to the tip of its tail. (That makes me shudder to think about it!)

  • Worms tunnel deeply in the soil and bring subsoil closer to the surface, mixing it with the topsoil. Slime, a secretion of earthworms, contains nitrogen. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for plants, and the sticky slime helps to hold clusters of soil particles together in formations called aggregates.

  • Charles Darwin spent 39 years studying earthworms more than 100 years ago.

  • Worms are cold-blooded animals.

  • Earthworms have the ability to replace or replicate lost segments. This ability varies greatly depending on the species of worm you have, the amount of damage to the worm, and where it is cut. It may be easy for a worm to replace a lost tail, but may be very difficult or impossible to replace a lost head if things are not just right. (I can't help but wonder what the "right conditions" are for replacing a lost head)

  • Baby worms are not born — they hatch from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.

  • The Australian Gippsland Earthworm grows to 12 feet long, and can weigh 1-1/2 pounds (That sounds too much like a snake to me!)

  • Even though worms don’t have eyes, they can sense light, especially at their anterior (front end). They move away from light and will become paralyzed if exposed to light for too long (approximately one hour).

  • If a worm’s skin dries out, it will die.

  • Worms can eat their weight each day.

I learned a lot about earthworms as a result of my research, and I also discovered that there's no way you can capture a pretty picture of a worm (or at least, I couldn't). But that didn't keep me from trying.

One little worm was especially gregarious, and stopped wiggling and burrowing long enough for me to get a few closeup shots.

I told you it wasn't pretty!

Unfortunately, in most of the pictures, he looked more like a little snake than an earthworm (shudder, again!), and he was slimy and covered with dirt (well, after all, he was an EARTHWORM, right?).

To make matters worse, I couldn't tell which end was his head and which was his tail, but figured he would be burrowing with his head, so I focused on the "burrowing end."

In this picture, I was trying to get a close up of his "face" to see if he had eyes (he didn't) ...

And in this one, you can see his segmented body which contracts to help him burrow under the dirt.

Poor little thing ... he's probably burrowed his way halfway to China by now to escape my trowel and zoom lens.

But I'm glad I had the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about earthworms, and I like knowing that they are busy at work in my flowerbeds burrowing and loosening the dirt so my flowers can flourish.

And to leave you with a pretty picture for the weekend, here's another one of my "bouquet."

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Be sure your sound is turned up so you can hear the music ...Click to play this Smilebox slideshow