We call it The Pond, but that term probably evokes a much grander water body than it actually is.
The previous owner built a little dam across the end of a ravine and lined the basin with clay from the neighboring field. He never actually found the spring he expected, but it has filled with water and though the level drops each summer, The Pond has never gone dry in our six years. The frogs love it.
Two years ago, we were thrilled to see a male goose tensely gliding about while his mate hunkered down on a nest on our tiny pond’s even tinier island. We researched how long it would be till the eggs hatched and then we stayed away, only peaking from a discreet distance. But about the time we expected to see a row of goslings paddling after their mother, the geese vanished. No one else has ever nested there.
The Pond is probably just a little too claustrophobic for most home hunters, but we are coming to realize that it is plenty big for a migration pit stop. We have watched many wayward water fowl circle, come in for a landing, and land for a day or two, then head on to shining big sea waters further north or south.
From the air, The Pond apparently looks like gas station/convenience store on the bird interstate. I have watched Canada Geese and Mallards drop out of the sky for a quick stop. What a thrill to see a pair of high-flying birds wheel and circle back and then hear that rushing sound as they skid across the water.
Yesterday, our Bed and Breakfast guests were a pair of Buffleheads, the smallest diving duck in North America. I didn’t see them dive. They seemed too wrapped up in each other for such mundane activities. The male, with his snowy white head, feathers puffed, was swimming back and forth before his smoky-gray mate. He made short, flying hops to show off his elegant landing form, and his lady was watching.
The Bufflehead won’t be making any nests on our tiny island. They breed in Canada, so they are definitely just passing through. They prefer apartment living and are small enough to set up housekeeping in holes hollowed by a Northern Flicker or perhaps a Pileated Woodpecker in a northern coniferous forest.
The females return to the same breeding site year after year, accompanied by their monogamous mates. Maybe the pines around our pond remind them of the home still many wing flaps away.
Though they are too small for an efficient meal, hunters managed to reduce Bufflehead numbers in the early 20th century. But they are actually faring pretty well these days because they winter in protected coastal waters in southern and eastern U.S. and breed in remote areas of Alaska and Canada.
“Our” Buffleheads seemed completely unfazed by us walking nearby on a path, and weren’t even bothered when I ran the brush mower about half a football field’s distance from their courting dance.
I like the idea of providing a stop over for birds who need to catch their breath while migrating. The whole concept of flying thousands of miles twice a year is beyond my imagining. Hey, anything we can do to help!
We had been considering inching our building site closer to the pond, but realizing the small but perhaps vital role our tiny pond is playing in the lives of these feathered frequent flyers, we are rethinking that move and intend to stay further away so Kwik Trip Pond can stay open for business.