wild irises at University Hills pond

Wild yellow irises along the pond bank.

On Sunday afternoon, I took my recently repaired and returned to me babycam up to the University Hills pond. This past week irises have popped into bloom all around the banks of the pond, which pleases me greatly. Irises are my favorite flower, and yellow is my favorite color, so I couldn’t have asked for a nicer development.

Besides the appearance of the flowers, things at the pond have been pretty status quo. The goslings haven’t hatched yet, and the two ducklings are nearly doubling in size each time I spot them. I’ve seen a couple of interesting birds—a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting the irises and a Red-shouldered Hawk circling above the trees—but no new life ones. I’ve continued to see plenty of turtles on each visit, ranging from the large Eastern Redbelly Turtles sunning themselves out in the water to the small Musk and Mud Turtles, one of which I surprised at the edge of the reeds. And, every now and then I catch sight of a Bullfrog, but I have yet to spot any other frog species. I suspect the bullfrogs have totally colonized the place, and being cannibalistic bullies, they don’t coexist peacefully with many others.

No sign yet of the Snapping Turtle I saw there last summer, but I keep looking!

wild irises at University Hills pond

new life birds & hatchling turtles at the pond

Today was another beautiful day at the pond. I went around midday this time, and saw three more life birds! This is the first time I’ve actively tried to catch species on their spring migration, and so far I have to say it’s been well worth the effort.

Before I reached the pond, I saw a Baltimore Oriole, in the neighborhood about two blocks from the park. This time there was no mistaking its bright orange plumage, especially after seeing the more rust-colored Orchard Oriole the other day.

Once I arrived at the pond, I found the Yellow-billed Cuckoo still hanging around in the trees that were dripping Eastern Tent Caterpillars. This time I got a good look at its distinctive tail (not that there was any confusion, with its equally distinctive beak). I also saw a couple of Cliff Swallows dashing around, which I’ve only seen once before, at a barn in Dexter, MI. They’re relatively distinctive, though, with their dark square tails and light bellies.

About halfway around the pond I accidentally flushed an American Bittern. At least, I think it was a bittern; I peered at it from the other side of the pond, but it was pretty well into the reeds. Its head looked like a bittern, but the coloring could have also made it an immature Green Heron. I’ll look for it again and hopefully get a firmer ID one way or the other.

Back at the pond entrance, I spotted a couple of swallows on the electrical wires, which turned out to be Rough-winged Swallows. At first I thought they were just the Cliff Swallows at rest, and nearly didn’t look at them through the binoculars. I’m glad I did, though, as they had the distinctive dusty color and forked tail.

Besides the birds, I saw a decent selection of the turtles that appear at the pond. Just after discovering the wader, I spotted a hatchling turtle swimming around near the bank. I couldn’t resist plucking it out and taking some photos of it. It was a Red-eared Slider, a lovely little pastel green color. After photographing it and showing it to the two other people who passed by, I plopped it back into the water, where it promptly swam away into the mud.

I also saw at least one adult Eastern Redbelly Turtle, along with several Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders. As an aside, I hadn’t realized that Mud Turtles were so small; the ones I thought were Mud Turtles last fall were likely actually Eastern Redbelly Turtles, and the ones I thought were juveniles were likely actually the Mud Turtles.

new life birds & hatchling turtles at the pond

Caspian Tern

Yesterday I returned to the pond for the first time in a couple of weeks. In a stroke of luck, I timed my arrival to coincide with the presence of a single Caspian Tern, a bird I’d never seen before. Although I don’t always, this time I had my binoculars and Peterson’s with me. The time it took the tern to catch something to eat—about four or five dives, with some circling in between—was just long enough for me to positively identify it. Once it had the fish, it circled to eat it and then left, flying higher until I couldn’t see which direction it was heading.

It had barely gone when I noticed something odd swimming around out in the middle of the pond. At first I thought it was a small duck, but the trusty binoculars revealed it to be the head of a mammal. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t an otter—the head was too large and square for what I remembered of otters from my many early-childhood visits to Shedd. It seemed unlikely that it was a beaver, and peering at photos once I got home led to the conclusion that it was a muskrat. I don’t know if it’ll stick around; I hadn’t seen it before this weekend.

In addition to those two unusual sightings, I saw several regular favorites: red-winged blackbirds (both male and female), ducks, song sparrows, and a downy woodpecker. I also saw the pair of Canada geese that I saw on my most recent prior visit, and it looks like they’re nesting (one was in the same spot on the island as last time; the other was keeping a pretty close eye on the muskrat). I look forward to seeing the goslings later in the year.

Ever since the years when Trumpet of the Swan was one of my favorite books, I’ve hoped to be able to see birds actually hatching. I’ve never wanted to get too close to their nests, though. Maybe this year—with the nest visible, but not accessible—the timing will be right and I’ll get lucky.

Caspian Tern

catching up with the local pond

I didn’t know when we bought this house that I would be getting a local pond as part of the package, and I count myself very lucky.

The pond is about a mile from our house, with a paved path encircling it that is about 2/10 of a mile around (it’s a small pond). I’m not sure if it was human-built at one point, or if it was natural. It collects storm water from the main road nearby, and it has a run-off ditch itself, that flows into the nearby creek, which allows it to maintain a constant depth. There is a small island at one end of the pond, where the Mallards nest and the resident Great Blue Heron resides. There aren’t any swallow nesting boxes, a common sight in other ponds like this one, but there are a couple of stakes with netting clustered around them that the turtles use as sunning spots.

Today, a flock of Canada Geese was hanging out, with a lone white goose among them. It could have been a Snow Goose, although we couldn’t see any black on its rear (and from what I could tell, its legs looked slightly more yellow than pink). If not a Snow Goose, it was likely a local domesticated escapee, possibly a Ross’s Goose; it was plenty windy enough last night to have blown over a small goose hutch.

We also saw a single turtle sunning itself on the grass at the edge of the pond. I didn’t have my turtle book with me, but I did bring my little binoculars and was therefore able to see the red patch on the side of its head quite clearly, marking it as a Red-eared Slider (I discovered after looking it up at home in my field guide). It’s a non-indigenous, invasive species locally, but I still enjoyed catching sight of it.

I’m thinking that I should start a turtle lifelist as well, since this is the third new type of turtle I’ve seen at the pond. The first, Mud Turtles, are common, I’d just never seen them before. The second was a Snapping Turtle, which was an exciting find. It took me a while to register that the rock behind the turtle was in fact the shell, and the ‘turtle’ I’d been seeing was only its head.

I hope to get my digital camera repaired soon, so that I can take photos on my visits to the pond. One of these days I’ll stay until dusk, and hopefully catch a flock of geese taking off.

catching up with the local pond