The mafia don runs our pond.
But he hasn’t been around yet. He usually lets everyone settle in, fluff their early spring nests and birth their babies in May. Every year I hope he’ll forget about this pond and won’t come looking for his protection payments.
Probably not. The pond’s spring cycle works like clockwork.
The peepers start singing exactly on cue between March 25–28. They have never disappointed me in the 30 years we’ve lived on the pond.
Then come the Canadian Geese, hundreds of them swarming the pond in late March, just after the peeper all-soprano choir. By mid-April, there are around 15 geese couples mating, staking out protected inlets where they’ll sit on their nests.
They squawk at all hours. While the peepers are polite sundown to 10 p.m. partiers, the geese honk it up at 4 a.m. 2 p.m., 11 p.m. and whenever they damn well please.
I put up wire fencing to keep the geese and their voluminous grey poops off my lawn. They just fly over, eating the grass, honking at me when I run out with my arms spread wide screaming, “Get out! Get out!” The three-year-old next door thinks it’s hilarious when the grey-haired lady runs around her yard like a human airplane, chasing the geese, stepping in poop.
Occasionally the geese hop over the fencing into the pond when they see me coming. When I go back into the house, they just hop back into the yard.
Like the peepers, the ducks are respectful. Their quacks are gentle, like a xylophone to the geese’s tuba. The ducks have the most babies, usually 10 or 12 ducklings. Rarely do any make it to summer. The giant old snapping turtle gets most of them. Or the Mafia Don when he’s in town.
The human pond dwellers text one another when the ducklings are born, sharing this year’s count. We’re all hopeful that maybe this year more will survive. Our texts slow as the ducklings disappear.
The swans are the pond bullies, arrogant, hissing, picking fights all day long with the geese. The ducks just flee up the river when the swans start cruising around, all predator-like when it’s mating season.
Last year the swans went all out and kicked a geese couple off of their nest over on the island. The fight was ferocious. The geese lost one of their eggs before the swans settled in and took over their nest. I knew they were bullies, but this seemed kind of lazy. Build your own nest.
As I was sitting in the Adirondack chair down by the waterfront yesterday the swans started hissing at me like I was too close to the shoreline, THEIR shoreline. I hissed back. They eventually left.
Looking for protection in the treetops: a heron rookery
I know they’re here because of the Don. They all are. Especially the blue herons.
Three years ago, a heron couple built a nest on a treetop on the island. On the very top of the highest tree, they carefully constructed their nest from twigs. It’s about three to four feet long. When gale winds knocked down trees and power lines last summer, the nest held. As the big pine tree next door cracked and fell on the neighbor’s roof, I looked out and saw the nest swaying in the trees. No damage.
Two herons are on that nest now. These long-legged, four-foot-high birds balance on the tippy-top of the trees, letting their four-pound bodies sway in the wind while remaining steady.
This year’s big pond news is that two more heron couples are building nests in the island treetops. They’re creating a rookery commune. But why? Didn’t they hear what happened last spring? Wasn’t one of them part of the rescue mission?
Last June an eagle soared in and landed in the heron’s nest The usually quiet herons screeched, flapping their wings, jutting their bills at the eagle. The eagle sat looking at the eggs in the nest. The herons wailed like an out-of-tune orchestra cacophony. All the human pond dwellers stopped what we were doing, picked up our binoculars and watched in horror. This was more violent than the day the snapping turtle and swan attacked one another for hours. (The swan lost.)
The eagle pecked at a heron egg, a tasty lunch treat. The herons continued to wail and miraculously another heron swooped in from who knows where to help. They perched close to the eagle, adding to the cacophony. The parents flew to a branch even closer to the eagle, desperate to save their eggs.
The fight lasted 2.5 hours. Eventually, the eagle flew off, leaving some of the eggs. He only comes by every month or so to collect payment.
Eagles are nature’s mafia dons
Naturalists say the eagles are like mafia dons. They offer the herons protection from predators like foxes, raccoons and fisher cats. So, the herons put up with the don. Researchers on the southwest coast of British Columbia have found that some herons even seek out nesting bald eagles and build right next to them. Crazy. But things could be much worse on our pond without the don.
By the time the bullfrogs start their deep alto ribbitting in late June, the surviving heron chicks, goslings, cygnets and ducklings are learning to fly. Everyone chills out in summer. The spring mating, birthing and mafia payment season is over.
By September things get really quiet as the birds start making their way south again. The only thing left is the treetop heron nests, which look like the trees are wearing bad toupees, fit for old mafia dons in the autumn of their lives.