Jun 092014
 

Dateline – June 6, 2014

NOTE: This post is part of a continuing series of observations: [ First | << Prev | Next >> ]

The young Mute Swan at seven weeks of age.

The young Mute Swan at seven weeks of age.

The Mute Swan cygnet continues to grow and there have been a number of subtle changes in his appearance. The young swan’s bill is becoming longer and his pin feathers are beginning to come in. These are exciting harbingers of important developmental stages yet to come!

The cygnet's new pin feathers are giving him a slightly disheveled appearance.

The cygnet’s new pin feathers are giving him a slightly disheveled appearance.

The handsome swan family.

The handsome swan family.

The cygnet seems to be growing at an accelerated rate.

The cygnet seems to be growing at an accelerated rate.

New pin feathers on the cygnet's back...

New pin feathers on the cygnet’s back…

...and on his tail.

…and on his tail.

Scratching an itch.

Scratching an itch.

The young swan needs to work on his synchronized swimming skills a bit.

The young swan needs to work on his synchronized swimming skills a bit.

It's hard to believe how far he has come in just seven weeks.

It’s hard to believe how far he has come in just seven weeks.

This is dad.

This is dad.

Feeding on aquatic vegetation.

Feeding on aquatic vegetation.

All three of the swans feed constantly.

All three of the swans feed constantly.

This is mom.

This is mom.

Baby makes three!

Baby makes three!

What changes will next week bring.

What changes will next week bring?

As those of you who have been keeping up with the swans already know, this brood started off with three young cygnets. We lost two of the three along the way, most likely to the lake’s resident alpha predator—the Common Snapping Turtle.

I’ve been noticing these turtles more and more lately. They move around the pond rarely. Instead, they preferred to remain concealed in the thick aquatic vegetation growing on the bottom of this small lake. There they stay hidden until some unwary prey animal happens by.

In the meanwhile, the turtles have to come up for air periodically, and that is when I usually see them. From their hiding places beneath the water, the turtle will extend their long necks until just their eyes and snout appear above the surface. There they take a quick breath or two before retreating back into the depths.

A lurking Common Snapping Turtle coming up for air.

A lurking Common Snapping Turtle coming up for air.

The swans are not the only birds at this lake to suffer losses to the snapping turtles. Mallards also lose many of their young to these sneaky hunters. Mallard are prodigious breeders because in the wild they lose many of their young to predators and mishaps. A normal clutch might consist of a dozen eggs. Very few of the ducklings that hatch will actually make it to adulthood. Life for a young Mallard is fraught with dangers.

Mallard ducklings swimming through shallow water.

Mallard ducklings swimming through shallow water.

These three ducklings are all that remain of a brood that originally numbered near a dozen.

These three ducklings are all that remain of a brood that originally numbered near a dozen.

Another North Texas animal that produces many offspring in order to offset a high mortality rate is the intrepid Eastern Cottontail. There are many juvenile rabbits living near the marshy north end of the lake right now. They use the reeds as a safe haven and exit only briefly to feed on the green manicured lawn grass surrounding the pond. If they feel threatened in any way, it takes just a quick dash to return to the safety of the cattails.

A juvenile cottontail feeding in the mowed grass.

A juvenile cottontail feeding in the mowed grass.

The reed beds have grown substantially over the course of the spring. They have become very tall and have filled in most of the open areas at this end of the lake. Many different species of birds rely on the habitat provided by this marshy area for food and safety.

Great-tailed Grackles congregate here in large numbers, and Great Egrets stalk unsuspecting fish along the margins of the reed bed and the main body of the lake.

A female Great-tailed Grackle.

A female Great-tailed Grackle.

Searching for food by the water's edge.

Searching for food by the water’s edge.

As the sun began to set a Great Egret circles the north end of the lake.

As the sun began to set a Great Egret circles the north end of the lake.

A Great Egret flyby.

A Great Egret flyby.

As the day draws to a close flocks of European Starlings come to the reed beds to roost for the night. Groups consisting of dozens of these birds can be seen making multiple passes over the cattails before they select just the right place to settle down.

European Starlings coming in to roost amongst the reeds.

European Starlings coming in to roost amongst the reeds.

The starlings circled several times before landing and disappearing into the reeds.

The starlings circled several times before landing and disappearing into the reeds.

European Starlings

European Starlings

Snowy Egrets also hunt among these reeds. Their preferred prey are the small minnow-like fish that swim in the shallows.

When I first saw this Snowy Egret I thought that he was drinking water, but as I watched it became apparent that something else was going on. The egret was stirring the water in an attempt to lure a fish in closer. Whenever a fish fell for the trick the bird would lunge out and attempt to grab it.

Drinking?

Drinking?

No, fishing!

No, fishing!

The Snowy Egret tried this technique a number of times while I was watching, but was never successful with it (as far as I could tell). A short time later he left and flew over to the far side of the lake, perhaps hoping for better luck there. Be sure and watch the video of this behavior included below:

I have also been following a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher nest located in this park with great interest recently. This week I can say for sure that there are at least three and maybe four hatchlings in this nest. Both adults appear to be providing care for the young, as is evidenced by the different tail lengths of the two birds that returned to the nest while I was observing.

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher feeding her young.

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher feeding her young.

The tail feathers on this bird are shorter than those of the other adult bird.

The tail feathers on this bird are shorter than those of the other adult bird.

Brooding her babies.

Brooding her babies.

Finally, I have an update for you on the Mallard nest that was located in a treacherous spot in a nearby parking lot. The eggs from this nest were removed by a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator and then taken to a licensed facility where they were placed in an incubator.

Last week I was able to report that the first of the ten collected eggs had hatched. This week I can tell you that all ten of the recovered eggs have now hatched and that all of the young ducklings are doing very well. The pictures below were provided to me by a volunteer who works with the permitted wildlife rehabilitator.

The first to hatch.

The first to hatch.

All ten Mallard eggs hatched successfully!

All ten Mallard eggs hatched successfully!

The baby Mallards are doing well!

The baby Mallards are doing well!

NOTE: This post is part of a continuing series of observations: [ First | << Prev | Next >> ]

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