Mother duck had decided to lay her clutch of eggs in the woodpile by the top pond so had to be protected from the rain by laying a tarpaulin over her and her eggs. She would emerge once a day, puffed up and ready for aggro, to bully all the other ducks off their food and then would return to her bijou residence, rolling the eggs under her to give an even heat to all parts.
Yesterday we noticed that she had hatched a chick or two…but raking her from her nest revealed more eggs unhatched, so we left her in peace until today, when we meant to capture the chicks in a bucket and take them – with mother following – to an enclosed pen to keep them save from snakes and other predators.
But the best laid plans, as we know, gang aft agley.
Going up with the bucket at six o’clock this morning…no sign of mother or of ducklings, through three unhatched eggs lay abandoned in the nest.
No sign of them on the top pond.
No sign of them under the orange trees where the scent of the blossom hung heavy in the moist air.
No sign further down the slope past the bananas…nor among the mango trees…
Nor in the papyrus where the vile curses consequent upon slipping on the greasy slope would have raised the dead…
Not even in the clump of bamboo.
Mother duck had decided to take her babies on the long march to the tilapia ponds below, where she and six assorted ducklings were disporting themselves among the water plants which cover the surface to protect the young fish from the attention of herons.
Beautiful birds, herons….but decidedly in the Billy Bunter school where it comes to fish.
A pretty sight…but from experience with baby ducks disaster would not be long in coming. These babies tire easily and are too small to clamber out of the water up sheer sides without the help which mother cannot give.
Cold and tired, they drown.
When we lived in France a river ran through the garden and, year after year, we would spot tiny yellow dots on the water from our windows or the balcony and have to go rushing down with landing nets to try to rescue them from the current before they were swept away.
No current in the tilapia ponds, just the slow surge of water through the network of pipes, but the babies had to be brought to land.
The person who had dug the ponds had had no idea that one might need to remove ducklings from same, so the pond they were occupying was too wide to enable access to the middle – where, of course, as soon as danger threatened, mother had taken her babies.
One at each side our arms would not reach, though mother certainly reached our outstretched hands with her beak, leaving several small intensely purple bite marks as souvenirs.
We went one side, she went the other, the babies bouncing through the leaves in her wake.
Monty the lamb, fascinated by the activity, stopped eating the palms and attempted a flank attack which ended in mother attacking all parties with beak and claw and Monty having to be hauled from the water and confined to barracks.
His plaintive bleats accompanied the rest of proceedings, backed at a distance by the matriarch of the flock with her fog horn bellow that made one think more of the Muckle Flugga than Santiago de Puriscal.
What to do?
We needed a greater reach.
Higher Authority went off and returned with a remnant of galvanised roofing sheet which was laid out springboard fashion over the pond with about half its length on the ground alongside and propped on two poles crossed under it for support.
Higher Authority went to the opposite side where he crouched, wicket keeper fashion, ready to gather the ducklings who would be fleeing Scylla only to fall into the clutches of Charybdis.
I lay down on the roofing sheet and edged forward: the poles came apart, avoirdupois had its way and I fell in.
The ducklings rose in a wave of yellow fluff and were neatly caught by Higher Authority who headed off for the pen with injunctions to me to hurry up and follow.
Feeling like and probably resembling Grendel’s mother and with similar thoughts in mind, I did so and was rewarded by the sight of mother and babies happily tucked up in the warm, safe from harm.
I was heading for the shower when the barking of dogs announced a visitor.
You have to hand it to the man from ICE ( the electricity board whose acronym accurately describes its speed of action).
Faced with a sopping householder he did not turn a hair.
He greeted me politely and informed me that he was part of the team doing the study for the power installation for the new house up on the hill.
He had something to tell me.
There would be a delay in the works.
Well, they had thought to use the wooden post already in place on the roadside.
And now you can’t?
No. It’s been hollowed out by woodpeckers….