When we are at Roundrock, Libby watches for her pet turtle to rise from the bottom of the lake every twenty minutes or so to get some air and sun and then disappear below the waters. (Does this qualify as a pet?) On most of our summer visits, we can count on seeing the little turtle head poking out of the water here and there on the lake surface. It’s a reassuring sign of our stewardship and goodwill toward the wild things. But on our last visit we didn’t see the turtle. I think the season is not advanced enuf for the turtle to have pulled itself from its hibernation in the mud at the bottom of the cold lake.
But we did see a creature rising from the depths!
Early on the day of our visit, before we had made our walk about the full lake, we were on the north shore near the dam when I suddenly saw something fairly large disappear from the surface of the lake. (You know those moments when you don’t realize you’ve seen something until it suddenly disappears?) It dove under the water quickly, and at first I thought it was the turtle. If so, however, it wasn’t going to be coming back to the surface for twenty minutes. Nonetheless, I pointed to the spot where the thing disappeared.
And, mirabile dictu, the thing popped back to the surface as we gazed. And it certainly was too large to be a turtle head. But what was it? (Keep in mind that we were on the far shore, and the distance was greater than we were accustomed to since the lake was full and thus the surface area was much greater.)
We both thought at first that it might be an otter that had taken up residence in our lake. This seemed unlikely, of course, since we are so far up the watershed that an otter can find much better pantries elsewhere with greater ease.
But only a few seconds after we saw whatever it was surface, it dove again. That didn’t leave us enuf time to figure out what it was before it was gone. But it was pleasant gazing across the broad waters, and the day was still young, so we continued to stare at the spot.
And the thing popped up again.
It stayed on the surface for about five seconds, then with a little swirl, the creature disappeared again. For twenty seconds it was gone, and then there it was on the surface again. The pattern repeated itself for as long as we watched. And while we could see whatever it was, I’m certain it could see us as well because the beastie stayed on the far side of the lake.
After a few observations like this I was beginning to discern its shape, and I realized that what I saw was a diving duck. I was delighted, especially if you recall my lament of a few days ago. The duck was solitary, unless, of course, its mate was on a nest somewhere in the forest. And for the entire time that we watched, this duck would spend its five or so seconds on the surface to take a breath or two, then pop below the waters for twenty seconds or so. This was in the deepest part of the lake, so I don’t think it was diving for plants or snails to eat. I think it was going after the wild fish that were collected where the water was the warmest. I was happy to provide the duck with a meal, and Libby named him Chuck the Duck.
Well, there was a full lake with all of its marvels to wander around, so we turned our feet from the duck doings and ambled about. My thought was that we would return from the other side of the lake, and from that distant shore we might get a better look at our duck friend. And so after an hour or more of delight in the woods around the waters we found ourselves on the opposite shore, close to where we had seen Chuck the Duck diving and surfacing. As you might guess, Chuck the Duck was now on the other side of the lake, near where we had stood when we had first seen him (him?).
But then I had a brilliant plan. Rather than hike across the dam, exposing ourselves so obviously to the canny duck, we would hike down the spillway and then creep up the face of the dam, poking our own heads above the top in a way that would allow us to see without being seen.
Have I described the face of the dam before? The slope grows more steep near the top. You can’t simply walk up the face of it. You reach a point where you more or less must crawl, especially if you are trying to be stealthy. And have I told you that in Missouri we have these things called chiggers? They hang about the low plants and wait for some imprudent warm blooded creatures to come along. Then they attach themselves to your flesh and give you weeks of itching torment.
But the prospect of seeing (and possibly identifying) Chuck the Duck up close outweighed the perils, so soon we found ourselves lying flat on our stomachs (notice I didn’t say “lying on our flat stomachs”) on the grassy top of the dam. And this is where the photo at the top of this post comes from.
Chuck the Duck was on the far side of the lake.
We stayed for a long day at Roundrock (how could we not?), and the entire time Chuck the Duck was there, diving and surfacing. It kept as much distance as it could from us, but it didn’t fly away despite our comings and goings at the waterline, so I think it understood that it could ignore us. At lunch Libby fetched the pint-sized binoculars we keep in the truck, but even with those, we couldn’t get enuf details to offer an identification. Thus Chuck the Duck, if it decides to stick around Lake Marguerite, will be a subject for much scrutiny and speculation. (And had we not loaned the better set of bins to our future daughter-in-law for an ornithology class she is in this semeter, we would bring those along as well.)
So perhaps I’ll have future Chuck the Duck tales to relate.
- Turtles crossing roads; watch out!
- Chimney swifts return.