Column: Duck Castle for rent – Cheap!

Published 4:55 am Thursday, April 6, 2006

By Staff
At some distant time in the past the creek running through our property was mostly dredged straight as a surveyor's line. However, where it borders our yard it forms a big, sweeping curve with deep holes at the bends. This bit of diversity draws wildlife like a magnet, particularly water birds. Throughout the winter, geese held turf wars over it, mallards lounged in the calm eddies laughing at the geese, kingfishers perched overhead while blue herons stood in the shallows as stiff and haughty as ostentatious English gentlemen.
About a month ago, the wood ducks started showing up. Soon, the meandering stretch of stream turned into a wood duck waterpark. Flocks, nay, entire fleets, would paddle their way to the head of the curve, then, like kids on a water slide, race back down through the bouncing waters, slip-sliding through the bends on the fastest currents. Back up they'd go to ride it over and over again. I swear, if ducks ever do anything just for fun this was it. Before long, though, their numbers began to dwindle. Pair by pair they were wandering away in search of nesting sites. It dawned on me if I was going to have any kind of wood duck entertainment I'd better put up a nest box pronto.
Thus began the afternoon's mission. I sawed and drilled and glued and screwed for an inordinate amount of time. Day had transformed into evening before the boards had finally metamorphosed into the Duck Castle. Some remnant cans of black, gray and green spray paint soon had it nearly invisible to the human eye. The sun was below the horizon when I waded across the creek with the Duck Castle, wet paint and all. Certain trials come with crossing a rock strewn stream and erecting a mega duck box in the dark but when you're on a mission you gotta do what ya gotta do.
Come dawn I was perched at the patio doors, awaiting the hordes of lady ducks to come vying for the Castle. Four cups of coffee and two hours later I hadn't seen anything bigger than a junco. The remainder of the day proved equally duckless. The entire fleet of wood ducks had simply vanished, but that must surely be an anomaly. Several starlings were eyeballing the Duck Castle with dreamy eyes, though. I propped the .22 and a big box of ammo next to the door, prepared to be a Soldier Of Fortune in the duck-starling war. Several more duckless days and I began to realize the starlings may be a moot point. Over the next few days the odd drake woodie drifted by but nary a hen. Could they all be on nests already?
Then last week it appeared I had a chance. A pair of woodies dropped in at the head of the S curve and began slowly drifting down through. I held my breath as they neared the Castle. Right in front of it they stopped and dinked around with some tidbits in the shallows, but not once did they look toward the Castle “C'mon dummies! Look over the other way!” Nope. The stupid things just bobbed on off downstream. Several more duckless days then the couple returned. Again, I watched as they floated down toward the Castle. They seemed intent on being elsewhere, though, for they were making a bee line downstream. Then, right in front of the Castle, the female hit the brakes and turned into the current. The male did likewise. My heart jumped. “Aha! This may be it.” They hadn't looked toward the Castle, but maybe they caught something out of the corner of their eye. I was kicking myself for the camouflage paint job. Maybe I should hang a yellow flag on it. Then the dumb, stupid, ducks turned about face and continued on downstream without a backward glance. Go on, dumb ducks. If you can't see the greatest Duck Castle in the whole wide world right before your eyes you have no business raising kids anyway. Carpe diem.