I often strike up a conversation with people at the various parks that I frequent, and, surprisingly, the topic of our conversation is NOT necessarily walking. In fact, I almost never talk about walking. It is more about what I SEE when I am walking.
I have a treasure trove of little tales and photos that happen by the simple act of tossing out a few peanuts for the squirrels or birds and awaiting their reaction, usually with the camera in my hand. For the last five years, taking photos to accompany my walks has become the norm – it wasn’t always that way though. I began my walking regimen in 2011, and, when I discovered Council Point Park in 2013, the same year I began this blog, my daily meanders became walking AND feeding the squirrels AND taking pictures – now the blog has morphed with posts that are many paragraphs long and accompanied by many photos. This is such a blog post.
We’re bleeding hearts – that’s not a bad trait though.
I’ve met some fine folks I call kindred souls, nature lovers like myself, who make a special effort to show up at various parks to fawn over the critters that live there and ensure they are fed, especially when times are tough, like when a Michigan Winter settles in for the duration and our furry and feathered friends have it tough foraging for food.
In the Winter I worry about my Park squirrels and birds … the squirrels especially. I wonder if they have become “soft” … you know, accustomed to having peanuts scattered at their feet. Do they still go out and forage on those days I don’t make it to my favorite nature nook, or, do they huddle together in their nests, tummies rumbling and going hungry? To relieve my worries or guilt about not making a personal appearance every single day, especially in Winter, I make “droppings” on the picnic table in the pavilion area when I know bad weather is on the horizon. It is my furry and feathered friends’ ace in the hole when I am MIA.
You may think I am dedicated to keeping my peanut pals happy, but I must share this story about Elaine.
Elaine must’ve been here.
Back on February 22nd, a very cold, clear day, I was strolling around lovely Elizabeth Park. This venue is picturesque, no matter the season. It had been quite cold the week before and the Detroit River had frozen over, so I marveled at the ice slabs washed up on the boulders along the shoreline …
… and I was surprised how quickly the most-recent snowfall seemed non-existent.
There are lots of squirrels and birds at Elizabeth Park, so I always take peanuts and seeds to treat them. I ensure my camera is close by to get a few photos memorializing my morning meander, whether I am walking on the path that encircles this park, or at the bird feeding station I call “Birdie Nirvana” – a trip to Elizabeth Park never disappoints if you are a nature lover.
So I was taking photos of the Pekin ducks and Mallard Hybrids paddling around in the small cove near the canal, which surprisingly was not frozen over…
… when I heard a female voice say “good morning – my it’s cold out, but what a beautiful day!”
I turned around and acknowledged her greeting and agreed. Then the woman came over near me and said “well, I wondered where my Pekin ducks disappeared to? They usually come out of the water once they see me with my feed bag.” I smiled and said “they were posing for me” then I added “oh ya, I know all about the feed bag. In fact, I often wonder if the critters who live at the park where I go every day love me for ME, or that bag of peanuts I am toting.” She laughed and extended a hand and said “I’m Elaine and I take it you feed the critters too?” I introduced myself and patted my pocket where the remainder of a bright-yellow cellophane bag of Hampton Farms Jumbo Peanuts was wadded up and stuffed in there. I told Elaine my moniker was “The Peanut Lady” at Council Point Park.
We ended up chitchatting for almost an hour, both of us stomping our feet and rubbing our hands together in a futile attempt to stay warm, and, just like a couple of old friends comparing baby stories, we regaled one another with funny tales about critters at our favorite parks. I wowed Elaine with my story about the peanut-eating Canada Geese. She’d never seen that happen here at Elizabeth Park. I also told of the time a male Mute Swan took exception with me taking some photos of him and the Missus and he climbed up the Creek bank and charged after me. Because I’m never without peanuts, I threw some and he stopped in his tracks – whew!
By the time we parted, she had told me about a great deal on 50-pound bags of peanuts that she and her husband bought at a produce market many miles away. She even offered to get a bag or two for me, meet me at Elizabeth Park and even volunteered her husband to load up my car with the bags so I did not have to lift them. I thanked her but said I had no room right now as I’d loaded up food and pantry items for over the Winter, so I would continue buying them from Meijer, (though they had dropped the ball on keeping them in stock lately). “I live in a small house” I added.
Elaine said she was diligent about walking and feeding the critters and drove to Elizabeth Park all year around for her daily constitutional, while toting a two-pound bag of corn for the ducks and a one-pound bag of peanuts for the squirrels. As Elaine made her rounds, many furry and feathered fans scampered or waddled over to greet her.
Stooping down to lend a hand to some ducklings in need …
Elaine told me that on one of her daily strolls, about a week after Easter 2019, she saw several yellow ducklings huddled together on the grass near the marina/catering hall area.
She recognized the trio as Pekin ducklings, seen only at Elizabeth Park. Pekin ducklings are yellow and fuzzy when they are young and their feathers turn white when they are mature. Taking a quick glance around the area, Elaine saw no sign of a Mama duck, so she crouched down and spoke to them and offered a handful of cracked corn which they gobbled right up, so she spread out more corn, several times, and it disappeared in a flash. Elaine wondered if they had been abandoned. She left the ducklings, promising them to return after going to the canal on her daily ritual to feed the Pekins and Mallards. She walked along the boardwalk, went to the canal, then along the path which encircles Elizabeth Park. She was gone a long time, but when she returned again to the marina area, she saw the ducklings were still there. This time they left their huddle and waddled right over to her. Yes, my heart would melt too, as would yours.
Because the ducklings weren’t afraid of humans, Elaine was sure they were abandoned, most likely by someone who bought them for their kids as Easter gifts, cute and cuddly pets, but soon realized the commitment, expense and mess of taking care of them.
Elaine told me her heart was pounding, but she had a solution – she would find a new “family” to adopt these cute ducklings, but it would not be humans this time – no, it would be some of their own kind.
So, luckily Elaine had saved some corn and she dribbled it out of her hand to get the ducklings to walk behind her. Obediently they followed, and the small pieces of corn disappeared as each duckling ran near her heels to be the first to grab a morsel. Can’t you just picture this in your mind? I can as I have had the cardinals hopping along behind me.
Elaine said it would have been much easier to just pick up the ducklings and simply carry them down to the canal with the adult Pekins, but she didn’t want to scare them, and besides, her hands were occupied by the two bags of corn and peanuts.
Well, Elaine did not have the benefit of being a Mama Mallard, but she guided those feathery babies along the boardwalk. It is a long trek from the marina/Chateau on the River and these few pictures do not even show the entire length of the boardwalk, then around the bend and over to the cove. Elaine smiled as she described one of the ducklings straying to the edge of the boardwalk and she almost lost it when it got off course, explored a wee bit too far and nearly toppled into the Detroit River.
This photo shows how precariously close her charge came to landing in the water with this exit where the leaves had collected …
… or, even catching a webbed foot in this wide space in the slats in the boardwalk.
Elaine lured the wayward duckling back to the route by using some more corn which was once again gobbled up. She told me she was wondering aloud “how long has it been since these babies last ate?” It was a long and arduous trip from the marina/catering hall to the canal area … some of these photos give you an example of just how far the group traveled.
This is an overview from above:
This is only a portion of the boardwalk and it curves around a few times:
Finally, 45 minutes later, and they were at the cove area of the canal. Elaine told me that in her mind, she pictured the young ducks gravitating right to the larger Pekins, thinking it was their Mama. But that was not the match made in Heaven she had anticipated. Elaine decided maybe it was best she left and let nature work its magic, so she left the adults and ducklings to get acquainted. As Elaine walked away, the ducklings turned and started walking back the way they came, obediently following behind her (quick learners)! “No!” said Elaine and she hurried over, quickly doling out more corn and got them pointed in the right direction, toward their new kin. 🙂
Perhaps the adults’ maternal instinct then kicked in, or maybe the Pekin adults simply wanted to please their benefactor, but soon the adults waddled over to nuzzle the ducklings. Elaine dumped the remaining corn for everyone and left the rest up to Mother Nature. She walked one more time around the park but decided not to return to the “meet-and-greet site” for fear the ducklings would follow her and not stay put.
The next day Elaine could hardly wait to see if the “new family” was visible at the cove/canal area. They were and they were all swimming around and zipped right over to see her to visit and for their daily breakfast. Elaine smiled and said she felt like a matchmaker and realized she probably saved those ducklings from predators, or sure death, as they likely had no clue how to defend themselves nor any foraging instincts either.
Elaine’s tale made me smile and gave me a warm-and-fuzzy feeling inside. I said I’d have had misgivings leaving those helpless babies too. I told her my angst about leaving the baby robin on the sidewalk, after I discovered it, heart pumping out of its chest and obviously not ready for prime-time fledging yet with such short wings. There was no nest to put it in. I left, tears welling up in my eyes, but when I returned later to take another look at it and saw Mama Robin lurking in the bushes, keeping her baby in her sight, my heart just swelled.
Almost an hour after meeting and each of us uttering “well I guess I should get going” we finally parted. I have not seen Elaine again in the many times I’ve been at Elizabeth Park since that Winter day, but who knows, perhaps we passed one another, clutching our respective bags of goodies, and did not recognize the other without our heavy parkas, wool mufflers and knit hats?
I have a few more tales of kindness to animals and that will appear in a post later this week. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote: “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.” ~ Prince