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Midwifery with a difference — A diary

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Mallards have been nesting each spring and summer at Dakota House in St. Vital. This year residents were pleased to see 10 little ducklings.

SUPPLIED PHOTO BY PETER BURAK Enlarge Image

Mallards have been nesting each spring and summer at Dakota House in St. Vital. This year residents were pleased to see 10 little ducklings. Photo Store

June 4, 2013 — Oh, the lingering effects of the 2011 Empty Nest Syndrome on some of us residents at Dakota House! But after today, my friend and I may yet have our fondest wishes answered. It’s all in the hands of our caretaker. At the moment he’s quite tight-lipped but he’s said just enough to titillate us into looking, looking, looking...

He says, with a twinkle in his eye, that a pair of mallards have come back to us this year, but he won’t say where they’re nesting.

"They’re no more than 100 feet away from where you’re sitting," he says, which could put them on the north side, right against our building. Not a likely spot. Or he mentions the fence around the perimeter of our grounds.

"The last time I looked there were five eggs," he teases.

My friend and I first scour the front yard, where walking along the fence in the softness of the sod is not an easy manoeuvre. In the area of the tool shed there is an unfamiliar shadow under the low-lying branches of one spruce tree. Is it a duck? As I bend closer, the shadow moves. Out hops a bedraggled-looking rabbit, clad in neither the clean white of winter nor the soft cuddly brown of summer. Not what we’re looking for!.

For the past two years we’ve had some wild mallard ducks make our yard at Dakota House their breeding haven. In late April, 2011, a female was spotted making a home for her future family in amongst the thickets near our front entrance. A fantastically secure place for, with her variegated brown feathers ,she blended right in with the earth tones around her. We claimed her for our own, with someone even naming her Daisy.

A month later the caretaker informed us he had seen the mother marching her brood of 10 towards the east fence, obviously on her way to the Seine River. He even had pictures of this majestic scene to show us. But why hadn’t he called us to witness it?

Last year, 2012, our place was doubly popular. Two lovable, lovestruck pairs of mallards had come a-calling and succeeded in hatching their broods. But this time fewer residents knew where the nests were or when their babies had cracked open their shells — although if we had looked hard enough we could have made out the silhouette of a brownish bird in among the tall grasses at our backyard fountain.

The other nest was somewhere out front and to the side, a spot described only in the vaguest of terms by the overly-cautious,  game-playing keeper of our castle. Our yard had bcome a midwifery centre for ducks

June 4, 2013 (continued) — We two bird-lovers have this compulsion to meet the new brood before they, too, elude us. Yes, we’re looking, looking, looking — fully aware of the fact that they could hatch and march away in the dead of  night while we sleep...

June 7, 2013 — Our "master of the midwifery" relents. He spreads word that the birthing is completed and that the babies are following their mother west across Dakota Street to St. Vital Park or the Red.

My friend watches in amazement as 10 newly-hatched ducklings propel themselves up and over the curb while the mother waits. Maternal instincts implicit.

And where am I? With Toronto friends at a high school mini-reunion in Teulon! Foiled again, but hopeful — for this time our custodian has shared news of Nature’s birthing miracle, and it bodes well for a repeat in 2014. Now if we can just get the ducks to cooperate...

Anne Yanchyshyn is a community correspondent for St. Vital.

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