Monday, June 24, 2013

Spring is the time for babies, big and small.

So here we are, four days into summer already, and definitely starting to see the results of last mating season. I apologize for sounding a little naughty but there's really no other way to put it: babies are everywhere! The goslings are out in full force on Bower Ponds; last week, a young moose wowed a school group doing a plant study; families of waterfowl are starting to populate the Gaetz Lakes, and just this morning I met a baby magpie. Even the damselflies are out in full force, perpetuating the species.

Our much-anticipated arrivals here at the Nature Centre are the baby red-necked grebes. These three little ones are local celebrities in the Sanctuary, so it's fitting that they look like tiny rock stars. With their striped bodies and flashes of colour on their heads and beaks, they not only camoflage well into their nest, they look cool doing it!

The little grebes have quite the backstory leading up to their hatching. It started when Mama and Papa grebe decided to build a nest way too close to the stairs of the bird blind. The water level in the West Gaetz Lake rose significantly due to all the rain and the nest was basically submerged. Mama and Papa grebe built it up diligently, bringing in bits and pieces constantly to make it bigger. Then they started the long incubation period, sharing sitting duties from 21 to 33 days, on what looked to us like drowned eggs in a soggy nest. We restricted access to the bird blind so that large groups wouldn't disturb them; to see the nest you would literally look over the side of the stairs. They were determined to hatch those eggs. If you went out to have a quick and quiet look you would get the evil eye, but the bird sitting on the nest would not move from its post. A lot of time was spent chasing away errant coots that got too close.

Then it happened: two of the four eggs hatched, soon followed by a third. (As of this writing, we're still waiting on the fourth.) These adorable babies will ride on their parent's back for protection and warmth for their first 10 to 17 days, at which time they will essentially be booted off to learn how to fend for themselves. Don't get me wrong: grebes are great parents, sometimes feeding their brood until they're nearly full grown, but they are also practical parents, helping the chick learn how to take care of itself as soon as possible. Juveniles can fly at between 50 and 70 days, just in time for the long migration to coastal inlets to overwinter and find a mate.

If you happen upon a some animal parents and their young while you're out in the park this summer, there are two things I'd like you to keep in mind. 1) Give them their space; animal parents can be very protective, and 2) Take a minute to observe them. The bond between parent and offspring is a beautiful thing, no matter what the species.

Thank you to Darren Petersen for capturing these beautiful photographs and allowing us to to post them for your enjoyment.

Happy Summer everyone!

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