This is not a ploy to get you to come to London for the sightseeing. Although if you do, you might want to take a train from Euston station to our marina in Apsley (Hemel Hempstead) to see what I am about to unleash. You’d be quackers not to. It just might become another wonder of the world. I speak of Duckingham Palace. Not that touristy pile of stone down the Mall off Trafalgar Square, where her Maj lives….sometimes. This is a palace built with love and care for special Royalty and 2 very wonderful ladies.
I’ve written about characters of the cut (canals) elsewhere. Some are rude men and women. Some are great volunteers and helpers. Some are crazy. Many are talented and creative. Some just are and want to be left alone. This Blog is about two characters right here in my marina. I know them as the duck lady and Mum duck.One lady is a duck mother of sorts, the other has feathers and has become quite a phenomenon around here. She has no name, but does have distinguishing marks.
The duck lady has one mission in the Spring….making sure any duckings hatched in the marina have a fighting chance for survival. Not an easy task. When they hatch, the ducklings are so tiny and vulnerable. And there are many predators. Foxes, cats, fish (Pike), herons, seagulls, swans and geese, though the latter 3 tend to kill ducklings for the sake of it. Every day for weeks, morning to night, the duck lady patrolled the area, feeding them nutritious duck food instead of the ubiquitous stale bread which is the favourite of the uninitiated.
Mother duck (a Mallard) had 12 ducklings. A clutch of eggs can be anywhere between 8-13 that incubate for nearly a month. If a clutch is destroyed either by predators or the elements, a female duck can start all over again. It happens frequently. Some mums will try over and over until they get it right. Others just give up after the first failure. Ducks have personalities too. It’s not all just by instinct. Typically, dads bugger off after copulating, searching for other eager females. Some things never change no matter the species.
There was mum, with her fluffy little brood, tootling around the marina in search of sustenance. An adult duck followed by what looked like a big ball of fluff. As the days went on, the ducklings grew in stature and independence, exploring places further from the brood….but never too far. The mother duck is quite unique according to duck lady. She has been clever in how she guards the little ones. Always present and aware. She also knows that duck lady is a friend. For the first few weeks, mum duck never left the marina.
The duck house that was there when the ducklings hatched had been in place for a few years, courtesy of the duck lady, naturally. She commissioned it and it was so. Straw filled and sitting on its own platform, floating on our side of the marina at the end of one of the long piers, it had seen better days. Duck Lady lives over the other side of the marina. We residents call it the dark side. We don’t get over there much. Strange types have boats on the dark side we were told when we first moved in. Some may think duck lady is strange. She is anything but. Just shows you how uninformed we permanent dwellers can be. My best friend and I had not spoken to duck lady until one day when she was out on duck patrol. We were enchanted by her knowledge and dedication toward these water foul.
Those of you who bothered watching that video will have discovered that during the dazzling commentary (and between gusts of wind) the commentator mentioned only 10 ducklings had survived to this point. You may also have noticed that the little fuzz balls had grown some. Alas, 1 of their number had been snatched by a Pike over in one corner of the marina. Mother duck had not been as vigilant as she needed to be and allowed her young ones to venture into dangerous waters. maybe that is part of the test for self-preservation. And the other was snatched from the water by a seagull and dropped, drowning the poor little thing. Nasty seagull.
When the count was down to 8, 2 more having become the victims of a heron, I chanced upon duck lady one morning as she went about her duck duties. I said to her, “I see we’re down to 8. Does that worry you?” She stared down into the water and replied, “Yes, it does. I feel each loss far too deeply. I almost feel responsible. Isn’t that silly?” I assure her it isn’t as there is little more that she could possibly do. “Not your fault at all” said I. “It’s the way of nature. Sad but true in this case.” She looked up at me (I’m much taller than she) and said, “I know. But it makes little difference. I just take it all to heart. It’s wearing me out. I think this will be the last season for me. Someone else will have to take over. The old duck house needs replacing, but it won’t be my doing. That means it probably won’t happen.”
A shame, I thought. This was definitely the person for the job. We all held our collective breath when mum took the brood out of the marina and onto the canal. We thought for sure they would come back into the marina minus one or two more. But that was not to be….at least not for the moment.
A kind of gloom fell over the marina when we discovered the count was down to 6. Half of the little ducklings had vanished even with the best efforts of mother duck and duck lady to save them all. But duck lady was optomistic. The fact that against heavy odds the mum had kept 6 of them safe and alive was something to celebrate. We all watched anxiously every day, counting the ducklings as they swam by, to make sure there were still 6.
The next remarkable thing was to see the dad turn up to help out. He brought a buddy with him for extra security. To date, the six remain. And have grown at an astonishing rate. When I saw them, I could hardly believe my eyes.
I lost touch with the ducklings for a couple of weeks. Life got busy. But over on the dark side, things were cooking. Duck lady had decided to keep on going after all, commissioning a new duck house from her boat neighbour, a carpenter. She only hoped the duck family would accept new digs. One fine day, duck lady came by my boat and knocked on the roof. The new duck house was complete and she needed long ropes to pull it across the water in the marina to take the place of the old house. I had just the rig. The house glided to its mooring and we all waited to see if the new home would be well received.
“I’m calling it Duckingham Palace” said the duck lady. She was beaming. “So, you’re back on the job?” I asked. “I can’t help myself” she said. “It’s just such a part of me. I’ll probably regret it again next Spring, but for now….” The next morning, 7 large ducks congregated around Duckingham Palace. I guessed some other ducks had moved in. I was wrong. The ducklings had grown. They were moving in….with mum. The royal family. As it should be.