An Arkansas web of wildlife

We have a pond about thirty yards off our back deck, and it has been there since the 1930s. Our house, which replaced an old farmhouse, was sited to overlook the pond. The pond is a couple of acres in size, and over the years we have seen it visited by nearly all of the bird and water animals native to the state.

The pond is about as natural as it gets, with mature trees lining the banks and native water plants in the shallow end. We get an occasional flock of ducks stopping on their way south, and last year I spotted a river otter swimming in the shallow end of the pond. Based on the empty turtle shells littering the bank, the river otters have reversed the out-of-control turtle population.

And any decent size Arkansas pond is going to have a few snakes; our's has multiple water snakes, and probably a few water moccasins.

Last year, we picked up some semi-permanent visitors. Two Canadian geese had stopped by a few times earlier in the year, but in the late spring, it seems they decided they liked the place.

The geese loved the new green grass along the edge of the pond where our yard ends and the pond begins. They were always together. After checking out the habits of Canadian geese, I understood why: Canadian geese mate for life, and that is why I would see them together. They would always be within a few yards of each other, and when you spotted one, the other was sure to be nearby.

That was until about a month into last spring, when I noted only one goose, and for the next few days I only spotted one lonely goose on the pond.

Well, I was a little suspicious about the missing goose, and I told Vertis that I thought the other was nesting. Then, a few days after that, I walked down toward the shallow end of the pond, and right beside a large hickory tree in a grassy area on the bank of the pond sat the other goose, and it slowly moved off and into the pond as I approached.

I walked away after spotting a nest full of eggs. It seems the geese had decided to call the pond home and were going to raise a family.

The next morning I looked out our kitchen window, and there, swimming by itself, was one lonely goose, and it was that way for most of the next week or so. I'm not sure if the geese took turn on the nest, but it seems as if they did.

Then after another week I spotted the two geese together, and there, waddling behind them, was one gosling. Of course, that was about like having a new baby in our family, but I wondered about the remainder of the eggs. But a couple of days later, the number of goslings had increase to four.

We watched the now family of six geese come up into our yard to nibble on the new grass, and for the next week the brood was the same. I walked by the nest and it was empty, so I figured that was going to be the total goose family.

A week later, just as I was leaving for work one morning, I noticed the two mature geese followed by all four goslings swimming toward the end of the pond where a low spillway lets out excess water into the large five acre pond that is a couple of hundred yards south of our back yard. I watched them a few minutes and the goose family began the walk to the lower pond. I told Vertis that I suspected the mother goose became nervous about her four little goslings because they were so close to our house.

I didn't see any of the geese for several days, and then one afternoon, I spotted the two geese followed by one gosling on the levee of our upper pond. Naturally, I wondered what had happened to the other three goslings, but even after I had walked around the entire lower pond I didn't see anything goose related.

The next morning I looked out and still sitting on the levee were the two geese, but the gosling was gone. The two geese spent the entire day just sitting on the levee bank, and the next morning they left, and I haven't seen any geese since then.

It seems, after considering the remote, heavily wooded area of the lower pond where I have seen foxes, coyotes, feral hogs, and hawks, that the goslings were victims of predators.

As to the way the two mature geese set on the levee bank for a full day, I can't say for sure why, but maybe it was to see if the goslings would reappear. However, since the geese had never just sat for the day on the pond bank, I believe they were in mourning. Do animals mourn? It seems to me that was what they were doing.

Well, it bothered us that the little goose family had a tragic loss of the four goslings, but that's just part of the web of life.

That left a couple of big blue herons in the upper pond, and they are on my bad bird list since they have managed to pick off two big koi from my courtyard pool. However, I bought a high pitched sound box, which is solving the problem. I can't hear it because of my hearing loss from shooting a shotgun several thousand times as a teen and young man, but Vertis and the birds can hear it, and it had kept the birds out of the courtyard pool.

Of course, raccoons and possums frequent our back yard, and we have a small raccoon and a skinny possum that have taken up residence under our deck.

I had another little wildlife experience this past week when I checked on the status of our swimming pool. Naturally, the pool is just circulating water since it's early spring, but leaves and trash still have to be cleaned out of the skimmers.

I walked by and noted one of the skimmers seemed to be plugged up. That's common.

I walked over, took the lid off the skimmer, and sure enough, it was full of leaves and sticks. I reached into the skimmer and grabbed a big handful of leaves and a fairly large stick to unplug it, but when I started to put the handful of trash down the "stick" moved.

The stick was a very large snake around three feet in length, and before I could drop the leaves and snake, its head popped out of the leaves with its mouth wide open, and then it drew its head back to strike my hand. It missed, but if those leaves had been on fire, I couldn't have dropped them any quicker.

I took a good look at the snake and breathed a sigh of relief. It was a very large water snake.

The snake headed back to the pool, and as it swam off, I went into the house to change pants.

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected].