22/4/18 I had all but chosen my next spring treasure – a task which I am finding to be no mean feat – when on Friday morning, sitting on the terrace doing admin, I heard a duck approaching the terrace from the driveway. I realised that the sound she was making could signify only one thing: she had babies with her. I was kept in suspense for only a second or two longer, before fifteen tiny egg-shaped fluffballs appeared under the gate. Their size and shape alone indicated they had hatched within the last day, but their huddling together and falling over their feet as they walked left no doubt.
I had just retrieved my phone from indoors to answer a text message, and with the habitually slow cogs turning in my brain where smartphone technology is concerned, I realised just in time that I had a camera within reach, and grabbed it before they processed under the picket fence – installed at such a height as to allow the passage of duck families – and across the lawn to the pond.
The other contenders for the week’s highlight were swept aside by this most magical of annual moments: the first ducklings to appear in the garden. I don’t know where the nest was, but given the family has – thankfully – so far stayed put, I would guess that they hatched in the garden. For the ducklings’ sake, I hope the mother doesn’t take them on too many long-distance trips, at least until they are much bigger.
I am hugely lucky to have had this spring wonder at my disposal all my life. We weren’t in Suffolk all the time, but never a spring or summer holiday went by without a family or two (or three) of ducklings in our garden, often marching up to the kitchen window, or in through an open door of the house, demanding to be fed. Within a week they were usually clambering on our laps for food, and mother duck was also eating out of our hands. Of course, it also taught me early on the heartache of lost, injured and ill babies that we could do nothing to help.
The only difference between then and now is that, rather than come up to the kitchen window, the mother duck takes her babies to the chicken feeder to help herself to food. At this time of year I have to remember to weigh down the lever step of the rodent-proof feeder in order to stop her trapping her babies wholly or partially inside, as happened once or twice early on before I realised the danger of a duck’s poor grasp of physics.
The other difference is that white mallards are now so rare that I have only seen two or three in Suffolk in recent years, and I’ve seen no golden ducklings, here or anywhere else, in decades. I haven’t been able to find any information about why this might be the case. But whatever their colour, there is no doubt that ducklings are perhaps the sweetest and most joy-inspiring spring hatchlings we are privileged enough to share our island with.