From time to time, beautiful birds visit the old beach camp we bought nearly 40 years ago and named Rancho Deelux.
Simple creations such as birds are a daily gift for us all, so we bought a bird feeder to teach our kids about these marvelous creatures.
As time passed, a bird bath was added. I also wanted a cement St. Francis of Assisi, as any good Catholic bird watcher would; but since our neighbors had one, my Presbyterian wife determined we would ask them to turn the statue to face our yard, thus saving us the cost of our own St. Francis while still receiving his blessing for our daily mitzvahs to the birds.
St. Francis must have assigned a Calvinist penance as we usually have just pigeons and grackles. Pigeons are the entitlement sector of the bird world, while grackles remind me of the gang members in “West Side Story” — dancing to the feeder, snapping their fingers, scaring other avians away.
The pigeons seem to know when I am scooping birdseed to distribute, and they line the roof of Rancho Deelux like Apaches peering down from the canyon ridge on Randolph Scott. The grackles wait for the feed to be distributed and swoop in like flying monkeys looking for Dorothy and Toto.
This spring, we again viewed the multicolored parade of birds stopping by for a meal and a bath. Buntings, vireos, grosbeaks and red-winged blackbirds were guests, as well as hummingbirds.
One morning as I got my coffee and looked outside, I noticed what looked like two ducks in the yard. In my youth, I hunted ducks and recognized them as black bellied whistling ducks. They are more of the goose or swan family, and are mated for life. They are extremely loyal to their mates, and the male will tend the nest with the female.
There was an immediate problem with the ducks as our rescue dog Ozzy is Lab and border collie. So he wanted to herd the ducks and then “fetch” them. He’s a smart dog, though, and after several conferences with him he understood that he could look but not touch the ducks.
This hasn’t been easy as whistling ducks don’t really whistle; they make sort of an extended long squeaking sound resembling one of Ozzy’s favorite chewy toys. As an added temptation, the first ducks told other ducks, and now there’s between 12 to 30 whistling ducks in our yard every morning and evening.
Each year, Ozzy looks forward to the plastic baby wading pool I get him from Academy. After breakfast and dinner, he likes to hop in his pool to splash around. In the heat of the day he will lie in his pool to cool off.
The other day, Ozzy went out to have a swim, and his pool was full of splashing, squeaking whistling ducks.
Ozzy said Capt. Peter Davis wasn’t available, and volunteered to rescue the ducks, which would require him to first herd and then fetch them.
John Dundee lives in Galveston.