We first met in March ten years ago. He was young, trim and sleek. His partner- to use an obligatory secular term-was reclusive, shy, and reticent to mate. Yet in time it was accomplished after much courting and bobbing of heads and persistent pursuit. Then she disappeared, and he was alone.
She was nesting in dense ivy covering a patio roof hidden from hungry hawks. He single mindedly and optimistically waited and hoped for another chance to mate if something went wrong with the hatch. In about 10 days he disappeared and I found her herding 12 ducklings about the swimming pool. In another week she lead her long line of chicks toward a nearby creek.
However they soon both returned without the baby ducks. In another week or so his enduring hope of a second mating was fulfilled, very likely because feral cats, sharp eyed hawks, slinky snakes or beautiful striped skunks made a meal of the chicks. There he was again, bobbing and dancing and pursuing until she once more fled to the quiet stillness of her nest, her second hatch, and second exodus. That Winter-Spring ritual repeated yearly for 9 years in one or another variation.
But during the last two seasons only the drake appears. He waits, and waits alone on the still water, dipping for surface morsels, or floating stiffly, battered by driving rain, or leaf laden wind. Occasionally four of five young mallards invade the pool; a so-called paddle of ducks. I like to think they are survivors of the years of hatches but I chase them off irritably.
“I can’t have you crapping my coping! Find your own pool! Can’t you see? This one is taken!”
“Where is she? What happened?”
He ignores me except for an occasional iterated sad desultory “Quaaak-quaaak”
“ Duck up!” I reply. “There are a lot of lonely ladies in this world!” He doesn’t think that’s funny.
He’s there now sleeping at poolside in the morning sunlight. Later he will float on the still water watching the antics of turtledoves, magpies, and gray squirrels. Before noon he’ll leave for lunch; there is little nourishment on the surface of a chlorinated pool. All the months of March through May he’ll wait there mornings, until he gets hungry.
He looks more unkempt; but somehow larger and rougher, though his sheen and coloring is sharp and bright. He moves with timidly with less assurance and vigor. At first he’d fly off when I opened the sliding door to have a word with him, as if he didn’t know me. But now he simply waits and watches. I read or write. He folds his neck onto his breast and sleeps at times. We watch and wait, and wait, like drab old men on a park bench in Seville.
January 2019. They are back again, as they have been every year since we first met. Their separation, after a few years apparently led to a reconciliation. They are larger and a bit less sleek than at first, but go through the same courting routine as before. The other difference is that their nest is not here, but surely nearby. They appear each morning, paddle about for a while, then sit at the pools edge in the morning sun, until flying off at about 9 AM. It is said that mallards, in the wild, can live 20 years, and it appears these are already that old.