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The doggedness of ducks

About a year after coming to Oceanspirit, I finally got my ducks in a row: Donald, Dorothy and Delia Duck.

Muscovy ducks, they were pristine-white and regal; their tail feathers wagged as they waddled over for bread. Donald was the boldest; his bill snatched from my hand. Dorothy took food politely. She had a black mark like a finely plucked, Marlene Dietrich-style eyebrow either side of her head. Delia never ate from my hand so I had to wield my distribution fairly: one grab for Donald, a distracting throw to the left for Dorothy; a throw to the right for Delia.

They loved the rain; it made their world a playground. I stood in my Red Bands as they sailed toward me across the flooded paddock. They stopped with a hard turn on starboard rudder, a jab on port. Their breasts blossomed like white spinnakers, dotted with tiny black spiders which had crawled up the huge, feathery lifeboats after being evicted from the grass by the flood.

Donald was handsome in his carriage but his bill was as lumpy as the nose of a barfly. The ladies were prettier. They hardly ever flew, which disappointed me. Even from the far end of the paddock they’d waddle in their slightly ridiculous gait or, if there was water, cruise serenely towards me for food.

The cat could make them fly: at her sudden rush they lifted splendidly like 747s, gliding powerfully to just clear a fence and land between the plum trees.

Donald became a lame duck with a mangled foot. A stoat? A rat? I didn’t know but from then on Donald wasn’t so dapper. He could no longer wash in the sheep trough so his feathers were brown and unkempt. The girls gleamed beside him.

Donald disappeared in the Big Storm. The pinenut tree crashed down and I pushed between its branches looking for a dead duck. I splashed through the wetland and brambles but never found him. I had Israeli wwoofers staying with me. “The tragedy of Golden Bay,” the man said cynically. At 23, he had seen far worse.

Without their mate, Dorothy and Delia hung out like sisters. Then Dorothy disappeared. I found her in the wetlands, like a suburb on the far side of town. She waggled to welcome me to a hollow of reeds and tree roots. The far side was the bathroom, a pile of poo. The near side was the nest, but there were no eggs.

“You’ll have to get them a boyfriend, otherwise they’ll leave to find one,” Tim said. I still hadn’t found a new mate when Dorothy emerged and hung out with Delia again. One day I saw a spray of white in the paddock, like the aftermath of a pillow fight. Nearby I found the carcass, the yellow feet and beak of a Muscovy duck.

We don’t know what dealt to Delia but we decided Dorothy would be safer at Tim’s. She has a new boyfriend there, a young black Muscovy drake with the bill of a non-drinker. They step out together like film stars at Cannes.

© Rebecca Hayter

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