By Marsha Sorotick
On the first day of Spring, 2014, much to the surprise of Waterside residents, a lone female duck was seen strolling around the Plaza looking like she owned the place. Shortly thereafter, she was observed taking a morning swim in the neat little pond that is part of the Plaza’s garden space. In time, a mallard joined her in the pond. To the residents’ delight, the two of them would sun and groom themselves on the ponds’ rocks, take short swims, and an afternoon snooze.
It eventually was reported by the garden staff that, apparently, it wasn’t all sunning and swimming and snoozing. Eggs were discovered, well hidden in the garden’s shrubbery. So began several weeks of waiting, watching and wondering by Watersiders. Checking on the duck eggs became the thing to do.
The day finally arrived when the ducklings appeared in all their fuzzy cuteness swimming with their mom in the Plaza pond. They stayed until they were deemed ready to leave by their mom and, as is their tradition, marched out of the garden in single file behind their mother, down the Plaza steps to the river.
In August 2014, Waterside experienced a second duck birthing. And Waterside became even more dedicated to helping the ducks. Maintenance provided a plank of wood to assist the little ones in exiting the pond. A “Please Don’t Feed The Ducks” sign was put in place to restrain the “duck groupies” who would whipped out their phone-cameras and bring what they thought were suitable snacks for Waterside’s avian neighbors.
The entire 2014 event was incredible enough if it had only occurred in that year. But the ducks returned to start their families in 2015, 2016, 2017 and twice in 2018.
Those in the “Bah, Humbug” crowd may say, “What’s the big deal? We see all kinds of birds around Waterside.” The big deal is that our feathered friends have found, in what would seem to be an inhospitable concrete plaza: A gentle little pond, a meticulously presented green space, and most importantly, a caring human community.
Perhaps the events of 2018 best illustrate the dedication Waterside has shown for the well-being of its flying neighbors.
Spring got off to a late start. No one was surprised that the ducks didn’t show up as usual on the season’s chilly first day. Not too many weeks later, when the weather warmed, they were back. Mallard and mate, swimming in the pond.
Even in these chaotic times, nature had prevailed, the miracle continued and all seemed right with the world. Eggs were observed in a new nesting spot hidden in the shrubbery. Protective eyes of staff and residents (including Waterside children) were drawn to the secret spot, checking that everything was OK. And it was.
From hatched eggs to pond swimmers, there they were again.
But this time things turned out differently.
One Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after birth, mom and family left the pond. She walked them in a wobbly line to the Plaza steps and alas, she became confused as to which way to go.
Up steps, down steps, the little ones flopping off the steps.
This led to The Great Duck Rescue, Part One. Maintenance helped by putting some of the exhausted-looking ducklings back in the pond. Mom and the more robust brood members, finally found their way out. A bird sanctuary was located, and a committed Waterside duck friend transported the ducklings who didn’t make it out, to the west side sanctuary, for some professional TLC.
The Great Duck Rescue, Part Two, proved to be a heart-rending experience for all involved. In the second birth-event of the year, all signs pointed to another joyous occasion. However, this time several days after giving birth, the mother made a difficult decision, selecting two out of the eight ducklings – and hurried off with them, abandoning the other six. The Bird Sanctuary helped out once again.
Though ducks can be seen in the river, for now (autumn 2018), the Waterside ducks are gone.
Like any great New York story, the tale of this year’s ducks will be repeated by Waterside residents and staff during the cold, dark days of winter when the Plaza is icy and the garden is bare. It is a tale of nature, wonders and in these turbulent times, a reminder of the sweet surprise of unexpected human kindness.
This column was originally published on watersideplaza.com. The author is a freelance writer and an original resident of Waterside.