Duck Duck Two

By Gretchen Lieff   |   May 28, 2020
The Mallard Mother Duck (Hen) and her seven surviving ducklings feeding and swimming upstream in the Romero Creek Bed (photo by Priscilla)

In last week’s Journal you’ll recall “ducknappers” had snatched a nest with a mamma duck, three ducklings, and seven eggs from under an oak tree at Montecito’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church parking lot. Our “Duck Column” describing the story had “gone viral” as pressure mounted to “find the ducks.”

It’s been an exhausting week of faulty quacks and feathers… of what’s and what’s nots… of when’s and where’s and how’s. Dead ends and false leads and plenty of “he said, she saids”… as concerned duck lovers phoned their sightings into the Santa Barbara Wildlife Center hotline.

“I think they’re here… they got here sometime last night… right here on my front lawn across from Mount Carmel.”

Linda Beuret pointing to the sighting in the area of Romero Creek along the residential Casa Dorinda (photo by Priscilla)

Our duck patrol high tails it over to find homeowner Soren Kieler delighted at the prospects of finding the “missing quackers.”

A short time later we deliver the disappointing news; “These lucky duckies are a mated pair of adult mallards… they’re beauties… but we’re looking for a mom with ducklings.”

Then the call from Cota Road just off East Valley where our Duck Team responds to reports of a mother duck and three babies waddling along the 700 block where the road takes a sharp turn.

“The mom just went into the bushes… the babies are soooo small. They were struggling to follow her.” Our Team observes the feathered family from 100 yards in order not to frighten them. A short time later Violet phones back, distraught.

“I just knew something bad was going to happen… a car came around that blind curve and struck one of the ducklings. The surviving ducklings have climbed through a metal fence into deep brush and the mother has flown off.”

Soren Kieler welcoming his visiting Duck Couple hoping that this pair create their nest in his paradise of a garden (photo by Priscilla)

We decide to leave them alone and hope the mother returns.

With twilight approaching and the threat of predators… we return with duck nets and note that the mother mallard has not returned. We capture the ducklings and take them to the Center.

Back at the Wildlife Center on Fairview the Spring duckling work never ends. Baby ducks are coming in from all over SB and Ventura counties.

If you’re not on site caring for the baby ducks… you’re thinking about them or dreaming about them. Talk about helicopter moms! There’s just something about the innocence of their quacks and their bright sweet gaze as they cock their heads to the side.

Two days later… intrepid duck huntress Priscilla joins us on the front lines… responding to calls of Montecito duck sightings along Picacho Lane … where a curious Ellen DeGeneres offers words of encouragement, “Hope you find them.” We understand Ellen is a wildlife fanatic and love her for it.

Casa Dorinda Residents John Manson and Candace White excitedly view the mother and her ducklings along the creek from a safe distance (photo by Priscilla)

Meanwhile the search turns up nothing.

Social media buzz continues to grow with a “LOST DUCK” post from Mari Failing of East Valley.

“There are some beautiful mallard ducks in the San Ysidro Creek on the Ennisbrook trail between East Valley and San Leandro across from the Crane School… I’m afraid they’ll meet the coyotes.”

Bethany Anderson of Ortega Ridge responds; “There are a number of male and female duck pairs breeding along many of our creeks right now. They find quiet spots… because they’re guarding nests. “At least someone’s got a healthy social life in the time of COVID,” I think.

Morgan Williams of East Valley weighs in; “Mount Carmel Church is missing ducks.”

Community watchduck J’Amy Brown forwards the conversation to our Duck Team.

Another day goes by and then… BINGO… we get a call from Casa Dorinda; “I was looking over the edge of the Casa entrance bridge… and swimming in a small pool was a mother mallard and seven ducklings and I got a picture of them… and put it in our Casa Dorinda Newsletter. So when people saw your article in the Montecito Journal about the missing ducks they called me.”

We rush to Casa Dorinda where a beaming Linda Beuret, wearing a duck mask (it’s true) exclaims; “We certainly would like to think these are the missing mom and babies.” Linda leads us over the bridge and through the woods to the spot where she last saw the duck family.

I’d say a female with seven ducklings is kind of a rare site around here?

“I agree… and as a GUNG HO bird watcher… we ALWAYS carry our cameras… that’s how I got the duck family picture.”

You’re a birder (my favorite people). What kinds of birds do you see here?

“Well the most prominent one is the acorn woodpecker and we see California towees… Spotted towees. We see lots and lots of juncos… umm… never seen so many songbirds here.“

Lots of birds but no duck luck… however there’s PLENTY of human activity. We discover that if you’re looking for action in Montecito look no further than the Casa Dorinda bridge at Hot Springs and Olive Mill, where we’re approached by the most astonishing number of feisty and curious Casa residents. Maintaining proper social distancing, Barbara and Cissy Hadley stop to chat;

“It would be WONDERFUL to find the missing duck family here. This is such a special place.”

Barbara is a former President of the Casa Dorinda Residence Board.

“There’s no question these woods and stream have kept people here at Casa Dorinda sane. It’s a magical place that quite literally has restored our sanity. Because of the quarantine we’ve had to stay on ‘Campus’… and walking through these woods gives us… it’s our salvation.”

It wasn’t long ago… this was a very different place?

“Oh my YES! The debris flow was such terrible destruction… destruction and death and mud. It was just a terrible mess. But now things are restored… our precious woods are regenerated.”

The Duck Team stays on the bridge a bit longer and then calls it a day… Still no ducks.

The following morning an excited Linda Beuret calls; “They’re back… they’re in the stream just below the bridge.”

Here we go again… racing back to Casa Dorinda hoping to see the ducks before they disappear again. We park inside the gate and literally run through the tall grass down the side of the creek where we can view the ducks without bothering them… we catch our breath… and FINALLY… a beautiful mother mallard with six ducklings!

Barbara Hadley chatting with journalist Gretchen Lieff and Cissy Hadley after viewing the duck family passing under the bridge (photo by Priscilla)

What a thrill as we send pictures to Elaine, our wildlife expert, “The ducklings look to be the same age as the missing church ducklings.”

HALLELUJAH… at last we’ve found the missing duck family. How did they get from the church to Montecito Creek at Casa Dorinda… does it really matter?

As we prepare to pack our cameras and leave I recall the final conversation I’d had a day ago on the bridge with Casa residents Candace White and John Manson;

“It would be wonderful if the mother and her ducklings turned up here. It was so sad… the debris flow and the deaths in the neighborhood and so wonderful that the Bucket Brigade and the Montecito Retirement Association came in and restored the beauty of this place. We love to listen to the water going by and watch the wildlife. It’s a true paradise… it just really warms your heart.”

Yes… the Casa Dorinda property is a special place of healing. Things have more than recovered from the debris flow of 2018. And it underscores the unquestionable evidence that the earth here is healing AGAIN.

Of all the places in Montecito where our missing ducks would reappear I can’t imagine a more significant spot than Montecito Creek at Casa Dorinda where these brave residents who are our most vulnerable… have been forced to bravely isolate for these many weeks.

Cissy Hadley may have said it best: “I think that because of the quarantine and with all of us just STOPPING… the earth and the animals are coming back… the birds… oh my… we have NEVER had so many birds here.”

If you have any questions… just take a walk over the bridge and into the glorious Casa Dorinda woodlands.


And don’t forget to look over into the creek… at a happy mother duck and her ducklings.


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