Stand at the trailhead.
Step into a duck’s world as you search for clues to a mystery: the black duck’s secret of survival in the winter. Discover the words that fit into the spaces throughout the trail and then at the end, unscramble the letters in the boxes to figure out the secret. Along the way, you’ll have to care for and protect your own duck egg. Are there hungry duck predators about?
You’ll have to do some spying too as the ducks aren’t about to give away their secrets. Act and sound like a duck and you’ll blend in better.
From the parking lot, walk to the duck observation platform on the edge of the road. Walk on the path through the grass for about 30 m and then continue as the path skirts the roadside to the platform for another 30 m.
Waddle like a duck as you move across the grass to the observation deck. Once there, take out your duck scope or binoculars. Make some quacking noises to call to the ducks on the pond.
Are there any ducks on the pond? What are they doing? Look for a small blue patch on a duck. It is on the:
Waddle to the next stop.
Do You Know
Black ducks actually have a very dark brown body with a somewhat lighter brown head and a yellowish bill. Watch for mallard ducks as well. The males have a green head while the females are a shade of brown similar to that of the black duck’s head. The mallard is not native to Nova Scotia, having gradually moved in from the west. Ducklings that result from a mallard and a black duck mating have a lower survival rate as they are not well adapted to this climate.
Return to the trailhead at the head of the parking lot and waddle 55 m to the top of the first hill and then go another 30 m past the bench.
Black ducks sometimes enjoy eating insects. Search for them in little holes and crevices:
- Choose one boulder, and staying within 20 steps of it, search for insect hiding spots.
- Look in and around trees, under rocks and plants and in holes in stumps and logs.
How many insects did you find? An expert can find five different ones.
Do You Know?
Plant material makes up 70 to 80% of a black duck’s diet. It includes tender roots, seeds and leafy parts of pondweeds, rushes and water lillies. They like to eat grass roots on land. The small creatures they consume include earthworms, snails, clams, crustaceans, larvae, ants and insects. It is not healthy for black ducks to be fed by humans.
Now walk 50 metres on the main trail and sneak out onto the long boardwalk.
Search for duck food in the water:
- Lie down crosswise on the boardwalk and stick your head over the side.
- Scan the surface for tasty insects and look into the water for yummy plants or creatures.
Practice hiding from predators as you sneak off the boardwalk and along the trail to the top of the hill just past a second boardwalk. One duck quacks a warning and everyone hides behind a tree or rock. Two quacks means “all clear” and everyone returns to the trail.
Do You Know?
What could hurt a duck? A raccoon, fox or cat might sneak up on land, especially at night. A falcon or owl could swoop down from the air. Humans can hurt ducks without realizing it. If chemicals, pesticides or heavy metals get into a pond, they sink into the mud. The ducks eat the mud and the chemicals build up in their blood, weakening or killing them. Road salt also washes into the pond and kills plants and creatures that ducks eat.
From the end of the boardwalk where you looked in the water, go about 240 m to the top of the hill after the second boardwalk. At the top of the hill there are a line of rocks crossing the trail.
The embedded stones that form a line crossing the trail at the top of the hill can tell you how long a black duck might live. Count them and multiply this number by 3 to get a duck’s possible age:
Predators like raccoons are after your eggs. See how well you can hide them:
- One person is the duck and everyone else is a raccoon.
- The duck hides the eggs within a defined area near the trail while the raccoons hide their eyes.
- The raccoons see how many eggs they can find in a couple of minutes.
- Switch ducks each round.
Ducks, including Black Ducks (‘Apji’jkmuj’ in Mi’kmaw) were an important food source. Eggs from a variety of waterfowl and sea birds were nutritious and beneficial to the Mi’kmaq. Oil and feathers from ducks were also utilized. In the spring months, many Mi’kmaq would move to the coastal regions of Mi’kma’ki and set up villages. There they would catch, kill, and eat marine species such as salmon, eels, other fish, clams, mussels, scallops, geese, ducks, and very rarely, seals, porpoise, and whales. Lightweight birch bark canoes made sneaking up on unexpecting flocks of ducks easier as they are very quiet gliding through water.
Walk 110 m down the trail, crossing another boardwalk. Stop at a clear area on your right with two benches by the water.
Use your duck scope or binoculars to find some ducks on the pond. Give a few duck calls. Some might come over. What can you figure out by watching them?
- Are any of the ducks in the water tipping their tails in the air?
Why do they do this?
- Where does a sleeping duck put its bill?
- Ducks’ bills are not all the same colour. Compare the colours of the bill and the feet for several different ducks. What does this tell you?
- The female black duck has brown legs while the male duck has:
- What else do you notice about the ducks?
All sorts of creatures make a home and find their needs for life in and around the Frog Pond. The pond itself is a source of water for land creatures, shelter for water plants, a feeding spot for flying creatures and a source of oxygen for swimming creatures. Together, all of these creatures and plants live in a:
Continue along the pond on the trail past the clear area. At the trail split directly after the clear area, stay to the right, walking 50 m down over another boardwalk and stop on the far side of it.
The black duck has a very good sense of touch using its bill. It comes in handy for finding good stuff for building nests. Collect touches with your duckbill:
- Carefully remove the eggs from your box and set them in a safe place.
- Put your pointer and middle fingers together.
- Rub and tap them on your thumb to make your very own duckbill.
- Find a small natural item on the ground and pick it up with your duckbill.
- Put it in the touch box compartment that has the word in it that matches the item’s feel.
- Fill the box by finding items with the proper feel for each word and compartment.
- Close the box and gather as a flock.
- Take turns having each person close their eyes, touch an item with their duckbill and guess the word.
Do You Know?
The black duck has a special sense in its bill to identify food before it is eaten. It filters non-edible items out through the side of its bill and swallows the rest. Instead of teeth, ducks and some other birds have a muscular chamber in their digestive system called a gizzard that grinds up their food.
Scatter the dead items from your touch box on the ground and replace your eggs before you move on.
Continue for 100 m to a bridge over a small stream. Just after the bridge, turn to the right and continue for 50 m to a bench on the left. About 20 m past the bench on the left is a trail intersection with a large tree at the trail opening. Stop here.
Is there a rumble coming from your egg? Quick! You need to build a nest for it:
- Find a spot on the ground that is well hidden: under bushes, ferns or small trees. It should have an escape route to the water.
- Gather nest materials: dead grass, brown leaves, small twigs and dried ferns.
- Make the nest just big enough to hold your egg.
- Weave the materials together in your special hiding spot.
- Carefully place your egg in the nest.
Show off your nest to everyone and explain why you chose the spot. Then sketch your nest in your Adventure Journal.
Spread your nest material on the ground for other ducks to find and bring your egg with you when you leave. Look for good duck nesting sites as you walk to the next stop.
Do You Know – Duck Nests
Black duck nests must be well hidden to be protected from predators. The female chooses a nest site on the ground and digs a shallow basin using her feet and bill. She lines the nest with plant material. Down feathers are added to the nest after the eggs are laid. She lays about 8 to 10 eggs that are incubated for 23 to 33 days. Duck eggs are cream coloured with brown specks.
Look for spots where a predator might hide as you move to the next stop.
Walk about 200 m to the far side of a boardwalk with a swampy area on the left and the pond on the right.
You are a hungry duck after all that nest building and you think there may be delicious bugs and small water creatures in the mud to the right of the boardwalk at the end of it.
- Use your scooper to collect mud and debris from the bottom.
- Search for little creatures in the mud.
- Return your catch to the water at the end.
Expect that you might find dragonfly or mayfly nymphs, a catis fly in a case, or maybe a freshwater clam.
Here are some things you can do to help keep ponds and other bodies of water safe for ducks and other water birds:
- Conserve water at home. For example, turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.
- Use sand instead of salt on driveways and walkways in the winter. Road salt is hurting the Frog Pond.
- Don’t use pesticides or herbicides around your home and garden. They can wash off into streams and ponds such as this one.
- Join groups like the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which has a Nova Scotia chapter. They help conserve wildlife habitats, including wetland areas.
Walk 30 m past the boardwalk to a culvert going under the trail and into the pond.
At the edge of the water use your scope to spy on any ducks nearby. Have you ever seen a duck stick its head underwater to “dabble” for food? Have you ever wondered what it sees when it does this? Use your underwater viewer to find out.
- Kneel down along the water’s edge or wade into the water.
- Carefully push the covered end of the water viewer into the water.
- Don’t push it in so far that water comes over the edge.
- Bring your eyes down to the viewer and have a good look.
You may want to draw in your Adventure Journal some of what you see underwater.
A duck that tips up to get its food underwater is called a:
Venture further into the park and investigate Fleming (Dingle) Tower. This park is named after Sir Sandford Fleming. He designed the first Canadian postage stamp, defined the concept of time zones across the world, and was head surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was also responsible for building the tower. He lived on Dingle Road and owned the land that has become the park, thanks largely to his efforts. To find out more about the local area, read Sketches and Traditions of the Northwest Arm, by John W. Regan (Halifax, NS: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1908).
Walk about 125 m and stop at the dog bag dispenser and trash can just before two tall gateway pine trees on either side of the trail.
What if your egg rolled out of the nest by accident? Could you get it back while it’s still warm? Test your skills at egg rolling:
- Mark a starting and a finish line on the trail, with five giant steps in between.
- Two ducks get down on their hands and knees, one behind each egg on the starting line.
- On “go”, the ducks push their eggs with their bills (noses).
- The first egg over the finish line wins.
Walk about 50 m to the road and turn right for another 50 m along the roadside path to get back to the duck observation platform.
Using the clues form each section, go back to the introduction to the trail and fill them in. There are four shaded letters amidst the clue words. Unscramble these letters to find out the black ducks secret to survival.
What is it?
Congratulations, you’ve solved the Black Duck Mystery! Take a picture of your favourite duck and upload it to the website. Can you find the mystery plaque? Check around the observation platform. Make a rubbing of the mystery creature on the plaque in your Adventure Journal with the side of your pencil.
The plaque symbol is:
Return to the parking area along the roadside path.
Do You Know—
Adventure Earth Centre
The Halifax Regional Adventure Earth Centre, located in Fleming Park, offers wonderful earth education experiences for young and old. School programs include Cycle Savers (Grade 3-4), and Mysterious Encounters (Grade 5). The big events of the summer are Sunship Earth (10-12 year olds) and Explorers (11-13 year olds): weeklong residential camps full of environmental learning and fun. There are environmental youth leadership programs such as LEAD, HEAT and MindShift (13 years and up) and nature day camps for children.