Urban Campground: Pecan Grove in Austin and Bill, the Ball Man

Lucky, the Hitchhiking Duck










Google Places and Platypie

Lucky Finds Love Even as his Lake is Changing

By Bill Jennings

I've got a great update on "Lucky", as I call him, the duck who came for a ride with me. I gave him his ride on the 14th of July. On the 16th, armed with a camera, I went out in search of him again. I met a paddleboarder who had seen him on someone's board that morning, riding toward the north. I headed that way, but he was not to be found. I continued on, searching the bays and arm going to Barton Springs Pool, but no luck. It was a good six mile workout, meeting many people but no one had seen him. I tried again on the 19th, and found him way down the lake under the I-35 bridge. I got a few shots of him and his new girlfriend, a wild duck he was actively protecting from other male wild ducks. I was in a different boat from the one I gave him his ride, and he was much more hesitant than he was in our first meeting. His focus was his babe, no doubt, and keeping her in line. There was no doubt it was him, as he has this very unique little tuft of feathers jutting out of his neck, and as one woman described him, " He's very fussy!" and quacks a lot. That part was very much the same. That was a nine mile trip, and in this heat here, wiped me out. He chose a good place for free food, as many people bring their children there to feed the ducks and coots. On the 21st, I canvassed a couple of rental places, asking if anyone had seen a duck riding along, getting positive replies, but all from previous weeks, and nothing current. I spoke with one employee who told me they had all seen him the weekend after the 4th of July, riding both boards and kayaks. Yesterday, the 23rd, I took my fastest boat out and did another long run down the lake at speed. There is a massive construction project going on in Lady Bird Lake, an extension of the hike and bike trail, but this one offshore, a boardwalk that covers a major portion of the south side of the lake. This is serious construction, with floating cranes and drill rigs. They've placed three foot wide concrete pilings very deep, topping them with galvanized steel girders, and my guess is wood planking, but nothing begun yet. If we ever get a hurricane here, the city may be destroyed, but that boardwalk will remain. I spoke with some of the construction workers, but they had not seen him. At the end of the construction, there was a new shed being built for yet another kayak rental, this one the closest to the Longhorn Dam, the end of Lady Bird. The supervisor and I got into a chat, and I agreed to take his phone out and take a picture for him from the lake of his project. All the workers joined in the conversation, and we agreed the lake that we all knew for years was changing dramatically, and for the worse. Seems these guys are all old Austinites, and they related stories of swimming in the clear water in the past, and now vowing that would never happen as now it is "nasty." I have to agree about the condition, but five years of drought and no "flow-thorough" of cleansing water is cause for a lot of it, and that would improve dramatically with some rain. Because of Barton Springs and Cold Springs, we're lucky to have some fresh water input, so it is still one of the nicest lakes in a major metropolitan area. My biggest complaint concerns "engineered" vs. "natural." The boardwalk is a great example, forever altering the southern shore into an engineered "green space". The city has spent big bucks on the "Waller Creek Project" that takes a creek that runs through the city and feeds into Lady Bird and made it into an engineers version of a creek so it can be developed into an urban "outside" space that has none of the random, complex clutter of undisturbed natural habitat. The crush of humanity that continues to pile into Austin is reflected on the lake, with the huge numbers of people renting boards and kayaks creating a water-borne traffic that enabled "Lucky" to ride up and down the lake at will.

I found him again on the way home yesterday, still with his new love, in a small flock of wild ducks. I think his hitchhiking days are behind him, as he was feeding like the wild ducks on the abundant natural food underwater. We had a great fireworks display on the 4th, and that may have had a bearing on his behavior. The Austin Animal Shelter got 150 dogs on the 5th of July, all victims of the noise. I can't help but think the fireworks affected the ducks, too. I'm just happy that he has safely evolved, has a new love and has learned about all the food just under him in the water.

Probably time for me to find a new place to call home...