Reservoir ducks

City Diary : Rene J. Muller

September 26, 2001

THE GUILFORD Reservoir is dug into a man-made hill that stands high above the large houses and the tall trees of Guilford.

The sloping, grassy sides of this earthen mass are met at the bottom by Old Cold Spring Lane on the north, Millbrook Road on the west and, on the south and east, by Reservoir Lane.

Several feet above water level, a concrete walk and a black iron fence frame the reservoir's rectangular surface. A gate breaks the fence near the northeast corner and opens onto a concrete ramp that extends out over the water. At the end of the ramp, a hand-operated elevator allows boats to be lowered into, and raised from, the reservoir. This body of water, its main axis running north-south, seems closer to the sky than to the ground.

Runners from nearby Loyola College, across East Cold Spring Lane, and walkers, too, have discovered this bit of country in North Baltimore. So have a number of ducks, who spend most of their time in the water, near the concrete footings of the ramp.

They do venture out, but stay close to the shore, leaving inverted, V-shaped trails. Between the iron fence and the reservoir below, a sloping bank of grass, honeysuckle, sassafras and ailanthus creates a habitat hospitable to a duck.

Late one afternoon, while walking west along the north sidewalk of the reservoir, I spotted a man and a woman in their mid-20s moving slowly, looking down at the ground. Approaching them, I saw what they saw: A duck, followed by six ducklings, was walking on the narrow strip of grass between the sidewalk and the iron fence.

It soon became evident that the adult duck was trying to lead the youngsters back inside the fence. He (or she) was looking for a space wide enough to pass through. The pickets at the bottom of the fence were about two inches apart, too narrow for the adult. The ducklings would occasionally make it over, only to come back out again and join the larger duck, which kept moving forward, looking for an opening.

The man and woman were following the ducks, concerned as I was about their safety. Most of the people who ply the reservoir sidewalk would not hurt these defenseless creatures, but I suspect that some might. "We'll follow them until they find a way in," the woman assured me.

I continued walking around the rectangular rim, wondering how the ducks got out in the first place and looking for wider openings in the fence to which they could be herded. When I was nearly at the end of the east sidewalk, I spotted the couple, minus the ducks.

The adult duck had found a large enough space between the fence and the gate, and led the youngsters back to their habitat. A short time later, on the other side of the fence, and protected from the threats of the city, this family was paddling near the edge of the reservoir, their webbed feet working underwater now.

Today's writer

Rene J. Muller, an alumnus of the Johns Hopkins University, evaluates psychiatric emergency room patients and has written several books about mental illness, including Beyond Marginality (Praeger, 1998). He has a strong passion for buildings and aesthetics, and lives in Guilford.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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