Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Empty Nest - the Epilogue

We went back to the Slaty-legged Crake nest this morning. The adult was still sitting on it. But then we noticed tiny black heads pop-up every now and then. The chicks, it seemed, were getting restless. The hen (we presumed it was the Mom) however, was not budging. Neon set up his gear and waited. Meanwhile, Cynthia and I took her 7 year old grandson to look for the reported "bayawak" (monitor lizard) that had been seen in the neighborhood. Just as we were about to reach the site of the lizard sighting, Neon called and excitedly announced that the chicks had jumped the nest. I hurried back. Panting and gasping for air I looked and saw an already empty nest.

Neon informed me that the family was still nearby skulking among the greenery surrounding the nest area.   So we decided to stake out the place - Neon standing close to the pond and me near the nest. We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Occasionally we would catch glimpses of the adult and one or two chicks. But that was it. At half past eleven, I approached Neon to tell him that I would be calling it a day. He was bargaining for a few more minutes when we saw BOTH adults escorting their brood towards our direction. With bated breaths we waited for them to reappear. Several minutes passed and the Crake family still remained unseen.

Leaving Neon behind, I proceeded to walk back to get ready to go home. It was then that I saw all four chicks across the street frantically trying to hurdle the 5 inches of cement to get over to the sidewalk and go where their Mom was constantly urging them on. 

"Neon, the chicks are here!" I yelled waving like crazy at him to get his attention. When I looked back, there were only 3 chicks left. I assumed one of them made it safely over the "wall". The mother crake was "tuk-tuk"ing at the embankment next to the sidewalk encouraging her babies to follow her. When Neon joined me, one of the chicks got through some vegetation over the sidewalk. We couldn't see it after that. Neon placed some ramps and asked me to shoo the chicks towards them so that they could use it to climb. One chick made it. The last one, which we assumed to be the weakest, missed the ramp. Looking at it closely, we noticed that it had been swarmed by vicious ants. At first we were afraid to touch the chick lest the human smell would cause the parent to abandon it. But we couldn't let ants torture the poor, day-old crake. Neon gingerly picked it up and patiently removed every ant from its legs and body. Having been assured that no ant was left behind, Neon then placed the chick on the ground where the Mom was pacing back and forth still calling for her babies.

Notice the ants on the feet (above photo) and thigh (below photo)

Neon and I could not leave the place. We were worried about what happened to the first three chicks that were able to get on the sidewalk on their own. Were they able to rejoin their parents? Or were they themselves attacked by ants? 

It was only after we could no longer hear the "tuk-tuk" of the adult that we decided to leave. But then another thought bothered us. What if the parents decided to bring their brood to the pond, which means they have to cross the street again. And encounter the elevated sidewalk once more. 

With heavy hearts we left the nesting place. We both agreed to just let nature take its course. I was in near tears when I told Cynthia about this totally unexpected event (she was in our host's house while all this was happening).

I just hope and pray that this episode will not end tragically.

Now for further observations on the nesting habits of the Slaty-legged Crake:

1) The empty nest does not have eggshells left on it. The adults presumably ate them after the chicks have hatched.

2) The chicks leave the nest on the 21st day. They are precocial. They are black all over including legs and beak. The tip of the beak is lighter though.

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