That the great oceans of the world are teeming with millions of forms of animal and plant life is common knowledge, but the same could be said of life in, on and around a smaller body of inland water as well, though on a smaller scale. And as I’ve seen firsthand, there is no end to the sights, sounds and scents on or near a pond for anyone who is fortunate enough to notice and enjoy.

Whole days go by here without much in the way of spectacular or even interesting events happening. Then all at once, it’s as though nature remembered me and decided to put on a few special little performances just for my benefit, or for anyone else who happens to be watching. This fact was brought home to me a while back when I noticed a small flock of Baltimore orioles flitting about in the trees just outside my window. The males sport the characteristic bright orange plumage, while the females are mostly yellow, so it’s easy to tell the difference with this particular species. In any case, two males appeared to be engaged in some kind of tussle, high up in an oak tree whose branches hang out over the pond. Suddenly, locked together in battle, they both fell down, down, down from the top of the tree and landed in the water with a loud splash. Shocked from their confrontational tumble, both flew off in different directions, and I didn’t see them again that day.

Beyond simply providing a home to certain species of birds that depend on it for their sustenance, many also use ponds for another important function: grooming. It’s water, after all, and what else do we do with water besides drink it, water plants with it, or swim? Why, we bathe in it, and so do the water fowl. For not only do they spend their days paddling across, feeding from and reproducing in these waters, they also use them for grooming as well, a fact I learned in a rather serendipitous way recently.

Sitting here quietly one morning with the window overlooking the pond wide open, I heard a loud splashing sound. Aware that it was still too early and too cool for bathers, I knew before even getting up to look that something else was transpiring, and was amused to discover that it was a loon taking a bath not 50 feet away. As it paddled along in a path parallel to the shore, it stopped every few feet, dived, then resurfaced with a great flapping of wings and much displacement of water. This kept up for as long as I was able to see the large bird before it passed out of view, but I could still hear it splashing and flapping for quite some time once it was out of sight.

Upon researching this behavior, I learned that what this loon was doing indeed constituted taking a bath, which it accomplished by spreading its wings to allow the water to penetrate its tightly layered plumage, removing any dirt or other parasites that might have been trapped there, and thereby refreshing itself. Now you’d think that living in the water necessarily implies cleanliness, but not so. The water itself harbors insects and other impurities that, while sometimes considered treats for most birds, also often take up residence among their feathers. And like the rest of us, birds, including loons, aren’t too thrilled by that, and so take the necessary steps to rid themselves of their uninvited guests.

Early yesterday, I was privileged to behold a pair of Canada geese paddling by with their young. The sound of me opening the window to get a better look startled them, and they moved their fluffy, yellow brood into the shoreline overhung with shrubs and reeds. I once again marveled at the diversity of life on or near a body of fresh water, and could only guess at all the other small seemingly inconsequential events that must take place when I’m not here to see them ”“ and was grateful for those I did.

That the great oceans of the world are teeming with millions of forms of animal and plant life is common knowledge, but the same could be said of life in, on and around a smaller body of inland water as well, though on a smaller scale. And as I’ve seen firsthand, there is no end to the sights, sounds and scents on or near a pond for anyone who is fortunate enough to notice and enjoy.

Whole days go by here without much in the way of spectacular or even interesting events happening. Then all at once, it’s as though nature remembered me and decided to put on a few special little performances just for my benefit, or for anyone else who happens to be watching. This fact was brought home to me a while back when I noticed a small flock of Baltimore orioles flitting about in the trees just outside my window. The males sport the characteristic bright orange plumage, while the females are mostly yellow, so it’s easy to tell the difference with this particular species. In any case, two males appeared to be engaged in some kind of tussle, high up in an oak tree whose branches hang out over the pond. Suddenly, locked together in battle, they both fell down, down, down from the top of the tree and landed in the water with a loud splash. Shocked from their confrontational tumble, both flew off in different directions, and I didn’t see them again that day.

Beyond simply providing a home to certain species of birds that depend on it for their sustenance, many also use ponds for another important function: grooming. It’s water, after all, and what else do we do with water besides drink it, water plants with it, or swim? Why, we bathe in it, and so do the water fowl. For not only do they spend their days paddling across, feeding from and reproducing in these waters, they also use them for grooming as well, a fact I learned in a rather serendipitous way recently.

Sitting here quietly one morning with the window overlooking the pond wide open, I heard a loud splashing sound. Aware that it was still too early and too cool for bathers, I knew before even getting up to look that something else was transpiring, and was amused to discover that it was a loon taking a bath not 50 feet away. As it paddled along in a path parallel to the shore, it stopped every few feet, dived, then resurfaced with a great flapping of wings and much displacement of water. This kept up for as long as I was able to see the large bird before it passed out of view, but I could still hear it splashing and flapping for quite some time once it was out of sight.

Upon researching this behavior, I learned that what this loon was doing indeed constituted taking a bath, which it accomplished by spreading its wings to allow the water to penetrate its tightly layered plumage, removing any dirt or other parasites that might have been trapped there, and thereby refreshing itself. Now you’d think that living in the water necessarily implies cleanliness, but not so. The water itself harbors insects and other impurities that, while sometimes considered treats for most birds, also often take up residence among their feathers. And like the rest of us, birds, including loons, aren’t too thrilled by that, and so take the necessary steps to rid themselves of their uninvited guests.

Early yesterday, I was privileged to behold a pair of Canada geese paddling by with their young. The sound of me opening the window to get a better look startled them, and they moved their fluffy, yellow brood into the shoreline overhung with shrubs and reeds. I once again marveled at the diversity of life on or near a body of fresh water, and could only guess at all the other small seemingly inconsequential events that must take place when I’m not here to see them ”“ and was grateful for those I did.

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Lyman, who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at [email protected]