Saturday, 12 December 2015

Leaving Wollaton for 2015 on a very sweet note

Yesterday was my last trip to Wollaton Park before I left university for home, and I was spoilt with an afternoon that still leaves me feeling warm inside. The previous day I had rather an unfortunate outing to the park with miserable weather, a blown tyre before I got there, and a corrupt SD card on the camera. Yesterday afternoon however the sun shone on the lake creating a shimmering sea of gold. The weather was beautiful, and the water birds played like a well conducted orchestra to match.

Fully prepared with a spare SD card, and a mended bicycle, I pedalled along and up to the top of the hill to the main hall. From this point I glanced down at the lake and saw a glorious sight. It was only two o’clock, but the sun was still low enough in the sky to emit the warm glow over everything it touched. I stood for a while and took a picture of the golden lake and the beautiful parkland that surrounded it. My mind was made up that today I was making the most of this opportunity, leaving the deer be again, and making my way to photograph some birds on the water.

On arriving, I was greeted by the Moorhens, the Tufted ducks, the Shovelers and of course, the Mallards. The Shoveler must be the most obscure looking of the bunch, with a bill so long that an unknowing onlooker may think the silly thing had got a bit of piping stuck on the end of his beak while embarking on one of his dives. Despite their strange appearance however, they did seem to think themselves as rather a regal sort, bobbing along the water and importantly turning their heads to reorganise their feathers after each dive. The Tufted ducks on the other hand behaved more like children let loose in the public pool for the day, only surfacing long enough to catch their breath before throwing their rear ends to the sky, and diving down to harvest their next feast again. The Moorhen behaviour could not have been more different, sitting either merrily munching away at a floppy bit of pond weed, or looking below the surface for food, rather like an old man looking for his false teeth.

After a while enjoying the ducks and Moorhen company, my time was quite interrupted by a squabble between the seagulls - nothing new there. A couple of gulls must have come to some serious disagreement, ducking and diving in the air, before crash landing on the water, engaging in another round of battle, and then scrabbling up into the skies once more. Some people think of these inland invaders as rather a pest, and indeed I can understand why. I couldn’t help laughing at them, likening them to a brother and sister who have spent far too much time in each other’s company, and so decided it worthwhile fighting over something rather trivial like a crisp that had been left on the path. Of course neither are able to realise that the whole of Wollaton is brimming with many other delicacies they could choose from.

I was thoroughly enjoying observing the different characters of each of the birds, and felt truly honoured when next, the swans glided right past the reed bed I was crouching in. All the other birds seem to share my view, and quickly scurried out their way to bow down to the kings of the lake. It seems rather melodramatic to think so highly of these birds, but after spending so long looking at the smaller water birds, these seemed absolutely huge. Their size was equally matched with prestige as they swam past me, acknowledging my presence, but doing no more than that as they carried on with their important duties. My encounter with these birds was short lived, as the children from the school walked behind me and the swans decided such company was not quite to their taste. All three swans looked far to the other side of the lake, and with immense power took off into the skies to find some nicer places to be. 

I thought after the swans that my time at the lake had come to a beautiful end, and so I hopped on my bike to pedal along the side of the lake towards home. Of course I am a sucker for any animal I pass, and had to stop to say hello to the Canada geese on departing. These geese were both big and powerful like the swans, but their ridiculous barking racket couldn’t help me think of a group of mouthy old women with harsh accents babbling away in afternoon sun. Fantastic creatures they are, but regal and swanlike they most certainly aren’t.

This week I have written rather than an essay than a blog, but I leave you with the relief that I will not be able to report so many of my outings over Christmas. I wish you all then a happy holiday full of food, and good spirit be it in mentality, liquid, or both!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A trip to see the Devilish Dabbling Ducks

Just a short one after another trip to Wollaton, and this morning I thought best to take a trip to the lake. The sky was rather grey but was rippling underneath the Mallard ducks bellies and they still looked stunning. These ducks are a national treasure, with around 710,000 birds in the UK this winter. With mallards even being found in the urban areas of the country, there is no excuse for not giving these birds some time, to appreciate the males pearlescent feathers, and their fantastic characters.

The Mallard duck is found in almost any wetland habitat around Britain, and so is well adapted to this lake and parkland in Nottingham. Mallards are often found near any open water where food is plentiful, with insects and molluscs to feed their young, and shallow waters amongst the reeds to bob their heads to the bottom to reach the reeds. Wollaton Park is ideal with a diverse feeding site of the lake, accompanied by countless possible nesting sites for them to choose from.

The ducks have generally found their pair for the winter at this time, and so one would assume these ducks have quite peaceful love lives – that is unfortunately far from the case! Mallard ducks are socially monogamous, but as I could see when looking at the lake, there is quite a heavy male skew in populations, meaning that when it comes to mating time there is a lot of competition for the ladies. Unmated males who have failed to win a partner will therefore force copulations, and often appear to just be beating up the female. As the ducks mate in the water, this can lead to the drakes seriously injuring the hen, or worse drowning her. While the mallards are first seen as a peaceful and happy bird, lovely to take the children to watch and feed, I warn you that you may encounter something that would certainly not be allowed on any under 18 film! Serious violence, sex, and occasional death does not seem like such a lovely trip to the lake after all…

I leave you then ensuring you that not every encounter with the ducks will be a traumatic one, and that you should not worry they are mostly cheerful little birds. So please do take a visit, and please feed something that is not bread. Frozen peas, lettuce or grapes are perfect to take for a snack, and will be perfect nutritious nibbles for the sinister little devils.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

More Deer Antics around Wollaton

This morning around Wollaton has certainly shown that the groups are anything but peaceful. The young males are trying their luck with the big guns, the females are undecided on which buck to join, and the golfers aren't too happy either!

Yesterday morning was incredibly grey, and one of our biggest and oldest males had certainly had a rough time. As the first individual I found that day, whom I affectionately named Odin, looked really quite sorry for himself. This great old man lay in front of the hall, with a recent injury to his eye, muddy turf on his antlers, and a general moth-eaten look about him. The clue stood to who may have caused this trauma in the next field, in the form of an even bigger and bolder male. 

I remained quite a distance from this next male I encountered, as he really did look like he was up for a fight. After leaving these two tired fellas, I took a stroll to the lake, and wandered back towards the golf course to find what I had really been looking for - a the males and their ladies!

It took me quite by surprise to see such a small male with a poor excuse for a pair of antlers, one of which had been broken in half, with four ladies under his command! I recognised him from a few days ago, belonging to the all male group on the golf hill. The ladies tottered around the golf course with him nonetheless and I presumed there must have been something quite attractive about him that I was missing. Shortly after, I realised what this young bucks game was. 
It soon became apparent that the largest male of that all male group had was in charge of quite a substantial lek, and the young buck had perhaps just been lucky enough to lure a few ladies away with him. This larger lek was also under the protection of the larger broken horned male from that same male group. 
It was highly entertaining observing large broken horn make desperate attempts to mate a few of the ladies - they were having none of it. After a few failed attempts at attracting if not chasing the ladies into a mating, the big man decided it was enough and gently ushered him away.

Sadly my morning was cut short when I was informed to buggar off the golf course. I must add here that we are not allowed on the course, and that the deer can be safely observed out the way of the golfers on their morning jaunt. It would seem they are more dangerous than the deer...

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

It could not be a better time to see the Red deer rutting in Wollaton Park!

The days are drawing in, the wind is getting cold and air remaining damp, but watching the deer going about their day provides a warm smile to anyone's face in Wollaton park, Nottingham. It seems strange that right next to a city is the perfect place to see a thriving Red deer population. This deer park however has one of the largest groups known in Nottinghamshire, and being so tame, you are able to get some fantastic views at this time of year. 
Something quite unique about the deer on this park is the fact that they happily graze and go about their daily business on a golf course. Having people around all day means that the deer are not phased in the slightest by any photographers, or general public wishing to peer in on their daily life. Wollaton hall is an estate known for its natural history and with this, the golfers know that one of their tasks on the 18 holes is to get a birdie and not a red deer at the same time!

If one wishes to not just see the deer grazing peacefully on the greens, but to catch some fighting action, it is highly recommended to visit early in the morning to catch the ruts. The mornings are getting darker, so you do not have to get up until around half past 6 in the morning if the crack of dawn doesn't seem too much of a challenge. However horrible the idea sounds when you are tucked in bed, I can promise you that it will be worth every wink missed.

The males are becoming quite territorial at the moment, so it is important to respect their space, but this behavior provides the perfect opportunity to observe the hierarchy operating within the group. In particular, it was brilliant to see one large group of females protected by the largest male within sight forming his harem. On the nearest hill 50 yards to the left of me, a group of younger males lay, ruminating and presumably saving their energy to perhaps sneak a mating in while the dominant male was off gaurd. It was so exciting to be able to see the social structure of these groups, and to think who may be playing which tactic to father the next generation
I urge anybody around this area to pay the red deer of Wollaton park a visit. It is a glowing gem within the bustling city life, and every time I go I wonder why it has been so long since the last visit.