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.