Tuesday, 19 January 2016

An Icy Walk to see the Water Birds

Two Mallard males grooming on a log that was floating in
the water
So today I thought best to leave the deer in peace, and I was warmly welcomed by a family of the Great Grey Herons, the Pochard ducks who had made their way across Europe to winter at Wollaton, and amongst the usuals, an incredibly friendly swan.

I had not quite appreciated how cold the weather had been recently, but it was certainly evident when I looked across the lake to see half of it covered in ice. Most of the water birds thought themselves a little too lardy to dare testing their weight on the ice, but the gulls, being far from tentative, flocked in the dozens on the ice quite happy to have a new place to squabble amongst themselves. The odd moorhen decided to potter around on the ice as well, leaving a little pecking trail behind him. I couldn’t quite see what the little old men would find in the layers of ice, but clearly there was something to be had there.
A few seagulls standing on the ice, accompanied by a strangely arranged Moorhen who came to join them
I was happy to see a couple of Pochard ducks paddling around in the lake. They have come here to winter from the colder eastern European countries, and Russia, and so would really feel quite at home in these icy waters. Being one of the rarer birds to be found in the UK, I felt blessed looking at them with the male’s burnt umber plumage, bobbing around with the mallards and moorhens in the lake. Their mannerisms reminded me somewhat of the tufted ducks I saw before Christmas, and so I found it particularly interesting to find out that the Pochard and the Tufted ducks are quite likely to hybridise. Most species do not interbreed due to vastly different sexually selected characteristics, and due to the huge compromise in the fitness of these hybrids. Perhaps in this case, the two species may not experience these costs to such an extent, allowing this phenomena to occur regularly in nature, creating some sort of Tuftchard I presume.
A male pochard swimming across the lake with a Gull swooping overhead

The male and female heron pair tending to the nest. I guess the female is
carrying out general maintenance here while the male ruffles his feathers
and keeps watch on the lakes goings on
Over on the other side of the lake, on an island with a great willow tree, I was thoroughly excited to catch site of a group of herons making nests for the summer. Five large herons sat in the willow tree, with three nests clearly visible from where I was standing. These birds tend to be solitary, and only nest in groups where the food is plentiful, so I was very thankful of this Heron haven of fish, and amphibia that may sustain the family as they attempt to successfully produce young in the summer. Nearer to me I could see a pair tending to a nest, which was lovely to see, but in other nests I could only see one solitary bird. I presumed the individuals guarding the nests alone were females, as normally Heron females will be left to the housekeeping while the men go out to work for the day, catching food and going about the necessary daily business. Although it is normal for these females to remain at home, they certainly didn’t seem to happy about it. Apart from the pair, the rest of the group didn’t really seem to move or even show the slightest hint expression, but I guess not everyone can be so cheerful to have a tree by an iced-over lake as a home for winter…

It is quite difficult to see here, but here is the willow tree, with the heron nests dotted around amongst the branches

I hope the swan was satisfied with this shot...
While I was distracted by the herons in the distance, I had failed to notice a swan that had taken a particular interest in me, and I was rather surprised to catch him in the corner of my eye when he was only a few metres away. It was almost unnerving when there just a foot between me and this beautiful creature, but given the sense of ease about him, I guess I did not pose any threat. The swan stayed with me for a while, striking various poses in order for me to get the best angle, before hoping I had the million dollar shot, and gliding back back to the middle of the lake. This swan portrayed the traditional sense of a swan’s elegance far better than his friend in the background, who looked a little more like an upturned boat attempting to pick some weeds from the lake’s floor below.
I also hope he agreed I was getting his best angle here...

One of the Canada Geese tending to his feathers
After the close encounter with the swan, I decided to leave the birds for the warmth of my home again, but not before a sit on the side of the lake with a couple of friends I had met – the Canada Geese. These birds are often thought of as cumbersome and rowdy birds, and pests in the countryside. Here however I was quite happy to enjoy their company, and sat and watched them grooming and looking at my activities with as much curiosity as I did while observing them.
Catching my eye as he is arranging his plumage to the best of his ability

One of my favourites of the Goose, looking like he's noticed the attention he is getting and asking me what on
earth I am doing sitting here, if not to rearrange my feathers as well...


  1. Hi, not sure if you are aware or not your male pochard swimming is actually a male red-crested pochard as opposed to the common pochard that is usually found swimming UK lakes :)

  2. Ah brilliant, I didn't know thanks. I wasn't sure if it was the common or crested, but after looking at the distributions on the rspb website thought it may have been a common Pochard. Thanks a lot for letting me know :) I'm learning this as I go along a little bit!