Snapshot Saturday: Rearing the next generation

Mother and babies on Good Friday. Yes, I know you can only see seven. There’s always one off exploring ….

It was a couple of days before Good Friday when we first saw them.  Mrs. Mallard swimming on the village pond with her eight tiny ducklings.  We kept a proprietorial interest in them, and were dismayed when over the next few weeks they became seven, then five …. then only two balls of fluff.  These two kept growing until they were, in duckling terms, almost teenagers.  Then they too vanished.

No more ducklings on our pond.  Just a single baby coot.

This was the baby coot on Good Friday. Now he’s almost adult – long legs, huge feet, and camera-shy.

Last week though, walking along to a friend’s house, I spotted them.  Mrs. Mallard had hatched another brood.  Seven this time.  I wonder whether this little lot will make it?  It seems as if there have to be an awful lot of ducklings put upon this earth even to maintain the population at replacement level.  Both male and female mallards will attack and kill ducklings who are not their own.

Two of the latest ducklings, spotted yesterday evening.

It’s eleven weeks since we first saw those baby ducklings.  Mrs. Mallard is still no nearer to successfully rearing the next generation of mallards to replace her.  In some ways, time has stood still.

This isn’t mum. She was in the reeds, chivvying her babies into safety.

WordPress Photo challenge: Delta.  For this week’s photo challenge, share a picture that symbolizes transitions, change, and the passing of time.

Snapshot Saturday: My focus – an Arctic tern: its focus? Me.

In my mind, I’m still on the Farne Islands.

This Arctic tern is directing its focus on me: am I a threat to her (his?) young?

I’m directing my focus on it.  Will it make a good picture?

It’s all so quick.  My shot’s a bit out of focus, and the wings are partly out of shot. But the clouds make a pretty decent frame.

So this might work for this week’s WordPress photo challenge: Focus.

In which I am attacked by a tern, charmed by some puffins, and visit a nursery.

Tuesday.  A trip round the Farne Islands.

Following the fish, birds feeding off the Farne Islands.

Here’s our journey, courtesy of Billy Shiel’s boat.  We pass one of the most densely populated housing estates in Europe – but despite having to jostle for a tiny space to call home, this community is not socially well-integrated .  Kittiwakes don’t live with puffins.  Cormorants won’t talk to guillemots.  Grey seals loll indolently beneath the cliffs, doing as little as possible till hunger forces them into the sea to hunt.  The stench is intolerable.

 

We land on Inner Farne, taking our hats as per instructions.  This is why.  Arctic terns nest all over the island and they have young to protect.  We are the enemy, as they make clear, as they hurtle towards us, piercing our hats and hands with their dagger-like beaks.  I nurse a war-wound on my finger.

A wary arctic tern .
Ready to attack.
Preparing to strike.
Warning me off.

We decide puffins are less bellicose.  They waddle about among the undergrowth, occasionally pottering down into their burrows.

 

Then it’s time to explore further.  The cliffs are cordoned off, but there, immediately  beyond the fencing are birds in their hundreds, caring for their young.  They’re close enough to touch.  We don’t though.  Being so close we can see every detail of their (usually ramshackle) nests, their plumage, the young unfledged birds, and this is privilege enough.

 

With thanks to Maureen and Andrew for organising this trip for volunteers at NT Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, and to the volunteer rangers at NT Farne Islands for managing this special place, despite irreparable damage to their hats.

An arctic tern above Inner Farne.

Joy

I’ve been enjoying a brilliant book, ‘The Moth Snowstorm’, by Michael McCarthy.  Thanks Penny, for suggesting it.

It’s part nature writing, part memoire, part polemic, and a powerful and affecting read about McCarthy and his relationship with the natural world.  A constant theme though, is ‘joy’.

The book first got under my skin when defining ‘joy’, which is perhaps summed up as a moment of true happiness, with a spiritual, selfless, outward looking dimension. McCarthy’s first experience of joy was as a boy, learning to love the landscape and wildlife of the Dee Estuary. Later, it was bluebell woods, chalkland streams … and so on. Most of his joyful moments happen when he’s alone and surrounded by the natural world: though he acknowledges that our children, our grandchildren also bring us moments of undiluted joy.

What in the natural world brings me joy?  Nothing original.

The first snowdrops edging through the earth while winter is still bitter, dark and long.

Snowdrops at Sleningford, February 2017

Bluebells, with their sweet cool scent, apparently hovering in an unending hazy carpet across a woodland floor.

Bluebells at Ripley, May 2017

Lying in bed early, very early on a springtime morning, and hearing the very first bird as it calls out to orchestrate the morning concert which is the Dawn Chorus.

First thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, the blackbird sings. : http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcohebing/ Wikimedia Commons

A rare sight in England now, but fields scarlet with swaying poppies.

Poppies: Grain field with Field Poppies in Schermen, Möser, Landkreis Jerichower Land, Germany. J.-H. Janßen ( Wikimedia Commons)

Waves crashing on a beach, as a chilly wind whips sand across my face and into my eyes.

Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

What brings joy to your soul?

Afterword:  Some of you have asked to be reminded when BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ series about the Nidderdale Way is being broadcast.  The first of six programmes will be on air this Thursday, 18th May at 3.00.  ‘Our’ episode will be the sixth and final one, on June 22nd.  Podcast available.  

Walking the Nidderdale Way is pretty damn’ joyous, actually.

Nidderdale.

 

‘Please don’t feed the deer’.

Knole seen from across the deer park

We went to Knole on Sunday: I was with Tom, Sarah and William.  Here is a house with 500 years of history set into a mediaeval deer park of 1000 acres.

The house turned out to be off-limits.  Only when we got home did we find out that with an over-booked Children’s Book Festival in full swing, other visitors were being urged to stay away.

It didn’t matter.  A 1000 acre deer park simply never gets crowded, and the weather was sunny and bright. William rushed about the unending open space and we all helped him spot distant deer.

What we didn’t expect was that the deer were rather more interested in spotting us, and not staying at a distance at all.  They’d developed a formula which goes something like this: ‘people = rucksacks = picnics = free food’.

Deer on a food recce.

We knew it wasn’t a good idea.  We know that deer are wild creatures, sometimes unpredictable and that they can host ticks and other unwelcome creepy-crawlies.  It was a treat to be able to see them grazing nearby.

A spot of grooming.

The deer had other ideas.  They found a neighbouring toddler’s empty push chair and nuzzled around it for treats.  Then they spotted William.  He had an apple.  The young sika deer thought that William’s apple might make a nice change from grazing for young grass.

Apple core thief.

It was treat for William of course, to get so close to these wild creatures. And it was a treat for us too. But we were wary, and did what we could to discourage our marauder.  Once he ‘d snaffled the apple core, we made our excuses and left.

We’ll go back to Knole of course, to explore the house.  But we may leave our picnic at home.

A murmuration of starlings

The bush telegraph was busy.  It’s that time of year, and starlings are murmurating.  Spotted south of Ripon, they’d also been seen at Nosterfield, only a couple of miles from us.

Sunset over Nosterfield Nature Reserve.

Down at the nature reserve, just at sunset, cars gathered.  Their occupants waited, enjoying the spectacle of the nightly sunset.  Then most of the cars  just – went.  What did they know that we didn’t?  Then Malcolm spotted what we’d come to see, over there in the north.

The starlings gather.

Thousands upon thousands of starlings in a dense cloud that spread, re-gathered, swooped, dived and soared  like one of those unending computer-graphic screen savers that used to be all the rage.

We left too,  We needed to be nearer.  And sure enough, there in a lay-by near Nosterfield village we re-grouped, our binoculars to the ready.  The starlings formed an immense cloud, sometimes dispersing to blend in with the grey cloud behind, sometimes wheeling together in sinuous black streaks of snake-like movement.  For half an hour we watched.

 Then this impressive partnership of birds pulsed lower, then lower, then dropped out of sight.  They’d finished their performance for the night.

Balsam bashing

What were they thinking, those Victorians?

During the 19th century, travelling botanists brought seeds of all kinds back from their exotic travels and often gave them to curious gardeners, who would try out these novelties as fashion-statements.  In 1839, Himalayan Balsam was introduced and became Quite The Thing.  It was so invasive (yes, we know) that it was great for making a huge and spectacular pink display at the back of the garden.

Then there was a certain Miss Welch, who in 1948 was so enamoured of the plant that she took seeds from her home in Sheffield and scattered them all over the place on the Isle of Wight.  Or Mrs Norris of Camberley in Surrey who broadcast seeds far and wide, not only in Surrey, but in Ireland, France and Spain, and offered seeds to anyone who would accept them.

Himalayan Balsam (Wikimedia Commons)
Himalayan Balsam (Wikimedia Commons)

Now, apart from a few bee-keepers who recognise that their bees adore its nectar, nobody has a good word for this wretched plant.  It marches along river banks and masses into surrounding woodland.  It smothers any other species it meets on its relentless progress.  It projects its seeds (800 per plant) by entertainingly popping open its seed pods and projecting them several metres away.  It’s a bully.

And bullies have to be stopped in their tracks.  All over England and beyond at this time of year you’ll find bands of Army Cadets, boy scouts, environmental groups, country lovers and villagers gathering in their local Himalayan Balsam Problem Spot to do battle with this tyrannical species.

We were part of one such band this morning.  Our local nature reserve, High Batts, is practically our backyard.  It’s a fantastically diverse small habitat for a whole range of birds, plants and other wildlife, and the River Ure courses through it.  To the delight of Himalayan Balsam, which chokes the river banks before trying to spread itself all over the reserve.  Today, a gang of us got on our dirtiest clothes, found protective gloves, and marched off to show the stuff we meant business.  One of our number strimmed the worst affected areas, and the rest of us pulled out plant after plant after plant by its roots, until our hands were sore and our backs ached.  I used to think breaking the flower heads off was enough.  But no.  These plants are many-headed hydras.  Wound them and they’ll simply sprout forth ever stronger.

Army cadets and  other volunteers had worked hard before us.  Others will need to continue another day.  But we did a pretty good job.  And we were rewarded with elevenses of pork pie and three kinds of home-made cake, and the sight of those exclusively pink-flowered zones restored to satisfying diversity  .  Definitely worthwhile then.

The best Himalayan Balsam is dead Himalayan Balsam.
The best Himalayan Balsam is dead Himalayan Balsam.