Archive | April, 2012

Duck Love

18 Apr

Yesterday when he was in the garden, Bunty saw a pair of mallards waddling down the road. Cars shot by heedless of them, as they began to cross.  Bunty contemplated vaulting over the fence to usher them back to the verge, but feared he would panic them and drive them in front of a car instead. Then, a car hit the female duck. The driver had slowed down, but not enough. The bumper clipped her head, knocking her unconscious.

Bunty collected her from the tarmac before another car ran her over, and carried her carefully into the house. She came round as they reached the kitchen, and struggled to get out of his hands. Her wings and legs seemed strong and healthy, so Bunty took her to a corner of the field beside our cottage and placed her on the grass. She waggled her tail, found a place to settle down, and remained there for the next few hours, her head tucked under her wing.

Bunty told me all about her when he picked me up from college. We gazed at her over the garden wall, and she lifted her head briefly to look back at us. In the late afternoon, she perked up and began pottering about in the floody puddle nearby. She showed no interest in flying away, or in walking far, and we felt she was probably still concussed.

Things were looking positive until dusk fell, and torrents of rain came  battering the stone walls of the cottage. I messaged our local bird nerd Gillian to get advice. Gillian suggested keeping her indoors for the night, in a warm dark box, with the addendum that if she was difficult to catch, she would likely be fine outside. We made a box cosy with hay and climbed over the garden wall. The duck was gone.

We got a torch and searched the field, the lane, the hedge and the main road. There was no sign of her. The fact that there were no feathers left in the field suggested she had not been attacked, and had probably flown away. I was pleased, and so was Gillian, but Bunty fretted about his duck. He wanted to know for sure what had happened to her.

The next morning, on his way to the car to drive me to college, he paused to scan the field for her.

“Hey!” he said.

She was waddling toward us, with a drake in tow – perhaps the one who had been crossing the road with her. Upon sight of us, they both took to the air. There was clearly nothing wrong with the duck’s wings.

They returned to the corner where Bunty had first placed his duck. While she settled down to rest, the drake stood on the alert nearby, eyeing me with suspicion.

It is afternoon now, and they are still there. It appears that Bunty has two new best friends. He has thrown them some bread in case they get hungry. It’s important to feed one’s guests.

Bunty’s Got Worms

3 Apr

Every morning, Bunty wakes me up with a cup of tea and a kiss. This time, he woke me up with a big bag of worms. Here’s a handful of them.

They’re tiger worms – look at their stripes – and Bunty had ordered them through the post, along with a wormery to keep them in. It was very exciting. I was straight out of bed, cup of tea be damned, to watch him put his pets’ new home together. When he stopped to examine his instructions, Broccles inspected his progress.

Tha drainage layer and tap came next.

“For the worm juice”, explained Bunty. He is a horticulturalist at heart, and apparently worm juice is top-notch fodder for the vegetables he is growing in his greenhouse.

Above this, he added a storey full of compost, soil, wet newspaper, worm food and the lovely wriggly worms. On went the roof, et voila! Bunty is the proud father of a wormery.

The Bird Nerd

2 Apr

One of my university friends, Gillian, is a bird nerd. Every moment of her spare time is dedicated to wild birds. She gets up at strange hours to carry out arcane activities in the dusk, such as “mist netting”; in this way, she gets to hold all kinds of different birds in her hands – some of which the rest of us have never seen in our lives. She weighs them and checks their vital statistics, and puts little colour-coded rings on their legs so that they can be tracked. She puts updates on Facebook about how far certain swans she has met have travelled from their birthplace. She learns the personalities and tendencies of individual birds whom she has ringed. She is not paid to do any of this – it’s her hobby.

Thanks to her, I saw my first coot’s nest. I wouldn’t have known this was a nest had she not pointed it out to me. I’d had no idea that coots were builders of islands. How do they manage it without all the reeds floating away?

Nest recording has been Gillian’s latest endeavour. As soon as the birds on campus started taking advantage of our lovely spring weather and flirting with each other (or piling into a scrum, in the case of ducks), she began doing tours of the campus, finding their nests, recording their statuses, and photographing their eggs. I don’t know how she spots them all, as most of them are extremely well-hidden. I can only assume she uses some kind of Nest Radar.

One day recently, she posted this photograph on Facebook:

She explained that a pair of coots had used an old swan’s nest as the base for their own nest, until this swan had come along, chased them away, and appropriated the nest for itself. The coots were now frantically building a nest of their own, which can be seen taking shape in the background.

The following day, I was studying in the university Chaplaincy, which has a nice atmosphere and comfortable seats. I stood and stretched, and looked out of the window at the loch. Near the shore was a swan on a nest, and I immediately recognised it as the one Gillian had photographed. I popped down to the shore for a closer look.

The coots had finished building their nest, and one coot was sitting as patiently on top of it as the swan was on his. As I watched, a second coot came swimming across the loch and greeted the one on the nest. The one on the nest stepped out into the water and floated away, leaving the second coot to gently probe its beak at something inside the nest before settling down on top of it.

Changing places

When I later told Gillian about this, she said that their behaviour signifies that there are at least two eggs in that nest. She was pleased they had managed to lay again.

Gillian’s bird blog can be found here: