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.
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: http://www.gilliandinsmore.blogspot.co.uk/