Tag Archives: birds

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

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Clusterduck

15 Mar

Our handsome new biology lecturer was annoyed. So was I. He was annoyed because every few seconds another latecomer would bang  noisily into the lecture theatre and interrupt his speech on physiology. I was annoyed because I was premenstrual.

“I would just like attention for future lectures,” he said, in his sultry Mexican accent. “I get quite distracted when the door is opening and closing all the time. So if you can’t be here before five minutes of when the lecture starts, I won’t allow you to come in.”

Seized with a random burst of indignation, I called out from my seat at the very back of the lecture theatre: “‘Scuse me! Quite a lot of people have to walk quite a long way across the campus to get here.”

I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t know where any of the students were coming from.

“Is that your case?” asked the handsome lecturer.

“No,” I admitted. I come from three miles away and always arrive early for my lectures. I didn’t let that fact dissuade me from continuing to speak for my fellow students, most of whom I wouldn’t recognise if I saw them in the street.

“I find it distracting as well,” I said, glaring hormonally at two more latecomers who were searching for seats,  “but our last lecturer would wait 5 to 10 minutes after the hour to start the lecture, so that everybody would have a chance to get here.”

In fact, our previous lecturer always arrived late and dishevelled, with no plan of what he was going to say to us, and only got away with it because he is blessed with the gift of the gab.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of material to get through,” said the handsome lecturer unhappily. “But I may take your suggestion.”

The following day, on my way into the Biosciences building, a duck sprang out of the shrubbery and almost collided with my head. Turning in surprise, I saw four more angry mallards wrestling among the foliage. It appears that I am not the only one being swayed by hormones lately.

The males, with their sunshine-yellow beaks, were pecking and shoving each other out of the way in a scramble to be the first to mate with the brown female trapped beneath them. Despite their fancy plumage, drakes are not the greatest proponents of courtship. They were so intent on their struggle that they completely ignored me when I walked up to them. I contemplated rescuing the female, but decided this would only prolong the inevitable for her: the drakes would chase her until she sank down exhausted in some other patch of greenery, or worse, in the water, where the pressure of their bodies might drown her. Here, she looked unhappy but not in physical danger. So instead, I observed and took some photos.

This caused me to lose track of time, and I arrived late for my lecture. I saw with some horror that the lecturer was standing at the back of the theatre, apparently waiting for me.

“Hello,” he said with a smile. “I’m taking your advice.”

He delivered the lecture several minutes late, and finished with minutes to spare. There were no interruptions.

Autumn Meandering

27 Nov

Today has been one of those golden Autumn Sundays, with long shadows and dreamy sheep in the meadows, and secret warbles emanating from the hedgerows. Hoping to garner enthusiasm for my university assignment due tomorrow, I took a stroll up the lane to visit the wildlife pond.

Although the fields are flooded, the pondwater was very low today, exposing its weed-covered silt. Somewhere under the surface the fish were no doubt lurking, but the water looked lifeless – except for a large grey heron standing knee-deep in it, stabbing among the weeds with its beak. We startled each other, and the heron lifted itself away and flew heavily across the field.

I crouched in a space among the shrubbery edging the pond and waited for half an hour, hoping to get a shot of the heron returning. As my pins and needles set in, I could see it waiting politely in the distance for me to leave.

A honking sound in the sky drew my eye to a skein of geese flying West for the Winter. Common knowledge dictates that geese fly South for the Winter, but here they always fly West. Perhaps they are headed for Canada.

Rapidly losing sensation in my legs, I stood and meandered back to the cottage, leaving the heron to its own devices. Under the trees near the pond, someone had been chopping firewood, and the air smelled sweet and damp.

The crab-apple trees along the lane have unburdened themselves of their fruit, and I used my scarf as a makeshift bag to collect it for the guinea pigs.

I now feel refreshed and cheerful, the guinea pigs are well fed, and my assignment calculations are looking as daunting as ever.