… If you’re a duck!*
It is hard to get inspiration for one these blogs when all the wildlife around you is looking so soggy and bedraggled. This continuing series of depressions bringing the gloom and rain over the past week has curtailed any bird watching or nature walks I had intended to do this week.
So I thought I would turn my attention to another group of birds that live their lives in the wet stuff, and that is our wildfowl. I would suspect that after our garden birds then the common old Mallard is the next most recognisable bird to most people. Most people have sat on a river bank, or by a pond, throwing pieces of bread to the eager hordes of ducks, which seem to engage in a feeding frenzy. I must confess I do take a lot of photographs of Mallards, they are actually really interesting birds to watch, the males are of course easy to identify with their bright green heads, but have a good look at the female, they are very pretty birds. Easter may have long passed, but our waterways will soon be full of those archetypical yellow and black chicks, and the walkways full of people old enough to know better pointing and going “Awww … how cute!!”
There are plenty more ducks out there to discover, and they are another great way of learning some ID skills. They come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, and hybrids apart; there are not that many confusion species.
One of my favourites is the Gadwall, they are by and large sedentary, that is they spend all year on our shores, although numbers are swollen dramatically by around 17,000 wintering birds each year. The male is not the most colourful of birds, but the intricate patterns in the feathers along its flanks and neck are quite incredible. The female is a greyer version of the female mallard, but the key identifier is the orange sides to the bill.
The Shoveler is another one of those birds whose name conveniently gives you the first identification clue. These birds are equipped with oversized beaks which they use to filter the surface water for any food. The male is easily identified by its dark green head, much like the male Mallard, but the body is white with russet brown colour flanks.
One of the more common sights at Newport Wetlands is groups of Tufted Ducks, or Tufties as I like to call them. Unlike the previous ducks I have mentioned, this one dives for their food, which can make it a pain to photograph … I have come home with memory cards full of ever widening ripples and not a duck in sight! The male sports a fetching tuft of feathers on his head, and has glossy black plumage with white flanks. The female is a pleasing chocolate brown coloured bird, with the flanks a lighter brown.
I have spent what some people would call an unhealthy amount of time watching and photographing ducks over the past two years, which earned the tag of “the duckman” on twitter. I used to post a daily duck picture on there, which gained a bit of a cult following. Alas you have to be careful when you have an interest in something like this, as there is always someone who wants to play the joker! That joker was our friend called Gary, who got changed in to a Donald Duck costume half way through my wedding breakfast last October! He stayed in costume until all the evening guests had arrived, and after the first dance with my wife, my second dance was the Birdy Dance with Gary! New hobbies can lead to strange places sometimes ….
*Someone who was far wiser than I in the ways of ducks pointed out to me that young ducks actually don’t like the rain as it can waterlog their feathers and leave them vulnerable, this is why they will always find shelter in a downpour.
and raises up to £500 for RSPB Cymru! To find out how he did this visit www.rspb.org.uk/wales
Despite the attempts of the weather to make them amphibian, our clock watching peregrines have been observed (Thanks Pete!) bringing food morsels to the nest on a regular basis, a sure sign that the first of their eggs has hatched! I’ve not seen any action first hand yet*, though the camera feed http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/peregrines/ does show a lot of sitting on the side of the nest suggestive of feeding and being rather proud of this year’s first born.
*I did venture outside for a short while, but thought that the rain on my glasses and bins was sufficient to prevent proper long-term scientific observation (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!).
It’s going to be an interesting couple of days as we speculate how many eggs have hatched, as they hatch in the order that they were laid. As we don’t know how many eggs were laid, this becomes even more interesting. Perhaps we can make a judgement based on how often food is brought to the nest and how much feeding goes on. It will be a tense couple of weeks before we can see the chicks (There’s confidence!) themselves.
The jury is still out on the identity of the mystery male, if he has displaced the original, he seems to be a good step-dad, which is a relief. We hope to be back outside later this week and at the weekend for some live viewing, so come and join us in the green tent. (Note to self; check that tent floats before pitching if weather continues).