The editorial decisions I make for this blog are hard. Somewhat arbitrary, and it is often necessary to just go with the gut.
Today’s is dedicated to the gadwall, the understated, underappreciated duck ofsouthern britsih waterways. Many will wonder why it is not the cormorant’s day (especially after hearing its story), and I have no satisfactory answer.
As I said, sometimes you have to just go with your gut.
This afternoon began with an excitable dash to the water filtration plant still in operation at the southern end of the reservoirs. Comprised of upwards of ten settling pools, each one around the size of a primary school football pitch, these are the destination for the water from the reservoirs before it finds its way into our taps. Amazing to think that, with all our technological advances, filtering water through layers of sand and other sediment is still a core part of our water purification infrastructure. A heap of sand the size of a mansion towers at the far end of the compound.
Another local birder had seen what might have been a rosy starling, a beautiful pink and black version of our familiar glossy black bird. Every few years the population will erupt from their central Asian breeding grounds and drift westwards, with a few ending up in the UK. 2020 is one such year. I searched the filter beds and the surrounding grassland but found only a pair of shelduck, some stock doves and a handful of common old british starlings strutting through the long grass.
Entering the reserve I heard a goldcrest, normally such an insipid singer, hurling strident, clear notes from a large conifer. These tiny birds, small as a hen’s egg if not smaller, are often incredibly tame, but also so small that emerging into the world of humans is far from inevitable. The pair that nest around those trees will probably not leave their immediate vicinity until autumn arrives and foraging further affield becomes necessary.
Around the back of No. 5, where I headed next to check for errant pink starlings, I was instead greeted by a large gaggle of geese, mainly Canada but with a few greylag too. Some of the youngsters are now grown big and need a double take to distinguish them from adults, while elsewhere day old goslings are still emerging from their eggshells. The flat patch of gravelly ground between the reservoir and the lane seems like their favoured haunt to gather and moult; one greylag barely has any flight feathers, and one canada’s tail is missing all but the outermost black feathers, giving it the look of an earwig’s pincers.
Up at the top corner of the lake I came across a Cormorant perched curiously at the waterside with its bill tucked into its chin. I was reminded of the rabbit with myxamitosis my family and I found in the seaside scrub while staying with our aunt in Dwygyfylchi. It sat at my feet, tame and blind, inspiring delight and horror in my ten year old mind.
The cormorant, too, had the air of a creature tamed by disease. I stepped a little closer and it escaped into the water, swimming awkwardly with a hunched shoulder like Quasimodo. It tried to dive and one foot flailed freely while the other remained tight to its stomach. I realised that the disease that ailed it was no virus or bacterium, but a fishing line binding its beak to its ankles. Painful to watch, I reported it to the warden and left it alone to climb onto the bank once more and rest.
As I said earlier, this post was going to be about the flock of thirty or so gadwall I saw gliding down past the trees, and the shadowy presence of the peregrine that had flushed them into the air. The cormorant’s sad tale was supposed to be a preamble.
But how can I write about a beautiful, pastel grey duck after recalling that poor bird bound in pain?
I can’t, and will end it here.
🦅 First boring bird
Related boring birds: Shelduck, Stock dove, Starling, Goldcrest, Canada goose, Greylag goose, Gadwall, Peregrine
🦚 All boring birds