Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Nowhere to hide?

I put up a spring of teal on the river today. Nine of them lived up to their collective name and lifted straight out of the water like avian Zebedees. They jinked off over the fields in a tight bundle of synchronised flight, heading upstream and out of sight.

A tenth - a male - unaccountably stayed put, nonchalantly paddling across the river ahead of me, until a lone female goosander also took flight and spurred him into action. He still looked reluctant. Maybe he was injured, or ill, or perhaps just braver than the rest? Maybe the decline in wildfowling in the UK is fuelling an evolutionary change, where ducks and geese loose their fear of humans, saving their precious energy for more dangerous predators, and he's the vanguard? It's amazing how the mind wanders when you're out walking.

The teal have moved back to the river for shelter because after nearly two dry(ish) weeks the flooded pools in the horse field where they had played hide and seek with me last month are now drying out. The pools leave behind a shadow of silty grasses rimmed with mats of flood-borne straw and twigs. For the last three days the temperatures have been sub-zero, and where the water was shallow thin layers of ice hide their disappearance. Only if you cross the brittle surface do you discover that beneath the crazed film of ice is dark, muddy ground, not water.

Further round my circuit of the village is a more permanent pool in the Big Field over the railway line. Usually, much of the surface of this tiny lochan is hidden by blankets of pondweed, under which the moorhens play at being SAS divers (qv). But the post-Christmas gales have blown the weed into a series of pale green, curving lines. If you see them from the top of the small rise beside the pond it looks for all the world as if someone has drawn OS-style contour lines on the pool - as if there were valleys and ridges to be found under the surface if we could only see through the murky water. But there was no sign of the moorhens - perhaps the change in the weed has blown their cover, and they've moved to a new hideout? Mind-wandering again...

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