Spring is here! (apparently)

The snow has been falling, the wind blowing, and the rain pouring down onto Nottingham – of course this can only mean its spring. It has been a while since I took a visit to the university lake, and despite the recent strange weather, it is like somebody has waved a wand over the lake, transforming it while I have been home for Easter. The black headed gulls that were so numerous have vanished and taken with them the grey and drab cloth that swamped us over winter. In every corner of the lake a nest has risen out of the water to host a coot family that is soon to arrive. Some new arrivals on the lake who looked like something crafted by the devil himself, and a slightly older friend from last term I was a delight to meet again too. Everything is happening on the lake, and I can’t wait to see what may happen next!

On first arrival, I caught a glimpse of my first nesting Eurasian Coot. There she sat, very satisfied with her arrangement of sticks and leaves piled up high in the water. The lady of the house had to constantly maintain her mound in this shallower part of the lake to avoid her home being swept beneath her with the gentle currents. As usual, I was transfixed by her forthrightness as she was plumping all her leaf cushions, shaking them and patting them down on her bed ready for her babies to arrive. I wasn’t too sure what difference this made as the bed didn’t seemed to change all too much from before she had started organising her nest, but I got the feeling this was a very important task that needed to be attended to.
the Eurasian Coot, very proud of her nest  in the scummy corner
of the lake

While I  felt quite privileged being able to watch this one nest so close, it was not long before I realised coot nests had popped up all over the lake. All along both sides of the lake the water is quite shallow, meaning nine nests in total were made all along the banks of the lake. There was one nest amongst the willow tree branches where the twigs could easily be bundled together, held by the long fingers of the willow branches like a leafed cage around the home. Another had been dumped in a slightly unexpected place, amongst the scurvy and scummy remnants of rubbish, twigs and slime. The gentle currents in the lake pushed surface debris to this south corner of the lake, perhaps making it easy to gather nearby items quickly, before it would be broken down by the slow running water.

The nest tucked into the bank of the lake, and the Coot pruning
her feathers in the rain
believe it or not a family live here!
In contrary to my initial thoughts, it soon became apparent that the coots had no good sense of housekeeping at all in their nest building. While they did spend a substantial amount of time ensuring the nest remained sturdy and intact, this is the point that I stopped agreeing with their requirements of a good home. I came across yet another nest in the lake in one of the grimiest locations they could have chosen. Between some black railings and a few willow branches that had rooted amongst a pile of stagnant rubbish settled my best find of the day. Out from behind the rubbish, emerged three ugly and wrinkly individuals, with heads red like fire with tufts of burnt off feathers, sprouting out these strange evil looking minions’ necks. I laughed to myself as the coot parents doted upon these horrible children, a parent’s love really is blind.

 

the ugly little chick next to an unhatched egg

While I was happy to see the new arrivals, my heart leapt when I found a slightly older friend who I had met last term. I was concerned after walking most of the way around the lake and catching no sign of the Egyptian Goose family. My worries were set aside however, when then there he was, barely recognisable, a gangly and strange looking teenage chick, bumbling around on the boat ramp. The father was nowhere to be seen, as Billy (which I have now named him) is old enough to only need the care of one parent. The transformation that can happen in the space of a month is still hard to believe. The look of strength in his legs now was phenomenal, fully grown and just waiting for his adolescent body to catch up. His body was now half the size of an adult, and his proper juvenile feathers had come through. It was magical to see him from the fluffy little ball I had first met curled up in the sun. Through frosts, and wind, and snow, rain and sleet, this little chick had grown up so much and it was a wonderful thing to see.

mother and chick, or now teenager
Billy looking very gangly – still has a lot of growing to do!
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