Just back from a week’s leave and, my, don’t you just notice the changes when you haven’t been around. The water levels in the lochs have dropped (woohoo!) several inches vertically and several feet horizontally over the course of a week. The paths are still wet and muddy in places but “puddle” is now a better description than “flood”. The wildlife also seems to have perked up a bit too, maybe, finally, daring to think about spring. The goldeneye are displaying furiously, with their bizarre head toss and “ zip, zzrreew” call. I have a soft spot for these ducks; they look so daft when they’re courting, but are a really handsome bird when they’re contorting themselves. All this displaying will result in the males mating with as many females as possible, then leaving them to rear the young. Unlike most ducks, goldeneye nest in holes up trees, or in giant nestboxes , and their young have to jump up to 3-5m to the ground.
The coot are also displaying, but they’re a bit more aggressive with it. Their “peu-peu-peu” calls and bill snapping noise are a typical sound on a lot lochs right now. They use that white shield on their forehead to show off, but it doesn’t take long before a coot loses its temper. I often think the collective noun should be “a cantankerousness of coot”! They fight readily, often appearing to ‘run’ across the water in pursuit of a rival. They don’t have webbed feet like a duck, but instead have long mobile legs with massive lobed toes to help them paddle.
A nice addition to the usual birds on the lochs were a pair of great crested grebes. They have one of the loveliest displays in the animal kingdom, appearing to ‘dance’ with their partner. The pair here were just flirting- a bit of minor head shaking- but the dance culminates in a frantic “walk on water” water clutching weed. Forget say it with roses, it’s pondweed all the way if you’re a grebe. Check it out for yourself athttp://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Great_Crested_Grebe#p01hxpqg
Elsewhere, even more spring signs are appearing. The song thrushes have started singing, just on Monday (3rd). You can help tell their song by the fact they have a loud song and frequently repeat phrases….I think of it as “song thrush- repeat, repeat, repeat….everything, everything, everything” to get the cadence of the call. Another bird, much easier to tell by voice is also back and displaying- the lapwings are back in the Old Kinord fields. Sometimes called “peewits” after their call (or green plover, flapwing, flopwing, flapjack, and the local word teuchit), their lovely tumbling display is a sure sign spring is on its way.