Counted Coots

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Coot numbers well up today. Normally on the Wandle there are 6 – that are largely in the territories that were observed last year. But today there were 5 more on the Thames, which is very unusual and my guess is that they are strays that have come in due to the harsh weather. There are, admittedly, more that hang around closer to the park, but these five were a half a mile away and seemed out of place. One of them was ‘clicking’ quite a bit, which is unlike the residents. They may have tried to get onto the quieter waters of the Wandle at some point, but the resident pairs are such a bolshy and stroppy lot that they would have sent them packing quickly. That or they got weirded out by hanging around the horny Gadwalls.

Anyhow, this kind of brings me to explaining the naming of this blog. Last summer, by far the most interesting thing that was happening once the breeding season kicked in was the machinations of the local Coot population. The most interesting were a pair that kept nesting in the same place on the Wandle and kept getting washed out. Although I hate myself for a slip into personification, I casually called them the shopping trolley Coots, as their nest site was literally on an upturned shopping trolley that was stuck in the river, and the resulting detritus that had caught up in it (including a ski). They produced at least three clutches that were methodically destroyed by the highest of the tides. This was repeated on a smaller scale by another pair that hold a territory below the weir, so the tidal nature of their site is the same as the Thames, but when the tide fell they began nest building and sitting on what they could get together over the course of a few hours before it got washed away. And this happened day after day after day… The third pair just fight with everything. Including a wonderfully entertaining lunchtime when it all kicked off …

The whole situation got me thinking about how good or bad a memory the birds have and whether they have any ‘understanding’ of how tides work – against the drive that they have to reproduce. These questions have yet to be answered fully, and I’m looking forward to the spring and summer to start watching this half dozen mental birds to see what they are up to again. So there, Counting Coots explained, kind of.

Almost predictably, a picture of the nest site from last year...


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