Nature Notes by Tim Lee
In the absence of a Mortimer Voices newsletter, we are publishing local resident Tim Lee’s regular nature notes here instead…
The Mallard duck is nervously watching over her brood of seven ducklings as they dart back and forth across the slow moving river, busily chasing the insects flitting about on the water surface. Startled by the sudden movement of a harmless hare moving through the long grass on the river bank, she gives the alarm call and instantly, the ducklings race to her side for safety. She leads them off amongst the upright stems of yellow flag iris growing in the water until she is sure that the coast is clear.
Back in march, with her dapper mate, she selected her nest site in the fork of the old willow tree. In a storm two winters ago, a branch split away from the tree, exposing a sheltered hollow where she would lay the clutch of olive green eggs. Each evening, she carefully covered the eggs in the warm down plucked from her breast to insulate the nest and with her mate, flew to a secluded pool nearby to wash, feed and stretch her legs.
On her return, the moisture on her chest feathers helped keep the eggs internal membrane soft and allow the ducklings to penetrate through when its time to hatch. After 28 days of this routine, she can hear the ducklings peeping call from inside the eggs and feel them chipping at the shells with the tiny ‘tooth’ at the end of their beaks, designed for this moment.
Within 24 hours, they have all hatched, dried and are fidgeting beneath her. She knows its time to get them to the relative safety of the river. At first light, she flies down beneath the tree and calls softly, encouraging them to follow. The ducklings fall to the ground but there is always a reluctant one that needs extra encouragement! Together at last, she makes her way through the grass – each blade is a challenge to these black and yellow bumble bee like bundles of fluff but they’ve spent a month growing inside an egg and just jumped ten feet, so they’re not about to give up now!
Tumbling down the river bank, they are instantly expert swimmers, bobbing about like corks and taking in their new world. Inquisitiveness and instinct drives them to search for the high protein insect life that will transform those that survive, into fledglings. They will be able to fly in 60 days but until then, mum has an anxious time protecting them from the many predators that both she and they will face.
These are difficult times but connecting with nature is recognised as having a positive impact on our physical and mental well being. If you can get out there is so much to see and experience locally. Engage all your senses, sit quietly and watch for a moment, listen to the buzz and hum of insect life and birdsong, look at the clouds moving, smell the heady scent of hawthorn blossom and wild garlic after a rain shower, dabble your toes in a cool stream, look at the stars….there are many ways to enjoy and connect with nature, perhaps think of it as a tonic for the soul!