The forecast for today was gloomy and cold and they were spot on, for that was exactly it! Undeterred I made my way to the car-park. It was great to see a lot of other people had felt like me and made the effort to visit the reserve.
Continuing my quest for the 'Cuckoos nest' I stopped at the office pond to listen to the Reed Warbler, he (as ever) singing lustily a few yards away but not showing himself. If I moved too close to the source of the singing he would abruptly curtail his song and go even deeper into the reeds. Over the pond in the tangled bramble vegetation a Nightingale threw out a handful of bubbles and notes, limbering up no doubt for later in the day.
No Cuckoo of either sex called, too cold maybe, I don't know!
Up to Sweeney Viewpoint, another Nightingale exercised his vocal, again not the full Monty but enough to cheer up a dull afternoon.
Down to Gordons' Hide, there was a lot to see and good to see it so full with a large family from Dartford and a lovely couple from the Isle of Wight.
Six Mallard ducklings darted energetically across the water chasing tiny flies whilst their Mother looked protectively over them. A Heron lirked a few yards away eyeing up her family as a tasty meal. When it ventured too close the drake saw it off with an aggressive flurry of flapping feathers.
After a while, once the threat had temporarily flown a pair of Coots paraded their two offspring in front of the hide, so funny with their red heads. I watched them for about 15 minutes as she dived for weeds and fed them to the youngsters. Then she went back to the bank and preened with the two babies still pestering her for food. a third youngster appeared out of the greenery and begged her for food. She then viciously attacked the tiny creature, pecking at its' head and neck, arguably its' most vulnerable areas. Brutal to watch, but all part of Mother Natures' survival strategy!
Coots are omnivorous, eating usually plant material and also small animals, fish and eggs. They're aggressively territorial in the breeding season but otherwise often found in sizeable flocks on the large water bodies in the winter, such as Cliffe Pools, where the can number a couple of hundred.
Chick mortality is due usually to starvation rather than predation as coots have difficulty feeding large families on the tiny shrimp and insects they rely on Most chicks die in 10 days after hatching when they are most dependent on adults for food.
Coots can be, as I saw, brutal to their young through feeding pressures due to lack of food, after about three days they start attacking their own chicks when they beg for food. After a short while, these attacks concentrate on the weaker chicks, who eventually give up and die. The coot may eventually raise only two or three out of nine babies. This attacking behaviour is known as 'tousling the young'. Tousling means to me ruffling a child's' hair in a friendly manner. This is anything but friendly as it will eventually lead to the infant's death.
Apart from the nefarious antics on the scrape, it was good to see the Avocet, Lapwing and Oystercatcher still sitting on their respective nests.
Two Marsh Harriers made a good show as well.
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