Monday, 14 May 2012

Ginger Who?

After being away for a month I thought that it was about time that I caught up with what was happening at the Restharrow Scrape. As I made my way across Worth marshes, on the Ancient Highway there was little to indicate that spring had arrived and that summer should be just round the corner.

I did stop to watch this Meadow Pipit collecting food, showing that it, at least, was getting on with the necessary for the breeding season.

When I got to the Scrape it was greeted by a major surprise, a brand new large extension to the hide. This should ensure that there will be enough accommodation when I find the rarity waiting for me! In the mean time I was content to watch the regular and expected occupants of the scrape. This Dabchick, resplendent in his summer garb swam serenely in front of the hide.

On the island an Oystercatcher paraded on the top and a couple of Shovelers snoozed in the weak spring sunshine.

Right in front of the hide one of the great ornithological mysteries was there before my eyes. Why do Coot chicks have ginger downy feathers.
I am quite use to the adult coots being black and white, in fact before digital photography you wouldn't have needed colour film for an accurate representation of them! Why and for what purpose has evolution decreed that baby coots should be these little baby gingers. They would win a beautiful baby contest, but I suppose that they are quite cute in their own way.

I then notice that the previously calm Dabchick was dashing backwards and forwards in a frantic sort of dance. It took me a white to work out what it was doing. I think, although I'm not completely sure, that it was fly catching. I assume that there was a big hatching of some small insects and that was what it was after.
The Coots family seemed to be five youngsters and they hung around at the edge of the water while the adults collected food. And guess what, in between collecting in a conventional way they also seemed to have bouts of fly-catching.
I was quite surprised that the normally aggressive adult Coots took no notice of this Jackdaw wandering along the edge. I would have though that it might have been perceived as a threat to their chicks.

When the adult arrived with food the chicks quickly came to be fed, and it seemed tome that one of them was quite dominant. It may be that it had missed out for a while and thought that it should have the lot, but it certainly pushed its siblings out of the way.

As usual a Lapwing pair was staking its claim for some real estate, and at this time of year the hair style was in particularly good order.

There seemed be two pairs of  Tufted Ducks around the scrape, let's hope that they stay and breed, young Tufties are always a delightful sight.

As usual the Lapwing treated me to some elaborate aerial displays, one particularly good one featured a joust with a Jackdaw, no slouch in aerobatics its self.

While I was watching the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls at the back of the scrape on smaller gull caught me eye. It was partly hidden at first, but then flew and landed closer to me.

As I thought it was a Mediterranean Gull, but still in largely first winter plumage except for the more extensive black around the head. Now we are into may I would expect it to be moulting out the dark coverts and become much more like an adult .

While it is good to see most of the residents on the scrape I have mixed feelings about the Canada Geese, If theve become numerous their clumsy marches across the area can be quite disturbing to other species that are less dominating.

On the other hand Shelducks are always good value. They can be aggressive but they are a species that has an interesting life style. They nest in burrows, quite unusual for a duck, and the most of the adult population disappear to remote areas in the late summer to moult, leaving a few "nannies" in charge of flocks of youngsters.

I'm not sure what this Dabchick was up to. It wasn't making it "braying" call, but swam with its bill open like this for a while. It may have been bringing up a pellet, but I'm not really sure.

On the way back a stopped to look at a couple of pairs of Grey Partridges. In many areas they are hard to see, but they are almost a certainty along the Ancient Highway. They are so much better looking than their Red-legged cousins, and much more secretive in their habits.

The last bird I stopped to admire was a stunning Wheatear. I had disappeared to the other side of the world before they'd appeared in March so this was my first for the year. Always good to see, it would be even better if more stopped to breed in Kent.


Marianne said...

Great set of photos. Re the Coot chicks, there was a study on American Coots which found that chicks without the orange filoplumes (ie the experimenters cut them off) were ignored by their parents, in favour of their siblings with intact filoplumes. So it seems the filoplumes stimulate the parents to feed the chicks. But why ginger? Maybe it's a high contrast thing, or maybe Coots just like gingers :)

Tony Morris said...

Thanks for that Marrianne, an interesting point. Do you have a reference for the study? it would be worth a read.

Marianne said...

The ref: Lyon BE, Eadie JM, Hamilton LD, 1994. Parental choice selects for ornamental plumage in American coot chicks. Nature 371:240-243. The abstract is here:

Also found a useful summary of research on Rallidae ornamentation here:

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