Wednesday 24 January 2018

Lay of the Land: No ducking it, nature's red in tooth and claw

Stock picture
Stock picture

Fiona O'Connell

Spring has well and truly sprung, with the first shockingly punctual swallow soaring above this country town on the very day that summer time started. While those furry flying fellows, the bumblebees, have been bumbling about for weeks, looking bigger than I've seen before.

Naturally, all creatures super sized and small are nest building. Everywhere I look, crows and rooks are carrying twigs to renovate their humble homes in readiness for new arrivals. I saw one patiently folding a discarded tissue on the road the other day, till it would fit neatly in its beak. Waste not, want not, is the motto of Mother Nature.

Speaking of mothers, a particularly diligent duck hatched a dozen ducklings earlier this month. They enchanted everyone by waddling about the footpath by the river. But those who think the ducks are too tame for their own good have a point, as not everyone is kindly disposed to vulnerable creatures.

Concerned locals coaxed mother mallard to move into the rushes a little further from the madding crowd.

If only the duo of dastardly duckesses - as I quasi-affectionately dub the pair that have been plaguing my bird feeds - would follow suit. It seems better the devil you know is true, at least when it comes to ducks. For the cadging crows appear positively polite in comparison to the greedy speed which those yellow beaks can hoover up food.

It's partly my fault, as I send them mixed messages by sometimes being a softie and letting them suction up bird seed.

But those feisty females have become so fearless that they have no qualms (whatever about quacks) about splaying their beaks at me when I attempt to shoo them away, barely stopping short of telling me to duck right off.

But trust Mother Nature to solve this ducking dilemma with her tough love. For surely there was a connection between the beautiful but chilling bird of prey that I spotted perched on the wooden pole in the yard, and the peculiar posture of the familiar brownish shape sitting on top of the ivy-coloured wall the following morning.

I peered at the strange stillness of one half of the duckess duo, her neck stretched forward and her unblinking eyes staring seemingly lifelessly at me.

I wasn't entirely sure that the poor duck was dead. But I didn't get a second chance to study her sad still life. For when I looked out just five minutes later, she was gone.

Was it just a swoon from which she recovered? Did she miraculously come back to life? Or more likely, did the buzzard carry off her corpse? And has she already been ruthlessly replaced?

For only a few hours later, I saw a female fowl derriere sticking out from one of the bird tables. While - as always - another madam mallard was munching away on the second forbidden feed.

Perhaps it is simply all part of the great mystery of this life. Which - like its ever-turning cycle of seasons - goes ever on.

Sunday Independent

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