This has been an interesting week. I spent six hours at Whipsnade Zoo on Wednesday. A day in the life of a corncrake keeper. I fed, I cleaned, I caught, I learnt. I also got to feed a foursome of two day old chicks. I have a name that best describes them. Fuzzy black dots.
I’ve seen lots of babies on the Nene Washes this week too. Mallard ducklings, swan cygnets, coot chicks (cootlings or cootlets?), and lapwing chicks (laplings or laplets?), and flocks of starlings full of chicks (starlets?). The starlets fly around with their parents, some are foraging for themselves, some still scream for food. Its so gorgeous to watch mum and dad feeding them. The chicks are as big as the parents but are plain brown all over with no spots.
Yesterday, Lizzie and I also came across three dead laplings. One with its head missing. A mystery. Weasels apparently will eat just the nutritious head. But there were three dead, with only one missing a head. Hmm.
And I now have my very own nine corncrake chicks (crakelets?) To care for. They are over two weeks old now, so they are not fuzzy black dots anymore. The truth is, I’m not entirely sure what they look like right now. They were delivered while I was at the zoo (this clutch were bred at Pensthorpe Conservation trust).
As they are bred to be released into the wild, they are behaving exactly as they should – hiding away when I go to feed them. Deeply hidden in my nettle topiary. Good little chicks.
I think I may have glimpsed one this morning. It was a quick wee flash. No longer black, it seemed to have the adult colourings now, but still a chick-like fuzzyness to it.
I visit them twice daily to feed them. They have crickets (dead), mealworms (alive), and fat caterpillar/larvae (alive). Yum yum.
Yesterday we watched a red kite hunting. He was flying low, presumably looking for wader chicks. Easy pickings. Except that some of them have very aggressive parents. The mob took to the sky. There are two tactics involved here. The parent birds are obviously larger and easier to see, so they move away from their nest of eggs or roaming chicks as a diversionary tactic. The second tactic is to mob the predator, until it gets tired of the mobbing and moves away.
I’ve never seen quite a mobbing as this one. There were dozens of lapwings, making lots of noise. These are the forefront mobbers. From the ground they look like they get close enough to touch their enemy. Ceaselessly, they attacked the kite.
Back-up were the black-tailed godwits and redshank, also making much noise. There was also a large group of non-parental godwits swooping about the kite. They had no chicks to protect but its all good practice for when they do. Who knows, some of them are very likely older siblings to this years chicks, so they were protecting their own genes too. And anyway, you’re a juvenile looking for something to do – a good mobbing seems like the perfect Saturday afternoon activity!
And finally, dotted amongst this large and noisy mob were the odd black-headed gull.
What a spectacle! Seeing a red kite quite close is a spectacle in itself, as they are so outstandingly beautiful, and graceful, and enormous! But with fifty odd birds hounding it, it was a very special few minutes.
We also saw two very pretty red-legged partridge pottering along on the north bank. Partridge are not wetland habitat birds. So perhaps they were just passing through.
Oh and a dozen-ish of pheasant chicks, all running and squeaking, and looking cute cute cute!
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