Posted by: Ross Gardner | November 18, 2018

The element of surprise

One of the greatest compulsions of the natural world is its apparently unending capacity for surprise.  This I was reminded of, very recently, by…… some ducks.

The Mallard is perhaps the most familiar of all British duck.  The Wigeon and Teal perhaps less so, but any who were inclined to take an interest in birds would quite soon become acquainted with them; while breeding populations may be small, both winter around the UK in their hundreds of thousands.  I have watched all three of these species more times than I could remember, yet yesterday I saw a behaviour I had never seen before.

Teal 4 (scaled)

The Teal (Anas crecca) is a common winter visitor to the UK.

At the RSPB’s West Canvey Marshes reserve there is a long, open body of water.  At one end it terminates in a sloping bank, not too steep and colonised in the drier part of the year with a weedy growth of plants.  On this occasion it was alive with ducks, of the above-mentioned species.  At any given moment two or three dozen of them could be seen running up the bank, busying themselves amongst the mud around the plants and then waddling just as purposefully back down to the water’s edge to ‘drink’.

This was most intriguing to watch, all these ducks running their perfectly straight lines, up and down from the water and back.  Two theories I have for this behaviour; someone reading this might know for certain.  At first I pondered whether they were taking advantage of a windfall of seeds fallen from the plants growing on the bank, scurrying up to gather a beakful, but requiring a good drink so as to swallow the dry food.  Then I wondered if instead they had discovered an abundance of some invertebrate or other, thriving in the mud at the top of the bank, taking in what they could before returning to the edge to take on water so as to more effectively sieve them from the substrate.  The latter, I think, seems the most likely.


The fleet at West Canvey Marshes.

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