Friday, 17 April 2009

Latin lovers, please beware

Despite it being my favourite season by a long way, there is, inevitably, a flip side to Spring. The equivalent of the wasp at the Summer picnic or the Winter snowball containing an accidental stone. So what is Spring's dark secret? How are the wonderful green hues of the season sullied and tarnished? Cue clap of thunder and lightning flash, as the heavy drapes are parted to reveal a monster so hideous that the mere si....ok, ok, it's a duck. "But it's only a duck," you say. "Hah!" quoth I, "That's what it wants you to think."

Technically, it's two ducks. A pair of mallards. One male and one female. They hail from the local pond, which is a relic from the redundant arm of a small canal that once carried produce to and fro from Newport Pagnell to the Grand Union Canal and on to the wider world. It is now incorporated into a modern housing estate and serves as home to a variety of wildfowl, including mute swans, moorhen, mallard and, bizarrely, the occasional red-crested pochard.

A very noble little environment, to be fair, which will abound with all manner of other wildlife from the plant and animal kingdoms. It brings the country into the town, helps to connect people with their surroundings and therefore gives them roots in the landscape. Pond, I salute you.

So...why my earlier tirade? Do you really want me to spell it out for you? Oh... Kay! It's Spring, that time of year when a young duck's thoughts turn to... er... well, let's just say it doesn't necessarily include crusts of bread, but hey, a romantic meal for two might just lead to some duck lurv. Oh yes, let's head off, away from all these swans and moorhen, and find a nice, secluded spot where we can prop-Oh-gate the sp-Eeee-cies!

Well, not in MY little pond, you don't!

A short history lesson may help explain. In 2003, Channel 4's Time Team had the first of their Big Digs. This involved viewers all over the country digging test pits in their gardens to see what turned up. As a family, we were very informally involved and ended up with a 1 metre square hole and very little else. Hey, it passed the time and kept the girls occupied for a few days of the Summer holidays. The decision was taken (extensive searches of the archives don't reveal by whom) to turn this initial hole into a small pond to increase the biodiversity of the garden and make it more wildlife-friendly. (These days it would be part of the Homes For Wildlife scheme promoted to good effect by the RSPB) Somewhat embarrassingly for myself, this was dug by my wife and daughters, as I had sustained an injury to my right arm (convenient, I hear you say). All credit for the resulting habitat must therefore go to them. Sterling work, Ladies!

My passion for Odonata has made me rather protective of this tiny and fragile environment. Amongst the aquatic plants, amphibians and other invertebrates live dragonfly and damselfly larva, the future aerial predators of the Summer. It does not take a pair of mallard very long to totally trash this idyllic scene as they chomp their way through the plants and insects. And so, every Spring sees a tense siege. I, listening for the telltale quacking that heralds the expansionists' arrival, the ducks sitting on rooftops, awaiting their chance to invade. I've not even figured out how they manage to land on the apex of a roof. What bit of evolution prepared them for that, then? In recent years, anti-duck measures have been deployed in late March. Usually, a string, rope or cane grid placed at duck height over the pond to prevent access, whilst allowing other birds to drink or bathe and invertebrate life to go on unhindered. This year, other factors have come into play, such that the pond is undefended against the evil schemings of duckdom. Its fertile and virgin growth at the mercy of beak and webbed foot. Oh woe, where is the leader to save us from the impending disaster?

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, dear reader, I hope you now see my predicament. Whilst my view of Nature generally encompasses all wildlife, for a few weeks every Spring, the local ducks become anatina non grata ( plural: anatinae non gratae) or as I prefer to call it, paxo non pax (Dog Latin: Stuffing not peace).

Wow, a whole post without puerile puns like "quack troops" or "dabbling in disaster". Doh!

1 comment:

john.walker140 said...

You forgot "I must be quackers"