Monday 17 February 2014

Bird Life Around the Pond

During the whole of the time I lived in Kingsley the village pond and its surrounding areas were rich in bird life. Of course, there were the regular water birds, Coots, Moorhens and Mallard ducks and most of the time there were Mute Swans. Most years these varieties built nests and produced their off springs in significant numbers. The cygnets, which the swans produced, were always a great attraction and were much photographed. In school we were often tasked with drawing and painting the swans and cygnets as a part of our art lessons.

Each season brought with it differing varieties of bird life and bad weather would sometimes cause passing birds to stop off at the pond. On occasions a particular bird would appear out of the blue with no obvious reason for having done so. In this grouping I remember an occasion when a Bittern turned up. Apart from being very rare, Bitterns are quite strange birds and it took me a few days to identify it. Members of the heron family, Bitterns are brown and beige in colour and blend in extremely well with the rushes and reeds. They have a habit of standing erect with their heads and bills pointing towards the sky and, of course, this makes them even harder to spot. Their eyes are adapted to be able to swivel and look down into the water whilst this strange pose is used. Their call, a deep booming sound, however, gives them away as it is unlike any other bird call. The bird in question just arrived and remained for about two weeks before disappearing. Similarly, Pochards, Widgeon, Teal and Tufted ducks turned up on various occasions staying a few days. These ducks would also turn up in the meadows over the back of Fir Hill, usually when the meadows were in flood after periods of heavy rain.

Over the years the pond attracted the beautiful Great Crested Grebe and these would often arrive in pairs, again remaining for short periods. The Little Grebe or Dabchick was quite common in the are and it could be found on both Kingsley and Shortheath ponds. I think it bred in the area.

Snipe, both Common and Jack varieties were regular visitors to the pond and indeed all of the marsh and boggy areas around and about Kingsley and neighbouring villages. It was not uncommon whilst fishing in the pond to hear the rather weird goat like bleating noise which is made by the Jack snipe. This is not a cry made by its throat but a noise created by the bird as it dives in flight and extends two side tail feathers. These two feathers vibrate rapidly and thus cause the strange sound. I believe I am correct in saying that this practice is confined to the male of the species and is part of the courtship ritual. However, it is a weird sound and one that once heard and recognised stays with one forever and cannot be confused with any other sound. The difficulty is in identifying it in the first place because the birds are not very large and they take a bit of spotting as they dive very steeply and from a great height.

Throughout the summer months the pond was alive with Swallows and House Martins which used the mud on the banks of the pond to build their nest with and the insects on the water surface to feed upon.

Very occasionally the vivid blue flash of a Kingfisher could be seen. I suspect the Kingfishers came over from the river where they could be seen more often. One year, I don’t recall which one it was, a Kingfisher nested in a hole in the sand pit wall at Bakers Corner on the left hand side of the lane which goes up to Binsted. This same wall was used then by Sand Martins and I am sure it was an old Sand Martins nesting hole that the Kingfisher had taken over. In any event, Lewis Batty and I found the nest and quickly discovered that Kingfishers line their nests with fish bones and they stink to high heaven.

Wagtails were common around the water’s edge of the pond and Spotted Fly Catchers would make an occasional appearance in the summer when there was a huge amount of insect life to be found.
Most of the common birds used the pond both to drink and wash in, Pigeons, Rooks,Blackbirds, Thrushes and Sparrows could all be seen bathing in the shallower water where the pond met the track by Ockham Hall.

Herons were, as might be imagined, regular visitors to the pond. There was a healthy Heron population in the area and in the woods beyond Oxney Cottage was a regular nesting site. As will be known, there is a large number of fishing opportunities throughout the region for Herons to take advantage of.

Some winters various geese would arrive and stay for a day or two. Most usual would be Canada but Gray Lag geese did appear also.

The old drum, which stood in the pond for many years before finally giving up the ghost and sinking beneath the surface, provided a very attractive resting and roosting platform for many of the water birds. In fact it was unusual at any time of day not to see some form of bird life reclining on the surface of the old drum. I have no idea why the drum had been placed in the pond or by whom but it remained a feature for many years and, I imagine, rusted out before slipping beneath the surface to be lost forever.

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