Duckling tally 2009 - New Life on Maiden Erlegh Lake
Surely everyone warms to the sight of newly hatched ducklings in the early months of the year? They are fuzzy and cute to some; a sign of natural renewal to others – and a source of food to the predatory inhabitants of the lake.
This year at Maiden Erlegh they appeared late, at the end of April and in early May, with a couple of later broods in June and July. The mallards were, as usual, the most prolific, though calculating the number of them is difficult to accomplish with any degree of accuracy, as they are often hidden by the branches shielding the banks of the lake, or move about so quickly near the feeding station; there is always the risk of double counting. Trying to gain an overview from my walks around the lake, and discounting any that are not seen simultaneously or are not identifiably different broods (by physical size or location), I reckon there were no fewer than six families of mallard ducklings this year. Quite possibly there were two or three more.
In early May there were consistently two groups of six, one of which included two noticeably larger ducklings. There was also a group of eight that I was able to count individually as they struggled to clamber up the concrete edge to the island. On 11 May there was a family of eleven with their mother, which may or may not have decreased to become the family of nine that maintained a distinct presence over the following weeks. Certainly the nine all grew to adulthood, which is probably more than can be said for the earlier broods which attrition undoubtedly reduced. On 16 June another brood of 6 tiny ducklings appeared, rapidly reduced to one by the end of the week, though the one was hanging on still on 27 June and growing noticeably by early July. Finally, another 6 July saw another six added to the tally.
It is difficult to know how many survived, as when the ducklings grow sufficiently large, they become interchangeable with the indeterminate pool of adults; a problem made worse when the drakes lose their masculine plumage for the summer and add to the number of androgynous mottled brown ducks. That said, it is certain that several survived long enough for such distinction to become a problem and there is no doubt either that the close-knit family of nine all grew to full size. This year’s tally of survivors is far higher than that for 2008.
The mandarins were fewer both in number and size of brood. A family of four were reported in early May and I have repeatedly seen two groups of three, one of which reduced to two in time. Later, in June, single juveniles could be seen alone or with their mother.
Rather more conspicuous were the Canada geese. Two families of five and six respectively, first seen by the sediment pond in early May, soon coalesced into a nursery of eleven. Interestingly an identical, but separate, nursery existed at the same time on Whiteknights Lake. On the 23 May three new goslings appeared on ‘Duck Island’, but unfortunately they did not survive. Disappointingly, too, there were no Egyptian goslings this year, or, of course, any cygnets.
Finally, three moorhen chicks were to be seen on 10 May, and whereas their development eluded me subsequently, at least two juveniles are on the lake at present.
Many thanks to Edwin A. R. Trout for these recordings.