by Isabelle Pottinger
Two years ago, during the Beast from the East (as the media named it), much of the surface of Townhill Loch froze over. The small patch of open water remaining was hotly contested by the waterbirds, with the larger, stronger birds winning a much-prized spot, whilst the weaker, smaller waterbirds were squeezed out.
During this very cold spell, a young female duck flew half a mile south where she found the stream that flows through our garden (the Broomhead Burn). Was it just my imagination that she heaved a sigh of relief as she settled on the water? The next day she returned, this time to our front garden where we fed her some of the grain that was normally used to fill the garden birdfeeders. She ate her fill then flew off. A few hours later she returned, was fed again, then, with considerable difficulty, given her rather full tummy, flew off.
The pattern was now established. Each day she flew in, sometimes to our front garden, sometimes to the front garden of one of our neighbours, where the appropriate family fed her. And of course, given her repeated visits in a day, no one was quite sure just how much food a neighbour had already given her. Soon, she became used to calling out to us, letting us know that she had arrived and wanted fed. She put on weight quickly, becoming remarkably tame as the days and weeks went by.
One day, the female arrived with two drakes in tow; one sticking very closely to her, hoping to mate when the time was right, the other acting as ‘lookout’ to protect the birds from local cats and dogs. The female was very comfortable around us and would run up to us for food. The males were much more cautious, holding back, maintaining their distance.
Then one day, no birds.
Last year, although the spring was much milder than the year before, the female appeared and the pattern above was repeated.
This week, we returned from our walk, ready to enter the garden via our back gate, only to spot three water birds on our pond. The female had returned, bringing with her this year’s mate plus a ‘lookout’. “Hooray, they’re back”, we called.