Magnificent mallards provide much entertainment at Murray’s Cauld

The riverside birds have fallen strangely silent as the season moves from breeding to moulting. Usually this takes place unseen in the dense undergrowth, safe from predators, while flight is impaired and to save any unnecessary embarrassment while not looking their best!

Mallards suffer no such vanity, as on my patch of Ettrick Water, a motley crew of around a dozen mallards congregate in the shallows near a gravel bank to moult and bathe. They are hard to recognise as mallards if it wasn’t for their partially green heads and bright blue speculums. They are mainly drakes and spend days like this, lazing around and splashing at the water’s edge, while the females struggle to raise their brood. During late summer ducks moult synchronously, or lose and replace all of their feathers in a short period of time. Synchronous moulting renders ducks flightless during a portion of this time thus at a greater risk to predators, until the new feathers come in. Losing and replacing all of one’s feathers can take up to two weeks. The new feathers are drab in colour and considered a duck’s basic plumage. In the early spring, just as the breeding season gets underway, a partial loss of feathers happens, when the male ducks put on their alternate “Sunday best” plumage.

A female of another species provided lots of entertainment at Murray’s Cauld on the river one day last week. A goosander with a brood of eleven fluffy “humbugs” arrived in the pool at the foot of the weir. The plan was to go further upstream, so mum jumped the foot high step between the water and the dry apron of the weir, with the intention of walking them up to the pool above. She stopped half way and could be seen calling to them to hurry up. First one tried the herculean leap then another, but it was obviously too high. The obvious solution was to take them up nearer the far side, where rocks were piled up against the apron and they could just walk up, but the problem there was that a hungry heron was standing guard. Eventually, the heron flew off and that is the route they took and all reached the top safely.