Coots’ territorial rights rammy disturbs the peace on open water

Williestruther Loch
Williestruther Loch

The recent stable weather pattern of consistently-frosty days with clear blue skies has been a bonus for getting outdoors.

The ground has dried out and firmed up underfoot with a bleached and scarified look to the landscape after the chilled winter wash and freezing moonlit nights. Bulbs are pushing through a lifeless leaf litter, their dark green leaf blades ever more distinct by the day – leaving lingering snowdrops looking even more pallid and forlorn.

Although ice has remained on water butts in the garden and where the sun never reached under tall trees, I observed a hoar frost clinging all day in a shaded neighbouring garden as a sombre grey coating to trellis, shrub and hedge – frozen in time, yet yards away in full sun a different hue.

Birds in abundance have homed in on the feeders, especially siskins, those small and neat acrobatic green-yellowish finches wintering here from across the North Sea. Nature’s larder is fast depleting, but spring is on its way with longer days and light till well after five.

The song thrush can now be heard and oyster catchers are now back inland, calling shrilly on the Teviot.

Curlews too have left the coast for the moors, seen winging languidly in pairs and though not yet in full voice, are establishing themselves in their summer quarters.

It’s time then to catch up on that aborted visit – denied due to weather – to see what’s afoot on open water among the hills, namely at Acreknowe and Williestruther. Open stretches of water with reed beds, a backcloth of fir woods and views of noted peaks..

There’s pleasure in seeing an extensive expanse of flat, calm water, and even more so if you can circle it taking in the sight of wildfowl and those delightful distant views. It was good to see so many people out – just figures in a landscape as there’s enough space for everyone, having taken advantage of the new car park and testing the boardwalk over marshy areas.

Wildfowl feel quite at home keeping a safe distance out on the open water, making identification quite hard. I could though see mute swans upending for weed, and a raft of mallard, tufted duck, pochard, golden eye and the readily-recognisable coot – a dumpy, charcoal-coloured bird with its distinctive white bill and facial shield (hence as bald as a coot), with far more of this species than I expected to see.

In a nearby field was a straggle of greylag geese grazing, ever watchful, raising their heads attentively, among a flock of pied oyster catcher, heads down intent on pecking for worms.

Back to the coot – there must have been a score or more of them fairly close inshore, not unusual in one sense as they can be quite gregarious in winter.

True to character they made their presence felt – a noisy, active bunch calling with that staccato ‘kowk’.

Their feisty style over territorial rights surfaced, so sporadic fights among themselves were evident in clouds of spray – just enough action without disturbing the peace.