Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Water levels challenge the birds

The volume of water passing down the river over recent weeks has been staggering, requiring careful management of the sluices by Environment Agency staff. Such volumes underline the power of nature, the swollen waters swirling and deeply coloured with debris, and flowing with force. On some days the waters have slipped the confines of the river banks to flow out across the low lying meadows and on through the wood where I will search for blackbird nests come spring.

The conditions must prove challenging for the river’s inhabitants and I often wonder how the fish and otters fair when the river is in full spate. The rising waters will also have caught out some of our nesting birds. I have a suspicion that at least some of the local mallards will have been down on eggs, their early nesting prompted by the mild conditions witnessed earlier in the year. A few pairs nest in the alder carr alongside the river and any that had already started here this year will have been flooded out.

The water level by the old mill has crept up above the entrance to a small cavity in which the grey wagtails often nest. The fact that these delightful little birds start breeding somewhat later in the year means that they should be fine. Elsewhere, and well away from the lowland rivers of the brecks, many dippers will be beginning their breeding season, nesting in river bank cavities or on ledges under bridges. Some of these nest sites will almost certainly have been lost to the torrents of water rushing downstream, through river systems across the north and west of the country.

Away from the river and some of our other early nesters will have instead had to face a battering from the strong winds. Rooks and herons will already be at their nest sites, situated high in the canopies of trees, and their nests of stick may well have been dislodged. Repairs will be necessary, delaying the start of the breeding season. Of course, the weather also provides opportunities. The local crows have, for example, been feasting on insects and other prey pushed out of the meadow’s thick cover by rising waters. It would seem that there is resilience in nature.

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