Spring marches in around Heslington Lake

I wrote about the black swan last week, but that is by no means the only story that’s unfolded over the past few weeks. Sudden surges, spring migrants, winter passers-by, and plenty of song. It has been busy.

The Black Swan has, for now, moved off. She may only have moved to the lakes at the East campus, but she may have gone further afield. Hopefully this is positive and she is off looking for some of the 50-or-so feral Black Swans in the UK.

Not all the news is good news, and at the moment the Great-crested Grebes are notable only by their absence. They had arrived back and all was well, they’d started nest-building and had mated at least once. But at the start of March the female was still encouraging him to mate with her, but he was showing little interest.

An ex-grebe nest?

They soon moved from their regular nest site and were around the potential second nest site a few days later. But now it’s been nearly a fortnight since I last saw either of them.

Great-crested Grebe

One possible factor in their disturbance occurred on 3rd March. I went down to the lake and quickly noticed every bird was up in alarm. Crows and magpies were mobbing something, the ducks were all nearby and calling, the geese were on alarm, and the grebes were also checking it out.

A less-than-alarmed Mallard

The source of all this commotion turned out to be a tiny black kitten! The kitten was no threat to the birds, but was instead utterly terrified at the situation it had stumbled into. The crows, the magpies, the geese, the swans, all were perfectly capable of killing it. But it was so scared I couldn’t persuade it to let me remove it. I’ve not seen it since…

Male Pochard

Among the more unusual, and positive, sightings were Pochard. Now, over the past three or four years I usually see the odd specimen towards this time of year. A single male or a single female, usually for a day or two. But on 28th February there was a pair. Two days later I went down with my camera and they were gone, but further round the lake found there were now at least four pairs, eight birds, all in a small group on the water.

Four male, two female Pochard

Four male pochard, synchronously ignoring the camerman

They hung around another day or so, then they were gone. But it was great to see them while they were here. They’ve not gone for good, there’s usually one or two about, just not mob-handed.

Female Goosander having a good scratch

Other migrants are still hanging on. A single female goosander is still on the lake at the moment. One female stayed pretty much all year in 2016, so this may be the same bird. She has on occasion been joined briefly by a male, but generally she is having a ‘me party’.

Male goosander on the left, female on the right

The Goldcrests are still very active in the lakeside willow trees, and very vocal too as I posted the other day.


But the most pleasure to be derived from a walk round the lake at the moment is watching a Treecreeper on about its business.


There are a few pairs around the campus, and they are extremely confiding, used as they are to people around them all the time. This one started out about 5 feet from me at the base of the willow, then moved up the trunk eventually being so close that I could have plucked it off the bark! As it was, I had to step back just to get it in focus.

Check out the focus and determination!
Also, check out that lengthy back claw for hanging on to the tree.

All the usual suspects are in, on and around the lake too with mallards and their range of domestic hybrids, coots and moorhens, gulls, and all the garden/park birds such as robins, blackbirds, tits, nuthatches and more.

Heron in a pond

Mallard-domestic hybrid

Black-headed gull



Nuthatch, not posing

Another mallard-hybrid

Male chaffinch

I have now written Monday Bird of the week posts through to the end of June, which will mean an unbroken run of 35 weeks. No.64 on 16th October would give a full 52 week run, so that’s the next goal. After that it’s ensuring the full calendar year for 2017!

On top of that I’m thinking about 30 Days Wild 2017 already, and hoping to revisit last year’s failed ’30 days, 30 habitats’ plan. I still think it’s achievable despite a full-time job.


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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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