Monday, June 19, 2017

The busy life of coots

I have a fascination for water birds. I love watching the swans, ducks and coots in the harbour as they go about their busy lives. They live in a community like us only in their own parallel world and the moment I stop to just watch and stare (a bit like the watery version of smelling the roses) I become transfixed by their activities. Watching the mums teaching their chicks to feed; seeing group conflicts being resolved; laughing as they dash across the harbour after some titbit; being amazed by their swift and graceful diving skills when they disappear below the surface after a submarinated snack.

A swan family on the Canal de L'Escaut in France

At the moment, I have a coot couple as tenants on my rowing boat - or maybe I should say squatters as they didn't ask if they could occupy my property, they just moved on, built a nest and proceeded to multiply. But I love them and find them a constant source of entertainment when I'm cleaning on board.

They're pretty smart, actually. The nest is positioned in the corner at the stern of the boat, which happens to sit under the stern of my barge. They've clearly chosen this spot as it's nicely protected. When it rains, they are under cover and when it's very hot, they have some shade. The nest itself is a masterpiece of recycling, compiled as it is of bits of plastic, old packets and twigs to keep it all together.  Mr Coot spends days selecting suitable decor to bring back to his wife, often to have her reject his offerings as unsatisfactory or not in keeping with her design plan.

The Vereeniging's stern; my rowing boat's stern sits under it
The only problem arising from all this is that Ma and Pa Coot have become singularly (or maybe doubly, seeing as there are two of them) attached to their home and woe betide anyone who comes near. Mostly, it's only me, and I'm sure their possessiveness is just as much about protecting their developing family as it is about defending their nest.

The thing is I have no intention of disturbing them. It is of course very inconvenient as I can't use the boat until they've finished with it; neither can I empty it of rain water. Fortunately, it hasn't rained much in recent weeks, so it's not been a major issue yet, but I've been missing out on some fun spuddling, which has made me sigh once or twice. But despite my good intentions, Mr Coot is determined I am evil incarnate, an intruder of ill-intent, and he treats me accordingly.

Whenever I am outside, cleaning the exterior, he charges over from wherever he's been in the habour, his wings beating an angry tattoo on the water. He is all aggression, mean eyed and menacing; ready to attack my evil broom as I dip it into the water. It's too funny. He follows me around the barge and pecks at the brush fiercely when I lower it for a rinse. As for my water bucket, that is an obscenity up with which he will not put. I'm just glad I don't need to get down into the water too. I think I'd be mincemeat if I tried.

Mrs Coot is more docile, thank heavens. When she is taking a break from her nursing duties, she also follows me around, but as long as I stay away from her nest, she just observes me with mild interest. I'm sorry I will miss the babies when we go faring, but I'm sure there will be plenty of birdlife to observe along the way. Ducks, coots and water birds are part of life on rivers and canals and I can rest safe in the assumption they will be living equally fascinating lives wherever we go. I'd love to know if they quack with a different accent, though! Have a good week everyone!

Baby coot, nothing more cute!


13 comments:

  1. What a joy! We had swallows nesting in a boat we went up and down the Shire river in - in Malawi. As there were several identical boats they had to fly from one to the other to find the right one! It will feel a bit hit and miss once the chicks arrive.

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    1. That must have been lovely, Jo. I've never seen swallows nesting and had no idea they nested in boats either. I always imagined they nested in trees. It must have been funny to see them checking out the boats to find the right one!

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    1. Thank you, Caryl! I'm glad you liked it :) xx

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  3. Marvelous blog and photos, as always. Loved the story of the loon couple and their different treatments of you. If you could stay the summer, perhaps you could win his trust too. Or...perhaps not!

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    1. Thank you, Steph! I'm glad you enjoyed my coots. I'm so fond of these silly birds :)

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  4. What a lovely refreshing post Val, you brought it all to life so vividly, have a good time faring,
    Xxx

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    1. Bless you, Angela. They are a delight and easy to write about. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

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  5. Your coots look very like moorhens but then why wouldn't they, when both belong to the same family group namely The Railidae - the only exception being that the coot is more aggressive of the two.

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    1. They are similar, aren't they, Mel? I had to check what to call them when I first arrived in NL. Here they are called the 'meerkoet', which could lead one to the idea of moorhen, but I believe the moorhen has a red part on its beak. Otherwise, they look the same, it's true. And yes, coots are aggressively territorial!

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    2. I should mention I don't have a photo of an adult coot to publish, but these babies grow up to have white beaks and white stripes on their heads.

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  6. They are amazing, amusing little birds, aren't they? The oddest nest we've seen, complete with eggs, was little more than a pile of debris inside a car tyre that was being used as a side fender!

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  7. So sweet and I love your description of the coots and their lives. We have ducks, or rather Pete has ducks. He is the one who feeds them and considers them his, so was quite upset to learn the Sue, our neighbour, also feeds them and considers them her ducks! Xxx

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