For any reader about to embark on the truly amazing adventure of parenthood - or, indeed, anyone looking to brush up on their parenting skills - may I suggest that, instead of signing up for some worthy course run by the
local authorities, you should head on down to your local Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre and take a few tips from the ducks and geese you will find there.
plenty of downy ducklings and gaggling goslings to be seen today when the Birdy Group visited the Arundel Wetlands Centre on the most truly glorious morning. Everywhere we looked there were geese - and a few ducks for good measure - showing off their parenting
skills which ranged from fiercely protective (think Angry Birds) to careful watchfulness.
Just think, these parents raise a brood of two, four, six or more babies
- then do it all over again the following year. And the next. How do they manage it? You won’t find them bewailing their lot and asking AIBU on the bird equivalent of Mumsnet. They just get on with it. We members of the Birdy Group were all admiration.
Some parents obviously believe in tough love. Take the Common Goldeneye - there’s an oxymoron for you, how can any living creature with a golden eye be termed “common”?
The Common Goldeneye builds its nest high up in the trees and then expects its off-spring to take their first leap into the World Outside the Nest by launching themselves from a height of up to 10 metres. I mean, Tom Daley trained for years to dive from a
10 metre board into a swimming pool - the Common Goldeneye goslings just have to get on with it. “Off you go!” their mother exhorts them, “The only way is down! Just get a grip, take a leap of faith and your Dad and I will see you at the
In a stream a little away from the main action, two tiny ducklings are swimming gallantly in circles. They are like small balls of fluff
with red beaks and we think they may be moorhen chicks - until into view comes their mother, a coot. I have always loved coots, on account of them being so easily recognisable, like little men in dinner jackets , but after today I like them even more, so attentive
are they to the needs of their chicks. Our leader, the Lovely Linda, tries to establish, via everybody’s BFF, Google, whether there is a specific name for baby coots but, failing a definitive answer, we arrive at a unilateral decision to call them cootlings.
Later we come across a moorhen with her babies, which don’t look unlike the cootlings. Life can be confusing, out there in the wetlands.
I are fortunate enough to be in one particular hide when a pair of swallows swoop in. One immediately checks out a nesting place while the other rests on a narrow shelf and watches us suspiciously as if checking out whether we might present a prospective danger
to their littl’uns when they arrive. Linda is glad I am with her to testify to our experience so that when she emails us all with today’s Bird Tally, nobody can claim that she must have made it up, it being a story too hard to, well, swallow.
Ahead of us on the path leading back to the Visitor Centre, a family of geese - mother, father, two adorable goslings - the male marches up to us, beak held belligerently
high. Don’t mess with me and my family, he seems to be hissing. We sidle around him. Carefully.
At the end of our pleasant ramble round the reserve, we settle
down with cups of coffee at a picnic table by the side of the lake. Even as we watch a gull swoops down and captures a baby chick in its savage beak. There’s nothing to be done - this is nature at its most cruel. We can’t spot the parents but we
know they will be bereft. However much they protect their precious ones, teaching them to swim, to fly, to feed, even to leap into the unknown - there’s that constant threat of attack from all around, including, especially even, from above.
I’m so very glad I’m not a goose.