Wildside: Early call for new season as warm spell continues

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‘They think it’s all over’ was perhaps the most famous sporting one-liner of all time! However, with our current weather, wildlife could be forgiven for assuming winter is over.

Rooks are back at their rookery nests and preparing busily for a new season. Presumably, recent storms caused havoc at breeding colonies and there is much re-building to do – the rookery equivalent of ridge-tile replacement. Great tits have started calling again in the local woods – as soon as there is a bit of sun and more warmth in the air. On the Cromford Canal, the mallards, spruced up, are very obviously going around in pairs.

If the mild spell continues then who knows, there could soon be baby ducks on local rivers and other water-bodies.

Coots, which are highly gregarious in winter, mostly on lowland, shallow waters, are now back on rivers, canals and ponds or lakes and holding territory. Once back in their breeding areas the birds become very territorial, and particularly aggressive. A pair of coots holding territory will fiercely chase off intruders and potential usurpers.

Even in their big winter flocks, the coots are fond of what a rugby commentator used to describe as ‘argie bargie’, but back on their nesting sites, they are especially intolerant. I have the impression that coot numbers have rocketed in recent decades and this means even more pressure on nesting pairs and their territories. Once established on site, the adult birds will face a season-long battle to maintain their pairing, raise maybe two or three broods of offspring, and importantly, to defend their patch against all comers. It must be hard work being a coot.

A raven calling loudly over Cromford, with ‘prukk prukk pronk pronk’, was again a reminder perhaps of a breeding season to come. Perhaps this bird was announcing its possession of a territory in the area, and with the abundant limestone crags and outcrops around Matlock, that must be highly desirable habitat.

The raven is another bird, along with peregrine and common buzzard, that has made a remarkable comeback in the early 21st century. The rook, on the other hand, has tended to decline as farming systems have changed and urban areas continue to sprawl ever outwards into the countryside.

Another success story is that of the grey heron, again a dramatic recovery in the face of DDT pesticide pollution, damaged watercourses and persecution. A bird rising in its heavy, almost prehistoric manner, from the fast-flowing River Derwent, is a welcome reminder of this phoenix-like return following the gross pollution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Today we can expect to glimpse herons anywhere from the city centre to the Peak Park. Walk along the River Don near Hillsborough to see the urban roost.

n Professor Ian D 
Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.co.uk; follow Ian’s Walk on the Wildside, www.ukeconet.org for more 
information.

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