Silkkiuikku

That's Finnish for the great crested grebe. I've hardly ever seen these birds, in my whole lifetime, but a few days ago I saw this pair only a short distance from my house. You see, I've taken to doing a short daily walk, just for a breath of fresh air really, because I realised I was spending too many days hardly going outside at all. Until I get back into a proper cycling habit, this is unhealthy. This walk couldn't be more local. Just a few metres outside my house, there's a route going up through my nearest new housing estate (a lot of these in my area), which used to be fairly wild but also scraggy and not very attractive to be honest, so I don't really mind these new houses. Especially when a few metres further on, they've preserved another shady and quite pretty path up through the trees next to a stream. The only downside of that is that it's muddy after rain. At the top of the hill, next to a few new industrial buildings and a service area which includes a MacDonalds, is a medium sized pond. Normally you only see ducks, just mallards to be specific. But then there were these. So I began to take my camera with me.

Yes, I was excited to see the bird, because although the walk is a pleasant half hour or so, it now had special purpose. They're beautiful birds, with a striking crest as the English name suggests; and as the Finnish name suggests - silk grebe - a kind of delicacy which you don't get in ducks. I haven't spotted anyone else taking an interest in them, which is probably good; but maybe unless you know about birds you just think they're another kind of duck.

They do behave differently from ducks. Ducks will often come towards you, expecting to be fed. But these grebes, if you wander along the pondside path nearer them, will drift away towards the middle.  They keep themselves to themselves and don't interact with the ducks. Or coots and moorhens, which you can also spot on the pond. The second picture is much like my first view of them, obviously a male and female pair. Since it's the time of year it is, it was only natural to wonder if there was a nest somewhere.

I've cropped these pictures carefully, and maybe I shouldn't have, because I can't emphasise enough how close the pond is to not only that MacDonalds, but a new housing estate, the busy A59 dual carriageway, and a building site. Worse, there is a path going right round the pond, and it's used by dog walkers - and kids, this half term week. Loath though I am to compliment MacDonalds, I have to mention that some very necessary waste bins have been installed around the pond as well as around the whole service area, and paid for by MacDonalds it seems. If only they were properly used.

And so a couple of days ago I saw the nest, with one of the birds sitting on it. It's at the far end of the pond, but only a few metres from the path and really not very concealed at all. I've been crossing my fingers but the prospects for their efforts aren't promising. Apart from the general location, and the presence of dogs and humans, I've seen herons here, and much more threateningly, seagulls, including the dreaded and highly predatory black backed gulls. Of the lesser variety. I saw one of those turn up shortly after I took this picture below.

The next day, the nest was empty and I didn't see the birds. It's bad being habitually pessimistic but this story did seem to have an unfortunate ending. I mean, the grebes have to my mind a very unwise habit, of swimming away from the nest, if danger approaches. I can see the idea behind that tactic, but it's not the best when the egg is bright white and not hidden in any way. Anyway, I'm pleased and very surprised to report that one of them was around yesterday, and on the nest! And when it saw me, it duly swam away, and there, I think, was an egg; I'll keep my distance from now on, while there's any chance of nesting success, crossing all the body parts I can cross. Any good news, I'll add it here. If I don't add anything, you'll know how the story ended.

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