June is a great month to watch the waterfowl at Christleton Pit, with a variety of species producing young. The mallards were the first with clutches of up to fourteen ducklings, and there are currently several others swimming around with more than ten. Coots and moorhens however, have smaller broods, but are extremely attentive to their young. Coot youngsters are for example very demanding of their parents, staying with them far longer than other species. Coots breed on open nests, and are easily visible from the banks of the Pit, whilst moorhens are more secretive and build in the reed beds. Both have young with almost punk like hair on the top of their heads, before they develop the distinctive white crown in the case of the coots and red frontal shield with yellow tip in the case of the moorhen. Both seem to walk awkwardly on land with jerky chicken like head movements and have very unusual looking feet, yellow green in the case of the moorhen and grey green of the coot. Coots are very territorial and seem to squabble with each other frequently, with opposing males fighting fiercely, sometimes facing each other toe to toe. Coots swim well, dive for food and often upend with their tails in the air. They often evade danger by seeming to run over the water with frantic movements. Moorhens are less confrontational and will happily patrol areas of water bobbing about looking for food, occasionally calling with a loud currick or a repeated high pitched kik-kik-kik-kik. They seem more tolerant of other species and can be found in a variety of habitats, including the canal through the village and the River Gowy, whereas the coots are seen mainly on the Pit and the lake at Hockenhull Platts.
A mature grey heron is a regular visitor to The Pit at present and is so engrossed in hunting for food, it just ignores people. It has an almost perfect camouflage and when it stands tall, and blends in with the reeds it is difficult to see. It often stalks its prey moving slowly, gently, but with purpose as it waits to strike with its dagger like bill at some unsuspecting fish or frog. A pair of tufted ducks visited the area a week or so ago, the male with its black and white plumage and black crest, the smaller female with brown feathers overall. They are quite small in relation to mallards, and are often seen dabbling, and diving for their food, staying under water for considerable periods of time. A variety of gulls visit the Pit, including the black headed gull shown. During the past month herring, lesser black back and greater black back gulls have also appeared, sometimes in large numbers. These flocks often come in when the weather is bad on the coast or to follow the plough when farmers are turning up the soil and food is disturbed. Great crested grebes are a visual delight when they appear with their crest raised, and a pair have bred on the lake at Hockenhull again this spring. The lapwing, another bird with a superb crest as part of its plumage, has also bred nearby and at least two pairs have been seen with young. During winter months good numbers are now appearing over the lake and meadows, which is a welcome return after many years of decline. A pair of immature mute swans are currently visiting various sites in the parish, probably prospecting for a nest site, including the lake and river at Hockenhull, the canal, at both Rowton and Christleton, and the Pit. It would be brilliant if they decide to stay as the question I’m asked most wherever I go is, “Where are our swans?” When the restoration of the bank project is completed at Littleheath, our Pit Group’s next task will be to build an artificial island for swans to nest, if a pair decide to choose this spot. Watch this space!
Black Headed Gull
Black Headed Gull
Great Crested Grebe
Coot on Nest
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