Saturday, 10 April 2010

New life

Saturday 9th April 2010.

In mid-winter of 2008/2009 we had bitter frosts and snow.  During this time the family of geese that live on the canal next to Berkhamsted Railway Station laid a clutch of 10 eggs and mananged to sit on them for about 2 weeks.  Unfortunately their nest was too close to the railings, and effectively underneath the pavement. Many people saw the nest and peered with interest over the side.  The geese found this to be stressful and honked loudly at the intrusion.  Sometimes we heard shouts at night and shrieking from the geese. Eventually we noted with sadness that the nest had been abandoned, and several of the eggs were smashed.  Was it by human hand? Or is this something that the geese themselves do to infertile eggs?

In March 2010 the geese once again moved out of public view; this time their nest was a little further along the bank, less visible and more protected, behind some foliage.  Metaphorically, we crossed our fingers and held our breath. Last week there were rumours that the eggs had hatched, and sure enough, we eventually saw some balls of fluff.  Seven goslings, two unhatched eggs, and one smashed. What an Easter present that was.

On Wednesday afternoon of last week I went out to photograph the family, and found they had moved to a garden further along the bank, and further away from the station.
By Friday, three of the goslings had vanished. Fox, pike, human, heron? We don't know. There are four little fluffy goslings left.

Last night and today I managed to take some photographs of the new family. These are the first eggs to have hatched from among the water birds.  The coot, moorhen and swan are all still sitting on their nests, and I haven't seen any ducklings yet either.  The timing is superb; the weather has just turned from winter to spring, and yet it was bitterly cold when these geese started to incubate the eggs. How do they know?

The geese are normally very friendly, but have been alternately reclusive and aggresive during the incubation time, hissing at anyone coming too close.  Today they seemd quite relaxed to be out in human company, and were pecking the bags of passers by for food just as they always do.  I stayed still and they came up to greet in their normal sociable way, with no apparent concerns at all, hence the photographs. 

The goslings were inquisitive and one in particular seems quite brave compared to the others, going further, and eating more of the bread thrown by onlookers. You can see his little yellow wings stumps against the brown fluff of his body. By the end of the year I hope the wings will be covered in long white feathers.

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