Sunday, 4 May 2014


The tide is high and the river shimmers under a skein of light, inverting the world. There is a ripe tang in the air, as if the water shares in the erotic fecundity of the season. The song birds sing their praises to the morning on the bank opposite, and the little mother duck broods on her nest while her mate keeps watch in the river beside her. The goose nest is empty save for one abandoned egg, the parents out there somewhere with their newborn chicks. I await their arrival and wonder how many will survive. Canadian geese are a prolific pest, threatening the survival of more fragile and endangered species. Nevertheless, it is hard to be Malthusian when one has followed the hatching and birthing of a clutch of goslings, seen the brave struggle to defend the nest, and marvelled at the winsome loveliness of the tiny yellow fluff balls as they follow their mother in single file through the water.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

London Safari

This morning's visitors:

A red-breasted pochard is playing at being a cuckoo. There has been a pair of them swimming around the boat for a few days. A mallard duck is nesting on the deck,  and when she left the nest this morning the pochard laid an egg in it. The two females are now fighting to see who gets to sit on the eggs. The mallard has so far succeeded in chasing the pochard away several times, but she holds her ground determinedly as the mallard attacks her and doesn't give up easily.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Birds, battles and births

The goose came in March, and built a nest under the bench on the deck of my houseboat. She plucked lavender and heather from the flower pots, and the softest down from her breast. This is what it really means to feather one's nest. She laid seven eggs in all, but six remain. One was attacked - I think by a magpie - when she was away from the nest, and she quickly disposed of the broken shell.

I was afraid that she would chase me away every time I went outside - the bench is my favourite place to sit and reflect, and geese are ferociously protective of their nests - but she has been a gracious guest. I sit on a chair a few feet away, and I watch as she fluffs out her feathers and settles down to brood. Sometimes she feeds from my hand. I feel a sense of kinship with her, and find myself meditating on my own experience of mothering. When I feel stressed and alone, I envy those chicks coming to be in that scented nest beneath her breast. As she sits, her mate patrols the surrounding river to protect her. But the broody sentimentality of this maternal kinship is only part of the story.

Every day, a pair of swans repeatedly chases the goose off her nest, and a violent battle ensues. The swans are larger and more powerful, and sometimes they drive the geese far up the river, to return to the nest only when the swans have gone. But the geese fight back bravely, and the swans do not always win.

This morning the swans came, as they always do, and chased the mother away. I went to check the eggs in her absence, and saw that a miracle was beginning. The eggs were hatching. Perhaps this is why that father goose was so ferocious today, so determined not to give up. 

As this mighty and terrifying battle raged, a shell cracked and shivered, and a fragile cheeping emerged from within, barely audible over the pouring rain. Life is beginning again ...

... and then the mother came back and I left her alone with her hatching chicks.