On the edge of a small housing estate near where I live is a small nature reserve and pond. It’s one of my favourite places to walk with the dog in the morning. Hundreds of people walk round the pond each day, but it never seems overcrowded, and I take hundreds of photographs there each year. The pond’s edges are mostly lined with reeds, and there are two magnificent willow trees too. The pond teems with birdlife: mostly ducks, moorhens and swans, but there are other visiting wild birds too.
I confess that I don’t like January and February: they just seem to be a cheerless slog. If you dislike winter too, the selection of photographs in this essay might just cheer you up and point towards better months to come.
Here’s the pond on a sunny day in March 2016. It’s still early in the year, but there are signs that spring isn’t too far away. In a few weeks it will be packed with wild birds, and there’s no shortage of people who want to feed them. In the height of summer a crowd of ducks, swans and moorhens will mob anyone who turns up with a stale loaf. Originally it was the mill pond for a corn mill: it’s still fed by the mill beck and drains into the River Derwent, so the water is always fresh and clear.
Noisy, argumentative and endearing: I can sit and watch the ducks all day. The duck population on the pond is mainly mallards, and there must be at least a hundred of them at the height of the summer. By and large the ducks live peacefully with each other, except for during the mating season when the drakes compete for a mate. The ducklings are normally the first birds to hatch on the pond, in spring: I love it when the first of them appear because I know summer’s on the way.
There are always several pairs of moorhens on the pond and they breed every year. When the chicks are very young they look just like small feathery balls. They are always on the move, scurrying round the pond’s edge and they have a distinctive call, which you can hear at night when all the other birds have settled down. They have huge feet, quite out of proportion to their bodies, but it makes them agile in the water, and they can outmanoeuvre the ducks when competing for bread.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the swans. The same pair nest on the pond each year, and they are imposing, regal and graceful animals. Every year I follow their progress as they build their nest and lay the eggs. Sadly, I always seem to be away when the cygnets hatch, but hopefully this year I’ll be there to see them new born.