Riverside bustling with life ... as well as the ever-present danger of death


Like the rest of the countryside, our rivers at the moment are bustling with life. Insects are hatching in their millions, providing a feeding bonanza for both fish and birdlife.

On a recent walk down the Tweed between Selkirk and Galashiels, this activity was much in evidence.

The most interesting to observe, was a mother goosander with a huge brood of 15 youngsters, feeding in the shallows on the opposite bank.

It was fascinating to watch these tiny stripy fluffballs fending for themselves at such an early age.

Already they were able to dive and I saw one with a small eel or lamprey.

They would also scurry across the surface of the water in sudden bursts, scooping up insects which had fallen into the river.

As mother shepherded them downstream, keeping an ever-watchful eye, a pair of carrion crows suddenly appeared from their lookout perch and swooped across the river towards the brood.

Mum was immediately alerted to the danger and in an instant the chicks all disappeared under an overhanging embankment until the danger had passed.

Her warning was not audible to me, but immediately obeyed by the youngsters, removing them at once from the corvids’ menu.

Where was dad in all this you may ask? Why wasn’t he bravely defending his offspring from allcomers? He was probably relaxing in Scandinavia, having a well-earned moult, after fulfilling his paternal duties.

The males take no part in the defence or upbringing of their chicks after breeding and instead head off for a bit of a holiday.

Further downstream I encountered a female mallard with another large brood of 11 chicks.

Similarly, it is all down to her to raise and protect her vulnerable youngsters, leaving the drake to swan off to recuperate.

It’s a different story in the garden at the moment with both blackbird and blue tit parents working tirelessly to feed their ever-hungry chicks.

I have recently made a peanut butter feeder, after seeing them for sale in a shop. It consists of a small board with a jar lid screwed to it, covered by a small roof and a perch just below the lid. So far, it is proving very popular with the three tit species and it needs refilling every day. Human peanut butter should not be used as it contains harmful salt.

Special bird stuff laced with mealworms can be obtained from good pet shops at around £3 a jar.