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Essex Field Club
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Sat 8th May 2010 15:26 by Graham Smith
Nature red in Beak and Claw
Blue House Farm EWT Reserve. May 5th. During the autumn of 2009 the EWT deepened and extended the creeks and runnels which crisscross a sixty acre field on the reserve known as The Flood. The aim was to extend the area flooded in winter, both for wintering wildfowl and nesting wetland birds such as the Lapwing. This work was made viable by the installation, the previous autumn, of a wind pump to replace the expensive and inefficient petrol pump that had to be used previously. The result was success beyond expectations; one visitor liking the improved flooded area to a min-East Scrape; any comparison with Minsmere being high praise indeed! Breeding wildfowl and waders also gave it their approval, an increase being noted for several species. At the onset of nesting on any wetland reserve their is always trepidation regarding the outcome as predation can often be very high. With wetland birds being increasingly squeezed into reserves, and largely absent from the wider landscape, a fox in the chicken run situation can develop, and a few visits from Reynard can devastate a breeding population; indeed, according to a recent RSPB investigation it is the one predator (other than crows in localised areas) that can have a serious long term affect on wader numbers. Fortunately, night-time surveys by the warden at Blue House have revealed few foxes so far this spring, a situation confirmed by neighbouring landowners. Famous last words!

Alas, despite the absence of their main predator it would seem that the wetland birds are finding it difficult to live in peace and harmony. In early April an Avocet was seen to kick the eggs out of a Lapwing nest and take over the small muddy island on which it was breeding. After replacing it with its own nest it in turn received its comeuppance when a Coot filched its only egg, not bothering to eat it but simply dropping it into the water nearby. A few days later another Avocet nest fell foul of a Coot; I arrived in the hide overlooking the flood just in time to see one making off with the last of a clutch of four eggs. I never have liked the ruddy things! Another Avocet nest was almost certainly trampled by a Grey Lag Goose, a species with large flat feet activated by a small brain. I strongly suspect that Coots have also been behind the demise of one or two Lapwing nests and also the homicide of their chicks as Lapwings are more selective than Avocets in the interlopers they will attack and at Blue House this spring they reserve a particular venom for any Coot that comes within range of their eggs or young. A good example of this selectiveness occurred on May 5th when I watched a pair of Lapwing nesting in a nearby field single out a lone crow among a flock of seventy rooks for a bit of grievous bodily harm! Anyway, these observations suggest that whereas it is usually Reynard who gets the blame (often correctly) for predation on wetland reserves there are other, less expected, culprits as well. Last year, on another Essex reserve, I even heard rumours of an Oystercatcher swallowing an Avocet chick. The current situation on The Flood has not arisen before as the deeper water this spring has encouraged a plague of Coots, a collective name for this species which in my opinion is most apt!  It's no fun being an innocent fluffy bundle of protein on legs - everything is out to get you!

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