Sunday 20 March 2016

Gravity-defying trees ... and the myth of life-long fidelity in mandarin ducks ...

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky, Khalil Gibran

On our favourite walk through Osterley Park the Wonderdog and I regularly trot past this tree. It lives at the side of Middle Lake, where water erosion is undercutting the banks, creating mini-cliffs that the wildlife slides down to reach the water, and leaving trees like this one holding on by their fingernails.

In the old days they'd probably have concluded that the Little Folk lived in its roots, and given it a wide berth lest they cause offence. Or maybe, on a more practical level, they'd have steered clear in case gravity brought it crashing down on top of them.

These days the locals seem less concerned ...

I always say Hello to the wonderful herd of pedigree Charolais cows who live in the meadow on the other side of the drive. Being a country girl at heart, I get a real kick out of seeing them on my walks through the park. They're much tamer than the cows we meet down in Devon, who always look obligingly into the lens of my camera because they're too afraid not to keep an eye on me. These chaps, on the other hand, rarely seem to register that we're passing.

On the other hand the Wonderdog usually scores a hiss or two from the Canada Geese, but he tends to walk past them very quietly without a woof or a squeak, almost willing himself to be invisible. He knows when he's met his match.

I love the little ducks, who are always bobbing up and down in the lake looking for their dinner.

Bottoms Up!
 And these beautiful Mandarin Ducks are just the prettiest birds on the water. How do you like Mr (top duck) and Mrs (bottom duck) in the photo below? Originally they come from China and Japan, but in the nineteenth century a feral population colonised a large chunk of the south east of England. They'd been introduced in the mid-eighteenth century as decorative ducks to adorn the ornamental lakes of aristocratic estates. But it's hard to keep a duck from flying where it likes, and so, before long, they'd established themselves across much of the country.

People used to think that they remained constant to their partner for life, but now they think that they chose a new partner each breeding season, which is a little less poetic. In China they have long been regarded as symbols of conjugal fidelity, and in the old days brides were often given a pair of Mandarin ducks as a wedding present.

Unusually these little chaps like to perch and nest in holes in trees, where they lay their eggs. When the young hatch, they jump to the ground and Mama Duck leads them straight to the water.

And I'll be keeping my eyes peeled over the course of the coming weeks for those fluffy little babies as they make their way down to the lake for their first swimming lessons.

Osterley Park across Garden Lake
Happy Spring Equinox! Spring totally rocks here in Osterley.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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