Sunday 21 October 2012

On a dull drizzly autumn day, most of the activity on the lake came from the Great Crested Grebes. There are only fourteen adults and ten young ones, but they seem to be everywhere, fishing and calling and displaying -- pairs of adults stay together for life, and even outside the breeding season are constantly saluting each other, even when one of them has only been around the other side of the island for ten minutes.

The four youngsters are trying to fly. Grebes have small wings for their size, and consequently need a very high speed to take off. This is achieved by a headlong foot-propelled run, which the young birds have already perfected in their races to take food from their parents.

Now they add a bit of wing flapping to the run, which also confers a little extra speed.

And soon they will discover that they can get airborne, though it hasn't happened yet for any of this brood. An adult Great Crested Grebe needs a 50-yard run to unstick in still air, though it can be shortened by heading into the wind. And, of course, they can only take off from and come down on water, so flying is a chancy business, to be undertaken only when necessary.

A far more airworthy creature, a Greylag Goose comes down on the water, feet outstretched forwards to act as water skis. This bird is slowing down as hard as possible, with a very high angle of attack and on the brink of a stall, and tail outspread to add extra air braking.

On land, the wet weather has brought a plentiful crop of fungi.

This is part of a 'fairy ring', a circle of fungi that spreads out wider every year, leaving a permanent dark green mark on the grass where the decay of the mushrooms has added a little extra fertility. The 'fairy rings' in the park are composed of Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea, a species that grows over the rotted roots of dead trees, rather than the classic Fairy Ring Mushroom Marasmius oreades, a small, and slim pale brown mushroom. Both species are edible but uninteresting in flavour; country people used to gather Fairy Ring Mushrooms and string them on threads across the ceiling to dry as a stock of extra winter food.

The male Tawny Owl is still in the lime tree where he has spent the past few days.

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