Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Island inhabitant
Hamadryas baboon
(Papio hamadryas)

On Monday 3rd June, as the evening gave in to the shadows, my attention was drawn to the Sanctuary's island, where one of the moorhens travelled the surrounding water, emitting a repetitive single-note call. Usually a bird that shies to the grass curtained banks, it swam into the open, seemingly unconcerned about the unwelcome interest its rowdiness could attract. Its behaviour was sufficiently different for me to conclude that it must have had chicks that had now gone missing. Encouraged by a comparable pair of moorhens I'd seen swimming along the canal with their recently hatched chicks, I had been hoping that the sanctuary-based birds would find similar success. But now it appeared that something was wrong, as the moorhen's call continued with unrelenting desperation.

  The second moorhen emerged from the Island's nearside arc. Lacking the vocal distress of its partner, it too searched the reeds for signs of their young. There are foxes and American mink in the area, as well as buzzards, kites, and grey herons, all of which would gratefully take the chicks as a meal, while there are doubtless many more species of mammals and birds who would not turn away from opportunity.

 Sudden movement in the reeds prompted the vocal moorhen to concentrate its attention on the outer-rim of the water. For a while it seemed there was nothing much to see. The Island draws a lot of activity, with the swallows currently descending on the various invertebrate the water provides. The disturbance could be anything, but then I see it, a moorhen chick reluctant to move from its cover.


  It takes a while, but the adult moorhen finally encourages the chick away from the verge, and they swim into the centre of the water together. 

  The relief from distress is momentary, and quickly replaced by the need to keep searching. There are clearly more chicks out there that need finding, and it isn't long before the other adult moorhen encourages a second from the opposite bank.

  The family huddled together. I could not see the birds allowing the chicks to wander from their sides, but it proves to be the parents who again move away, the pull to find more chicks seemingly too strong. The two found chicks are left taking comfort from each other, and this is how I must leave them. They evoke a confused reaction from the senses, as it is their scrawny ugliness that makes them so adorably cute. I am delighted to see them on Baboon Island, and I really hope they make it. For now, the adults will continue their search. As I walk away, the call is disappearing, and I hope this is not a metaphor of their chances. Only time will tell if more than two will progress to the next stage of survival. 


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