Birds on water
It is 50 years since the River Thames was assessed as being ‘biologically dead’ following decades of poor water quality management. Now, this grand old river, its many side streams, and numerous ponds and lakes in the Maidenhead area, afford us the opportunity of enjoying a wide range of ducks, geese and swans and associated waterside species.
Our ponds and lakes host mallards, tufted ducks, gadwall, coot and moorhens throughout the year, whilst winter-time draws in teal, wigeon, pochards, goldeneye, goosander and the graceful smew. Winter-time also sees a notable increase in numbers of geese such as Canada and greylags, with the flocks of Egyptian goose, an introduced species, increasing year by year. Also, our area is one of the areas where the dramatically-plumaged Mandarin duck can be found.
Whilst unusual not too many decades ago, we take it for granted that cormorants are part of the inland water scene and they even breed in the county nowadays. For most of us however, the highlight will often be those dramatic great crested grebes and their weed-passing tango performed during the breeding season.
What’s happening to waterfowl in Maidenhead?
The Thames hosts most of the species mentioned above, but when in full winter spate, many of the birds retreat to slower moving waters such as the Jubilee River or to local lakes. The annual swan-upping procession has regrettably indicated a reduction in breeding success of our noble mute swans, and mink have reduced populations of moorhens along our network of streams.
Geese have relied upon winter food being available in post-harvested fields for centuries, but our modern winter-sown cropping regimes have reduced this facility greatly.
Our two largest lakes, at Bray and Summerleaze, have been the subject of trials with blue dye, to suppress growth of bottom weeds, making sailing easier. The potential affect on diving ducks seeking food items which rely on aquatic vegetation has still to be fully assessed, but certainly the number of swans using these lakes appears to be falling as reachable weed diminishes.
What can I do?
Becoming familiar with the various types and observing them is an enjoyable way of spending leisure time. Counting and submitting records (www.berksbirds.co.uk/birdnews.asp) can be helpful in maintaining healthy populations.
We can keep an eye out for injured swans and ducks and report such findings (helpwildlife.co.uk/contact-us/ or Eton’s Swan Lifeline - 01753 859 397).
If feeding them, seeds, sweet-corn, oats, left-over rice, or even flapjacks, are all preferable to bread. Bread causes sickness, and even deformities in ducks, and uneaten bread sinking to the bottom exacerbates the formation of problematic algae.
Wild Maidenhead may also get involved in citizen-science water quality testing and will need volunteers to help.