Spring rolls out despite flooding and mayhem

Swan bathing
Swan bathing
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I saw this swan turning upside down in Petworth Park. My companion asked: “Is that what they call swan upping?”

Oh very droll, thought I. The bird was having a wonderful bath and turned turtle several times, splashing the water into fountains while drops nearly as big as golf balls rolled like mercury down its back.

This encouraged a coot to come forward and get a shower while a robin on the nearby bank stood close by and shivered its wings as the water fell like a garden spray.

All three then spent time preening their wings and their backs and their flanks and felt most refreshed.

As spring beckons with the rising sun, I have been watching teal on Pulborough Brooks sporting in the water. The cocks whistled away, raised their chestnut crests, stood in a circle together as the water boiled under their little paddles, then skimmed like speed boats in all directions, their necks stretched out ahead.

You can only say they were having fun. They were feeling feisty while the hens were thinking of down-filled nests deep among the reed beds in the Baltic.

At Fishbourne mill pond near Chichester coots were getting belligerent. They are the most bad-tempered birds when they become territorial, hunching their backs, swimming angrily in circles around their foe who yesterday was their friend, then clashing their spiny green feet into each other’s faces, and swearing coarse words like drunken yobs.

That threat call is an explosion in their throats, you can hear it a hundred yards away. Finally they chase the enemy away making a long silver patter across the water like a bouncing bomb.

In my garden Charlie the four year old Caucasian cock pheasant sported what looked like a couple of red roses on each cheek as his testosterone flooded through his veins for yet another year showing off to his wives. They did not seem in the last impressed as he will only peck them on the head if they feed within range. But I notice that their nether regions are beginning to swell as the ovaries enlarge.

Charlie pecks at the ground even if there is no food, pretending he has found a morsel to tempt his harem. At roost in the plum tree he stands on his favourite branch in the twilight and pecks again at the branch, clucking and murmuring sweet nothings. The hens roosts up there around him, feeling safe that he is such a warrior and their protector. But they keep a safe distance even so.

In the moonlight a pair of woodcock flit among the trees together, the owls quaver long-drawn calls of love and the robins sing a final challenge in defence of the moss-green cup its mate will soon be making in the woodshed. Spring rolls out across the land despite floods and mayhem in this topsy-turvy time.