Monday 1 April 2013

The Unlucky Grebe and the Roach

The Unlucky Grebe and the Roach. 

A Short, True, Story, with Pictures. By JayZS

Easter, and I decide to take a stroll down the local vale, taking the camera.   I had decided not to fish, it still being rather cold, and I was not feeling particularly heroic, more so because my central heating has been broken for two weeks during what has been the coldest March for many years. So, after a cup of hot chocolate in the visitor's centre, I ventured out, and wandered towards the larger of the ponds, hoping to get a good photograph of the great crested grebes.  The previous week they had stayed as far away from my camera as they could, without actually leaving the country, and I had returned with the camera memory stick empty. Initially today, they also kept well away, diving in the distance  ...   until one suddenly surfaced quite close to me.  I was as shocked as the grebe, and it dived again, within milliseconds, but not before I managed this first photo. No time to adjust anything on the camera, but Lady Luck was with me.  She was to remain in close contact for a couple of minutes, as a mini drama unfolded centre stage.

The luck of the grebe had also changed when it resurfaced some 30 yards away. It had caught a fish during that dive, a roach: Rutilus rutilus for those of you who speak fluent Latin. The orange pelvic fins of the fish were clearly visible.  The fish looked to be rather more than a light breakfast, the bird having caught a fish big enough for a slap up "eat as much as you can" buffet. The fish had already been turned into the head first position.

In such a position, the fins of the roach tend to fold neatly back along the body as it is swallowed by the bird, and thus it slides quite easily down the gullet, without any need for gravy.  So much for the theory.  Sod's Law, combined with the Buggeration Factor, conspired against the grebe.  The fish was too large to be swallowed. The grebe struggled valiantly but the fish would simply go no nearer to its stomach.  The bird tried everything it knew, even holding it vertically above its head, in order to try to gain assistance from Mr. Newton.  Had the grebe employed Isaac's law of gravy, rather than gravity, then maybe, just maybe, it might  have won the battle. But those gravitational laws were designed for apples, not roach, and apart from the loss of a few scales, the fish remained unmoved, the tail, and most of the body, remained visible. Highly visible.

The commotion went completely unnoticed by the Easter crowds, who were, just a few yards away, busy ramming inordinate amounts of bread down the throats of Canada geese, mallards and the odd domesticated grey lag goose. It did not go similarly unnoticed by the black headed gulls. Some of the gulls had just gained their black heads, ready for the breeding season, and they decided that there might just be such a thing as a free lunch.

Several homed in on the grebe, which after initially trying to swim away with its meal, was forced to dive, with its fish, to avoid them.

Each time the grebe surfaced, it was quickly set upon by the gulls and had to dive again.  Six or seven times the grebe tried to get away from the sharp eyes of the attackers, each time diving in panic.

Eventually the poor unlucky grebe had to give up its roach. The gulls' harassment proved far too much and as it dived one final time it gave up its fish.  The roach was quickly picked up by one of the seabirds.

The gull took flight but was immediately chased by several others all intent on stealing the feast. It soon dropped the fish, which was again looking much too big to be swallowed. The black headed pirates could barely carry the roach, let alone swallow it.

The fish passed from gull to gull, each picking it up from the water surface and then dropping it, none being left alone by the other birds long enough to be able to get the full meal deal. None were able to hold on to the slippery fish.

Eventually one dropped it near to a pair of coots. I was quite surprised to see one coot join in the fray, diving for the fish, leaving just a small triangle of coot visible, looking like it was auditioning for a Jaws IV trailer .  I had always thought that coots fed mainly on pond weeds, with some small pond creatures added, with maybe the odd slice of Warburton's for special occasions.  But no: this one wanted fish for Easter.

Having surfaced with the roach, stolen from the gulls, the coot scooted across the surface, closely pursued by the gulls. The coot headed for a central island, laid the roach down on the ground, and proceeded to leisurely eat its Sunday lunch.  The gulls seemed very unwilling to challenge the coot for the food, and it ate in undisturbed peace. 

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