Words and pictures by Mat Bingham
Since January I haven’t been able to visit the river as much as I would like. We bought a house last year which needed renovating. Although my brother has been doing most of the work I have still found that most of my evenings and weekends have been spent painting, plastering and tiling. We finally managed to move in during April so I wasted no time in starting to visit the river again leaving my family to do the unpacking.
I explored the weirs in the village to catch up with the wildlife I had started to become familiar with last year. Although the winter flooding has not been as bad in the midlands as other parts of the country the evidence that the river has been in spate can be seen by the debris wedged against the crest of the little weir. Railway sleepers, tree branches thicker than my thigh and traffic cones trap smaller debris, waiting to be freed by a surge in the water.
At Easter I decided to take advantage of the low flows and walked across the little weir, waiting patiently to see if there were any signs of the Grey Wagtails from last summer. I didn’t have to wait long before they appeared at the opposite end of the weir. They must be the same pair, they were feeding in an identical pattern, waiting for canal boats to go through the deep lock and then running out onto the concrete steps taking advantage of the drop in flow to feed on the exposed small invertebrates. After watching them for a few hours it became apparent that they were nesting on one of the islands in the middle of the river. The river splits into fast flowing channels around the islands, a relatively safe place for the wagtails to build a nest.
Staying motionless for some time watching the wagtails, I noticed some movement in my peripheral vision. A Female Mallard moved out of the trapped flood debris on the weir and belly surfed down the steps stopping to feed on the plants growing on the concrete.
She had a nest perfectly camouflaged at the top of the weir amongst the wreckage from the winter flooding. After feeding for a while she hurried back up the steps and took up her parenting duties again.
Later two rooks tried to harass her off her eggs but she was not deterred and stayed put. I wondered if her brood would last long enough for the chicks to hatch now the rooks knew where they were. Nesting in the debris appeared to be a gamble, if the rooks didn’t catch her off the nest feeding, a period of heavy rainfall could wash away all her hard work.
Towards the end of the day the sun finally broke through the clouds and I could feel it warming my back. The water temperature was still too cold for the first dragonflies of the year to emerge but I noticed the first Mayfly spinners dancing in the light looking for a mate to share the brief end to their lives.
Whilst sitting on the weir I glimpsed my first Swallow of the year. A sign that winters grip had finally loosened.
More from Mat on The River Soar here