My strategy for enjoying the Thames this summer did not include coots, but I have become ridiculously absorbed and fascinated by these cute feisty birds.
It began a few months ago as I noticed them building their nests, working in pairs to make a safe haven for their eggs and their young.
Capturing photos of the nests was easy …..
But capturing photos of the newly hatched young is near impossible for a fidget like me! Every time I got within coot-sight of a nest, one parent would quickly and quietly lead the young chicks away, whilst the other parent acted as decoy and swam in the other direction!
When I did catch sight of them, I was amazed to find little black chicks with red/orange topknots on their heads – nothing cootlike in that.
I set myself the task of getting one of these chicks on film (or the digital equivalent), frantically calling to the Captain to slow the boat as we cruised by likely nests, or scrambling through undergrowth to sit with my feet in the river, as still as a fidget can be.
All I have achieved is a few blurred images.
As they grow, they move into the grey stage, losing their striking red/black look, and start to develop those enormous feet!
It seems that the parents then have no choice but to bring them out on the river in full view of all predators to feed them and teach them the rudiments of finding their own food.
Gradually the feathers darken towards black and the little monsters get ever hungrier, demanding constant feeding from both parents!
I am not sure what the next stage will be – I’ll keep watching as they develop into the bossy boots of the river, chasing much larger birds away from their breeding and feeding grounds, and stomping their big feet on their territory.
And as I emerge from the summer Thames tangle, I can report that it’s been great fun!