Wednesday, 27 April 2011

the inscrutible mandarin

A few days ago, I was returning home from some friends' house, daydreaming in the passenger seat. It was a fine early evening after a glorious day, and we were all feeling a bit sunblitzed. Our route takes us past a gnarled dead tree at the side of the road, where often on a balmy evening little owls loaf. I casually looked up at the tree, doing a cartoon doubletake as a male mandarin duck sat in the very place normally occupied by the owl. Awesome! But what's over a mile from the river!? That is wrong in so many ways. 

I had, a couple of months before, seen a female mandarin in the Brecks doing all sorts of crazy things up a tree, but that was literally a few yards from a river. This male, pristine with his hot colour combinations, was prospecting a potential nest site in a completely dry place. Had it come to it, his offspring would have one hell of a waddle to make. But there he was. I always think it's a sign of a species on the increase when you start seeing them in unexpected places - you know, a little egret flying over your garden, a buzzard on the way to work, an avocet at the local gravel pit. I know the mandarins use the river down the road, I have seen pairs flying around - so maybe the small population is doing well.

This leads on to the bigger question of whether mandarins would be popular if they did become commoner. Actually, looking like they do, I can't really think who would mind.