Mallards Amongst the Rapids3 minute read

Mallards amongst the rapidsA Female Mallard

A pair of mallards amongst the rapids of the River Rothay feature in this week’s piece of nature writing. The writing can be read as a stand-alone piece; however, it is the final part of a Grasmere to Rydal trilogy, so you may wish to read the previous two parts first: A Mute Swan Living on the Edge and A Party of Tufted Ducks.

Mallards Amongst the Rapids

While wandering through White Moss Wood, my ears entertained by the babel of an adjacent beck, a relatively wide beck that joins Grasmere and Rydal Water, I am blown away by the collage of colour blasting forth from a beech tree. The colour scheme consists of a powerful combination of lime green, lemon yellow and orange-brown–a citrus explosion whose impact is literally stunning, striking me motionless for several minutes.

The densely packed leaves are oval, leathery, and pinnately veined, their sheeny surfaces filled with very shallow, chevron-shaped corrugations, each chevron spanning the breadth of the leaf.

Suddenly I am snapped out of my transfixion by a handsome drake, a male mallard who has chosen to forage away from the lake; instead, he braves the beck’s white-water rapids, a dynamic environment for which he is evidently adapted.

His head is an arresting shade of iridescent jade, and his bill is bright yellow and looks like wet rubber. His breast is brown, a similar shade to coffee, and his flanks and wings form a block of silver on either side of his body, both bisected along their lengths by a stripe that is brown like the breast, but its edges paled by the surrounding lightness. His rump is black, and his tail is white with a couple of dark feathers sticking up on one side like a pair of decorative cowlicks. A thin, white collar encircles his neck, and a radiant blue speculum, a metallic pocket of plumage, is just about visible on the wing.

The drake is joined by a female; but for the vivid orange of her bill and the two dabs of blue that are her specula, her whole body is a mosaic of browns.

Together, male and female mallard rise over crests and fall into troughs in sync with the rhythm of the river. Amidst the turmoil of the rapids, the mallards remain completely calm, their composure indicating oneness with the water that swirls wildly around them; they even plunge their heads beneath the waves to feed, resisting with ease the water’s potential to wash them away.

I continue through the wood, a great spotted woodpecker scaling a trunk here, a coal tit darting between the trees there, something to stimulate the senses everywhere, until, very soon, I reach the delightful little body of water known as Rydal Water.

I am immediately enraptured by a reposeful richness of colour coming from one of two main islands. The rotund piece of land is bursting with trees, trees that are just igniting into autumnal tones. At one end, in particular, the flames burn brighter, a splendid splash of peach packing a powerful punch; and in the centre, a birch tree’s bullion stands out from the crowd.

To ensnare one’s senses evermore, the island’s splendour is mirrored onto the water’s surface where a gentle breeze brushes and touches, softening the edges of each differing patch of colour to create something that is incredibly special.

Upon reaching the end of Rydal Water I have walked several energy-sapping miles, but my alertness is suddenly recharged by an incoming fusillade of long-tailed tits. The flock is quick to alight in a group of oaks where they call upon their acrobatic tendencies to explore even the tiniest nooks and crannies, the underside of every leaf, every crack in the bark, all the while emitting their characteristic, electric trills.

Once satisfied that the oaks have had a good enough going-over, the long-tailed little bodies stream away into the distance, at which point I cross the River Rothay that flows out of the lake, and enter the village of Rydal.

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