Etherow Country Park is probably the main reason for my son’s ornithological leanings. The 240-acre reserve is a picturesque place, popular with visitors and wildlife alike, and I’m sure it’s there that his love for waterbirds and their feathered brethren began. Sometimes, we’ll take him to the swans at Redesmere, and for the occasional treat to Martin Mere Wetland Centre, but it’s Etherow that we visit most often to feed the ducks.
We took him there again today, armed with a loaf and a half of stale bread. We’re well aware that it’s not the healthiest food for said birds, but there’s a satisfaction about lobbing a crust into the water and seeing a greedy Greylag gobble it up, one you don’t really get from chucking a fistful of the grain you can purchase in bags from the park’s shop.
Today was a particularly successful trip, as we saw several species whose appearance at the park is sporadic at best. Alongside the Canada and Greylag Geese there was a solitary Mute Swan – his unusually thick neck causing us to name him Henry, (after Henry Rollins, of course). James spotted an Egyptian goose (Mido) and my wife’s favourite – a Barnacle Goose – put in an appearance.
(My son has a habit of inventing the simplest of nicknames for the birds he sees – he has a toy mute swan and black swan named Mutey and Blacky, and today he addressed a Canada Goose as ‘Canady’. My wife wondered aloud what might be a good name for a Barnacle Goose, to which James surprised us both by calling him Chris instead. We found that incredibly funny.)
As we wandered along, James spotted a tiny Grey Wagtail in the trees, but we also encountered a Grey Heron, two Muscovy Ducks and, amazingly, a Mandarin Duck couple. As we wandered back to the car, I couldn’t help but think how two years ago we wouldn’t have been able to name half of the species we’d seen. Now Mel and I could both tell you the difference between a Bewick’s and a Whooper Swan, and recognise a Hottentot Teal without blinking.
Naturally, when we’re out, we often like to pretend we don’t know. It’s worth it just to see people’s faces when James puts us right. “Look, mummy – it’s a Ferruginous Duck!”
Cue astonished stares, and smug smiles from the proud parents. It’s pretty amazing what you can learn from your kids.