ARTICLES OF INTEREST

Know any good chat-up lines?

Relationships are fascinating aren't they? I'm a sucker for a good chat -up line.

In the wildfowl world there seem to be some pretty good ones. Geese have a curious courtship, which seems to take an age. You can imagine that a gander would leave a card on a silver platter to set the ball rolling. He seems so upright and formal; five paces ahead, teasing his intended with a perfect posterior. Very Italian. As they get closer they spend much of the day muttering to one another. Pairs of geese will display to one another in flight. It seems they are showing off their skills, alternately executing a half roll as they proceed. Ourhome is close to huge numbers of overwintering geese and a big skein overhead gets the Nenes excited. They moan a bit then start to honk like, well, geese. Now that the swallows are here and the Greylags departed, they only have eyes for each other. Unseemly chases with much flapping give way to tender moments of neck stretching, coy looks and more moaning. Ultimately, both parties rub their necks along the ground then consummate the relationship in a most untidy fashion. Like gawky teenagers, they seem embarrassed and wander off nonchalantly, as if nothing has happened.

Run your nail down the side of a comb and you have the sound of Bahama pintail. They are dapper little birds and seem to cause very little trouble. They just get on with doing their bit for the gene pool, sticking together ina happy little community. Of course, they like to impress. The quiet rasp is followed by a whistle and a smart lift of the tail, giving a flash of shiny speculum. Bent double with their chests underwater, they give a fair impression of a scorpion. Baikal teal do the community bit too. Display is limited to a puffing up of the head feathers and a curious cluck/mini-yodel. You know that sound on a radio just seconds before a mobile phone rings? You got it.

We bought a pair of smew this year. They came from different sources, and Mr sulked a bit at first when he was rehomed. His delight at having a new mate was obvious. He wasted no time introducing himself and spends most of the day puffing out his chest. His head goes back with a punky little crest and he impersonatesa chain saw - one that won't start. He is still in juvenile plumage, but seems to know that he is going to be beautiful. A favourite trick is to dive and come up under another unsuspecting pen mate, we suspect for devilment. If bad behaviour is infectious, the cause of an epidemic would most likely start with Brazilian teal.

When the sun is past its zenith and there is little else to do than loaf, these thugs step in to destroy the peace. It begins innocently enough with bathing, but then the paddlesteaming starts. Then they'll fly off the water, onlyto come splashing down again and fly under the surface. A half-dozen birds can turn a medium sized pool into a maelstrom. Conservative bathers, content with doing laps, had better exit smartly if they don't want to get caught up in the hysteria. Those of you who have been paying attention will recall that I have been experimenting with socialising Mandarin.

I have to report that it has not been wholly successful. The imprinting bit is very rewarding from a purely selfishpoint of view but the long-term consequences have taken us by surprise. Free range with the domestics, for several months they were good as gold and came home each evening for their grub. Every so often, a few would refuse to come off the pond until very last light. Always those nights when you had a supper engagement, of course. On the very rare occasion that we missed the supper call, the domestics have been too spooked to come off the water in the dark and have been safe through the night on the water. Not so the mandarin. Those huge bug eyes, so perfectly adapted for gloomy forests, let them see far better than us. One wintry evening, when all but three came home, I had no option but to leave them out. After an inch of snow overnight, we were delighted to see three busy birds on the lochan. Not so delighted to see three perfect mandarin-sized lozenge shapes melted on the grass outside the night pen. Other signs in the snow that morning were the tracks of a fox. He does his rounds, probably every night, waiting for us to make a mistake. He had passed no more than thirty metres from the stop-outs.

This willful behaviour has led us to returning the mandarins to the covered aviary where they seem remarkably content. Content, but not conventional. Of our hand-reared birds, we have some misfits. One drake has fallen passionately in love with a Carolina and is devoted to her. She should know better, she bred well for us last year. Two drakes only have eyes for each other. Gay drakes. Dearie me.

This endless source of amusement and social interaction makes all the hard work worthwhile. Not that I'd feel confident using some of these chat-up lines....

Morag Jones