Battleground

A hundred yards from where the alpacas shelter is a pond about the size of a function room. Ten years ago, it was overgrown with yellow flags and alder trees and not much else so in autumn 2016 when its bed was almost dry it was dug out and cleared leaving only a small reserve of growth. Plants and ecological balance have taken three years to recover but now it is much healthier, a thriving wildlife pond with ragged robin, campion, vetch, grasses, cow parsley, a few flags, water forget-me-nots, water mint and marsh marigolds. It was dug for water for cows and is marked on a map from 1886 when it was much larger as the existing border around it it shows. There used to have frogs in it but not any more maybe because the territory has been taken over by newts. And dragonflies. Flycatchers dart out from the remaining alder tree and house martins dive at it to scoop mud for the 18 nests they build under the house eaves. In the evenings, birds are replaced by bats.   

Every year two moorhens raise at least one brood of chicks in the tall flag leaves, bending the tops over to create shelter for their nest. Moorhens are vicious murderers, stabbing to death any intruder and flying with menace at garden birds who come down to the water edge to drink or wash.  

Every year mallards prospect for a suitable nesting site but they don’t stay long, even in pairs. The male and female that arrived at the beginning of April seemed more determined than others in the past and there were frequent stand-offs between the drake and the moorhens. They circled each other and each other’s part of the pond looking for, or defending, territory. Then one morning, much like last year, only the drake mallard remained to quack half-heartedly in the deepest water because the female had disappeared. For a few days he swum without apparent purpose – not feeding or guarding his space.  

Now the female moorhen is off the nest and repeatedly darts at him chasing him from the water. He sits on the bank and settles his feathers looking confused.  

Has she gone off with another drake, has she been eaten by the fox that steals the chickens from the farm at the bottom of the hill then drags them 300 yards to the alpaca shelter to dismember, has she been hit by a car or has she been drowned by the moorhens? There are no feathers nor a carcass on the ground.