New short film: In Plain Sight
There is a surprising diversity of wildlife even in our urban spaces. Just a quarter of a mile from the centre of Exeter, on the Flood Relief Scheme, you can find Kingfishers, Little Egrets, Teal, and Grey Heron, hidden in plain sight. This is a short film exploring some urban wetland birds and their behaviour.
We often think of our urban spaces as being devoid of wildlife. A concrete desert of towers and houses that wildlife is unable to penetrate.
But this often isn’t the case. Just a quarter of a mile from the centre of Exeter, the flood release scheme is brimming with wildlife, hidden in plain sight from the absent-minded ambler.
These Teal congregate in south westerly, low-lying wetland areas during winter. The males are more brightly coloured than the females, an example of sexual dimorphism, with a chestnut head and green patch around their eye. These teal are preening themselves, which helps waterproof their feathers. The teal make beautiful high pitched “peeping” noises, and you can often hear them communicating while hidden in the dense vegetation of the flood relief scheme.
Slightly deeper in the flood release scheme, a Grey Heron has just caught a large fish – which looks a bit like a Rudd with its bright red fins and tail – and seems rather puzzled about what to do with it!
Meanwhile, a pair of Mute Swans are feeding in the river. Mute Swans generally mate for life, and despite the urban legend that they only sing when they are dying, Mute Swans are noisy, and their courtship dance is accompanied by a multitude of hisses and grunts.
This male Kingfisher is undisturbed by the walkers and cyclists enjoying the fresh air. Male Kingfishers have a jet black beak, unlike females who have an orange-red lower section to their beak, making them appear to be wearing lipstick! Kingfishers hunt by perching from branches overlooking rivers, and they eat small fish and aquatic insects. Unfortunately, pollution, habitat degradation, and poor river management mean Kingfishers are declining in the UK, and are now amber listed in the UK.
Further on, a Little Egret is fishing. Little Egrets are a recent arrival to the UK, and Devon and Cornwall have some of the highest densities in the UK.
Mallards are our commonest duck species, and are widespread across the UK. The Mallards have been busy battling for mates recently, as the females will lay their eggs in mid-March, upon which the males will leave her to incubate and look after her precocial chicks by herself.
Back in the reeds, our Heron still hasn’t decided what to do with its large fish! Herons nest in communal colonies called “heronries” at the top of trees in large, unstable-looking nests, which are home to 3-4 chicks. The young often sport punk-like hairstyles before the fledge the next after a month and a half. Although, our Grey Heron won’t breed until February. When a group of Grey Herons do come together, they are known as a siege.
Slightly further up the river, another Little Egret is fishing. Little Egrets fish by vibrating their feet in the water, causing prey to dart out from the disturbance, so the Egret can stab its prey with its beak.
Startled by a crow flying past, our Grey Heron gulps down its catch whole. Content, our heron rinses their beak in the river, before noticing the people watching it for the first time, so the heron flies off downstream to a more private fishing location.
As the heron flies, it is easy to see how these pterodactyl-like birds are modern descendants of the dinosaurs.
The male Kingfisher waits patiently on its fishing perch for a small fish to swim his way – as oblivious to the people walking past, as they are to him.
So, when you’re next in your local wild patch, pause for a moment, and see what nature you can find hidden in plain sight.
BBC Earth: Crane L. (2014) The truth about swans, Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20141204-the-truth-about-swans [Accessed: 18/01/2021]
Kate St. John “Birds Outside my Window” Blog (2010) Anatomy: Preen Gland, Available: https://www.birdsoutsidemywindow.org/2010/06/18/anatomy-preen-gland/#:~:text=It%20has%20nipple%2Dlike%20pores,is%20vital%20for%20birds'%20survival [Accessed: 18/01/2021]
RSPB (2021) https://www.rspb.org.uk/ [Accessed: 19/01/2021]
Scottish Wildlife Trust (2021) https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/ [Accessed: 18/01/2021]
Upton N. “Dartford Waffler” Blog (2020) Little Egret Foot Stirring Feeding Technique | Bird Behaviour, Available: https://dartfordwaffler.co.uk/little-egret-foot-stirring-feeding-behaviour/#:~:text=For%20those%20not%20familiar%20with,that%20darts%20from%20the%20disturbance.%E2%80%9D [Accessed: 19/01/2021]
Wildlife Trusts (2021) https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/ [Accessed: 18/01/2021]
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