Earn your spotting stripes
HERE is your nature study starter for ten points. What is this weird and wonderful bird?
It’s not a visitor from the Far East or Australia, yet you might not find this strangely striped individual in your handy bird ID book.
It’s not a humbug bird or a zebra duck, but in fact is a juvenile great crested grebe.
True, it looks nothing like its most attractive parents, but at least they will always be able to identify their young.
This fine photo was taken by Paul Whittingham at Charlton’s Pond in Billingham.
Great crested grebes are very protective parents. Once the eggs are laid, if the birds need to leave the nest for any reason, they cover the eggs with waterweed.
This has something to do with the eggs changing colour before they hatch. They start off white, but then turn a muddy brown, which makes them less visible to predators.
Once hatched the young birds leave the nest very quickly, along with their parents, and are initially carried around on their parents’ backs.
The two adults also take dual responsibility and split up the family, which can be anything from two to six chicks. Each adult independently looks after its own half of the brood.
Another bird which may or may not feature in your bird book is the little-known Egyptian goose, which originates from Africa but is now resident in Britain as a result of a healthy breeding population which is mainly based in the South of England.
We do spot the odd Egyptian goose in our area from time to time. When you spot one, you will never forget it because the goose looks from a distance as if it has got two huge black eyes.
Otherwise it has a reddish brown back, buff underparts and is slightly larger than a shelduck.
We had an Egyptian goose on Cowpen Marsh three years ago while recently one was quite viewable on a pond close to Bishop Middleham.
One bird which will definitely appear in your birds books is the starling. Has there ever been a more successful breeding season?
There are literally thousands of the grey-brown juveniles around and they appear to be even more aggressive than their parents when it comes to squabbling over garden scraps.
These sometimes maligned young birds, which eat all kinds of creepycrawlies and leatherjackets from our lawns, will soon start to develop the more familiar spotted plumage of their parents.
Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org