Between a dog and a three year old, I’m in the park two to three times a day, so I tend to notice the arrival of some new baby waterfowl. A few weeks back, on a trip to the playground, I noticed two baby moorhen near the north island, peeping away in the water while their mother walked along the edge of the island. Before the ramps to the islands were removed during the clearing of the lake a few months ago, baby chicks could easily access dry land. When I walked the dog later in the day, both were beginning to look unwell. Once in the water, they had no way out: they were too small either to get on to the island or out on to the pavement. I made a makeshift raft by tying some sticks together with bits of long grass and managed to scoop one on, but the other was too far away.
Uncertain what else to do, I called the RSPCA – their officer was too busy to get to the park before nightfall, and in any case I don’t think they quite grasped the situation I was describing (they reassured me that it’s natural for moorhen chicks to go in the water not long after they are born; I tried to explain I was less concerned with them being in the water than I was with the fact that they couldn’t get out). They asked me to call in the morning if the chicks were still there and seemed to need help; when I checked on them an hour later, both had already drowned, having swum to exhaustion.
It was at this point that I contacted the Friends of Rowntree Park, to ask what had happened to the ramps. Cath answered my email swiftly and shared my concerns; when a new group of moorhen chicks ended up in the same situation last week, I went straight to Cath to see if the Friends could help. Walking through the park again an hour and half later (armed with sticks and a bit of scrap wood I found on my walk so that, in case she hadn’t received my email, I could attempt to help them myself somehow), I was delighted to find Cath, along with Rosemary and Hugo, mid-rescue operation. They managed to get three chicks back on to the south island, and one on to the north island (a second by the north island had already died). The next day in the park, I gathered some large sticks in the hopes of propping them by the edge of the lake so at the very least they could get a break from swimming, and hopefully on to dry land a bit. As I was doing so, I bumped into Hugo and Rosemary with some new ramps they had made, and Cath made a makeshift nest of sticks on a couple of bricks for them, too. A few hours later I spotted the chicks on Cath’s nest, and a day or two later I spotted them – and one of the smaller ducklings – making good use of the ramp to get on and off the island. After what had happened before, this felt a wonderful success story.
To make a long story short – it was amazing to see such a swift response from the Friends in helping out some of the inhabitants of the park. At a time when budget cuts mean the park depends more and more on volunteers to maintain it, it’s wonderful to see what a dedicated team the Friends are; they’ve certainly inspired me to look into more ways to get involved.
Guest post by Alison