Friday 22 June 2012

Nice Weather for Ducks

'Nice weather for ducks' was a common expression in my youth, but I haven't heard it for a while. It seems to be the only thing to say about the weather we're having just now. It's been wet. It's been very wet. It's been so wet that yesterday I had to put my jacket in the tumble-dryer as soon as I got home. Once the idea of ducks had come into my mind it seemed like a good opportunity to tell the story of this little chap.

I realise that a picture of a plastic duck doesn't quite fulfil my promise of 'a nice photo with every post', so here's one of a real bird that also copes well with the rain. There is almost always a heron to be seen around the Tweed estuary, standing motionless, staring down into the water, waiting for a fish, and if anything they are out more often in the rain. It's probably easier to see the fish when the sky is so grey. To learn more about the living birds of the area, look at the Farne Islands blog (on the list in my profile). It's always full of lovely photos and inspiring stories of the wildlife of the islands, but over the last few days even the Farnes writer seems to have run out of things to say except 'it's still raining'.

Anyway, back to the plastic duck. I found it on the beach a few weeks ago and got tremendously excited because I'd seen stories in the press about a flotilla of plastic ducks lost overboard from a container ship which was being tracked as a way of monitoring the circulation patterns of marine litter. I rushed back home and searched online for a description of them. Alas, this one didn't quite fit. Disappointed but still full of zeal to help with the fight against the junk which is polluting our oceans, a subject about which I feel very strongly, I read more about the work of Curtis Ebbemeyer, the American researcher behind the duck monitoring project. I then got excited all over again when I learned that a lost consignment of Nike trainers was also being tracked. Wow, I found a brand new looking trainer on the beach not long ago!  I got so carried away that I emailed the project to ask if I could help. They were polite but seemed to feel that my outpost on the North Sea was unlikely to receive any of the items they were monitoring.

I was forced to the conclusion that the trainer was much more likely to have just been dropped by a visitor, though I still don't quite understand why it wasn't on his foot, and why it looked so clean. I've found plenty of other unexpected items on the beaches around the Tweed estuary.  A model Shrek. A nearly new palette of eye make-up and a full can of body glitter spray. A whole vacuum cleaner. Less surprisingly, an awful lot of odd gloves and balls of every size and description left behind by dogs who got tired of retrieving them. Most of all though the beaches of Berwick and Spittal are disappearing beneath countless tonnes of plastic drinks bottles. Every bottle thrown into the Tweed upstream ends up on these beaches eventually. Every few months Spittal has an organised litter collection on the beach, but that's nothing like enough to keep up with the problem. I sometimes imagine that eventually the estuary will be so silted up with litter that it will be possible to walk across it without using any of the bridges. I once read that this was the reason for the disappearance of many small rivers that used to run through cities, such as the Fleet in London - they just had so much rubbish chucked in them that the water stopped flowing.

So how did the yellow bathtime playmate end up on the beach?  The answer hit me over the Jubilee weekend when I saw an item in the local paper about a duck race being held as part of the festivities. The photo showed dozens of plastic ducks just like this one being thrown into the river for a light-hearted wager on which one would pass the finishing point of the race first. Far from coming all the way from a lost shipment in the Pacific, my duck was almost certainly an escapee from a previous local race. Oh well.

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