Guest blogpost: Baby Moorhens in the Park

Alisons picture of the chicks

Success story: the three #southislandchicks using Hugo’s ramp

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

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Could 2015 be the year that you help us make the Park even more wonderful?

Step up! Make it happen!

The Friends of Rowntree Park aim to:

  • promote the well-being of the Park and its users
  • support increased and diverse uses of the park, by all sections of the community
  • represent the views of the park’s users.

A very small group of volunteers work together to support these aims. They also work to enable the Friends to exist as an organisation, by publishing and circulating newsletters, this blog, the Facebook site, the Twitter account (@Fr_RowntreePark), keeping the membership informed of developments, doing the admin for the group (collecting subs and maintaining membership details) etc.

There is plenty of scope for more activities under the Friends’ banner – whether it be related to conservation, creative/arts, sports, young people or something else completely new – but we need more active Friends to take on co-ordinating and promoting such activities. If you have ideas about more ‘stuff’ happening in Rowntree Park, and can take on an active role to make it happen, get in touch with the Friends!


Park regulars, no 1

This is the first of a series of interviews of people who are Park regulars.

Allan Birkin and Ron Cowl built the tow boat Balboa

The park lake is the home of the York Model Boat Club, and so Bob Smith, along with other members of the club, regularly uses the Park lake to sail boats and to host model boat regattas. On regatta days, dozens of radio-controlled boats are launched, of all different sizes and styles, including large sailing boats, tugs, submarines, and even the famous boat with its skeleton crew. Bob says “I run a fast electric boat. It regularly hits a wave and somersaults across the water only to end up capsized and stuck, out in the middle of the lake.  So I then have the crowd-pleasing job of climbing into full-length waders and setting off into the thigh-deep water.  This is great fun (if a little weird), although there is always the fear in the back of your mind that you will get tangled in some abandoned bike or shopping trolley.  Thankfully so far, touch-wood, this has never happened.”

Bob says the park is special to him because he’s had so many happy family times there. He says the park can be quite peaceful and that local residents see it as important to them. As a model boat user, Bob says he notices that the water can get very weedy in the summer (and smelly), which he puts down to the amount of goose droppings going in, and a lack of fresh water. If given a chance to go back into the history of the Park, he likes to imagine how it would be if the open air swimming pool were still available “On a hot summer day, I think that would be fantastic – maybe it would be community-run by now, too.”

Bob is also the web master for the club, which has a great new website www.yorkmodelboatclub.co.uk including a weather forecast – so you know whether to take your brolly or your sunhat, when you’re off to a regatta in the park. The first regatta this year is this weekend, on the 25th March, with the others on 27th May, 22nd July and 23rd September, so do go along and see what the club are up to.