Sunday, 12 July 2015

New kid on the block

We thought that the nest with 21 eggs would be abandoned as happened last year when two tufted ducks kept laying eggs on top of each others' and none of them hatched. To our amazement I spotted some ducklings inside the nest box 10 days ago and later in the day their mum persuaded them to take to the water.  Only five ducklings hatched and one dived the moment it 'hit' the river.  We think one may have been injured as it didn't join the other four with their mum so, with a little help from a neighbour, we reunited them all within five minutes but the mum rejected the rescued duckling. Shortly afterwards she and four ducklings returned and we never saw the fifth one again.

Five 'tuftie' ducklings shortly after hatching

The mother soon brought her four ducklings back to the nest box for a rest and for several days they used the old nest, still with 16 unhatched eggs, for resting and sleeping.  

 The four stayed close to their mum at first

Mum, with some of her brood, stretches her wing 

After several days the ducklings became more independent and headed off in all directions, with a tendency to follow any duck or goose that swam by!  It therefore didn't come as a surprise when first one, then a second baby disappeared.

By day five only one baby remained and it raced after any passing waterfowl regardless of size or breed.  Sometimes its mum would be with it for a while and then she'd fly off a short distance and the little one would do its best to 'scoot' across the water to keep up with her. It appeared to get quite distressed and would call pathetically for its mum but she would abandon it for long periods and suddenly turn up again and stay with it for a little while. The pair would sometimes attempt to go into the neighbouring nest box, which was occupied, but ignored their old nest even though it was now clean and with fresh straw.  Scooter, the nickname soon given to the little tuftie, is still with us and adapting well to life with and without his mum.  They are together on a regular basis so Scooter hasn't been completely abandoned.

A sickly looking baby coot 

We don't know what the coots have been up to this year but assume that their first batch of eggs was either sterile or stolen by the magpies and crows.  The coots occupied their nest box for several months and I'd given up on them ever hatching any young. The surprise of hearing the winging tones of a young coot alerted me to a new arrival but it really didn't look healthy. One of the parents tried its best to encourage it back towards its nest but it drifted downstream and really struggled to swim back. As I was watching my concern turned to alarm when a herring gull suddenly spotted an easy meal and began to circle and swoop on the defenceless baby coot.  The adult did its best to defend the youngster and I tried to frighten the gull but it was determined to dine on a baby coot and, with a final swoop, plucked the baby from the water and flew off with it.  I felt really sad for both parents but the next day another sickly youngster appeared then was gone within five minutes.  I didn't see what happened to it.

The determined adult coots started laying yet more eggs and I spotted two before a magpie also noticed the eggs and began stealing them.  Finally, with no eggs to show for their efforts the coots gave up and abandoned the nest.  

 Eight days later . . . 

For several days I checked just in case the coots had come back but there was no sign of them. I gave it a few more days and then removed the lid of the nest box to clean it out only to discover a neatly formed nest with six eggs!  I kept an eye on the ramp up to the nest box and spotted a female tufted duck entering and leaving the box.  It hadn't taken her long to avail herself of the unoccupied nest. We think she may be sitting full time now because Scooter and mum aren't able to go inside the box. We don't want to spook the duck so we shall just have to be patient and see what happens.  

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Cheeky teenage mandarin ducks

I was sitting at my computer the other day with the patio doors wide open as it was warm and sunny. I became aware, in the background, of the sound of mandarin ducks, but was concentrating and paid no attention.  A little later I got up to answer the phone and found the three young mandarin ducks wandering around the living room!

The guilty trio swim away with their mum

Fortunately they hadn't left any calling cards so I very carefully headed them in the direction of the patio door.  I didn't want them to panic as they would be more likely to make a mess on the carpet if they felt trapped.  Once outside, they remained on the deck and waited for me to put some wheat down for them.  Meanwhile mum was keeping a beady eye on them while feeding from the container on the deck table.

The female mandarin duck that had four a while back now only has one but it is surviving well and is even tamer than the three above. It taps on the glass doors if it can see me and there's no food on the deck!

Many of the ducks are beginning to moult now and the red crested pochard is no exception. However, he doesn't look nearly as pathetic in moult as do the male mandarin ducks.  They look dreadful when they loose most of their striking plumage.

I haven't been checking the upstairs nest box for a while but thought to do so yesterday only to discover that Flare Tail has laid three eggs and is keeping them well hidden.  I'm doing my best to protect the nest from marauding magpies and the crow as it would be really sad to see the eggs stolen. Once a predator has found eggs in a nest it comes back for them all and we have a large family of young magpies whose parents are doing their best to keep them fed.

Cygnet watches mum preen

The cygnet is growing up but still has its lovely 'baby' feathers.  It copies its parents when they stop to preen which is lovely to see. There's something therapeutic about watching swans and ducks preen.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

More ducklings

Lonely, the black hybrid female duck, hatched 10 ducklings two days ago but was soon down to seven.  She's doing quite well, under the circumstances, as she is frequently attacked by drakes and driven away from her youngsters.  The herring gull has also been patrolling the river at low level to snack on any duckling foolish enough not to stick close to its mum. Pike are also taking their share of young waterfowl including ducklings, moorhens, coots and very young cygnets.

Lonely and some of her brood hurrying away from an aggressive drake

I was surprised to see Lonely feeding from the table where the mandarin ducks like to be fed.  Over the years only three mallards have attempted to feed from there and she's a match for the mandarin ducks, seeing them all off.  I'm delighted to say that even the aggressive pigeon awaits his turn when she's around.

 Our cygnet seems to think it's a contortionist

Proud parents admiring their offspring

Following a discreet romantic interlude the swans face their youngster who appears to be singularly unimpressed.  The family calls round at least six times a day at the moment, mostly so that the cygnet can tuck into some wheat.

Flare Tail has been looking for a new nest over the last few days and this morning was checking out her old nest box and then the one on the other side of the garden deck.  I need to put more straw in that one if she's going to start laying more eggs.  

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ugly duckling indeed!

Cygnets are so endearing and 'our' cygnet grows more lovely every day.  The pen brings it round five or six times daily and I always take the time to stop what I'm doing and admire it. The cob is sometimes with them and there's trouble if another swan happens to be in the vicinity.  Both parents race after any rival and the cygnet is left to paddle after them as fast as it can, calling out in distress at being left behind.  Fortunately, once intruders have been driven off, the pen returns to allow its exhausted cygnet to climb back under her wings.

 Mum takes the strain

The swans nearly always approach us from downstream so I have plenty of time to get out their favourite food for them.  Sometimes the cygnet gets so excited at the thought of a 'wheat treat' that it slides off mum's back before reaching the feeding station - but not always!

 Time to slide off mum's back for some wheat

Usually it stays on board till the last minute and then wriggles from under its mum's wings before sliding into the water.

Getting back on takes a little more effort

After a substantial snack it's so nice to clamber back under mum's wings but it's never that easy, especially when mum is seeing off a rival swan. Then the cygnet has to paddle hard to keep up with her.

Preening is essential 

After a good meal it's important to preen before settling down for a snooze under mum's protective wings.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Mandarin duck brings her babies

One of the mandarin ducks brought her ducklings to see us on Wednesday.  There were nine of them to start with but she was down to seven yesterday evening.  She has decided to use the empty nest box on the river for the night and once she has ushered them into the box and followed them in, her mate stands guard for a while at the entrance to the box. She has done this for the last two nights, which is great, but there is now a complication.  I discovered yesterday that a duck has laid two eggs in the nest!  A pair of tufted ducks has been hanging around so I think the egg is probably theirs.

Mandarin duck with her newly hatched ducklings

Unfortunately one egg was broken when I checked the box yesterday afternoon.  I'm not sure whether it was broken accidentally by the mandarin ducklings and their mum or whether a magpie or crow has discovered the eggs.  There is also a third possibility in that the coots are fiercely protective of their own nest close by and have been 'inspecting' the box rather aggressively.  I decided to remove the broken egg as it would have made the box smell terrible after a couple of days. I also added more straw to hide the remaining egg.  When I peeped inside the box late this morning I was pleased to see that there are now two unbroken eggs and the additional straw has provided good cover and also an extra layer of protection.

One of the seventeen male mandarin ducks that visit daily

I should imagine it won't be long before another family of ducklings arrives on the scene but we shall have run out of accommodation if the coot doesn't hurry up and hatch its brood.

I haven't seen Flare Tail's ducklings for some days but she may still have at least one as she is in the habit of flying in twice a day to wolf down some wheat before flying off again.  I think that if she had lost all her ducklings she would remain in the area for much longer.  I do hope I'm right and not being unduly optimistic. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Cygnet and goslings

I think that Flare Tail may have lost her ducklings.  They appeared on their own a couple of days ago and I thought they might be safe as they seemed to be quite happy to lurk in the shallows between our boat and that of our neighbour's.  Flare Tail and her partner, however, spent quite a long time resting in the sunshine on my therapy room's roof the other morning so I'm wondering whether she has either abandoned them or has taken them somewhere safer and heads back to see them after taking a break.

We used to have a mallard duck we called Goldeneye, also with a brown hybrid partner.  She was a disastrous mother, abandoning her ducklings within a day and a half or hatching them as if she got bored and couldn't be bothered with them.  I do have just a smidgeon of hope that Flare Tail has her ducklings safely stowed upstream as she flies in to feed and then heads off again in a hurry. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that she's been clever and taken them somewhere safer than our location.

 Canada geese with goslings

The Canada geese are excellent parents and are fiercely protective of their young.  Even so, this pair now only has two goslings - I'm not sure what happened to the third one.  Of an evening they bring them to our floating platform for the night and I haven't the heart to turn them away though they are not my wildfowl of choice as I've seen them attack ducklings. 

Resident swan with cygnet

Our resident swans were unlucky this year and their nest was regularly raided by magpies and possibly a crow or heron. Hence only one cygnet but they are taking great care of it and it's a joy to watch it sitting proud on mum's back.  They visit the feeding platform three or four times a day and the cygnet seems to enjoy small amounts of wheat as a supplement to its diet  This morning I laughed out loud as the female swan stretched her neck down to retrieve some wheat that had sunk into the riverbed, tipping the cygnet unceremoniously into the water.

Another surprise awaited me this morning. One of the mandarin ducks appeared with 9 or 10 ducklings.  She's very nervous and protective of her newly hatched youngsters but I'm hoping she'll use the spare duck nesting box as a creche for them tonight.  She visited the feeding station several times today with her ducklings but is very wary of humans.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Flare Tail surprises me with three ducklings

Flare Tail surprised me by appearing with three ducklings yesterday.  I wasn't sure when she'd started sitting full time so I couldn't predict the exact day when the 'chicks' would arrive.  I probably should have guessed that ducklings were due any moment because she didn't come to be fed at all on Tuesday.  The first I knew of it was when she and her mate swam past with three ducklings in tow yesterday afternoon.

She's obviously attractive to other drakes because she has been chased on a regular basis and you can see by the scar on her head that she's received some pretty rough treatment.  Last night she was trying to lead her three babies into the empty riverside nest box for the night but was attacked and was forced to leave the ducklings to fend for themselves.  I didn't hold out much hope that they'd survive as they tend to swim off downstream when abandoned and I saw no sign of Flare Tail for the rest of the evening so I was delighted to hear three ducklings calling for their mum this morning. They seemed quite happy to feed on their own while they waited for mum to return and at least they weren't chased or pestered by other ducks.

Flare Tail's kids - two real mallards and a hybrid

She tried a number of times to be with her ducklings but was chased by rogue drakes until they got bored or she managed to elude them.  Finally she reappeared and was left in peace to join the youngsters. Later this morning she and her mate came to feed with the ducklings in tow but I've seen and heard nothing more of any of them today so I hope they're okay, especially as I've just noticed a herring gull on the hunt for a tasty morsel.  Fortunately it was driven off by a crow but then crows are almost as lethal.  I've seen a fair few ducklings plucked from the water by our resident crows.

Flare Tail, looking the worse for wear, with her mate

We are sometimes joined by a pair of red-crested male pochards and occasionally a female joins them but I think she must be on a nest as I haven't seen her for at least a week.

Male red crested pochard in bright sunshine

I don't remember whether I mentioned the fact that 'Squeaks' the lovely old Aylesbury duck must have died.  She had been visiting less frequently and her feathers were looking very bedraggled plus she seemed to have damaged her leg so I guessed that she was nearing the end. When she appeared a couple of weeks ago looking worse than ever she seemed desperate and confused and I wondered whether to call Swan Rescue but decided that it would be too traumatic for her to be grabbed and removed from the river as she was a very old duck.  She would also have missed her male entourage of three suitors.  I was really upset to see her like that but I've learned that it's sometimes wiser to let Nature take its course.  I never saw her again and hope she didn't suffer.  At least she was with her mates and one in particular, a 'stretch-limo' of a hybrid duck, really seemed to look after her and stay by her side.  I do miss her and the excitement she always expressed when she came for her wheat treats.