Tuesday, 11 May 2010

HB launches ducklings . . . with a little help

HB returns to her nest

HB normally only left her nest after dark but, on one of the warmer days, she made an exception and grabbed a quick meal and 'comfort' break. In spite of our original doubts as to the suitability of her choosing in hanging basket next to our patio doors as her nest, the site proved to be a perfect choice once she'd got used to our comings and goings. Occasionally we would forget that she was there and suddenly become aware of a pair of unblinking brown eyes staring at us.

HB's ducklings after hatching on the night before their 'launch'

Once all (or at least most of) the eggs have hatched the mother keeps them warm and waits for the right moment to lead them from the nest.This usually happens during the morning, sometimes as early as 5.00am, sometimes as late as 11.30am, although there may well be exceptions to this.

HB gets ready to 'fly the coup'

We knew HB 's ducklings were hatching on the day before their 'launch' because she was sitting higher and higher in the hanging basket. If she'd had many more ducklings they wouldn't have all fitted in! At around 9.30am the next day the ducklings were ready to go and HB showed signs of needing to leave the nest. For about thirty minutes she became active and anxious, clucking quietly to the 12 ducklings filling the nest.

Ready to start a new life

For a several minutes the ducklings stayed put showing some reluctance to take the plunge. HB became frantic and her clucking became more and more imperative and strident.

Some seem more hesitant about leaving the safety of their nest

It didn't take long for the more eager ducklings to 'take flight'. Others needed more encouragement and by this time HB was kicking up a huge fuss in her efforts to hurry them up.

With a little help . . .

Two of the ducklings waiting in the river for their siblings to join them drifted off downstream on their own and HB was unable to chase after them because she needed to stay with the rest of the brood in the river and encourage the others in the nest to join her. She became so distressed that Dave decided to give her a helping hand by placing the remaining ducklings in the river. One chose to leap but the others were gently placed in the water. HB immediately gathered them around her and chased after the other two. She finally corralled all 12 of them and headed off upstream after a quick feed. We haven't seen her since and can only hope she led the ducklings to a safer environment.

Swans still fight over territory

The dominant swan is often absent on this stretch of the river and while he's away other swans take turns to 'play' boss. Bidou, the black swan, also believes it's her duty to drive away rival swans so we sometimes have four or five swans jostling for a position of power. It's not dissimilar to the power play that has been UK politics over the past few weeks!

Magpie shelters from torrential downpour

Last Sunday I watched a cheeky magpie seek shelter from the pouring rain. He tore some leaves from the grapevine in order to provide himself with a more comfortable perch, and sat there for over an hour.

Lonely male Mandarin duck

At least three pairs of Mandarin ducks visit at feeding time and another four 'spare' males hang around for much of the day. This one has taken to sitting on our deck or on the boat cover. The males are stunning to look at and their courtship displays are impressive. The sounds they make to attract a female, however, are rather less so . . . something between a grunt and a person swallowing a belch!