Sunday, 23 January 2011

Blue Tits and grey days

Blue Tit in garden

At certain times of the day the garden is full of blue tits and great tits making the most of the various feeding stations. They love sunflower hearts and are also keen on the food I put out for robins. In fact the robins often chase them away from 'their' feeding station. We also see a coal tit from time to time as well as the gregarious long tailed tits. We've nicknamed one of our blue tits "smudge" because his belly is mostly inky rather than yellow - far darker than the soft yellow belly of a typical blue tit.

One of the few lovely sunrises in the last couple of weeks

We haven't had many colourful sunrises recently so this was one to enjoy. I've been lucky enough to have lived in many different parts of the world and I do miss bright skies and sunny weather but I equally love England with its seasonal variations. When I lived in the Far East and parts of the Mediterranean sunrises and sunsets could be spectacular but I really missed the subtle changes in season and the sights, sounds and smells of the different seasons.

Aggression between swans

This is a grainy action image taken in low light but I hope I've captured the mood. The dominant swan isn't happy to find an intruder in his patch. Last week he attacked Bidou, the black swan, and I was able to fend him off for a while, having heard her distress calls, but the hostilities continued further upstream. She lived to tell the tale, as you'll see from her image below. I do hope she won't be drowned by him when territorial battles increase in the spring.

Bidou preens herself after a leisurely breakfast

Bidou now visits ahead of the dominant mute swans which means that she is fed without hassle or interruption. If I haven't seen her arrive she soon lets me know of her presence by emitting a mournful call on a regular basis. At night, if I hear her call, I then have to locate her in the dark. Fortunately her red beak is something of a giveaway.

Breakfast time for a cormorant

A pair of cormorants fish here daily and aren't starving by the looks of them. I watched this one swallow more than three bite-sized fish within five minutes. Most of the water birds appear uneasy when the cormorant gets too close to them - the little grebes completely freak out. A cormorant surfaced right next to a little grebe today and the tiny bird took off with fright.

A pair of little grebes

We've had a fair amount of the wet stuff of late so the river is flowing at some speed. Whether the strength of the current affects the little grebes or not, I can't say, but I haven't seen one for a few days. I was therefore delighted to see a pair of them swimming downstream today - in spite of their size they must be sturdy swimmers!

Friday, 7 January 2011

A pair of Little Grebes brighten up the gloom of the past few days

Robins are possibly our tamest garden birds

The other day I wandered up the island to see if I could spot a nuthatch that's been visiting gardens in the lagoon. I did catch sight of it as it flew away from a bird feeder with a whole peanut in its beak but it then flew off, probably back to Bushy Park. Instead this robin posed for me so my trip wasn't completely wasted. I shall make an effort over the next few weeks to get an image of the nuthatch as they are colourful visitors to our gardens.

One of a pair of dabchicks

On Boxing Day a friend mentioned that she'd seen a tiny 'duckling sized' water bird. She said she had thrown out some bread for it but that it had dived and disappeared so I guessed it was probably a little grebe, commonly known as a dabchick. The next day I spotted one on the far side of the river and for a few days it turned up between 8.00am and 10.00am, diving for fish along the Molesey bank. Occasionally it would risk crossing over to our side and I was lucky enough to catch a few glimpses of it as it swam past. Dabchicks are very shy birds and usually dive at the first sign of movement so I didn't dare open the French windows but decided to at least take some grab shots through the glass if the opportunity arose.

A second dabchick appeared for several days

After several days of watching and waiting I spotted a pair of dabchicks swimming across the river. They appear to have felt more secure than normal as they mingled with the tufted ducks, mallards, mandarin ducks and coots. Perhaps they felt there was safety in numbers? They hung around for several days but I've seen neither of them today.

Torrential rain might be a deterrent as the water drops falling from the branches of overhanging trees opposite are almost as big as the dabchicks themselves! I've often noticed how 'rain averse' ducks can be during persistent downpours. They all swim over to the far bank and shelter under the overhanging vegetation.

Dabchick refuses to be intimidated by Lonely

I could hardly believe my eyes yesterday when I watched the dabchick clamber on to the plank of one of the duck nesting boxes. Grebes in general are superb at swimming and diving but are ungainly on land as their legs are set well back on their bodies. This little one clambered onto the plank but soon slid down as it was wet and slippery. Undeterred it climbed back on and edged its way sideways quite some way up the ramp. Then it lay down and spent the next ten minutes preening. I saw it pull out a loose feather and swallow it - they sometimes do this as an aid to digestion. After a while, Lonely wandered up the plank as she considers this to be her nesting box and I watched with bated breath as the dabchick edged as close to the entrance to the nest box as possible, then turned and faced down Lonely. She seemed rather bemused at the lack of respect from such a tiny creature and, after staring at the dabchick for several minutes she turned and jumped off the plank.

I nearly missed a dental appointment because I couldn't drag myself away from such unexpected behaviour. It was delightful enough to be able to watch a little grebe at close quarters, albeit through the bedroom window, but to see it investigate the nest box and then watch it preen just six feet away was very special - a ten minutes well spent!

The river had begun to freeze over last week

Last week I was beginning to believe that the river would freeze over again. The lagoon had been frozen and the river itself was beginning to ice up but now heavy rain has been falling with only occasional spots of sleet/snow from time to time.

Friday, 12.00 midday, minutes after publishing this blog, the rain stopped and two dabchicks swam past the window when I was least expecting them!