Sunday, 17 August 2014

Ducklings and baby tufted ducks

Two tufted ducks fight over incubation rights

Just before we went on holiday we were able to capture this dispute between two female tufted ducks inside the nest box.  Both had laid eggs in the box and both wanted to incubate the eggs but the dominant female drove off her rival.

Rival 'tuftie' waits patiently at the nest entrance

After sitting at the nest box entrance for a while she finally gave up and left the eggs to the occupant!

Finally she is seen off

While we were on holiday we thought that we would miss hatching day but the female tufted duck was still sitting on some eggs when we got back.  Some of the ducklings had already hatched on the Saturday evening and she introduced them to the river the next day with a little help from us as some were reluctant to leave the nest. She swam off with seven youngsters and we didn't see her or the babies for several weeks.

Mother 'tuftie' trying to keep up with her ducklings

When the ducklings took to the water a second female 'tuftie' was hanging around by the nest box and we guessed that she must have been the unlucky one.

Mum turns up with two remaining ducklings

After about 10 days we were delighted to see a female tufted duck with two youngsters.  We think it was our girl because she spent time near the old nest box and wasn't phased by our presence.

Mother 'tuftie' with her two

The youngsters on the ramp of their old nest box

Mum stretches her wings

Baby dives for food

Mother and babies stayed with us for about an hour and we watched with delight as the babies dived for food and swam around close to their mum.  Sadly we haven't seen her since and as the ducklings were so young it's possible that they didn't survive. 

Mallard duckling

In spite of the fact that three mallards and a tufted duck all hatched ducklings using our nest boxes we saw no sign of any ducklings for weeks and had assumed that none had survived.  To our surprise, last week, on the same day as the tufted duck brought her two babies back to visit us, another tufted duck arrived with four medium sized ducklings, a mallard turned up with two baby ducklings, another mallard arrived with eight (we think it's Flare Tail who hatched twelve ducklings in a nest box on our garden deck) and Lonely turned up with two youngsters.

Monday, 21 July 2014

More comings and goings in the duck world

Last weekend we helped the mallard in nest box 1 launch her ducklings.  She led them upstream and that's the last we saw of them.  Once I'd cleaned out her box and placed fresh straw inside, a tufted duck, probably the one that has already laid some eggs in box 2, showed signs of interest in the box. We've seen her enter the box a few times now and on Friday an obvious nest scrape appeared. By Saturday, however, it had been flattened out and yesterday we were amazed to see Lonely, the black hybrid duck, lead 7 ducklings out of the box!  She's been using it as a creche for her babies.

 Four of Lonely's seven ducklings

We don't know where Lonely nested but she has been hanging around all day with her newly hatched ducklings.  Originally she had been looking at one of our top deck boxes but obviously found somewhere that suited her secretive ways better.

It was amusing to watch her various attempts to lead her ducklings up box 1's plank during the day yesterday.  She'd succeed in leading three into the box and the others would swim under the box and call out to her.  Sometimes she even managed to persuade all seven up the plank but some would fall off and she'd have to come out of the nest box to encourage them to join her.  As soon as she left the box to collect the recalcitrant ducklings those in the box would follow her out and the whole farce would start again.  Eventually persistence paid off and all seven followed her into the box.

Lonely with her seven

She spent much of yesterday travelling up and down our stretch of the river and giving the ducklings regular rest breaks on either our large plank or inside the nest box.  I hoped that she would use the box as a creche last night and we were delighted to see her lead all seven ducklings out of box 1 this morning.

A couple of minutes ago Dave heard a lot of splashing and quacking outside box 1 and saw Lonely attacking a female tufted duck.  It would seem that Lonely and her ducklings were resting in the nest box and a female tufted duck tried to enter.  She was soon seen off but is now hanging around again after Lonely decided to take her ducklings upstream.  In fact, Dave's just told me that the tufty has just gone into box 1.  We think she must be the tufted duck that has spent over an hour this morning sitting outside the entrance to box 2 staring at the occupant tufted duck.  We're pretty sure that both tufted ducks have laid eggs in the same box, hence the appearance of two ducks in the same box on occasions.

Meanwhile, Flaretail surprised us by appearing with several ducklings out of the top deck nest box. When she felt it was time to launch the ducklings some of them refused to leave and she became very distressed.  Eventually we placed the reluctant ducklings in a net and carried them down from upstairs to place them in the river.  Flaretail headed off with all twelve ducklings and that's the last we saw of them, too!  Only Lonely seems to have kept her ducklings in the area and, so far, kept all seven of them safe from predators.

 Cute coots!

The two young coots are growing apace and spend most of their time with us.  I couldn't resist this image of one of the youngsters tucked into the empty feed box.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ducklings at last

We've been monitoring nest box 1 using an internal camera and were delighted, at the weekend, to see signs of the ducklings starting to hatch. It usually takes about 24 hours before all the ducklings have hatched and are ready to be led to the water by the female mallard. Not all the ducklings are keen to take their first swim and it sometimes takes a fair amount of coaxing by 'mum' to get them to join her.

First one out

When the mother thinks it's time to 'launch' her brood she leaves the nest and quacks loudly at the ducklings in an effort to get them to follow her. Some are keen but others have to be persuaded and the longer the process takes the more fraught the mother duck becomes. With only one duckling prepared to join her our mum headed back to the nest box to persuade the rest of her brood. 

Mother duck tries to persuade her other ducklings to join her

When only some of the ducklings are in the river the mother faces a dilemma.  If she leaves those in the river and returns to the box the ducklings in the river may disperse and be lost.   Meanwhile, because she can hear the babies inside the box emitting their high pitched calls to her, she won't abandon the remaining babies.  While our mallard was still in the river with a single duckling, a tufted duck nesting in box 2, came out to see what all the fuss was about and attacked the duck and her duckling.  The duckling dived and disappeared and the mother got even more distraught so we decided to lend a helping hand and lift the remaining ducklings out of their nest and place them in the river with their mum. 

A reluctant duckling

One of the ducklings was still reluctant to leave its nest and tried to get back inside! We had to turn it around and persuade it to join its mum.

 It's safer on mum's back

We were worried about the duckling that had been attacked but it soon rejoined its mother and decided to jump on her back for safety. I've never seen a duckling on its mother's back before although swans and grebes carry their young on their backs.

 This is fun

The duckling seemed to enjoy the experience of a free ride on mum's back but was soon shrugged off.

The female tufted duck from box 2, the one that attacked the mallard and her duckling, has been having problems of her own. While we've been monitoring her box we were amazed to see another female tufty sneak in while she was away from the nest. When she returned she did her best to force the intruder from the box being careful not to damage the eggs. This has happened several times since then and we're a little confused as to which tufted duck is the original 'tenant'. We have a suspicion that another female has also being laying eggs in the same box, hence the attempt at a 'take over'.

This tufted duck has attitude

We think this must be our nesting tufted duck, the one that attacked the mallard. She is determined to defend her nest box and is aggressive towards any other duck in the vicinity of her home! She had a real go at the mandarin duck (above) when it tried to join her on the plank. They got into a furious fight and eventually the tufted duck drove off the mandarin duck. Usually mandarin ducks are the most aggressive but our tufty is definitely feisty.

Our tufty sees off the mandarin duck

Once the mallard in box 1 hatched her ducklings and led them off upstream I cleared out the nest debris and poured boiling water into the box to kill any mites. When the box had dried out I put fresh straw inside in the hope that our mallard would bring her young ducklings back to the box to use as a night time roosting place. We haven't seen her with any ducklings but this morning another female tufted duck was checking out box 1 and it's possible that we'll have another duck taking advantage of the box 1.  

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Musical nest boxes

After the mallards had abandoned their nest, having had all the eggs predated, I tidied up the box and forgot about it for a few days. When I went to check it and add some more straw, in case the mallards decided to start nesting again, a tufted duck shot out of it as I lifted the lid.  I'm not sure which of us was more taken aback!  Inside were three eggs so the female tufty must have occupied the box the moment it was abandoned by the mallards.  She had been hanging around both nest boxes for a long time and had already laid three eggs in this box several weeks before but had been 'kicked out' by the mallard.

Three 'tufty' eggs

The tufted duck has really had to defend her nest, however.  Every day the mallard pair attempt to re-occupy the box and the tufted duck has to fight her corner.  She hardly ever leaves the nest which means that the mallards aren't able to sneak back in during her absence. The image below shows the female mallard attempting to take back her old nest.

 The mallard refuses to give up her nest box

 Female tufted duck finds her nest occupied

On one occasion, during a brief absence from the nest, the tufted duck was unable to re-enter her nest box  because the mallard had reclaimed it.  The tufty squatted outside the entrance to the box looking miserable for a while and then swam off and 'sulked' with her partner on our 'chill out' plank.

The 'tufty' pair retire to the plank

Drake is driven from nest box by female 'tufty'

I don't think the mallards are really ready to start nesting again. Although they regularly try to reclaim their old nest they don't hang around for long.  The female tufted duck was able to return to her nest after a while and, later in the day, drove away the mallard drake when he was unwise enough to put his head inside the nest box!

 Female mallard refuses to abandon 'her' nest

Every day the mallards persist in checking out their old nest. They hang around for a while but are gradually getting used to the idea that the female tufted duck has no intention of relinquishing her new home.  She is extremely feisty in the defence of her eggs!

 Female 'tufty' takes a break for a snack

Male 'tufty' preparing to dive for wheat

Yesterday I saw the tufted duck behaving in a distressed manner and noticed that she had an egg in her beak and was carrying it away from the nest box.  She appeared to be eating the contents of the egg. While she was off her nest I checked inside and saw yolk covering the bottom of the box. 

When the tufted duck returned to her nest she spent over an hour clearing up the mess, moving straw around, carrying soggy straw away from the box and eating as much of the spilled yolk as possible. I had added some fresh straw while she was absent and she gradually used this to replace the mucky straw that she had thrown out.

Later that day I saw a crow about to raid the box so I guess that the crow must have broken one of the eggs as it tried to steal it.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

All gone!

Yesterday our girl in box 2 once again had the nest raided and her last egg was taken.  We don't know whether it's the work of a crow or magpie or whether the final egg was damaged during a skirmish inside the box with one of the rogue drakes.  I do know that she carries off damaged eggs as I've seen her carry two away in her beak on one day.

We're very sad for her and her partner because they put up such a fight to defend their nest over the past few weeks.  Neither seems to want to abandon the nest and we've watched them go back into the box on a regular basis but, when I looked inside this morning, there were no eggs.  Even if she laid one it would disappear. It seems that box 2 is jinxed!

On a lighter note, Dave watched one of the red crested pochards as it rested on a nest box plank.  It was sound asleep with its third eye up and its head gradually dropped down, closer and closer to the river until his beak hit the water and he woke up only to fall into a deep sleep again!

pochard asleep with his third eye closed

As his beak hit the water he suddenly woke up

He briefly lifted his head

In spite of a rude awakening when his beak touched the water he soon went back into a deep sleep and his head and neck fell backwards into the water again!  He must have had a disturbed night!

Friday, 27 June 2014

What a surprise!

Our mallard in box 2 was driven off her nest again yesterday so I looked to see how many eggs were left. When I lifted the lid from the box I was astonished to see the drake guarding the nest from the inside. I've never known a drake to take over nest duties before but, apparently, they occasionally swap places to give their partner a break!

 Time for a drink . . .

. . . and some fresh air

It must be hot inside the nest box in this weather and our girl came out for a quick drink.  While she was on the plank she was chased again by the rogue males but her partner remained inside the box to protect the nest.  We can't work out what is happening to the eggs but there was only one left yesterday in spite of the drake's best efforts.

Drake takes over nest duties

The drake spends most of his time sitting right at the entrance to the nest box and occasionally, perhaps for a brief respite from the hot sun, with his head inside!  

 Time for our girl to get back on the nest

After a drink, a stretch of her wings and a quick wheat treat the mallard headed back to incubate her remaining egg.  The drake was still inside the box which made it rather difficult for her and she waited for him to leave the box.  He, however, had other ideas and, after a while, she somehow squeezed into the box with him! 

Move over darling . . .

The drake finally emerges

As he emerged the drake slipped and slid down the plank. He now seems to enjoy using the plank as a slide.

When we went to bed last night the drake was standing guard at the nest entrance and was still there first thing this morning so we hope their one egg is safe. We're not sure whether the female is still able to lay an egg each day after all this time. It's rather touching to see how much effort the pair put in to protecting the nest and we really hope that they are rewarded by hatching at least one duckling!

The two teenage coots reunited

The teenage coots are becoming territorial and are attacking any duck that comes to feed from the plank.  They're still young and are sometimes seen off by the more aggressive ducks but that doesn't stop them from protecting 'their' food source.  One young coot is much bolder than the other but both flee when an adult coot appears.

We're not sure whether the female tufted duck is nesting in the bog garden and I'm reluctant to disturb her if she is.  Her behaviour yesterday would indicate that she might well be protecting a nest, however. She suddenly attacked one of the male red crested pochards who was minding his own business and resting on our floating platform.  They locked beaks and tugged at each other for quite a while until they ended up in the river and began chasing each other in circles, viciously using their wings as weapons.  Tufted ducks are smaller than pochards so it surprised us that the female 'tuftie' had started the fight.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

No peace for mallard in box 2

The mallard in box 2 is being regularly attacked by a young drake, especially in the early hours of the morning.  We were puzzled about this because her partner is spending most of his time on guard at the entrance to the nest.  However, I discovered why on Saturday, after the female had been attacked and driven off her eggs at least five times in several hours.  Her partner is scared of the younger drake and flies away initially when the youngster approaches!  He then swims back and does his best to defend the female but by then it's too late.

Because the female refuses to desert her eggs she is attacked while 'sitting' and some of the eggs are damaged in the fray.  On Friday I saw her fly from her nest with a damaged egg in her beak, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. When I looked inside the box she still only had three eggs. This means that an egg is damaged most days when she is raped in her box.

 Young  coot

Two young coots have suddenly turned up at our feeding station and lurk behind our neighbour's boat where it's dark and there's very little 'bird' activity.  I wondered why their behaviour was so furtive as coots are aggressive birds.  On Sunday evening I saw an adult coot next to one of the youngsters which had its head under water and wasn't moving.  I realised that the adult, which immediately swam off, must have attacked the younger bird.  On an impulse I lifted the young coot out of the river and felt its neck and checked for blood.  After a few moments it started to breathe and then tried to lift its head but it flopped back down.  I continued to hold the young bird and it gradually lifted its head and started to struggle a bit and when I put in back in the river it shot off and appeared to have recovered.

 Only one youngster

The following day I was disappointed when only one young coot turned up for breakfast but a short while later there were two again. I think that the damaged coot is being extra cautious now and only appears when 'the coast is clear'.

Cygnet grows up

The cygnets are getting quite big now but will remain with their parents for a while longer.  The mother brings them here at least three times a day and they are sometimes joined by the father .

I discovered another potential nest on Sunday when I saw a female tufted duck fly up onto our camp shedding and disappear into the thick bracken at the end of the bog garden.  Her partner hung around until she reappeared. There's a tell tale stain on the camp shedding where a duck has left its calling card! I think she's on her nest at the moment because a lone male tufted duck is in the vicinity of the nest.

This morning a female tufted duck tried to enter both riverside nest boxes but was seen off by the resident mallards.  It may be the same tuftie that has been checking out the bog garden but it could also be another female.

On a final note we discovered that the duck in the garden deck nest box is Flare Tail.  I knew she was nesting again but hadn't realised it was her in the upstairs box.  The magpies have finally abandoned their attempts to steal her eggs and the little black duck has given up trying to lay her eggs in the same nest box.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Another 'homeless' duck!

It's been another week of predation in respect of  mallard's eggs in box 2.  A crow was brazenly stealing at least one a day until the mallard was left with only a couple of eggs.  I thought she might give up at that point as there seemed little hope that she would succeed in protecting her eggs but the strangest thing has happened.  She has been staying in her nest box for most of the day which is unusual as there are only a few eggs. The other odd thing is that her partner has been guarding the nest. This has meant that attacks by rogue drakes from 4.00am onwards have almost stopped so the crow no longer has a chance to remove any eggs as both ducks are around most of the time.

Mrs. mallard checking that the 'coast' was clear

Some drakes still attack Mrs. mallard when her partner takes a brief break and we do our best to see them off if we're around.  On this occasion her partner was around to see them off and Mrs. mallard looked out to see what was happening. 

Mrs. mallard's partner

Fortunately her partner spends most of the day guarding the box which is quite unusual.  Normally drakes hang around for a while and then get bored and joins their chums!  This drake's devotion to duty has protected the nest from predation by the crow and our girl now has 4 eggs.

Time for a rest and a chat with his mate

A hungry baby grebe

The grebes only have one youngster now.  At least some of the pressure is off the parents to provide so many fish but neither adult is prepared to let the baby climb on its back any more.

A fish at last for the hungry youngster

Mandarin ducks on nest box 2 plank

The mandarins still spend time on the nest box planks and occasionally check out the boxes.  This morning one of them tried to enter the other mallard's box (box 1) and was pecked for intruding.  This mallard has now been sitting permanently for several weeks and is no longer being harassed by other ducks nor by the crow.

Lack of 'housing' has reared its head again this week.  Upstairs on our garden deck there are two nest boxes and one was being used by a mallard and another duck. They were both laying an egg a day and we knew it would end in tears!

Unfortunately some magpies discovered the eggs and started stealing them.  Over two days they took three eggs and we were beginning to think that the nest was doomed.  We tried our best to deter the magpies by placing part of an old mop at the entrance but they persisted in raiding the nest. Predation has suddenly stopped, however, and we're not sure why.  The mallard is now the sole occupant of the nest and won't allow Lonely, the black duck, to enter.  Poor Lonely is now homeless and has nowhere to lay her eggs. She must have laid at least four before she was evicted!

Lonely hoping to enter the box

One morning, when we thought that the nest was empty, Dave put his hand in to count the eggs and got such a fright when a duck pecked his hand.  The mallard is so well camouflaged inside the box that it is impossible to tell whether she is inside.  

The straw you can see strewn on the ground around the box is because the magpies kept pulling the nest material out in their hunt for eggs.  We would put it back and I'd add extra, to provide more cover for the eggs. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Ousted from both nest boxes

There has been another development concerning nest box 2.  The female tufted duck waited until the mandarin duck left her plank the other day and then claimed back her nest box.  Unfortunately, she has now been ousted by a female mallard who has commandeered the box and is laying her eggs in there. We think that the tufted duck laid at least one more egg inside the box while the mallard wasn't there but the mallard's partner is protecting the nest now and the 'tufty' isn't able to use it as far as we can tell. It's very sad for her because this is the second nest she has laid eggs in only to have a mallard take it over.  We're wondering whether the mallard will hatch the tufted duck's eggs.

Our tufted ducks having a break from attempts to nest

The tufted duck sneaked back to her old nest

I haven't noticed whether the tufted duck has been hanging around her old nest any more but the mallard is now sitting for longer and longer periods on seven eggs.  When we looked two days ago there were four small eggs and two slightly larger ones of a different hue. We assume that the mallard's eggs are the slightly larger ones.

Drake guarding the nest 

It was so sad to see the tufted duck hanging around her nest while the drake blocked it.  He regularly stands guard at the entrance to his partner's nest which is untypical.  Although most drakes stay fairly close to their partners' nest sites they don't usually guard the nests so closely.

The nest yesterday

When I looked inside the box yesterday there were seven eggs but one had been rolled into a corner. The day before two eggs had been laid so we presume that both the mallard and the tufted duck had laid an egg each.  Now, with the drake guarding the nest so closely, the tufted duck appears to have given up on her second nest.  

Meanwhile the mandarin ducks still turn up and look in nest box 2 although I haven't seen the female enter either box for several days.

Mr. mandarin on our plank

The swans bring their two cygnets several times a day for some wheat.  They've grown quite a lot since I last photographed them but they're still cute.  While the swans are here even the greedy canada geese stay well clear of the adults.

The cygnets are growing

The weather has been rather lovely for the past few days and we took an evening boat trip as the sun was going down.  The river is deliciously quiet at this time and the beautiful light on the water and some structures is delightful.

Hampton church at sunset

View upstream from under our bridge