Sunday, 27 April 2014

More and more mandarin males

The number of mandarin male ducks visiting the feeding station has increased this week.  At least four are regulars at one time and the old boy whose plumage is past its best spends a lot of time here.  A pair of mandarin ducks also visit every evening and as soon as the other males spot the female they are after her like fighter aircraft. She usually has to make a fair few attempts to feed before she is able to do so without being hassled.

 The old mandy sees off a rival from his favourite feeding spot

The boys spend several hours loitering on our boat and on the plank below, feeding on occasions, sometimes flying off for a while and then returning for more food and male company. I assume that none of the lone males has a partner since only one female ever turns up with her chosen mate.

 A fine figure of a male but he's without a partner

The swans have continued to chase each other and there are frequent noisy chases as the weaker swans do their best to escape the dominant male. So far we haven't seen any fatal battles, I'm relieved to report.  It's so distressing watching one swan drown another and we always do our best to intervene but it isn't always possible.

Another day, another chase

Yesterday we went to 'celebrate the life' of Colin Hunter, a lovely, much admired and respected friend who died last year . His family held the party in his honour at Garrick's Temple and lawn, just upstream from us, and many of his friends turned up to remember him and pay tribute to his memory.  Though this image is not of local wildlife, Colin cared about the environment and was very fond of animals, especially his pet dogs and birds both here and in more exotic parts of the world. The Temple, pictured below, lies between Colin's former home and our island.

Some of the many friends & family inside Garrick's Temple

Thursday, 24 April 2014

New visitor

This goose is a newcomer to our stretch of the river.  It is people friendly and soon made itself at home for a day.  It arrived yesterday and was happy to join us for feeding time and was on our plank this morning but has been absent all day.

New goose on the block

Flare Tail is being driven off her nest much more frequently these days - the shirt's no longer working as a 'scarecrow'.  However she seems to be coping and, during daylight hours, is able to get some wheat and a 'wash and brush up'.

Flare Tail being seen off her nest

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A regular visitor to the garden

The jays are frequenting the bird table and helping themselves to the peanuts.  They grab four or five at a time, seeming to store them in their beaks before flying off.  Sometimes one of them stops to feed itself but I assume they must have hungry youngsters to feed.

Magpies are also spending a lot of time in the garden and they always chase off the jays.  They're very adept at finding food, even when I've placed it somewhere I think they would prefer to avoid. Unfortunately they are also very observant and spot where smaller garden birds are nesting.  I've seen them perch on nest boxes and steal the baby birds from their nests.

 A jay about to raid the bird table

Although the swan fights have decreased in number they are no less ferocious.  When the dominant swan decides to chase off its rivals the sound of his wing beats and the raw power in his take offs is impressive.

A recent swan chase

The attacks on Flare Tail have also decreased and she is now left alone for hours at a time during the day.  Unfortunately the night time attacks are still regular, especially from 4.00am onwards, but at least she is able to incubate her eggs for hours at a time.

If she is chased off the nest during the day she sometimes takes the opportunity to do some 'pond dipping', grubbing around for water snails and the like in the silt.  She loves the pond and spends quite a while in it when she gets the chance. If I see her there I put some wheat out at the feeding station for her and she and her partner come running down the rill to be fed.

 Flare Tail heading down the rill for some wheat

If she's lucky and there are no stray drakes hanging around she sometimes enjoys the luxury of a long preen on the plank before heading back to the nest.

Duck yoga

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The tidiest of coots' nests

When both coots were away from the nest for a few minutes we briefly lifted the lid to count eggs and check whether the twigs we'd seen them carry to the box were being used.  As soon as one of the coots spotted us it raced back to see what we were up to.  As you can see, it was more curious than upset and didn't even 'shriek' or stamp its webbed feet.

As soon as we put the lid back the coot went inside without any fuss even though we were both standing by the nest box. I think that they are so used to us feeding them that they don't consider us to be a threat.

Coots take it in turn to incubate the eggs and there are regular shift changes.  They are normally very protective parents but I have, once in a while, seen an adult coot peck a baby coot to death.

 One of the coots about to enter its nest

Every evening a few very hungry female mallards fly in to gulp down some wheat after having been cooped up on their nests for many hours.  They are often 'ambushed' by 'rogue' drakes that hang around the area for food.  Flare Tail's partner drives any rivals away from his 'girl's' nesting area but the other drakes are plain opportunists hoping to mate with any female mallard unlucky enough to be caught by them!

A hungry mallard desperate for food.

Yesterday evening one of the females flew on to our deck in an attempt to avoid the rogue males and also in the hope of attracting our attention to give her some food.  She managed to eat some food before she was chased off the deck.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Rooms with a view

The coot has adapted surprisingly well to using a nest box. Today we counted 10 eggs and although we had seen some leaves being dragged into the box this afternoon there was no sign of them later on.  I've just seen one of the coots trying to drag a twig inside but it fell back into the river and the coot decided to ignore it.  Apart from the occasional 'domestic' among themselves the pair have no external disruptions from rival coots or other aquatic wildlife.

 One of the coots just visible inside the nest box

Flare Tail is less fortunate than the coots and was constantly driven off the nest from around 4.00am until 6.30am when I got up and sent the rogue drakes packing.  Once they knew I meant business they left her alone and she had a peaceful morning until about 1.00pm when the nonsense started again.  At least the interruption gave her a chance to grab some wheat and stretch her wings and she was fine again until 5.00pm when the most persistent of the drakes kept attacking her.  Dave decided to hang a shirt by the nest box and it seems to have put them off for a while, probably because of the flapping!  I don't suppose they'll be deterred by that for too long.

 Flare Tail peeping out from behind her 'curtain'

Some Egyptian geese are nesting nearby and they are terribly noisy and as territorial as coots and Canada geese. A pair has taken to standing by the towpath in the morning until they get chased back into the river by a dog, which happens all too often.  This pair had just been chased into the river when they spotted a rival goose and set to.  They were so caught up in the fight they failed to notice the dog that had chased them was swimming towards them!

A three way fight between Egyptian geese

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Coots adopt new lifestyle

The last time I looked inside the coots' nest it had seven eggs and still no twigs or foliage.  This is the very first time I have known coots to nest without the constant need to add twigs and foliage to their nest.  Normally they cannot stop themselves from bringing potential (and non potential) material back to weave into an untidy heap of twigs, horse chestnut leaves, flowers, sweet wrappers and anything else that takes their fancy. This pair has abandoned the habit of a lifetime!  What also surprises us about them is that, though defensive over their nest box, they don't throw coot tantrums, stamp their webbed feet in the water and shriek at us if we get near them.  This one calmly walked into the box while I was standing right next to it.

 One of our coots taking over nest duty

Coots share the duty of sitting on eggs and guarding the nest and have regular shift changes.  If the one that's guarding the nest becomes alarmed for any reason it calls out with a shrill,  metallic and staccato burst of notes and its partner replies and comes rushing back to its defence.  If only ducks behaved in the same way.

Our female mallard, Flare Tail, is still being driven from her nest by randy drakes and her partner does little to defend her most of the time.  One particular drake is a serial offender and yet he appears to be her partner's best mate!  Sometimes the hybrid drake will drive off rivals and at other times he just seems to let them drive Flare Tail away her nest. 

 Flare Tail's partner (brown) with his best mate

Over the last few days there have been half a dozen drakes lurking around Flare Tail's nest box and making trouble.  They behave like bored teenagers with nothing better to do than hang out together looking for something to alleviate the monotony of their lives now that the female mallards are (nearly) all sitting on nests and out of sight.  This lot spell trouble for Flare Tail as their hormones are rampaging and they can't resist trying to mate with her.  She has become very good at exiting her box at speed before they can grab her but it must be taking its toll of her energy and of the amount of time needed to incubate the eggs.  Sometimes she gets back and settles for only a couple of minutes before she is attacked again.

Madame Pochard

The pochards come round several times a day for their wheat and add colour to the feeding station.  A few days back an additional male red crested pochard turned up and started to attack the female and, for a while, we thought she'd been drowned but she turned up the next day and the 'rogue' male pochard has disappeared.  Now we're back to a pair and one spare male which is how it has been for the past three years.

 An old boy

In some ways it's rather sad to see this old mandarin duck looking less than magnificent.  His crowning glory of a crest is gradually growing back but it is nowhere near as magnificent as those of the younger males.  Female mandarin ducks ignore him, choosing the showiest of the males when they strut their stuff.  Ageism exists in the duck world, too!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

What a difference a day makes!

I never thought to see the day when a coot abandoned the 'self build' style nest for a pre-fab one! Having said that the coots wouldn't nest in the box because it couldn't drag large twigs through the box entrance I was astonished to see four coot eggs inside the box and not one twig!  In the past we have watched coots build and build and build their untidy nests and never know when to stop.  They just can't resist the need to drag more and more twigs to their nests.

 Four coot eggs and not a single twig

 Fourteen duck eggs

There's quite a difference in size and colour between Flare Tail's eggs and those of the coot. The duck has been laying an egg every day in spite of frequent interruptions from the rogue drake.  Oddly enough Flare Tail's partner is quite chummy with Flare Tail's tormentor.  His attempts at protecting her are half hearted most of the time.

Flare Tail in the nest through the 'duck -cam'

We enjoy watching 'our girl' on her nest.  It can be very calming when she's relaxing although she can get hyperactive at times and also very stressed when the randy mallard tries to drag her off her nest into the river to mate with her.

Friday, 4 April 2014

A mucky duck

The mallard with the creamy tail, the one that's been sitting on eggs in the riverside nest box, is being attacked inside her box by a rival drake.  Today she was driven off so often that she abandoned all thoughts of 'sitting' on the eggs.  I hope she doesn't give up on them but this rogue drake is very persistent and enters the nest and attacks her/drags her out at least five or six times a day.

She and her hybrid partner came for a snack and to dabble in the pond and then she discovered my trug filled with pond silt.  Duck heaven!  She spent ages with her beak immersed in the muddy silt, digging out small aquatic creatures like pond snails and, by the time she had finished her beak and head feathers were decidedly mucky.

When this duck senses danger she flares her creamy tail and we have decided to rename her Flare Tail.

 Flare Tail grubbing in our silt filled trug

I was quite worried the other day because a rogue red crested pochard turned up and spent the whole time trying to attack the lone female pochard.  In spite of her partner's efforts and attempts by the spare pochard to protect her the intruder was most persistent and, in the end, the female disappeared and her boys spent most of the evening looking for her.

Fortunately she was fine and turned up next morning with her partner and the spare!

 The plumage of red crested pochards is striking

Squeaks, the Aylesbury duck, was attacked again yesterday by the smaller male white hybrid duck. Her escorts did their best to protect her and each one grabbed the white duck by the neck to force him off Squeaks.  They succeeded at least five times but, as soon as they released the white drake it attacked Squeaks again.  He is a very determined drake!  Poor Squeaks has an almost red raw neck now where her feathers have been grabbed by the males when mating with her.

Squeaks escapes for a few moments from her white male tormentor

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Is it a 'pochtie' or a 'tuftard'?

An unusual looking hybrid duck (pictured below) arrived on the scene last year.  At first I thought it was a tufted duck but on closer inspection I realised that it had a rust coloured crest rather than a black tuft. It was swimming around with the tufted ducks and some pochards and I suddenly saw that it's head resembled that of a male pochard.  I made some enquiries and learnt that it was a cross between a pochard and a tufted duck.  What's strange is that it's the colour of a male tufted duck, apart from the tuft, but its 'crest' is more similar to that of a male than a female pochard, though not quite as bright.

An unusual hybrid duck

Our female mallard is sitting on her eggs at the moment but we think one of the eggs may have been broken because we could see her eating something from inside the box and then heading down the plank for a long drink.

Last night we saw the female mandarin duck go inside the nest while her partner stood on the plank but I don't think she would have pecked at one of the eggs.  Perhaps the crow has been brave enough to put its head past the mop 'curtain' and try to steal an egg?

I was surprised to see a coot disappear into the other nest box for a while this morning.  In the past they have used the nests as creches once the young coots have left their nest of twigs but coots are inveterate builders and it would be impossible for them to carry large twigs and sticks into the box entrance.  One tried to do so last year and had to abandon it in the end.

I noticed a robin in the bog garden this morning with a beak full of nesting material.  I shall have to watch carefully to see where it is building its nest.

We were out in the boat yesterday afternoon and passed Hucks' riverside development opposite our island.  Although no planning permission has been granted for residential houseboats here one has to wonder where the Council think that these large structures are going to be moored if not right here where they are being built.  I doubt that this structure could go under Hampton Court Bridge or Walton Bridge and there is nowhere on this stretch of the river to moor such large houseboats.

A large houseboat under construction