Monday, 17 December 2007

A lot can happen in two weeks

Black swan in early morning mist

It's been a difficult two weeks with my husband falling seriously ill so I haven't been out and about enjoying Nature. Fortunately, he's gradually on the mend and we're both taking the time to get to the local park or out in the boat, weather permitting. The last week has been very cold here but at least there have been some bright and sunny days. This was an early morning shot as Bidou, the black swan, went about her daily business following breakfast "Chez Nous". If we're not there to feed her she soon lets us know!

A local fox pulling faces for the camera

What a fine specimen . . . and it knows it!

This friendly fox shows great interest in my husband and I as we wander through the local park. It's quite happy to come quite close but is still wary if you try to get too close.

Rowers passing Taggs Island on the Hampton side

A winter scene from Taggs Island bridge looking towards Hampton Church and the village of Hampton. On a cold winter's afternoon the river still looks attractive in the late afternoon sunlight.

Another misty morning downstream from us

We're fortunate enough to have this view from our dining and living room and Dave's upstairs office. If you like water and wildlife it really is paradise and we love the early morning light.

Hucks boatyard with it's beautiful Swiss Chalet lit by late afternoon sunlight

This lovely building is on the A 308 opposite the island and the boatyard is going through regeneration as The Thames is attracting more interest from many quarters.

If you wish to enlarge any of the images double click on them

Sunday, 2 December 2007

You can tell it's winter!

Gulls mobbing the ducks to get at the food

Newcomers to the island take delight in feeding the birds in the early morning light. As soon as the first crust is thrown the gulls appear from nowhere and raise a clamour with their shrill calls. It's definitely a case of "First come first served" where these aerial acrobats are concerned.

Why do rowers always look less aggressive in the early morning light?

The mornings have been crisp and colourful recently and the rowers are out most mornings regardless of the weather.

Another day, another bunch of rowers

The river seems so peaceful at first light and it seems such a pity that the rowers have to invade that sense of Nature at one with itself. If the rowers showed any respect for the wildlife, and took care not to strike the wildfowl that "happen to be in their way" I wouldn't mind. Instead they ignore the fact that they, as humans, are the ones out of place, not the swans, ducks and other waterfowl.

An attractive hybrid duck

Silver duck, as we call her, has been around for several years now and has bred successfully with a mallard drake. One of her offspring is so like her that it is difficult to tell them apart.

Male Mandarin duck

Now that it can be quite cold in the mornings and evenings some of the Mandarin ducks have started to drop by for breakfast and dinner. After they went into moult in the autumn they stopped coming to the garden and are probably basing themselves in Bushy Park. On chilly days, however, they fly in, feast on the wheat and then head back to the park.

Bidou in the flooded bog garden

The river levels have been pretty good this winter up till now. After heavy rains, however, the water has to go somewhere and the lock keepers are allowing excess water downstream. Our bog garden was under water this morning and Bidou and the ducks enjoyed rummaging through my plants!

Sunlight streaming through the garden fence in the early morning light

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

After a night of heavy rain

We've had some very heavy rain over the last four days and river levels have risen. I woke up this morning to a swamp, rather than a bog garden. The ducks, coots, a moorhen and a pair of Mandarin ducks thought it was wonderful as they grubbed around in the muddy water.

What I didn't know was that wed had a larger visitor half and hour before. My husband was awake before me and managed to take a photograph, through the kitchen window, of Bidou the black swan, enjoying the submerged greenery!

A few minutes ago there were seven ducks swimming around the bog garden. I wonder what the damage will be when the river levels go down? At least it's dry and sunny at the moment but there is more rain to come.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Home and Away

Snowy egret with attitude!

While we were in Florida this snowy egret caught our attention. It was busy having a scratch but it looks like it's telling us to 'clear off' with an unsubtle gesture.

A reddish egret intent on lunch

We watched this reddish egret hunt for food, confusing the fish by its ridiculous dance in the water. Its antics made us laugh out loud as it led its prey a merry dance. It was in one of the many lagoons within the Ding Darling Nature Reserve on Sanibel Island.

Mute swans on Taggs Island

While visiting a house on the lagoon of Taggs Island, a houseboat community in south west London, I watched a family of mute swans try to persuade residents in the lagoon to feed them!

Mist on The Thames in the early morning in winter - a view from our lounge!

We've had a series of beautiful, crisp, cold and misty mornings recently. It's so lovely to see the light change as the sun burns off any mist on the river.

We're the top swans on this stretch

On a really misty morning I watched the mute swans let anyone and everyone know that they were the top honchos. Bidou, the resident black swan (on the right in this picture) is protective of her adopted family and drives off any swan intruders.

Tufted duck grooming

After breakfast the ducks and swans take time to preen and keep their plumage in good condition. This male tufted duck made us smile as it paddled round in circles trying to keep its undersides ship shape.

If you wish to enlarge any of the images just double click on them.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Monday morning

It was such a beautiful morning with a wonderful light on the river, burning off early morning mist.

The swans and ducks are frantic for wheat at the moment, even though it isn't desperately cold for this time of year. I've noticed that the mute swans, and Bidou the black swan, are spending more and more time begging for food. At night, they haunt the house until around 9pm in the hope of a late night feed.

There must be something in the air because the Mandarin ducks are gradually returning. First it was a solitary one, then a pair and tonight it's two pairs.

Since our return from Florida an old coot has taken up residence on the deck. I think its partner might have been killed in one of the vicious battles I saw just before we left. This coot hides from the resident pair by crouching down behind the kayaks, lurking beneath the bistro table or disappearing into the garden pond. It makes a real mess of the deck, pooping everywhere, but I feel sorry for it; it comes right up to my feet to be fed.

While we were away some friends took it in turn to feed the garden birds and the waterfowl. The postman also asked if he could put out wheat for the ducks when he delivered the post. He was amazed at how many ducks and swans turned up. At one point he heard a strange thudding noise approaching and then realised that it came from a drake thundering along the deck to join in the feeding frenzy!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Some local images and a few from a recent holiday

Swan battles in the early morning mist

For about an hour I watched Bidou see off another black swan and also a mute swan that was foolish enough to venture into her adopted family of mute swans' territory. It was surprising to see her take on the role of the male mute swan and chase the newcomer away. It's almost as if Bidou believes she's a mute swan! Every day she turns up with her 'albino' family. If the cygnets are on their own Bidou tries to drive off one of them and, recently, the parents no longer bother to defend it.

Bidou flies upstream to attack the intruding black swan

There is no love lost between Bidou and the other black swans. Usually there's just one intruder but today she had two to contend with. She seemed to concentrate on one more than the other. Once she felt she's chased them far enough away she immediately returned to the mute swan family, only to have the drive the black swans away again, several times.

An osprey waits for its mate to return

We were delighted to be able to watch this osprey for quite some time while we were in the Everglades on holiday. We could hear its mate calling while it hunted but weren't lucky enough to see it return with a fish in its talons. They are such magnificent birds and such powerful hunters.

A little green heron waiting patiently for supper

Little green herons are shy and retiring birds. This one was standing on a branch overhanging the water waiting for the right moment to strike. Sometimes they stand motionless in the water but there was an alligator close by and this one was probably wise to keep it in his line of sight.

A tricoloured heron watches for prey from the safety of an overhanging branch

This heron flew to the safety of the branch when a sly alligator made a sudden lunge at a little blue heron wading in the water close by. Alligators can accelerate faster than a racehorse over short distances but, fortunately, both birds were safe on this occasion.

An iguana poses for the camera

We were 'sitting on the dock of the bay', as the song goes, when this iguana chose to munch on some grass at the side of the beach. When it had eaten a few mouthfuls it slowly ambled across the beach at the water's edge and climbed a palm tree in the neighbouring cove. A few minutes later we saw another iguana emerge from the shadows and follow the first iguana up the tree. Iguanas are now flourishing in the wild in Florida after people bought them as pets and then dumped them when they grew to be too large. They don't make good pets. They have very sharp claws, are bad tempered and can carry the salmonella strain.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The cygnets practise flying

Mute swans bonding

As the cygnets become more and more independent our mute swans reaffirm their commitment to each other with a half hearted courtship ritual. The pen was swimming downstream this morning with her two cygnets ahead of her when her mate, the cob, approaching from the other direction, spotted them and flew in to join her.

The cob takes off to join his mate upstream

The power in his wings as he lifts from the water before full take off is quite impressive. No wonder people are sometimes afraid of swans when they get too close.

The cygnets have learned how to fly and are practising circuits round the island

These two hybrid ducks fly in for breakfast, bully the mallards, then return to Hurst Park

There are a large number of hybrid ducks in this area, most of which are larger than mallards and they take advantage of their size to get to the wheat before the others are allowed to feed. This morning was colder than usual and the number of ducks clamouring to be fed nearly doubled. There is definitely a pecking order and the fights that sometimes break out are vicious and vociferous. Sometimes I wonder how they don't damage themselves with the amount of wing bashing involved.

A male tufted duck enjoys the early morning sunlight

When we first came back from overseas, the tufted ducks were very nervous of us but now they swim towards me when I open the french windows or patio doors. They're clever enough to have worked out that when the swans are feeding there's plenty of spillage from the plank to dive for.

A fisherman shows his sons how to gently reel in and then release a catch

I was impressed by the gentle and careful way this angler reeled in his catch and then released it. There are so many people with fishing rods these days, many of whom haven't a clue how to behave responsibly, and they do untold damage to the wildlife with their carelessness and their ignorance. So often we have to rescue everything from herons and swans to moorhens and tufted ducks from the damage caused by discarded lines and hooks. If the birds become ensnared, the lines get tighter and tighter around their legs, necks or bodies. I've seen a heron drown because it had a hook in its beak and the line was caught round driftwood which dragged the herons head down to water level. As it got weaker it finally couldn't hold its head above water. I tried desperately to reach it but couldn't. I've also seen so many smaller birds lose limbs because the lines have cut off circulation. Tufted ducks and grebes dive for food and if they get caught on a hook underwater they can't resurface. If only all 'would-be' fishermen were taught how to fish responsibly!

A cold and misty morning last week

One of a dozen or so female mallards whose territory this is

A drake preens and oils his feathers after feeding

Ducks must oil their feathers to keep them waterproof so preening is a serious ritual. You can see the (white) third eye closing over as he smooths and oils his neck and chest feathers.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Images from the garden, riverside and park

Grey wagtail by pond

I was standing at the kitchen window when I spotted this shy wagtail searching for insects and taking delicate sips from the cascade. I knew it would fly off if I opened the door or window so I decided to photograph it through the glass in spite of some loss of image quality.

Grey heron in the park

After the miserable weather of the previous week we had several days of glorious sunshine and I decided to take advantage of the lovely light and head for the park. It was surprisingly empty for such a sunny afternoon and there were no dogs off their leads to chase the wildlife away. I spotted the heron stalking purposefully through the grass. It wasn't the least bit phased by my proximity.

One of a number of lakes in the woodland gardens

I've been told that a kingfisher can sometimes be seen here but as yet I've not had the pleasure of spotting one at this location. Occasionally I hear the metallic call of a the halcyon bird and see a flash of electric blue disappearing downstream elsewhere in the park. Perhaps, with persistence, I'll be fortunate enough to spot one for longer than a second! At least I sometimes see them at home. Earlier this spring one landed on a mooring post outside the kitchen window and sat there for about a minute. I couldn't get over how tiny it was and yet how stunningly beautiful.

A familiar face checks me out

I mustn't get blasé about seeing the foxes on a regular basis but it's great to know that there's a good chance of spotting them. I'm also pleased to see that they're still cautious around people but they are becoming quite an attraction so they will soon become habituated to humans and maybe that's not such a good thing.

A red deer stag declares his "love" to no one in particular

As the rutting season gets under way it's fascinating to watch the stags fight each other for dominance, making forays to steal the occasional doe from another male's harem. This one was calling and grunting as he trotted by but there were no females in sight. I noticed that he occasionally paused when he heard a rival stag "roaring" in the distance.

Garrick's temple to Shakespeare

We haven't been out in the boat much recently because of the wet or dull weather so we couldn't let this opportunity pass us by. It was a lovely sunny late afternoon and we took our usual route upstream and around some of the other islands in the vicinity. The temple is just upstream from us and was built by the actor David Garrick in tribute to Shakespeare. It was restored a few years ago and is now open to the public on certain days.

Autumn colours reflected in a pool

How quickly the leaves are turning flame coloured. It seems like only last week that everything was still green, but I do love to see the lovely colours of the leaves on the different trees.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Further afield than the Thames

Ring necked parakeet in full glory

The weather has been so dull and I've been so busy that I've only managed to take a couple of images this week. However, as we're heading for warmer climes and more exotic wildlife I sorted through some images from a previous trip to the Everglades.

Otter snacking on a crab

Manatees at a dock in Key Largo enjoying fresh water from a hosepipe

Anhinga resting on the back of a what looks like a rock but is, in fact, a turtle

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The park over the road in Autumn

Heron yawning

I've didn't realize until I looked at this picture closely that the heron was showing its tongue. I watched it stalking fish in the shallows for a while. Its ability to stand immobile is impressive.


It was amazing to watch this jackdaw ridding the deer of unwanted parasites. It worked its way along the haunches and up the spine before finally inspecting the deer's ear for bugs. A starling was doing much the same on another deer close by.

A view from Bushy Park

Bushy Park is a fabulous Royal Park which was part of Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace estate. Deer roam the large open areas and there are two lovely woodland gardens which have attractive water features and plenty of wildlife. The shrieking of dozens of wild parakeets ring through the trees, especially at roosting time giving the park an exotic feel.

A fallow deer cross the Longford River

The deer sometimes canter through the streams but I've also seen them congregate in the wide and shallow areas 'messing about' in the water, just like kids.

Sly fox

Lunchtime in the park and the pair of young foxes are brave enough to be seen in daylight. This one is particularly brave, and I thought foxes were nocturnal!