Monday, 15 December 2008

London and Italy

Cob on patrol

Most of the territorial battles between the rival mute swan pairs seem to take place in the early morning. This cob only stopped briefly for his wheat 'fix' before heading back to the main stretch of the river to see off any opponents foolish enough to head in his direction.

A frosty start for the rowers

We've had some fabulous sunny mornings and the river looks beautiful in the early golden mists. This particular morning about 7 or 8 crews took to the water for training.

Parakeet waiting for its turn at the peanuts

During these chilly mornings the parakeets have arrived in force to warm up in the sunlight and grab some nutritious peanuts and sunflower hearts for breakfast. They often squabble and are quite vicious with each other but they are no match for a visiting greater spotted woodpecker. When he's there they have to wait their turn!

One of the more colourful sunsets of late

These bright, cold days are so beautiful. I'd far rather have chilly nights and mornings accompanied by brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies throughout the day. The heavy grey overcast skies are so gloomy.

A view from the Foresta Umbra in Puglia

We've deserted the daily dose of doom and gloom that greets us every morning on the Radio 4 Today programme and every evening on BBC TV and Channel 4 TV news. We're also tired of seeing Christmas items which have been on the shelves in the UK supermarkets since September. So we've decided to spend a while in Italy where, we hope, Christmas may be less commercial. We left a very sunny England only to encounter driving snow for two and a half days before we were far enough south for the snow to turn to rain. The storms have now passed and we're enjoying sunshine, warmer temperatures, wonderfully fresh food bought daily, and the friendliness of the lovely Italian people.


A view of the lovely town of Peschici, where we are staying, which is on the Gargano Peninsular.
The people are very kind and friendly here and the house where we are staying is lovely, with wonderful views down over the marina. At this time of year all is 'tranquilo' but I should imagine that summers here will be chaotically busy. The beaches are beautiful and it's lovely to walk in the warm sunshine along the sandy bays and listen to the soothing sound of the sea lapping the shoreline.

A trabucco

This is one of the old structures from which fishing nets are lowered into the sea. There are plenty of them along this long stretch of coastline although not all are in use these days.

Fishing boat in late afternoon sunshine

Yessterday was a beautifully sunny day so we drove out to a nearby lagoon which is a haven for wildlife. From a distance we saw what looked like little grebes, and there were plenty of cormorants and gulls. The lagoon is supposed to attract flamingoes in winter but we haven't seen any so it may be too early in the season.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A quiet time on the river

Fox on the prowl

It's been fairly quiet on the river over the last few weeks so I spent a little time in the nearby park. This handsome individual hardly spared me a glance, so intent was it on tracking a shrew or field mouse. Later I saw it pounce and run off with the tiny rodent in its mouth.

We had the unexpected pleasure of admiring a Kingfisher that decided to pose for us on our mooring posts, not once but twice. It's a breathtakingly beautiful bird and surprisingly small. I also had the pleasure of watching a single Goldfinch drink from the pond before feasting on a Fenell plant that's gone to seed. It spent some time wondering around the pond area and then rested on the top step for a serious drink. A few days later, a Grey Wagtail turned up and today I saw a Song Thrush scavenging in the garden for the first time in a while. Since my husband Dave picked the last of the delicious grapes, the Blackbird and Robin have been feasting on the remaining few we left for them. They've had more than their fair share, as usual, but who's counting? This year we had yet another bumper crop.

Swan patrol

It's hard work being the dominant swan. There are too many interlopers and they need to be seen off! This swan had just called round for breakfast but then noticed that it wasn't the only swan on the block. Spring isn't too far away and territory needs to be protected!

The offending pair also heading for breakfast

The guilty pair are heading here for their wheat fix. They were soon seen off by their rival but called around later for brunch.

It's bonfire night again

We had another great bonfire night on the island. The residents met up and brought their friends along to enjoy the spectacle. The weather was reasonably kind and we had dry weather for building and lighting the fire, socialising, setting off the fireworks and tucking into some food and drink, but shortly afterwards rain stopped play, and many of us headed home with friends to enjoy the rest of the evening in the dry and the warmth of home.

Training time

Whatever the weather, rowers at Molesey boat club turn up for training. This was one of the more atmospheric mornings in recent days. The club has a proud reputation and some of the Olympic rowers train here.

Single skullers enjoy an early morning warm up

An Egyptian goose

A grey heron in Bushy Park

There's obviously more to a heron's diet than fish. This one seems to spend a lot of time looking for insects in the grass But are there any at this time of year? Obviously the heron knows best.

Fire consumes Garrick's Villa

Several weeks ago Garrick's Villa suffered massive fire damage. It would seem that the fire started accidentally but soon took hold because of blustery conditions. Many firefighters did their best to contain the damage but were unable to put out the fire before it had damaged much of the building. No-one died but nonetheless those living in Garrick's Villa, a beautiful listed building, have suffered huge loss and great trauma. Some poor residents have lost everything they own.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Duck nesting boxes in demand

A sunny afternoon in Hampton

At last we've had some sunshine to brighten up the end of a dull and damp summer. We've managed to take the boat upstream on a regular basis and I've been able to pick up the camera with a degree of enthusiasm. Wildlife looks so dull when the weather's overcast, unless something spectacular is happening.

A quick stretch after breakfast

The swans have been aggressively patrolling their territory, these last few weeks, seeing off any of this year's cygnets as well as any other intruding swans. Even Bidou, the black swan, has been severely attacked. One morning I watched with horror as she was pushed completely under water and wasn't allowed to surface. Three times she escaped, only to be forced under again. Finally, the action came close enough for me to be able to distract the attacking swan and Bidou made good her escape.

Oh dear, I'd better get the hell out of here!

This was one of many occasions when the dominant swans took exception to another swan on their patch. I've seen some fantastic chases, especially yesterday, when I watched amazed, as an intruding swan was grabbed by its tail feathers mid flight and nearly forced down into the river. Luckily it shed a few feathers, slowed a little, but then continued on its way.

Another day, another dispute!

A misty morning did nothing to dampen the desire for battle in the dominant swans. Here they are chasing off a pair that used to control this area but lost the territory several years ago.

More intruders appear on the scene

A little later during the same morning a powerful young swan, one of this year's brood, had the temerity to call by for some food. In spite of the fact that this youngster still has some grey feathers it shows signs of being able to stand up for itself and may even take over control in a year or so. On this occasion, however, it was wise enough to retreat at the sign of the two adults bearing down on it.

This means business!

When a swan adopts this pose subordinate swans need to take heed. It's quite a sight to see a dominant swan powering through the water towards its intended victim. If the battles are this powerful now, I dread to think what they'll be like in the Spring.

Thunder Thighs with his dodgy toes, arthritic legs and battered appearance

Coots aren't my favourite water birds, especially after watching the upstream pair kill Goldeneye's remaining duckling this summer. They are querulous and vicious in the extreme towards each other, even attacking their own young, but they can also be dedicated parents and amazing nest builders. As the weather has chilled down at night it takes Thunder Thighs longer to warm up in the mornings and his balance is quite wobbly first thing. He has become quite dependent on us for food (he loves wheat, sunflower hearts and peanuts as well as a few garden grapes) and we regularly have to protect him from a pair of aggressive young coots that object to his presence even though he poses no threat to them.

Staking a claim for next year's nest box

We can't make out what's going on in the duck world but our waterside nesting boxes are in huge demand. A while back we were surprised to see Gobi coming out of Topsider 1 (Golden Eye's favourite nesting site last year). Normally the males don't go inside the boxes at this time of year. Since then, we've been unable to keep up with the interest shown in the two boxes by dozens of ducks. Silver duck, Snake duck and the new Lonely, have all staked a claim with their partners, wandering in and out of the nest boxes and guarding the planks in an attempt to drive off rival interest. The problem is, we only have room for two boxes at water level, but they are proving incredibly popular. So Barney (a neighbour), please place your order for nest boxes now to give the ducks time to discover them and stake their claims for the Spring! If you have even half the fun we've had from ours, you'll be more than delighted.

Proud Bidou

In spite of several brutal attacks, Bidou still manages to look proud and pristine some of the time. She continues to mope around and we wonder why she doesn't fly off to look for a mate. Last week, when we went up to Sunbury Lock, we saw another black swan but we don't know whether it's male or female. It would be wonderful to see Bidou find a mate - who knows what the Spring will bring?

Stag defending his harem

It's that time of year again, when stags battle it out for dominance of the does(female deer). They sound like lovelorn cows as they posture to impress the does, seeing off any rogue stags that try to mate with one of their harem. This one was somewhat half-hearted about it all, but it was an unusually warm afternoon for October, and maybe he just wanted a nap to revive his stamina!

Great Crested Grebe

I love to watch the grebes at rest, they look so relaxed and snug, with their fine feathers keeping them warm. This grebe spends most mornings snoozing close to my bedroom window, occasionally paddling with one foot to stay in place, the other foot tucked under a wing.

Coot heaven!

Whenever anything large floats by you can bet it will attract the interest of coots. Often, as here, they 'climb aboard' and grub for food in the floating mass, until they realise that they've drifted downstream into another coot's territory, and then there's trouble!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Thunderthighs is back

Golden Eye on her eggs as they begin to hatch

I was beginning to wonder whether Golden Eye's eggs would ever hatch. The weather wasn't particularly great and when they started to hatch it poured with rain. None of the ducklings would leave the nest box in spite of her frantic calls to them to take to the water.

A glance inside the box while Golden Eye was grabbing a quick break

At last they all reluctantly emerge

After half a day of doing her best to tempt them out the last duckling finally emerged from the shelter of the box. The weather was so vile I can hardly blame them for wanting to stay warm and dry.

Several days later with one of only two remaining ducklings

Every evening Golden Eye would take the young back into the box for the night but what a palaver that was. Gobi, her partner, was always there but never went inside the box. Every time it seemed like they were all finally inside, one would waddle out again and fall down the plank into the river. It was hilarious to watch and usually took between 30 and 4o minutes for Golden Eye to get them all safely tucked up.

After about 5 days Golden Eye was finally down to one lovely duckling and I so hoped that it would survive but it strayed into nesting coot territory and was pecked to death. I saw it floating downstream on its back and there was nothing I could do to save it. I was SO upset and so was Golden Eye. She spent the next two days calling for it incessantly and she kept returning to the nesting box to check whether it had returned. Every year I promise myself that I shall harden my heart to the natural wastage in Nature but it never works.

Bidou calls round for some wheat

Bidou's nest failed again and after sitting for six weeks she finally abandoned it. However, I subsequently heard that she'd been taken to a sanctuary for several days after she was found cowering following a severe beating, so her eggs would have gone cold if they were fertilised. We shall never know now.

She still follows the mute swans around but is not readily tolerated by them. Bidou chases the cygnets when she gets a chance, which doesn't endear her to the parent mute swans. Mind you, the cygnets are now nearly fully grown and will soon be driven out of the territory by their mum and dad! Recently Bidou has taken to calling forlornly, rushing up and downstream in search of suitable company! We all hope that a male black swan will turn up to keep her company.

Hampton Sailing Club

On one of the few sunny afternoons we've had this summer we grabbed the chance of a boat trip and enjoyed an hour on the river. It's been such a disappointing summer, not just because of the rain but because it's been permanently overcast.

Hampton Church with sailing club in foreground

Astoria and Garrick's temple to Shakespeare
The weir house at Molesey Lock

I've had so little chance to take decent photographs this summer because of the gloomy days and general lack of light and sunshine. Today is fine but hazy so we hope to get out for an hour before sunset. It's hard to believe that the weather has been so dreadfully dull and extremely wet. We've had rain, often torrential, most days for about two months.

We were surprised last week to see a familiar shape stumbling along our deck. Thuderthighs the coot, whom we all thought had been finished off in the Spring by other coots, suddenly turned up again. He still looks really scruffy and is unsteady on his pins, but I'm glad that he's still going strong. When he wants feeding he does his best to limp towards us (he's lost a toe so he's rather unbalanced) and he spends most of his time hiding from the other coots and making one huge mess of our deck! Still, I admire his tenacious hold on life and put up with the fact that I have an incontinent water bird to clean up after.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Will Bidou breed this year?

Could this be mating?
Since Bidou's return to our stretch of the river the male mute swan has mostly ignored her and she hasn't been welcomed by the family, especially the cygnets. She's no longer encouraged to tag along with them and seems forlorn. Recently I haven't seen her with them at all except when she turns up for food at the same time. Several weeks ago she managed to flirt with the cob when he was on his own and it was difficult to tell whether they attempted to mate or whether he was attacking her. However, she is now nesting on Duck Ait and sitting on eggs!

Attack or an attempt at mating?

Shortly afterwards Bidou made a show of building a nest on our plank

Snakey returning to her uncoventional nest
Snakey has raised a second brood in this unusual spot. I would occasionally add a little meadow hay to the nest to cover the eggs and protect them from attack by magpies and crows but it seemed to disappear and we wondered whether she ate some of it.

Snakey returning for the final 'sit in'
She spent longer than usual in the pond, washing and grooming and seemed in no hurry to return to the nest. The weather was warm so we assumed the eggs would be fine on their own for a while. When we looked they were covered in her downy feathers. Two eggs looked like they were slightly cracked so we guessed that they were beginning to hatch. The next morning she flew down into the river and called to the ducklings frantically to follow but either they couldn't climb the steep sides or just didn't fancy the long drop. She kept returning to the pot in an effort to urge them to follow her. In the end Dave carried the pot downstairs and helped launch the ducklings into the river close to Snakey. Nine healthy ducklings rushed over to her and for a day stuck like limpets to her sides. That afternoon we watched with amusement as she rounded them all up and led them into the empty riverside nesting box, their little feet slipping on the plank as it got wetter and wetter. Like Golden Eye, who is sitting on eggs in the adjacent box, Snakey has found a safe and dry shelter for the ducklings to return to. By the second day she was down to seven ducklings, then she lost four yesterday and now she's has only one. Meanwhile, some of Golden Eye's ducklings hatched yesterday but, as it's raining hard she can't persuade them to leave their nest! So far we've only seen one of them. In fact, we're a little puzzled because it seemed to us that one of Snakey's two remaining ducklings clambered into the wrong nesting box and wasn't rejected. We'll know eventually because Golden Eye had nine eggs so we'll be able to work out whether this might have happened. It's unlikely, but we know that Golden Eye's partner was 'unfaithful' several times with Snakey so there could be a common 'dad'! If Golden Eye ends up with more than nine ducklings, we'll be able to tell what happened to Snakey's last but one duckling.

The Fab Four photographed through the glass patio door
At least these ducklings are a success. They're the only ones, so far, to survive on this stretch of the river. As you can see they're a reasonable size now and they've already grown since I took this picture of them a week or so ago. In fact, it's getting difficult to tell them apart from the adult ducks.

Neighbours Malcolm & Lyn trying out their new kayak
While we were in Portugal England had its summer and since then the weather's been very changeable, hence the dull light in most of the images.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Music Festivals

We've been in Portugal, again this year, half way between Lisbon and the Algarve, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the wonderful Festival Músicas Do Mundo (FMM) in Sines. Held every year in July, FMM invites the most important names of the global circuit in world music, jazz and blues to perform at the biggest world music festival in Portugal. The festival kicked off in Sines for one night with music from Brasil, Mali and Galicia. It then moved to Porto Covo, a picturesque village in Alentejo, for three nights with a selection of bands from Portugal, Cape Verde, USA, Belgium/Finland, Italy, India and Belize/Honduras, before returning to Sines.

Danae, one of the many vibrant performers, wowed the crowd outside the Arts Centre with her amazing voice and performance.

Waldemar Bastos from Angola
The castle of Sines is a superb setting for many of the performers, culminating in a magnificent firework display on the final night of the festival.

Vinicio Capossela from Italy

A statue of Vasco da Gama, adjacent to the castle, overlooks the harbour of Sines

Asif Ali Khan & Party musicians from Pakistan
Each year an eclectic mix of musical talent entertains the crowd in a variety of locations including the Arts Centre, the Beach and the Castle at Sines as well as by the beach at Porto Covo.
Praia de S. Torpes
This is one of the most crowded beaches in the area but, as you can see, it doesn't look overcrowded for a sunny day in July. This is a view from the lovely beach restaurant/bar Trinca Espinhas which we can highly recommend for its lovely seafood and delicious starters.

Ashraf Malik behind his stall of crystals and natural stones
During the music festival the steps from Sines castle to the beach are lined with interesting stalls offering crystals, jewellery, ayurvedic massages, clothing and artefacts. Ashraf had a beautiful collection of crystals, pendulums, essential oils and the like.

KTU from Finland/USA

A view from backstage looking across the castle grounds

Alcácer do Sal
Bunting decorates one of the streets in Alcácer do Sal, a pretty riverside town an hour's drive from Sines. Seek out one of the riverside restaurants for some good Portugese food.

Colourful stalls line the promenade at Sines
One of the pleasures of Sines during the music festival is its collection of (mostly) hippie stalls by the beach. Another is its mix of 'tasquinhas' or food and drink stands next to the stage by the beach. Wander off the beach and you've a great selection of food and drink to chose from. This year we really liked the Kibes (minced meat patties flavoured with pine nuts, bulgar wheat and herbs, in particular mint) washed down with a mean mojito cocktail made by one of the stalls.

The Dizu Plaatjies' Ibuyambo Ensemble
This band from South Africa entranced the audience on the stage by the beach, giving the sunset that evening a special feel. It's a magical setting, a sea of happy faces bordered by the sea, and spirits are high!

The Vasco da Gama beach of Sines
The statue of navigator Vasco da Gama, which is adjacent to the town castle, overlooks this beach. You can just see the dark scaffolding of the beach stage to the left of the image. Although ringed by industry and large shipping piers, Sines beach and harbour remain unspoilt.

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble USA
Last year the festival featured street musicians. This colourful ensemble proved popular with the crowds beachside.

Porto Palafito Carrasqueira on the Sado River estuary

Harry Manx on stage 2007
The wonderful Blues man and mohan veena player Harry Manx from Canada performing on the beach stage.

A magical moment between father and child

Lula Pena performs for a young audience in the Arts Centre in 2007

Lula gives a workshop at the Arts Centre

A view of Sines harbour from the castle walls

Mud Morganfield at the Mijas Blues Festival in Spain, June 2008
Music from another part of the Mediterranean - Mijas in Spain. We spent a great long weekend in June at the Blues Festival in Mijas listening to some excellent musicians, including eldest son of Muddy Waters, Mud Morganfield.

Big Joe Louis and Wes Weston on stage at Mijas
If you love The Blues you'll love this festival, set in the lovely surroundings of Mijas.

Peaches Staten from Chicago

Sunday morning, after the festival
The streets were quiet on the morning following the festival. Mijas is a picturesque white village (pueblo blanca) in the foothills of the Costa del Sol which overlooks the sea. It attracts artists and tourists alike and has many tempting boutiques.

A street scene in Mijas