Saturday, 17 May 2008

Life and death on the river

Great crested grebes just after mating

We've been away on The Isles of Scilly and when we returned it was to the joy of finding a pair of grebes frequenting our floating platform. We've never had grebes haul out before and to watch them courting and mating is quite a privilege. I've never seen a grebe out of water except when it's on a nest so it's fascinating to watch them at such close quarters. These two had just finished mating and the male slithered down her back into the river.

The male's second attempt at mating

The courtship is amazing, lots of head flicking - they mirror each other's movements. I haven't seen these two perform the dance they do after the male proffers his mate some muddy leaves or a feather, but presumably that happens when they're nest building and we're not sure where their nest is . We think it's upstream from us.

A sign of affection?

After mating the male grebe left his foot draped around his partner's neck. It almost looks like a human gesture but I'm putting my own interpretation on the gesture!

What a fine crest

It's easy to see how Great Crested Grebes' feathers were sort after to adorn ladies' hats last century. So many grebes were killed for their crests that they were put on the endangered species list in the UK. Fortunately, they have now made a come-back and we have a healthy population in our area.

One of four surviving cygnets

Our resident swans' young family

A sleepy cygnet

The kids with their dad

While we were away the swans hatched 9 or 10 cygnets but there were only four survivors by the time we returned. They are so lovely and are growing all too quickly. At least they are less likely to be taken by the herring gulls or the crows as they get bigger.

Sadly, our resident duck "Golden Eye" lost all seven ducklings within two days of hatching them. We watched some of them hatch on the day before we left for the Scilly Isles, and had to keep rescuing a recalcitrant one that kept leaving the nest. Twice it fell to the lower deck and I had to carry it back to its nest on the garden deck upstairs. "Golden Eye" wasn't amused and huffed and puffed at me. In the end we put a brick in front of the nest box opening so that the ducklings couldn't escape until mum was ready for them all. The next morning she tried a dozen or so times to get them out of the nest but only a couple would follow her. When most of them were out and had flopped to the lower deck and launched themselves into the river we gave the others a helping hand so that all seven joined their mum in the water. Apparently only two were seen the following day, one of which was grabbed by a crow. The remaining one may well have met the same fate.

"Golden Eye" is now sitting on eggs again but a magpie grabbed one while she was off the nest yesterday and we're now having to keep an eye on things. It's amazing that it dares to enter the nest box and raid the eggs. We've placed a decoy duck on top of the nesting box and hope that it will deter the magpie.