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!