Sunday, 26 April 2009

Where have all the ducklings gone?

The three rescued ducklings

Thanks to Sue Beck and Peter, these three ducklings have more chance of survival than all the others. They are being kept warm and safe indoors at night, and allowed an element of freedom during the day in a pen that's netted on top to protect them from marauding crows, magpies and herons. There is an unexpected complication, however. A female mallard that is sitting on a nest close by seems to have decided to adopt a ready made family rather than hatch her own eggs. She keeps leaving her nest to spend time with the ducklings and Sue has to 'shoo her away' and encourage her to return to her nest. Her eggs are due to hatch in a few days' time.

Bidou taking a break from her nest

I think the eggs should have hatched by now and I'm not optimistic that Bidou will have any cygnets after all her time and effort! Perhaps, one day, she'll find a male black swan to settle with. So far she hasn't taken to any of the black swans we have seen pass through the area.

Mandarin ducks getting annoyed with a pidgeon

A number of wood pidgeons visit the garden and they are becoming quite aggressive. I'm amazed to see that the ducks seem scared of them and let the pidgeons 'hog' the wheat while they stand back, unsure of themselves. The Mandarin ducks are less inclined to be bullied by a mere pidgeon and fight back . . . and even, sometimes, win!

Deer in Richmond Park

I met up with a friend in nearby Richmond Park during the week and had forgotten just how lovely it is. Unlike Bushy Park, which is across the road from Taggs Island, Richmond Park is vast and hilly and has many interesting aspects.

A stream in Richmond Park

The park has a beautiful garden called The Isabella Plantation and at this time of year it is more stunning than usual, a blaze of colour from the many azaleas and rhododendrums. It's very popular with visitors, but somehow it never feels over-crowded.

Mrs. Speckles looking bedraggled

Poor Mrs. Speckles has had a horrendous time of it since she started to nest. She has lost many feathers and is bald in places where she has been attacked on her nest and dragged from it by various 'rogue' males. Her partner is hopeless and hasn't defended her. As I mentioned in my previous brief blog, her last remaining egg turned up on the table of our motor boat cracked but with a formed duckling inside. We think she must have attempted to carry it from the nest because it was damaged. Either that, or one of the drakes 'stole' it and dropped it on our boat. We have no idea what could have happened to all the straw that lined her nest. She may have eaten some of it when she was sitting on her eggs but surely not all of it? She has been back to the nest several times as if to check and make sure that there's nothing left.

Goldeneye on the day her ducklings hatched

I spoke too soon when I mentioned that Goldeneye appeared to be taking her motherly duties more seriously. By Wednesday only two ducklings remained and they seemed to know that the nest box was safe when their mother wasn't around. However, it was as if Goldeneye got bored with the whole concept of motherhood, and she left the ducklings for hours on their own. By late afternoon on Thursday only one duckling remained and Goldeneye left it swimming around on its own while she and Gobi had a 'nap'. The last I saw of the duckling it was running around our neighbour's garden while a magpie watched with interest!

Goldeneye with the first duckling out of the nest

Goldeneye had problems persuading the ducklings to leave the nest. Several of them waddled or slithered down the plank but the rest were reluctant to emerge so Goldeneye had to keep going back to the box to encourage them out.

Goldeneye checks all around to see whether it's safe to lead the ducklings from the nest box

There are many false starts before all the ducklings emerge from the box. It's great fun to watch but, if her previous form is anything to go by, none survive more than a few days. This year she had lost them all in five days. To see their 'launch' click on the link in the blog entitled "The ducklings are hatching".

On Thursday, the day Goldeneye lost her final duckling, Lonely's brood hatched and she took over Goldeneye's nursery box that evening. Mrs. Speckles' nest was abandoned on Wednesday but became a brief refuge for two ducklings the next day. We think they belonged to Lonely who hatched 10 ducklings but only had five by the following morning.

Since Friday, there have been many comings and goings in the two waterside nest boxes but no takers. The female we call Silverduck has investigated both boxes and has also spent time on our garden deck checking out Goldeneye's nest box and some of my plant pots. Much to our surprise, Goldeneye has also been back to check on her box - it probably won't be long before she starts nesting all over again!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Just a quick few lines to bring you up to date with the duckling news. Images will follow.

Goldeneye lost seven of her ducklings by Tuesday but has started to behave more responsibly. She leaves them in the 'nursery' nest box while she goes off with Gobi to feed. It's great to see them wandering up and down the plank on their own.

Mrs. Speckles was doing fine with her remaining egg until yesterday. We're not sure what happened but we found the egg, semi cracked, on the table of our day boat. How it got there we can only guess at but the real puzzle was that her nest box was completely empty, no straw left!

Yesterday evening we had a call from our friend and neighbour, Corinne, saying that there were three ducklings under the boat next to us. The duck we call 'Lonely', is sitting on eggs on the houseboat between Corinne's boat and ours, and Corinne could see ducklings in the pot and thought, perhaps, that the three in the water had left the nest early. We were worried because they tried to join up with Goldeneye's ducklings but she didn't want them and kept pecking at them to chase them off.

With the help of neighbours Josie and Barney, who managed to net the three, we took the ducklings back to Lonely. When I saw the size of her ducklings I realised that the ones netted were more than a day old whereas Lonely's ducklings were still in the process of hatching!

With no obvious mother duck in sight, we called on neighbours Peter and Sue, who are experienced at raising orphan ducklings, and they very kindly took them in and prepared the incubator to keep them warm and safe for the night. Sue mentioned that she'd noticed three abandoned ducklings further upstream while she'd been out in her boat and reckoned these must be the same three.

Meanwhile, Lonely is due to launch her brood anytime now! Pictures and more news to follow but, in the meantime, our thanks to Corinne and family, Josie and Barney, Peter and Sue.

Friday, 17 April 2009

The ducklings are hatching

Goldeneye heading for the final vigil

Goldeneye took only minutes today to drink, grab a bite to eat, wash and race back to the nest.
Dave had a quick look in the box during her absence and saw that the eggs were beginning to hatch. Two hours ago I saw three ducklings wriggling around and disturbing her and every now and then we saw a little head next to her wing. The eggs should all hatch today/early tomorrow and, in theory, she'll lead them to the edge for the plunge to the river (via a bounce on our lower deck) tomorrow morning. We think it will be all over by tomorrow lunchtime but it could be anytime from first light. If you'd like to look at the webcam go to

Mrs. Speckles minutes before another attack

Last night was horrendous for the number of times Mrs. Speckles was dragged from her nestbox. This morning she had a restful twenty minutes in the garden, feeding and taking the time to drink from the pond and preen. As you may be able to see her feathers are bedraggled and at close quarters she's almost bald on the right of her neck and back and on one area of her side.

We've finally worked out which duck is to blame for most of the attacks - it's Gobi, Goldeneye's partner! He's always been territorial but now that his ducklings are due to hatch he is doing what Nature intended and seeing off all rivals. Poor Mrs. Speckles must have had very little rest last night - I know we did - and today she was driven from her nest and it was over two hours before she could return. I'll be surprised if the egg finally hatches.

Dave's raised the gang plank to her box a little and we're hoping it may deter Gobi but there's no guarantee. Perhaps, once his ducklings take to the river tomorrow, he'll be too busy to attack Mrs. Speckles. On the other hand, she is nesting in the box Goldeneye used as a nursery last year!

In between sleeping and waking during the many duck attacks we heard the most horrendous shrill calls of panic from somewhere upstream. It wasn't a call either of us recognised but some poor creature met with an untimely end. It was horrible listening to the distress calls . . . and then there was silence.

Mrs. Speckles' ramshackle nest and solitary egg

Unlike Goldeneye, Mrs. Speckles never gets the chance to cover up her egg because she is always being forced off the nest when Gobi attacks her. When she'd been absent for so long today I thought she must have abandoned the egg but, just in case, I added some extra hay for her to protect it a little better.

Mandarins at the pond

Two pairs of Mandarin ducks regularly visit the garden as well as a couple of spare males.
They are amazing to look at and bring extra colour to the garden. Today the female spent some time in the pond after feeding at the plank.

Bidou after bolting down an early supper

Bidou visits most days and by the looks of it is famished when she gets here. She let out such a desperate shriek today but did spend time grooming after her meal. She is still being seen off by the dominant mute swan and we're beginning to wonder whether this might be another ' 'phantom pregnancy' so to speak - in other words, the eggs may well be infertile. I'm still hoping for cygnets, though.

By tomorrow Goldeneye will be a proud mother protecting her ducklings and the webcam will be switched off until she starts her next brood in a few weeks' time - unless a miracle happens with Mrs. Speckles!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Only one egg remains

Mrs. Speckles after a night of disturbances

Mrs. Speckles must be the Marilyn Monroe or Liz Taylor of the duck world. The drakes never leave her alone. All through the night she is regularly attacked on her nest by a number of 'thugs'. We hear her fly from the nest in distress and it sometimes takes her three attempts to get back to it without being 'jumped'. The other morning we found an egg yolk on the front deck quite some way from her nest box, and when I checked on her eggs during one of her many forced absences she had just one egg left. We can't work out whether she is removing the damaged eggs or whether the rival male ducks are raiding her nest.

One egg left and no attempt to return to the nest

Following a further eventful night Mr. & Mrs. Speckles spent a long time in the garden feeding, drinking and resting. She, at least was attempting to rest; he's partly to blame for her problems as he hangs out with the bully boys that attack her and seldom tries to defend her. She was away from the nest for so long that we thought she'd decided to give up on it, but then she returned and she's still defending her one and only egg. During the day we do our best to drive off the drakes but there's little we can do at night to protect her. Twice I've managed to save her from drowning during a frenzied attack by as many as seven males and now she's careful to avoid being caught in the river. She has taken to using our walkway to approach her nest box, jumping from the deck onto her gang plank and up into the nest. Unfortunately, with all the rain, the plank has been slippery of late and she slithered off it into the river yesterday. Fortunately she got back before the drakes were able to grab her. She prefers to be fed on dry land so that if she does get jumped on she won't drown, and today she appeared reluctant to even wash in the pond. She spent no more than a few moments at a time having a wash, immersing herself for as little time as possible.

Goldeneye, meanwhile, has become wiser with age and now is very secretive when leaving the nest. She opts for very early in the morning and just before dark and makes no sound. Her eggs must be due to hatch within the next few days so Dave has set up a camera on the deck to capture images of the ducklings waddling down the gangplank.

Song thrush

It's been lovely to have the song thrush visiting the garden on a daily basis. It's surprisingly tame as it hops around looking for snails, worms and slugs. I never use pesticides or poisonous slug pellets and it really upsets me to think that so many beautiful song birds die because people unwittingly poison them by putting down the toxic type of chemical slug pellets. Between the ducks, thrushes and blackbirds my slug and snail population is being kept to a reasonable level at present.

A quick foray in the herb bed

I've 'dressed' some of the garden soil with the contents of my compost heap and the birds love to see what they can find to eat. The compost is full of worms and some, I'm sure, go to feed the robins, thrushes and blackbirds.

Bidou the black swan is still sitting on eggs and we're not sure how much longer she will do so. The eggs may well be infertile, in which case she's been wasting something like a month of her time. She turns up most days desperate to be fed and if we aren't aware of her arrival she soon lets out a massive high pitched call to let us know.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Mystery of the disappearing eggs

Lovely evening light

We've had some wonderful sunsets recently and the days have been surprisingly bright. Temperatures, however, fluctuate dramatically. One day we can sit in the garden enjoying the warm sunshine, the next, we have to wrap up against the chill wind.

Male pochard duck

A pair of pochards have 'taken up residence' in the area and they are very tame. They visit regularly to feed and make no bones about their feelings of superiority, seeing off any mallard that tries to share the food. Some drakes are brave enough to take them on, but usually the pochards reign supreme . . . until the coots arrive!

Robin with nesting material

A pair of robins have been keeping me company while I tend the garden and they decided to nest in our shed. We were a little concerned but left the window open to allow them access even though it was not an ideal situation. The next day I was watching the shed to check whether the robins were definitely nesting there and saw a robin disappearing, with a beakful of leaves, into the recesses of a folded tarpaulin close to the shed. This was decidedly unsafe as a potential nesting site and I commented to Dave on how ironic it was that they had ignored a nest box close by. He moved the box, placing it next to the tarpaulin, and made the entrance wider. We had hardly turned our backs when the robins took it over and within a day had completed their nest.

Great crested grebe with fish

There are times when grebes catch fish that are just too big but this one was not allowed to get away and I watched the grebe manoeuvre it into position before swallowing it.

Male mandarin duck investigating mallard's nest

What is it about this particular nest box? Last month, the mallard that now occupies this nest tried to take over Goldeneye's box on the top deck. She finally decided on this one at water level but is constantly pestered by other ducks hoping to occupy it. There is an identical box a few feet away which they all investigate but for some reason this box is the 'des res'. Every evening for several weeks, before Mrs. Speckles began to sit on her eggs full time, the male mandarin wandered in and out of both nest boxes and tried to tempt his partner to take one over. It was so funny to watch. He seemed keener than her but occasionally they would both squeeze into one or other of the boxes. The hybrid female duck we call Lonely also regularly went in and out of the boxes as did Silverduck. Finally, Mrs. Speckles spent more time in situ, sitting on 10 eggs and she would huff at any 'would be' intruders in an attempt to protect her property. One morning we heard a commotion, the sound of a female mallard in distress, and we were just in time to see Mrs. Speckles being chased from her nest by a drake. The approach plank was splattered with egg yolk! I looked inside the nest while she was still away and she had only nine eggs. As the days went by she had fewer eggs in the nest and tell tale signs of egg yolk on the plank. Then Dave saw her fly off with part of an egg in her beak. At first we thought that a crow or magpie was stealing the eggs but we started to watch the nest more carefully and realised that Mrs. Speckles was being attacked by a drake while sitting on her eggs. Inevitbaly some eggs got damaged and she had to dispense of them. Now she has only three and is still being attacked daily but she has learned new tactics. As soon as the male approaches she flies off the nest and, so far, has managed to save her remaining eggs over five days. Meanwhile, Silverduck (a pretty white hybrid female) and several drakes continue to harass Mrs. Speckles on her nest. Nature can be so cruel.

One of the mandarin ducks whose partner is now nesting nearby

Our pond showing signs of spring

I placed two waterlilies in the pond in early March as there had been no ducks or coots visiting it to damage the plants. I should have known better! Four days after planting, the ducks decided to see what was edible and I looked out one morning to see one of the lovely waterlilies floating at the surface and about to disappear down the cascade into the river. The other had been eaten. I shall have to find a way of protecting the plants from the ducks. At least Thunderthighs, the coot, isn't chomping his way through every green shoot. He's still alive but daren't venture into the dominant coots' territory. The garden birds, meanwhile, love bathing in the shallow areas and drinking at the pond. They are lovely to watch and their behaviour can sometimes be quite comical.
Florimania comes to Hampton Court Palace

Spring is a lovely time to visit Hampton Court Palace. There are delightful displays of flowers inside the palace during Florimania week and the wilderness gardens, close to the maze, are always stunning at this time of year. We're lucky to have such a magnificent historic building with its beautiful parks and gardens on our doorstep.

An aspect of the wilderness garden at the palace