Saturday, 30 May 2009

Successes and Failures

The swans have seven cygnets

This year the dominant swans have done well again, hatching seven cygnets and, so far, managing to raise them all. The previous dominant pair were hopeless parents, taking their newly hatched cygnets over the weir several years running. Those the heron didn't help itself to, the dominant swans on the lower stretch of the river attacked and killed.

Greater spotted woodpecker (image by Chris Wittenberg)

The woodpeckers also reared at least one youngster though it was almost as big as its parents when I last saw it accept food from them at the nest entrance. The tell tale signs of nest building could be seen at the base of the sycamore tree! Over the last few days we've heard and seen the parents flying to and fro with beak-fulls of insects and we've spotted at least one youngster. Our neighbour, Chris, managed to take the lovely image of one of the adults at the nest.

This persistent mandarin duck failed to impress

We get three or four pairs of mandarin ducks at the moment and this 'spare' male did his best to persuade one of the females to abandon her partner. Somehow his pose didn't quite do it for us either - not so much dashing as daft!

Silverduck enjoys a quiet five minutes in the pond

Silverduck managed to shake off some of the marauding males that lie in wait to attack the female ducks when they turn up to feed and she had a good five minutes to herself in our pond.

Our neighbours, Sue and Peter, successfully released the three ducklings we helped rescue and they are now part of a larger family. Sue and Peter's own 'mother duck' adopted several ducklings and then our three, and is now the proud mother of eleven ducklings. We sometimes see them all on Duck Ait, an island just upstream from us, where they separate into distinct groupings. Our three tend to stay together slightly apart from the others and there's always one duckling that doesn't snuggle up with the rest.

The pair of pochards never brought any youngsters to visit so I assume they were taken by predators. We were surprised to see another male turn up the other day, much to the annoyance of Madame, who did her best to see him off. Her mate didn't seem too bothered by the intruder, however.

We finally found out for sure that it's the magpie that has been raiding the nest boxes. When the ducks aren't there it's been dragging out the straw and pecking into the eggs. Poor Goldeneye lost four eggs to this remarkably intelligent thief and has been guarding her nest for most of the day for the past few days. Last night we heard a commotion and Goldeneye fled her nest and squawked for ages nearby. Dave saw something slope off down the deck at speed in the dark but he was unable to identify whether it was a fox or not. The eggs were still all there this morning but we've seen no sign of Goldeneye. We're sure she survived the attack but she may have abandoned her eggs (again). Like Mrs. Speckles before her she's been regularly attacked by males while occupying this nest box. On the subject of Mrs. Speckles, we haven't seen her for at least 10 days and I'm concerned that she might been attacked once too often! I just hope she hasn't drowned.

Chives in the herb bed

The chives have been magnificent this year and attract a large number of bees. I'm glad to see plenty of bees in the garden; I do my best to make the garden bee and butterfly friendly and never use chemicals.

Part of the garden at dusk

The scent of roses and syringa (mock orange blossom) fills the air as one walks down the garden path. Red cabbages grow amongst the flowers in this part of the garden. Elsewhere there are beans, peas, carrots, radishes, chard, lettuces, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs. The soft fruit is looking good, too, and the cherry and fig trees have a healthy crop. The biggest surprise, though, is the size of the strawberries. I've never seen such massive fruits in my garden.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The mallard that can't count!

Out of the nest, into the river, and up the ramp!

All seven newly hatched ducklings make it back into the garden

Newly hatched ducklings in Sue & Peter's garden

Several days after taking on the responsibility of rearing three orphaned ducklings, Peter phoned to say that 'their' mallard, who'd seemed quite interested in the 'ready made' family, had just hatched her own seven ducklings. I went over immediately just as she was leading them to the river. After swimming around for a few minutes, she led them up a purpose built ramp back into the garden, where they nestled against the netting placed around the three rescue ducklings to protect them from predation.

The newly hatched ducklings alongside the rescue ducklings

The youngsters were immediately drawn to the rescue ducklings and nestled up close to them while 'mother' rested for a while. In the evening, the mallard led her ducklings to a safe haven overnight but returned with only five ducklings the following morning. To the amazement of Peter and Sue, however, she later acquired four more ducklings! Meanwhile, she seemed drawn to the rescue ducklings and every evening it took ages for her to lead her family to safety upstream torn, it seemed, between her own family and the three rescued youngsters. Sue thinks that if she allows them to mix the mallard might attack the older ducklings, but she might consider taking the risk when the youngsters are a little older.

Half an hour old and already at home in the makeshift duckling pond

Time to leave the nest

The robins in our carport nest box had been busy all hours feeding their youngsters and finally the day came for the fledglings to leave the nest. We did our best not to disturb them but the box is next to where we park our car. However, the birds weren't the least bit bothered by our comings and goings. This one was reluctant to take flight but we assume it managed to leave the nest eventually.

We were a bit disappointed to have no bluetits nesting in their box (also in the carport) this year, or so we thought! Yesterday, however, to our surprise we saw a bluetit with a beakful of bugs, flying into the nestbox. They've been very secretive until now. This morning the parents have been busy catching insects for their young before heading for the nest.

A brief moment of affection

Coots aren't renowned for their harmonious lifestyle. In fact they are querulous creatures more often involved in domestic disputes than any of the other waterfowl. This display of affection, didn't last for long, and they were soon squabbling about whose turn it was to groom the other.

Bidou's nest

When Bidou, the black swan, needs to feed she has to leave her nest unattended because there's no mate to take her place and protect the eggs. It looks like there are four goose eggs in with her own eggs. It seems highly unlikely that these will hatch now and she is spending longer periods of time away from her nest. The mute swans that started nesting at the same time as Bidou have seven beautiful cygnets (photos to follow).

Meanwhile, after a break from failed parenthood, our two female mallards are nesting again. Mrs. Speckles (with four eggs now) has returned to her former nestbox but Goldeneye has decided to lay two eggs in the newer of the two boxes on our garden deck. Perhaps she doesn't like being watched by Dave when he sits at the computer! The puzzle is that both ducks occasionally wander into each other's nests and this morning, the duck siting in Mrs. Speckles' box didn't look like Mrs. Speckles at all.