Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Indian summer continues

We were surprised to see a coot carry a small fish to the floating platform outside our foredeck yesterday and attempt to swallow it. We've never seen a coot with a fish before and this one tried to swallow the fish whole. Before I could grab my camera, a gull swept down and grabbed the fish from the coot, before being mobbed by a dozen gulls.

A few minutes later we watched a tufted duck settle on the platform to preen and then it stood and flapped its wings for several minutes as if attempting a vertical take-off.

Last week, when I was on the phone to a friend, I saw a large fish leap clear from the river twice. What was strange was that the fish appeared to have a bright red band around its middle, like a sash. It seemed to twist as it flew through the air and I wondered whether it were trying to free itself from some jetsam that had become wrapped around it.

Two elegant 'old ladies'

This stretch of river between Molesey Lock and Sunbury Lock is not only beautiful but steeped in history. On Sunday, as we watched TheYarmouth Belle (built 1892) pass the houseboat Astoria (1911), we were impressed by the classical elegance of boat design in former years.

Parakeets are as devious as magpies

Parakeets are clever at accessing food and over time we've seen them prize off lids from peanut feeders and dump them in the river in order to snack on whole peanuts. In this picture you can see a fat ball lodged in the tree that a parakeet has dragged from the container for a more comfortable and leisurely meal!

Down the hatch!

As we approached this cormorant we noticed it was showing signs of indigestion! It lifted most of its body from the water, arched its neck and swallowed, before taking a final drink to wash the catch down.

Dinghy racing

These colourful craft added to the glorious autumnal glow on the river. There was a brisk breeze, accompanied by bright, warm sunshine on Sunday, and the competitors made the most of the perfect conditions.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Winter time, it's official, but no one told the wildlife!

Another stunning evening in Hampton

We may, officially, have entered Winter time with the clocks going back an hour last night, but the weather belies this. At present it's sunny and an amazing 24.1 C on our deck and we've been watching a red admiral butterfly take advantage of the warm sunshine. Meanwhile, I'm still harvesting tomatoes from the garden deck and the baby aubergines are thriving.

Sunning themselves before bed time

The two fat ladies love to warm themselves in the dying rays of the late autumn sunshine. After an early supper they head for Duck Ait where they preen and then sit and face the evening sun. They give us a wake up call each morning, making such a racket that it's impossible to ignore them. Neither of us can get back to sleep once they come calling for their breakfast! Unusually, for ducks, they are happy to share their food and never peck each other, taking it in turn to hand feed. They're gentle ducks . . . but very noisy!

Another regular at Duck Ait

Most evenings we see this heron preen and settle on Duck Ait. Watching the ducks, geese and herons gather here at sundown reminds us of Key West in Florida, where sunset attracts a huge crowd of locals and visitors alike. We've been fortunate enough to have some stunning sunsets this autumn.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Not in our back river!

Resident swans chase rival cygnet

A cygnet from the upstream family of swans was foolish enough to stray into our swan family's territory and was seriously attacked. It managed to escape but didn't learn a lesson and was soon cornered by dad, mum and the three cygnets. It kept trying to climb out onto the bank but was dragged under by the attacking swans. It didn't stand a chance and, in the end, Dave went across in the boat to hold off the attackers long enough for the cygnet to escape.

A cygnet chases off one of its own family

The cygnets are learning to defend their territory and are quite happy to attack each other. Meanwhile Bidou, the black swan, takes great delight in chasing all the cygnets. Perhaps she sees it as payback time for all her humiliations throughout the year at the hands of the parent mute swans.
Early morning sun catches the autumn foliage

There was the most glorious light on the trees one morning this week. The river took on a golden hue as it reflected the lovely autumn colour in the trees on the opposite bank.

Evening sun on the bank opposite

We've had a lovely autumn and have managed to get out in the boat regularly, if only for a half hour trip upstream, round the islands and back again. The evening light looks so restful as the sun's low rays slant through the trees but the scene was far from peaceful on Monday night at around 10.30pm. The silence was broken by the sound of many police sirens. Then I heard what sounded like a mini bike racing along the towpath from the Hurst Park direction before stopping close by. A minute later a number of policemen/women ran along the towpath from the Molesey direction and there were flashlights and people shouting for a while. Finally, a helicopter was sent up to scour the area so presumably the fugitive wasn't found. Later I saw more police searching with flashlights among the trees and shrubs. If anyone reading this knows what happened, please put us out of our suspense!

A garden on the riverbank en route to Sunbury weir stream

Whenever it's sunny we try to make the most of the river by taking our day boat up or down stream. The air is getting chillier in the late afternoon but the light is quite lovely when the sky is so clear. It's interesting to see how far some of our local wildlife travels. The two fat ladies have completely recovered now from the loss of their male partner and use Duck Ait as their base. They swim around some of the island and into the lagoon but don't circumnavigate the island. Bidou travels as far as Platts Eyot, however, and I've also seen some of the ducks that come to feed daily in the Platts Eyot area later in the day.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Party in the park

Red sky at night

This delightful sunset melted into a chill, still night, perfect conditions for a party in the park - a stag party, that is. As the night progressed testosterone charged stags got rowdy, fighting ensued and the deep-throated bellowing of rutting red deer woke us at 3.00am.

Hungover the next day?

The following day I wandered over to the park to see some action but most of the deer were either hunkered down nurturing 'antler ache' or keeping a watchful eye on the hinds (female deer) they'd 'won over'. Several lone stags did their best to impress any hind in two minds about their choice of partner, but there were no attempts to 'steal' peripheral members of the harem from inattentive rivals.

If at first you don't succeed . . .

. . . try and try again

A stag, previously hidden by bracken, sauntered past me and stood close to some grazing hinds in an attempt to proclaim his prowess. They ignored him! His heart wasn't in it and he soon ambled off to look for action elsewhere.

Time for a little lunch

Leaving the stag to nurse his dented pride I noticed a heron heading for a stretch of water where gulls were skimming the surface for food. The heron had lunch on its mind but the gulls had no intention of sharing, and several dive-bombed it.

What the devil . . .

I'll get those gulls

Hunting in pairs

Cormorants have been fishing in twos and threes over the last few weeks and are doing very nicely, thank you! The river is teaming with fish, providing a plentiful supply.

This one was successful at almost every attempt

One final fish for breakfast

Two neighbours fish from their decks and the cormorants target their boats when they arrive for breakfast and lunch. Presumably there are more fish nearby because of the bait used to attract fish by the fishermen - an example of a healthy symbiotic relationship between humans and wildlife. Sadly not all fishermen have such a laissez-faire attitude to wildlife and we witnessed a cormorant, hooked by fishermen trolling from their boat, being dragged through the water, desperately trying to free itself. What sickened us was the fact that the fishermen maintained their speed and only slowed to a near stand-still when we called to them to slow down and headed towards them in our boat. They managed to free the cormorant and raced away before we reached them, and we stayed to check on the cormorant. In spite of its ordeal, it seemed fine and continued to dive and surface without showing signs of distress. There were no tell tale signs of fishing line to concern us.

Greenfinch with little fear

A rather scruffy greenfinch frequents our window feeder and spends ages sitting in the dish. It feasts on sunflower hearts, spitting out the bits it doesn't want. These fall to the ground and are eaten by the pigeons or ducks, depending on which species gets to them first.

Time for a drink

After a hearty meal the bird heads for the pond, first for a drink, and afterwards for a bath. It has learnt to balance on one of the waterlily leaves or on my watercress and bathe safely from there.

The two fat ladies

Following the death of Grey Job the two fat ladies have been noticeably subdued and off their food. For over a week they hung around Patrick's garden instead of spending the night on Duck Ait, a much safer venue. Unfortunately for Patrick, they liked the shelter of his porch and the comfort of his doormat. The mess on his mat the following day had to be seen to be believed! We tried to discourage them by obscuring the walkway with plant pots but they found their way around them and continued to 'bed down' on his doorstep. His garden looked like the contents of a feather pillow had been scattered over it, while the ground was pebble-dashed with massive amounts of excrement, so Patrick was relieved when their period of mourning was over and they made Duck Ait their home once more.

A splash of autumn colour

A hollow tree trunk

There are plenty of trees like this in Bushy Park. It's such a bonus to have the park on our doorstep with its wilderness areas and its beautiful woodland gardens. Yesterday, while out photographing the deer, I was fortunate enough to come across a huge number of deer, gently grazing and enjoying the warm sunshine. Most of the stags were resting, so there was very little happening until a dog started chasing the deer, rushing at them and startling them all. If the owner had been anywhere in view they would have been in trouble for allowing their dog to attack the deer.