Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Blustery days

Good days for sailing

We've had very squally weather over the last couple of weeks with quieter periods in between. The strength of the gusts last night was impressive - fortunately all is safe and in one piece this morning. The local sailing clubs have had some ideal weather conditions for their Sunday races. The above are Hampton dinghies, making the most of the brisk ,breezy weather.

Male mandarin duck

Only one pair of mandarin ducks visits us regularly at the moment. They always wait to be fed on the front deck rather than at the back of the house for the first feed of the day. The female is so much daintier than a female mallard but she can usually keep her place in the pecking order.
The male isn't so bold and flies off the deck when I put out food but his partner stands at the patio doors and stares in at me when she wants more wheat.

Dangerous territory

Territorial battles between mute swans have been less frequent this winter but occasionally the dominant pair takes exception to any intruder that strays into their territory. When they've driven off potential rivals they continue to flare their wings and flex their necks until they're sure there's no longer a threat.

After an absence of months the squirrel is back, raiding the bird table for sunflower hearts every morning. I had bought a bird table that was designed to foil large birds and squirrels but magpies, pigeons and the squirrel refuse to be deterred by the extra bars. Today I've delayed putting out food until the squirrel gets bored and goes elsewhere!

It's months away from the nesting season but Lonely inspects the two duck nesting boxes every day. Perhaps it's her way of laying claim to at least one of them. A hybrid male duck (one of the brown and white ones like Gobi) also spends a fair amount of time on the ramp of the nest box last used by Goldeneye.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Stormy nights and misty mornings

Leisurely preen

On colder mornings the swans spend at least an hour at the feeding station hoping for extra hand-outs. When they finally accept that feeding time is over, they relax mid-stream for a serious preen. This one caught my eye when it was backlit by the early morning sun for a moment. It's warm breath laced the cold air in wisp of vapour.

The mandarin ducks are back

Four days ago I noticed that the mandarin ducks were back after disappearing for several months from the scene. They're quite bold and the female stands right up close to the sliding doors and pecks on the glass for attention.

A typical misty scene for this time of year

It's time for the kids to leave

Every morning I'm greeted by the parent swans, three cygnets, the black swan, fifteen to twenty ducks, the two fat ladies and an assortment of tufted ducks and coots. Feeding them all is quite a challenge as they fight each other instead of getting stuck in! The two fat ladies eat what they can from the communal platform and then swim over to me to be hand fed. If I'm not careful, I nearly trip over a drake every time I move as he follows me like a dog and stands right by my feet hoping for his own private supply of wheat. If I feed him separately he is immediately driven off by other ducks and returns to my side. One day, if I'm not careful, I'll trip over him! Meanwhile Bidou, the black swan, expects to be fed in her usual spot but the swans and cygnets are wise to this and chase her off. After 10 minutes, things quieten down a bit (apart from the swans) and then some of the more shy ducks, like Lonely, turn up for their turn.

Battered by rain

During last night's storms winds gusted to 75mph and are still brisk this morning with a threat of more squalls to come. Yesterday this rose looked lovely but it's taken a fair battering overnight.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The end of an Indian summer

The lovely Indian summer is gradually coming to an end. We've started getting heavy rain at times and the temperatures have dropped significantly. I still haven't had to wrap my citrus trees in fleece yet, but it's handy for when the first frost is forecast. This morning is bright and sunny so I was able to take this picture of Bidou (below) stretching her wings after having chased one of the cygnets away from the food supply. It's almost a game with her. She picks on one of the cygnets and chases it round and round the boat until she gets bored. Apart from grabbing it by the neck or tail feathers occasionally, she does nothing else to harm it.

Bidou enjoying a leisurely stretch

A stream in Bushy Park

When the weather forecast predicted the end of the warm, sunny days, I grabbed the opportunity to take a walk in the park late one afternoon. The sun disappears from the woodland gardens all too early, but I still enjoyed the more muted light that lent a softer hue to the autumm colours. I had hoped to see some deer on my walk but not one showed as much as its antlers.

Tufted duck enjoying the early morning sunshine

The tufted ducks are so tame these days, having become habituated to humans. Dozens of them spend the day under the overhang of our walkway, taking advantage of any food that I put out for the swans and ducks. They love wheat and dive for the grains that are spilled by the careless ducks. At the moment the water is really clear, so we can watch them swimming underwater as they search for the wheat. Some of them now use our main plank to 'haul out' and preen, which is great, because one doesn't normally see tufties on dry land. The coots chase them off if they want the plank for themselves but, occasionally, the tufties have a chance to clean up and have a quiet kip without being disturbed.

The pond in late autumn

The leaves on our Acer have turned a magnificent rusty red and the pond plants, instead of dying off, seem to be growing again. There are gorgeous new flowers on the marsh marigold and one of the other plants is putting out new shoots. Even the watercress is doing well.