Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas from a snowy river Thames

Kingfisher on our mooring bar

The lagoon has been frozen for much of the past week and, as a consequence, a kingfisher has been visiting our stretch of river in search of sustenance. Our pond is something of a magnet at the moment because the two Shibunkins are far from dormant and are proving too much of a temptation. Last year we lost five of the six fish and presumed they'd been taken either by a heron or a kingfisher (or both). We've since been told that the culprit may have been a grass snake! We saw one swimming away from our river bank across the river during the summer so that is another possibility.

I was hoping to grab a few more shots of this magnificent bird (through the kitchen window) but someone's cat had other ideas and scared it away. I'll have to hope that it returns and stays for a little longer another time. Whenever I've caught a glimpse of a kingfisher in the past it takes flight the moment it spots movement.
A view of Hurst Park from Garrick's Villa

While Dave and I were visiting Colin last week there was a blizzard and, for a while, we couldn't see across the river to Hurst Park. After lunch, however, the sky brightened and Colin showed us the magnificent views from upstairs.

Hampton Court Palace gardens

The snow really did lie deep and crisp and even during the week and the Palace was obliged to close the gardens to the public. I work at the Palace on Mondays and was therefore able to take this shot from King Williams Apartments, looking down over the Privy Garden.

Another view of Hampton Court Palace gardens

Early morning in the freezing cold

The big freeze lasted long enough for the river to start icing over. I had to break the ice in the stretch of water between our houseboat and the riverbank so that the ducks and swans could reach their feeding station. Only one duck had used his initiative and must have flown round to be fed. He was standing on the ice waiting for his breakfast! Even the main river had chunks of thin ice forming in places. It reminded me of New Year's Day in the year 2000 when the river froze solid and remained unnavigable for almost 10 days in spite of the efforts of the Environment Agency's ice-breaker.

Male Pochard in the early morning light

On one of the few really sunny mornings the beautiful early morning light enhanced the plumage of the various ducks, geese and swans. There was an amazing mix of wildfowl including eight mandarin ducks, a pair of pochards, a widgeon, all the usual suspects and Bidou, the black swan, whose feathers were encrusted with ice particles. She looked quite stunning as the sun glinted
off her frozen back.

The lagoon was partly frozen over last Sunday

A parakeet waiting its turn on the peanut feeder

The garden birds have been particularly hungry during the cold spell and more are taking advantage of the bird feeders to stave off hunger. When it comes to pecking order the parakeets have their own but they all defer to the woodpecker. I've seen some interesting fights between both breeds and the woodpecker always wins.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Birds, beasts, a bunny and trees

Mute swan spots a rival upstream

The mute swans, who took over the dominant role this autumn, seem to have been effective in driving away rival swans and we seldom see 'intruders' in the area. They aren't happy with Bidou the black swan but are less aggressive with her than with rival mute swans. Poor Bidou spends much of her time alone and we hear her forlorn high-pitch calls as she announces her presence to all and sundry. When she's in full voice she starts with a deep booming grunt culminating in a shrill high-pitched trumpeting call. When we haven't noticed her and she wants to draw our attention to the fact that she's waiting to be fed she limits the call to a more gentle, mid-pitched sound, loud enough to let us know she's around but not full volume.

Male tufted duck grooming

The tufted ducks used to be so shy when we came back to the UK in 1995 after living overseas for quite some years. As soon as the 'tufties' spotted movement in the house they would swim out to the middle of the river. I never saw one use our feeding platform. Now, many of them are so habituated to the feeding environment that they fly up at me when I go out to feed them. When the river is clear it's amazing to watch them dive, swimming some distance underwater for the wheat seem to enjoy so much. They also 'haul out' on our feeding platform to groom sometimes, which is lovely to watch. They have the most adorable way of communicating with each other and we often hear them chattering away to each other when the river is quiet.

Tufted duck gives a quick flap of his wings after grooming

Male 'tufties' have striking, beady eyes

Autumn colours in Bushy Park

Only a couple of weeks ago the trees in Bushy Park were ablaze with colour but the recent strong winds and bitterly cold weather has taken its toll and many of the trees are now almost bare.

Wild rabbit in one of the woodland gardens

Hunched up against the cold this rabbit appeared reluctant to move when I approached it. I stopped at what I considered to be a 'non-threatening' distance from it and observed it for a couple of minutes before moving on.
The Diana Fountain

After what seemed like an age the Diana Fountain was restored to its former beauty some time back and is a stunning central feature of Bushy Park. Here, it's pictured from the side with a backdrop of autumn foliage.

Red deer

I came across this stag while taking a short-cut through the bracken in the park. The rut was almost over and most of the stag activity had subsided. I hadn't noticed him as I trudged through the deep bracken and was somewhat surprised when he raised his head and gazed at me with bored eyes.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Misty and mellow scenes on the river

Mute swan in early morning mist

We've had some fabulous morning mists and late autumn sunshine to brighten the days as the nights draw in and daylight hours decrease. Temperatures fluctuate considerably with sharp frosts some mornings and warm, balmy days at other times. The leaves are changing colour dramatically, now, and Bushy Park is ablaze with colour. The (deer) rut is almost over but I watched two young roe bucks lock antlers in earnest today while a third one accompanied their action with a series of grunts.

Rowers launch their skiffs at Molesey Boat Club

Mute swan sets off after Bidou

The dominant mute swans are still patrolling this stretch vigorously and do not tolerate Bidou's presence. The male always drives her away but she bides her time and sneaks back after they've moved on. At least I haven't seen them fly after her which they do when they spot another mute swan in the area.

Mallard drake in all his glory

The drakes have all regained their definitive plumage, as have the mandarin ducks, but the grebes remain in eclipse for the winter. There's a huge amount of 'whistle/grunt' activity going on among the mallards as they continue to pair off. It never fails to make me smile.

Bright-eyed, young male tufted duck

Coot poses for a picture

A pair of aggressive coots frequent our feeding station and beat up most of the other waterbirds. The other day a pair of great crested grebes tried to 'haul out' on the same wide platform but the coots would have none of it and saw them off. When they do get the platform to themselves it's amazing to see the grebes standing (almost) upright. They're ungainly on land but they seem to like using our plank to relax on and for grooming.

This swan would fight his own shadow if he didn't have an interloper to see off!

Race day at Hampton Sailing Club

It's a colourful sight when all the sailing dinghy's are out in fine weather. Above is a picture of the race from a distance with Hampton Church in the background, downstream towards Molesely Lock.

Organised chaos as the dinghies negotiate the marker buoys

Female mallard with straw on her beak

This female has been showing a great deal of interest in both duck nesting boxes. I watch her and her partner waddle up and down the planks to the two boxes, apparently trying to decide which box will be best when Spring comes. Meanwhile Lonely, who likes to think she owns one of the boxes, shows enormous disapproval when any other female looks into 'her' box.

Lonely keeps a watchful eye on her 'preferred' nesting box

Male pochard

We hadn't seen the pochards for ages and then one day they suddenly appeared, stayed for several hours, then disappeared again. I haven't seen them since. We have had two young mandarin ducks hanging around in the chilly weather and I think they were last year's babies as they weren't the least nervous when I went outside to feed them. They were made most unwelcome by the regular pair of mandarin ducks, though, and I haven't seen them now for at least a week.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

New kids on the block

Bidou's lonely

Bidou keeps calling out and we think she must be lonely as she now has no 'surrogate' family to tag along with. The family of mute swans appears to have been ousted from their territory by a pair of younger swans. It's been upsetting to watch the newcomers chase and attack the cygnets - we've managed to protect them a couple of times but don't always see the attacks happen. The cygnets can't fly yet so we do hope they are OK. Equally, we haven't seen either of the parents. We were called out to help one of them about 10 days ago - it had hidden behind a houseboat close to the weir and was finding it difficult to squeeze through the gap between the boat and freedom. The new swans aren't keen on having Bidou tag along with them so she's without friends at the moment.

Female mallard

Most of this year's ducklings are fully grown and starting to find a partner. Some of the drakes are still in partial eclipse but you can see their plumage beginning to change. At certain times of the day they all congregate in the middle of the river and 'check out' the talent, so there's plenty of 'showing off' by the males and 'beaking off' by the females. The drakes collectively emit a high pitched whistle while raising their heads and chests, then immediately make a deep grunting sound as they do the reverse and raise their tails. As the tails rise up they all stretch out their necks close to the water and swim manically around. Females who've already selected a partner 'beak off' at the hopeful drakes, quacking in a disapproving way, their beaks pointing at the rejected males while swimming away from them with the partner(s) of their choice.

A strange juxtaposition

I caught a glimpse of a swan with what seemed like unusual markings but when it approached I saw that it had a dark feather stuck to its white plumage.

The 'ugly duckling' is turning into a beautiful swan

Until recently, when the new arrivals started to patrol this stretch of the river, our family of mute swans were still together. Occasionally, the male cygnet would turn up ahead of the rest. The female always stayed with mum. Above you can see the male's plumage starting to change. The female, who was considerably smaller and much more friendly, had no white plumage showing.

Close-up of the male cygnet's wing feathers

Posing for the camera

I should imagine that the male cygnet was close to receiving flying lessons from mum and dad but we haven't had the joy of watching his first attempts as we've seen no sign of any of the family. I haven't been out in the boat recently but tomorrow we hope to have a look for them. There's a large 'non-breeding' flock of swans at Kingston, so perhaps our family have headed downstream.

The last image I took of the family

The two fat ladies

These lovely old girls have survived the season and turn up regularly for a helping of wheat. They like to be hand-fed once they've eaten a little from the communal plank - they're very well behaved and never fight each other. We know when they're around because they quack extremely loudly and we get no peace. As soon as the wheat hits the plank the decibel levels return to normal.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I've been in Sines, Portugal at its World Music Festival

It's that time of year when I disappear to Portugal for FMM Sines, the World Music Festival which is an annual event in the lovely town of Sines. Thames Nature Notes will return to normal soon!

Statue of Vasco da Gama next to the castle in Sines

Vasco da Gama was born in Sines and his statue overlooks the harbour, next to the old castle where he was born. Sines is an attractive coastal town half way between Lisbon and The Algarve. Every year the town holds a music festival celebrating world music, an impressive and friendly event in spectacular surroundings. Portugal hasn't been immune to the global recession and the festival, previously a 10-day event, was reduced to 5 days this year. The concerts were staged in two venues, one inside the castle walls and the other down by the beach.

One of the lovely sandy beaches near Sines

There are excellent beaches along this whole coastline which include vast stretches of white sand and areas with rock pools and coves. This part of the coastline between Sines and Porto Covo is close to one of my favourite beach-side restaurants, Trinca Espinhas.

Sines beach and the temporary stage which is set up for the festival

Early evening and late night concerts are held at the beach stage where the atmosphere is friendly and fun. Along the promenade there are stalls selling local food and drinks at sensible prices. Visitors can also find plenty of market stalls selling clothing, jewellery and other ethnic items.

Sines harbour

Nat King Cole En Espagnol

David Murray was one of the excellent artistes appearing on stage at the castle on the first night of the festival.

Daniel Melingo

Daniel Melingo was guest vocalist for three of the numbers performed by Nat King Cole En Espagnol.

Allyssa Lamb

Las Rubias del Norte is a seven piece combo fronted by two classically trained singers, Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst. The purity of their voices is ethereal, incorporating classical harmonies set to a latin beat.

Taylor Bergren-Crisman

Bass player, Taylor, on stage with Las Rubias del Norte.


Wimme Saari, a Sámi joik singer from Finland, uses a traditional chant style with elements in common with Native American music. The combination of the band's use of instruments and Wimme's joik vocals produce elemental and haunting sounds.

Tapani Rinne

Tapani on clarinet is from the Finnish experimental band RinneRadio.

Yasmin Levy

Yasmin's distinctive and passionate voice combines Ladino and Flamenco cultures with her own unique blend of middle eastern words and sounds, "a musical reconciliation of history" as she puts it. Her voice is hypnotic, seductive and deeply emotional.

Yasmin and some of the band

Janick Martin

Janick played diatonic accordion with the Jacky Molard Quartet & Founé Diarra Trio during the Sines festival.

Founé Diarra Trio

Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford

The Mekons are a British Punk band, formed in the late 70's by a group of Leeds University art students. Eight members of the band were on stage in Sines.

Dorothée Hannequin

French vocalist and guitarist Dorothée taught herself to play the acoustic guitar in her mid-teens but only started to sing several years later.

The Rodeo's Jean Thevenin

Dan Kaufman

Guitarist Dan Kaufman with the band Barbez together combine such sounds as French musette, Argentine tango, post-war classical and pre-MTV punk.

Barbez's Pamelia Kurstin plays the theremin

Peter Hess, also with Barbez


Sa Dingding

Colourful folk singer/songwriter Sa Dingding was born in Inner Mongolia. Her songs were originally influenced by the music of ethnic minorities which she encountered while living with her grandmother in her formative years.

Keyboard player with Sa Dingding

Lead singer with Tinariwen

Tinariwen is a band of musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali. Their sound has its roots in West African music with a hint of 'the blues', though members of the band say they hadn't heard American blues music until they began touring on the European circuit.




Lole Montoya

Lole Montoya, formerly part of Spanish musical duo Lole y Manuel, composed and performed innovative flamenco music in the vanguard of new flamenco. Perhaps influenced by her Algerian born mother, Lola's lovely voice combines traditional Spanish flamenco with Arabic rhythms and styles.

Guitarist with Lole Montoya

Kahiné Kuyaté from the Cheick Tidiane Seck band

On stage at Sines the Cheick Tidiane Seck band performed traditional and popular Malian music from the Manding-speaking region of West Africa.

Members of the Cheick Tidiane Seck band

Yéyé Kanté from the Cheick Tidiane Seck band

Fireworks as the band Staff Benda Bilili perform on stage at Sines Castle

Fireworks to celebrate the last night of the festival

Thousands of delighted fans enjoyed not only the eclectic mix of World Music but also the colourful spectacle of fireworks during Staff Benda Bilili's stage performance at Sines Castle.