Sunday, 28 February 2010

Oh For A Few Days Of Sunshine!

Mandarin duck enjoys a brief glimpse of sunlight

All the signs are here. The chaffinches are calling to each other, the coots are having serious battles over territory, the little brown duck, Lonely, and her mate are checking out the nesting boxes, but the weather is anything but Spring like. We've had the occasional sunny day, and some half-hearted sunrises and sunsets, but for the most part grey skies, bucket-loads of rain, and cool temperatures are all we have to show for the approach of Spring. The mandarin ducks turn up for food most days, but even they couldn't be bothered to brave the heavy rainfall one day this week.
Mrs. Pochard

The Pochards are here so often they are part of the scenery. Even they, however, disappeared for most of yesterday when the heavens opened. The two male escorts are elegantly coiffured with not a feather out of place.

We've had a less frequent visitor to the garden twice in one week, and I'm hoping it will stop by on a regular basis. There was a flash of blue and, when I took a closer look, I saw a kingfisher sitting in the fig tree looking down at the pond. I don't know whether we still have any fish but I think the kingfisher was checking things out. I saw him/her again two days later, sitting on the railings, but I couldn't tell whether it was watching the pond or the shallow river water outside the front door.

Boats in tandem

On a cold, grey morning these boats came through the lock in tandem, saving fuel by using only one engine to power the two of them. Even when the weather's dull there's nearly always something to see on the river, whether it be birds or boats.

Bidou is getting restless

Bidou has become very vocal these days. She chats away to us when she's feeding and she becomes positively distraught at the sound of swans flying overhead. She must be sensing that the mating season is fast approaching and still she has no partner. Although I shouldn't assume that she has 'human' emotions, there are times when she appears to be desperate for company. I can see her now, as I'm writing this, tailing the pair of dominant mute swans as they head here for their last 'wheat treat' of the day. Bidou was here only 10 minutes ago and she was crying out quite pitifully, as if she were calling to her 'friends'. She's not hungry for food but she is hungry for company.

Southern Cormorant

With all the rain the cormorants have enjoyed some good fishing. They seem to be getting quite tame, too. I surprised one by the front door and, instead of diving in panic, it just looked at me and stayed where it was. The southern cormorant, pictured above with its coarse, silver neck plumage, is equally bold and frequently surfaces really close to the houseboat. The other day I saw it fighting with an eel but the eel appeared to win and the cormorant abandoned the fight! Unfortunately, the light was low and I was unable to get a good image of the 'encounter'.

The 'two fat ladies' have just been for supper and were extra hungry tonight. They hadn't called by for breakfast or lunch today but made up for the deficit of wheat when I hand fed them. Were they hungry!!

It's almost dark, but at least it is already 5.40pm, and the evenings are getting lighter. The mandarin ducks are still tucking in to a late supper on the deck. And now, it's time to think about our evening meal . . . and it won't consist of wheat!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

How many Pochards?

Dawn patrol

The dominant mute swans don't tolerate interlopers and, with Spring approaching, have increased the early morning patrols of their territory. The mute swan tagged UPH and his partner have been sneaking in for a quick beakful of wheat but it's a risky business. Over the past fourteen days they've been chased away at least a dozen times! They took flight just in time on this occasion but I hope they won't be foolish enough to come back. This was a grab shot, as I hadn't been paying attention and only noticed the action at the last moment. I should know by now that, when the light is lovely and there's wildlife about, I should have my camera close by and be prepared for what might happen!

Bidou stretches her wings

Bidou has become very vocal recently and 'chats' away to us whenever we feed her. In fact, if we don't notice her, she makes sure that we're aware of her presence by increasing the volume of her calls for attention. I've noticed that she responds to any swans flying overhead by 'trumpeting' very loudly as they pass. It's sad that she is still alone, three years after settling in the area, and attaches herself to the pair of mute swans for company whenever she can. It's obvious that they don't really want her around but at least they're not beating her up at the moment.

There's no 'entente cordiale' among Pochards

Monsieur and Madame Pochard have become regulars now and we assume they are the pair that nested in the area last summer. We were rather surprised the other morning to see five pochards hanging around at first light, two pairs and a 'spare' male. We wondered, at first, whether 'the regulars' had brought their mates in from Bushy Park but it soon became apparent that there was no love lost between them and the newcomers haven't been seen since that morning. There's little 'entente cordiale' between the pochards and the mandarin ducks either and there are frequent squabbles but it's fun to watch them all interact. The colourful plumage of the mandarins and the vibrant crest and beak of the male pochard brightens up the rather drab days at the moment.

A determined tufted duck

The current has been strong recently and the waterfowl are having to swim hard against the flow to make any headway. This male tufted duck saw me come out to throw some wheat on the plank and put on a spurt to make sure he didn't miss out on a treat.

Mute swan thrusts against the current

The dominant cob spots a rival

I'm always amazed at just how powerful the dominant pair of mute swans are. They make an impressive pair when they 'see off ' rivals and the wake they create gives some indication of their strength as they surge through the water.