Friday, 18 June 2010

Mandarin ducks, grebes and damselflies

Mandarin duck enjoying the setting sun

Mandarin duck having an evening preen

The mandarin ducks arrive for their evening feed at around 7.30pm and then use our dinghy for a relaxing preen. This one looked particularly fine in the evening light. Our female mandarin with the four youngsters appears to be a single parent although I suspect that her partner is the male that's in moult and has already lost his fine feathers.

One of the young mandarin ducks at the nest box entrance

It's been a trying time for the mandarin duck family. The mother was using one of the nest boxes at night to keep her young safe but the fox disturbed them one night and now she and the kids only come to the nest boxes during the day as a temporary resting spot. One of the youngsters is slower to learn than its siblings and the mother has had to keep an eye on it while, at the same time, accompanying the other three who always come to the patio doors to be fed. Dave made a little plank for the 'slow' one but it still didn't know how to climb out onto our deck. We've had many a worrying moment when mum has swam off with her three and the other duckling has been nowhere in sight. The less agile duckling would always go to one of the nest boxes and wait for the rest of the family to finish feeding which was sensible, at least. Finally, however, it discovered how to hop up onto our deck and we were relieved that mum no longer had to divide her attention between them all. Two days ago, though, we heard the sound of a distressed mandarin duck and later guessed that one of her youngsters must have been injured. Mum hung around the nest box with all four of them for ages and we didn't see them leave that evening. The next day she appeared with only three ducklings, which was most upsetting.

I half hoped that the fourth one would turn up unexpectedly but mum called round regularly with only three youngsters and we gave up on the fourth one. Last night, however, a lone mandarin duckling turned up to be fed and this morning Mum was back with all four, so we can only assume that the injured one was kept somewhere safe until it had had a chance to recover. Sadly, one of its leg is badly damaged but otherwise it seems to be feeding well and can keep up with the others. We hope that it will eventually heal as we've seen this happen with injured mallards.

Mandarin amongst the flowers

This particular female mandarin loves sitting in my flower pot while she waits for me to put food out. If I don't respond quickly enough she flies onto the garden table right next to the patio doors and stares in at me to make me feel guilty.

Mum resting on the deck in the sunlight

Mum with three of the kids after feeding

Great crested grebe stretching

The other morning the grebes started courting, growling to each other, raising their crests, while the male presented the female with muddy weed. The pair of them rose out of the water and almost rubbing chests together in a courtship dance. Unfortunately it was very early in the morning and the light was dull and grey so it wasn't possible to get good images of their behaviour but it was wonderful to watch. After about an hour, they suddenly turned aggressive because another grebe was in 'their' territory. Several vicious battles ensued but most of the chasing was done underwater.

Grebe attacking an intruder

The fighting was intermittent but lasted about half an hour until territories had been established. At one point they were beating their wings against each other but then they would slide beneath the water and surface over on the far side of the river.

Grebe displaying aggression

Every so often one of the grebes would flare its wings and make itself look large and threatening to the intruder. It was superb to watch and proved quite effective at making the intruder think twice before advancing into enemy territory.

Grebe searching for fleeing intruder

Damselfly at pond

I'm not sure whether this is a damselfly or a dragonfly but I think it's the former. If anyone knows otherwise please let me know. We've noticed a number of damselflies in the garden and one regularly rests on this stem in our pond.

Damselflies mating on fruit tree in garden

Damselflies mating

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Cygnets, mandarin babies and grebes

Swan with four cygnets

Our swans finally produced seven cygnets and brought them round regularly to feed. Bidou, the black swan, kept them company when she was allowed to but the mute swans didn't tolerate her getting too close to their young. After several days the adults turned up with fewer and fewer cygnets and now the pen is left with only two. At least these two are growing rapidly and are now less likely to be taken by the pike, herring gull, crow or heron. They still hitch a ride on her back but I don't think that that will continue for many more days.

Cygnets choose the easy option

Two male mandarin ducks enjoy the late afternoon sun

There are at least four male mandarin ducks that loaf around without partners at the moment. Whenever pairs of mandarins arrive the females seem most put out by the advances of the 'spare' boys. We have an unusual situation in that one female mandarin has five babies and she wants nothing to do with any male duck. We think her mate is the male who is already in moult and looks quite sorry for himself in his decidedly faded finery.

The female is really good at defending her young, who are quite feisty too, and we have the pleasure of watching her and her youngsters using one of our nesting boxes as a safe nocturnal haven. It's really strange to see her shepherding her young up the plank to bed every evening. We had noticed her checking out both boxes a while back but, as mandarin ducks nest in trees we thought we'd never see them use our boxes. The strange thing is that this female kept checking it out even when there was one of Lonely's eggs in it.

Unusually, a female tufted duck has taken to checking out both nest boxes and went and looked inside box 1 when the 'mandy' family were inside! The female tufty then went into the other nest box (2) and spent ages moving the straw around before coming out again.

What makes things more confusing is that the mandy and her young used the other box,(box 1) early yesterday evening but the kids were restless and not ready for bed so they all swam off. Later, the kids came back and went into box 1 again and mum panicked when she found her usual box (2) empty. Finally she rounded them all up and they spent the night back in box 2, initially sitting with all five ducklings outside on the plank and later moving them inside for extra protection. Some idiot woke us up at 3.00am this morning speeding up and down the river and I noticed that Mrs. mandy was standing guard outside the box until the disturbance stopped.

This morning we found an egg inside box 1 and we don't know whether it was laid by the tufted duck or another mallard. No doubt time will tell and we'll know whether the box is about to be occupied again.

Mrs. mandy and one of her ducklings on the ramp to box 1

Young grebe swallowing huge fish

I couldn't believe the size of the fish this young grebe managed to swallow. Mind you it spent at least 5 minutes fighting with it and I thought it would give up! When it finally gulped down the main body the grebe opened its beak and I could just see the tail disappearing down its throat.

Only a little more to swallow

Adult grebe swimming over to one of its young with a small fish

The parents have taken responsibility for a youngster each and spend much of the time looking after the one they're in charge of. The kids keep them really busy and it's exhausting just watching them feed their demanding youngsters. The kids never seem to stop squealing for food.

Baby long tailed tit recovering after flying into a window

I was watering plants on the garden deck one morning this week when I spotted what looked like a dead bird on the deck. When I went over to pick it up it was still warm and it opened its eyes. It gripped my fingers really hard so I held it safely for a while and then, when it showed signs of recovering, I placed it on the plum tree and it rested there for a minute or two before flying over to the Molesey side of the river. We think it must have flown into one of our windows and stunned itself and I was delighted to see it recover. It was so delicate and so very beautiful.

Mallards at the pond

The ducks are taking advantage of our good nature and regularly foraging in the garden pond. Unfortunately they seem to like the taste o the water lily leaves but at least they leave the watercress alone. I'm hoping they'll allow the water lily to flower this year!

Peonies and white irises

The irises are magnificent this year but are being outshone by the fabulous scented peonies that I planted last year. The garden looks very lush at the moment but the irises fade all too soon.