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.