Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Autumn competes with a reluctant winter

  Autumn colours refuse to fade in Richmond Park

A wintry scene in late November in the lovely Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park stopped visitors in their tracks.  People paused for a while as they wandered through the gardens to take in the lovely autumnal reflection.

 A male tufted duck reflected in the river outside my window

 A show of strength

The swans are flexing their wings in a determined effort to establish this stretch of the river as their territory.  There seems to be an increase in the number of attacks and counter attacks between the main dominant pairs. 

Another successful display of dominance

Every day there are attempts from neighbouring swans to drive off the local dominant swans.  Both pairs have one remaining cygnet each and the youngsters are usually driven off by the rival parents.  Their own parents are beginning to tire of them, too, and should soon be driving them away permanently.  Bidou, the black swan, also enjoys chasing both cygnets!  I think she's taking it out on them because their parents always send her packing!  Bidou has become very vocal recently and has taken to arriving at first light and 'trumpeting' outside our window to let us know she's here for an early breakfast.  We sometimes hear her calling from a distance as she makes her way towards her first port of call for the day - the feeding plank.  She's a favourite with most Taggs Islanders - we all wish she would find a mate as she seems so lonely at times.

Sunrise over Hampton Court bridge

Moonrise over trees on Taggs Island

Dave took this lovely image of moonrise on the night of full moon in early December.  We've had some cloudless frosty nights and I love to look at the silhouettes of the beautiful trees on the towpath and gaze at the moon and stars in a vast dark sky.

Mistle thrush sings its heart out

We've been wondering which bird was singing so sweetly over the Christmas period.  I thought that only robins sung in December but we've been serenaded for days by rival birds.  Today we were finally able to identify the songbird and I was surprised to discover that it was a mistle thrush.  Dave recorded its song so, if you'd like to hear it for yourself, just click on the arrow above.  While we were admiring it a rival turned up and there was quite a battle.  I'm not sure which of the two won the skirmish but shortly afterwards the victor was laying claim to the territory.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Swans, heron, deer and the island mink!

 Swan shows intruder who is boss

On one of the few cold and misty mornings we've had so far this year I went over to Bushy Park to 'soak up' the atmosphere.  Part of Heron Pond was in sunshine as the mist started to burn off and I spotted this swan preparing to attack an intruder.

 The intruder decides it is better to 'fight another day'

On this occasion the intruder thought better of taking on his attacker and opted for flight rather than fight.

 The dominant cob is determined to make a point

Not satisfied with the intruder's attempt at flight the dominant male tries to pick a fight and chases the other swan in an attempt to engage in battle.  A coot hurriedly swims away from the battle front.

 In hot pursuit

The intruder puts on a spurt of speed and heads away from the dominant swan's territory with his pursuer gradually losing momentum.

What powerful wings . . .

 Meanwhile, away from the fight, another pair of swans glide across the park

 The Diana Fountain in early morning mist

 Stag in sunlight

As the day warmed up most of the stag 'activity' calmed down and this stag stood unchallenged with his harem close by.

Two young bucks reflected in the Longford River
 Doe makes a bid for freedom

This doe managed to sneak away from the harem and headed for the stream.  She had only rested there a few minutes when a rival stag spotted her and decided to 'try his luck'! 

 Not interested!

The doe was underwhelmed by her erstwhile suitor and 'did a runner'.  Undeterred he followed her but soon encountered a rival stag on the other side of the water.

 Loser . . .

 Another loser . . .

Stags with no mates!  These two old boys showed signs of battle fatigue.  They were obviously just two of the losers in this year's rut.

 Tern and its reflection in the Longford River

 Heron on the hunt . . .  a failed attempt

I watched this heron patiently wade through a stretch of water in search of lunch.  During the 15 minutes that I stopped to watch it in action it made many attempts to catch but failed more often than it succeeded.  However, I did see it spear and swallow several fish.  

 Another impressive attempt

 Success at last

 A little grebe goes unnoticed by most members of the public

 Mink on neighbour's deck with supper

 The mink has been around quite a bit of late which is bad news for the local waterfowl.  Several weeks ago I saw it carrying off a coot and last week I was just too late to save a young female tufted duck.  It hides in the shadows of the bank and pounces on unsuspecting wildfowl but it also catches fish.  This is the second fish I've seen it take.  Shortly after it had carried off the tufted duck I saw it or another mink hiding in an overhang of the riverbank.  I knew its habit of swimming round the house in order to access the front deck and had occasionally seen it head along the neighbour's deck towards me before suddenly doing a disappearing act.

 Heading for home

For several years a mink has been using the end section of a neighbour's hull as a bolthole.  I can usually tell when the beast is about because the ducks and other waterfowl are spooked at any sudden movement.  If the mink's on the prowl they fly in panic away from the river bank and head for the middle of the river.  Once there they all turn and face in the direction of the mink, watching its every movement.  It's a bit of a giveaway!  I've sometimes seen it sneak from its bolthole into the river and immediately hide in a recess in the campshedding.  In the shadow of the bank the mink is almost invisible with only its bright eyes glinting and the white dot on its chin showing if it raises its head.
The mink has now been evicted from its bolthole and is no doubt looking for somewhere new to rest up, eat and digest its meals in peace!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Autumn in Bushy Park

 Fallow deer resting

It's been incredibly warm for late September/early October - far too warm for much activity in the daytime.  This is the time of year when photographers flock to the park to take images of the rut, pictures of stags locking horns.  The park echoes to the sound of belling stags trying to impress as many does as possible with a series of deep bellows and rapid grunts, their breath turning to vapour in the cool autumn air.  This week the deer are in heat with temperatures to match.  Most of the 'action' happens between dusk and dawn but in a normal year, when the weather is cooler,  there's still a chance to watch stags lock antlers during the morning and late afternoon, but this year the heat has taken its toll and the deer are lethargic.

Young fallow deer keeps an eye on me

The female deer still have young with them and are very protective at the moment.  What with the stags in rut and the does guarding their young now is not the time to get too close to the herds nor to allow dogs to 'worry' the wild deer.  In spite of notices posted in many places in the park requesting dog owners to keep their dogs on leads for the time being, I saw only one dog owner abiding by the rules while I was there, putting the deer's welfare before their own gratification.  No wonder there have been incidents of stags attacking humans this week.
 Young fallow deer heads towards his mother

Hugging the shade
Albino fallow deer 

 Leaping deer

Red deer proclaiming his prowess

This stag had 'acquired' a good sized harem but was still on the lookout for any stray does he could round up.  Earlier I had come across a stag who'd obviously had a rough night and was recovering on his own in the shade.  He look very dejected and may well have sustained some injuries over and above the indignity of defeat by a stronger rival.

 Fallow doe heading for her herd

Time to make a run for it

 You're going the wrong way!

 Tender moment between doe and her youngster

I can't believe you're still hungry

Elsewhere in park  . . .

 Moorhen feeding her chick

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Cygnet rescued

 One of our cygnets with fishing tackle

Jack MacDonald called round this morning to say that a cygnet was in the lagoon looking very sorry for itself with fishing tackle dangling from its beak. Philippa had also noticed the cygnet and phoned  Peter & Addie who live close by but, as they were away, she called the Swan Sanctuary in Shepperton.  They immediately responded and Rhonda came by boat to Taggs Island to rescue the cygnet.  Armed with bread, wheat, a net and the all important swan hook we were hopeful that the cygnet would soon be caught, freed from the tackle and, hopefully released with only a loss of dignity.

 I'm not coming quietly

The cygnet had other ideas and, in spite of everyone's best efforts, managed to escape and fled from the lagoon.  Many thanks to Andy, who waded in and almost caught it, to Di who tried to head it off in a dinghy,  to Dave and Rhonda who were paddling the pontoon, to Nick who tried to block its escape with his kayak, to Denise who tried to stop its escape with a net and to everyone else who did their best, one way and another, to help out.

Di and Rhonda pull the cygnet into the boat

The cygnet led the rescuers a merry dance and seemed determined not to be caught.  I guessed that it might have headed for Duck Ait so I went to Peter & Sue's and we spotted the cygnet on the island with the rest of the family.  I called Dave to let him know (thank goodness for mobile phones) and Rhonda & Di came by rescue boat to the tiny island, joined by Dave in our boat and Nick in his kayak.  Poor Rhonda, who was already soaked from wading through the lagoon, cautiously approached the swans, picking her way through piles of guano, and almost managed to hook the cygnet but again it evaded her.  Once the swan family had taken to the river Di, Dave, Nick and several other kayakers who had joined in with the rescue, encircled the cygnet so that Rhonda was finally able to capture and lift the cygnet.

 How undignified!

Once aboard, Rhonda was able to disentangle swathes of fishing line and the hook from the cygnet and then checked it out for any other damage.  Fortunately, in spite of the hook and line and its obvious distress at being chased and womanhandled, the cygnet didn't need to be taken back to the Swan Sanctuary for treatment.

I'm off if I can just flap a bit harder

Free at last

There were smiles all round as Rhonda freed the cygnet and it headed straight back to its waiting family.  A job well done and congratulations to Rhonda especially and also to Di for her great boat handling.  The Swan Sanctuary at Shepperton is a Charity and I'm sure will welcome donations.  They not only rescue swans but also ducks and other waterfowl.  If you'd like to find out more then you can go to their website < http://www.theswansanctuary.org.uk>.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Gone Fishing

Young heron beside the pond

We have to give this youngster full marks for persistence. I've lost count of the number of times recently that I've seen him trying to catch the fish in my pond. Twice I've discovered him wading in the pond, he often stands poised at the edge of the pond ready to strike and, occasionally, he uses the roof as an observation post. He's not the least bit afraid of me and I can stand close by and watch his efforts after, that is, I've done my best to ensure that the fish are safe. We think he spends time on our walkway in the early morning too as there's a massive pool of 'poo' in the same spot most days.

Posing for the camera

On Friday he spent about 5 minutes strutting up and down the bog garden pretending to ignore the pond itself. At one point he showed interest in some fish in the shallows of the river and lunged at them. It's a privilege to be close to such a magnificent bird but I'd still prefer that he restricted his fishing forays to the banks of the River Thames!

Portion control

This grebe's eyes were bigger than its belly and, after futile attempts to swallow the fish, the grebe finally gave up. I'm surprised at the size of fish grebes and cormorants do manage to swallow but on this occasion the grebe lost out.

One of many attempts to swallow its catch

Female tufted duck with youngster

It's lovely to see baby tufted ducks and this female arrived with three fluffy youngsters yesterday. We think she had four a few days ago but has lost one. They're such fun to watch as they dive for the wheat we feed them and a joy to hear them chattering quietly to each other in mellifluous tones.