Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Beauty and the obese

Watery sunrise over Molesey Lock

February has been a pretty bleak month with many days of grey, overcast skies. Occasionally there's a hint of sunshine in the morning or late afternoon but we've had very few bright days. On sunny mornings and evenings, though, the lengthening days herald the arrival of Spring.

Red-crested Pochard

Two pairs of red-crested pochards and a extra male have been turning up at mealtimes recently. In spite of the generally overcast skies the view from my living room downstream to Hampton Court is quite colourful when the pochards, the mandarin ducks, the black swan and the sundry other waterfowl come to visit. Whereas the mandarin ducks fly up onto the deck outside for their 'wheat treats', the pochards feed only from the platforms at the front and side of the house. They are usually much less aggressive than many of the mallards and hybrid ducks but they hang around for as long as it takes for them to be fed. At present two pairs of mandarin ducks and a 'spare' male visit daily.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker

Both the male and female woodpeckers feed daily from their favourite location. Occasionally, if too many parakeets are on their preferred feeder they will fly to the more exposed peanuts but, generally speaking, the woodpeckers 'see off' the parakeets!

The Blackcaps are now regulars, spending most of the day in the garden and, once in a while, one or two nuthatches show up.

Male Tufted Duck

The tufted ducks are very used to us now and spend most of the day hanging around. They dive for the wheat that spills from the main feeding stations but often get mobbed by 'pirate' gulls when they join in the general feeding frenzies as people on the towpath throw bread out for the ducks. One of the local crows, however, outwits and intimidates even the gulls and often swoops off with bread crusts.

Is this an obese Blue Tit or is it just fluffed up against the cold?

We noticed a particularly fat blue tit in the garden and it hung around for several days, snacking from the window feeder, sitting inside the bird table or kipping on a branch of the magnolia tree. We weren't sure whether it had fluffed its feathers up against the cold or whether it was unwell. It either fed or slept during the day and couldn't be asked to open its eyes once it went into sleep mode. It allowed me to get so close to it that I wondered whether it might be ill and so, not wishing to distress it, after that I kept my distance. It was able to fly well and there was nothing wrong with its appetite, so maybe it was just feeling the cold!

Blue Tit on my bird table

When I first noticed it I approached the bird table and took this image of it. I was surprised that the bird seemed unruffled by my presence and, although it looked up at me it soon put its beak back under its wing.

Bidou has an early morning stretch

If Bidou times her visits well she gets plenty to eat and is able to feed in peace and undisturbed by the dominant pair of mute swans. She likes to hang around after breakfast and preen and be generally sociable. When she's ready to move on she nearly always emits a series of trumpeting calls before heading upstream. She also calls out every time she hears swans flying overhead.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Same wildlife different location

Female Pochard

While staying with friends at Hill Head, on the Solent, we strolled down to the lovely harbour with its adjoining nature reserve. Two of the first waterbirds we spotted were a female pochard (above) and a little grebe (below). Back home on the Thames we are regularly visited by a pair of red-crested pochards but seldom see 'regular' pochards.

A little grebe heads towards the reeds

At the mouth of the harbour, where the river Meon meets the Solent, we spotted a pair of little grebes, a pair of pochards, plenty of tufted ducks, gulls, coots, moorhens and, of course, mallards. The light was so lovely and refelcted the colour of the reeds in the water when I took this shot.

A little grebe intent on fishing

I watched for ages as the little grebes dived for very small fish, taking time out to preen their feathers on a regular basis. I was so pleased to be able to watch this pair at leisure as they were more habituated to humans than the pair I've spotted around Taggs Island.

Disappearing act

It's fun to watch them dive for fish. Their success rate isn't great if what they bring to the surface is all they get. They may be like cormorants, however, which swallow the smaller fish while still underwater.

Fulvous whistling duck

A rather handsome and unusual looking duck caught my friend's eye and it seemed to be arousing interest among some birdwatchers, so we asked them what it was. A fulvous whistling duck, was the reply, and I gather we were quite lucky to have seen it. They are not native to the UK, but this one seems to have settled in the area for a while.

The fulvous whistling duck has lovely matching beak and feet

The light wasn't very good when we discovered the fulvous whistling duck but, as it was low tide, we were fortunate enough to see it both in and out of the water. I went down to the haven the following morning when the light was fabulous but the tide was in and the duck was nowhere in sight. However, as I turned my attention to some swans having a territorial dispute, I heard a strange whistling call and was thrilled to see the duck fly past me and land in some reeds beyond. I could just make it out amongst the reeds in the distance and was able to watch it preen for a while but the reeds prevented me for getting a decent image.

Territorial battles

Just as our local swans on the Thames are defending their territory from intruders, so the dominant pair at Titchfield Haven were busy seeing off the opposition. I could hear the familiar slap of wings and feet on water during take-off and landing and also the lovely 'whistling' sound of the wind in their wings during flight as the fleeing pair left the haven and headed out to sea.

He who fights and 'flies' away . . . !

On this occasion one of the swans under attack took the line of least resistance and flew to safety but I'm sure there will be plenty of battles in the coming breeding season.

A tree sparrow sunbathes in the chill morning air

It was a beautiful bright morning the following day, still very cold but the light was fabulous, so I visited the Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve. Next to the Visitor Centre is a café and garden with plenty of bird feeders around to keep the local birds well supplied during the cold spell. The tree sparrow (above) enjoyed some early morning sunshine after a frosty night while helping himself to some pyrocantha berries .
Tide's out

Low tide is lovely here leaving interesting patterns in the sand. Some of the rock pools also attract wading birds to the shoreline. We saw plenty of turnstones on the shore next to the harbour.

Back home on the Thames, the dominant swans are still patrolling their territory and chasing Bidou, the black swan, away. I'm delighted to see that the pair of little grebes still visit daily although they are far from habituated to humans and dive at the slightest of movements. In the garden, a pair of black caps now visit the bird table and peanut feeders and, even more exciting, a pair of nuthatches came to the most secluded on our peanut feeders this week. I'm hoping to get images of the black caps and nuthatches in the coming weeks.