Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Nature . . . red in tooth and claw

Intruders beware!

Our dominant mute swans are nesting in the lagoon and the male is showing no mercy to any intruders in his territory. Pictured above is a fight downstream last week and today we nearly had to rescue a swan that the dominant male was trying to drown. It was too weak to fly away and attempted, instead, to climb out onto the bank but it got stuck between some shrubs with part of its body still vulnerable and the other swan tried to drag it back into the river. We had just set off in our boat to rescue it when it made one final effort to free itself and managed to crawl onto the towpath. Meanwhile, another mute swan was swimming downstream and distracted the male which turned his attention to the other intruder. We watched as the exhausted swan on the towpath waddled as far away from the river as it could, flopping down in the grass for regular rests. We were worried that it would be attacked by a dog but it managed about an hour's rest before the dominant swan decided to hunt it down on land. As soon as the beaten swan saw the aggressor approach at speed it tried to run then thought better of it and finally managed to take off and escape. So determined was the dominant mute to see off its rival that after returning to the river it flew back onto the towpath half an hour later to make sure that its rival had really gone.

Bidou's sanctuary

Bidou, meanwhile, continues to make herself scarce and is often to be found at the far end of Platts Eyot. Yesterday evening we saw her with a young mute swan so it would seem that she continues to favour mute swans over her own Ozzie kind! She occasionally sneaks down here for some wheat but is instantly chased away by the dominant mute if he's around.

Garricks Ait in the early evening

The weather has been lovely recently and we've enjoyed a few boat trips, partly to see what Bidou is up to. The river is particularly attractive towards the end of the day when the light is low and golden.

HB is back!

Madam is back again this year in her favourite spot, a hanging basket right outside our patio doors. She appeared on the deck last week and kept looking at me and then up to the spot where her previous nest, a hanging basket, had been. We'd removed it for the winter but she left me in no doubt as to her wishes. Dave thought I was imagining it but when I gave in and hung up a basket she flew straight into it. Unfortunately I hadn't been able to find her old basket and the replacement one was rather small. She soon poked her beak through its lining too, so Dave repaired it for her but she didn't think much of the substitute lining and ripped it out. She was also having a problem with the basket's small size and I realized that it would never accommodate both her and 12 - 14 eggs. She was showing signs of desperation so I searched around for a larger, more stable hanging basket and, within two minutes of putting that one in place for her she had taken up residence. Two hours later she had produced her first egg.

HB settles in

It's a very safe place to nest because neither the fox nor the mink can reach her and she's partly under cover from the house which means that magpies and crows can't steal her eggs. We have to walk past her every time we want to use our day boat but she has obviously got used to us now since she hardly bothers to look up when we pass under her nest.

Sunset over Hurst Park

A couple of weeks ago we had some colourful sunsets. The sky looks so lovely through the bare branches of the trees. Now that the clocks have been moved forward the days are longer and the sunsets gradually move round towards the other side of the island by mid June.

Magnificent Magnolia

The tree outside our garden has grown so much over the years and it blooms at least twice most years though the second display of flowers is never as stunning.

Black Cap . . . with a red head!

We've had a pair of Black Caps in the garden since February but the male, which does have a black cap, has disappeared, probably caught by one of the many island cats. The female, pictured above, spends most of her time in the garden but is on her own now so she probably won't breed this year. Much as I love cats I resent the harm they do to so many garden birds. On the subject of predators, however, the most lethal one on four legs is back on Taggs Island. The vicious North American mink has been spotted at both ends of the island and I've seen him at close quarters twice now in the past few days, running from next door's garden through ours and making his way towards the upstream end of the island. It's very bad news for most water birds.