Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Mink are back

Beautiful but deadly

Mink are back on the island and have been on a killing spree. Coots and ducklings have been taken by the stealthy predator and one islander's chickens were all attacked and killed. Fourteen years ago mink used the hold of our houseboat as a larder but I was sometimes able to rescue ducks from the mink's jaws before it had a chance to kill them. The mink had a habit of taking the ducks by their beaks and dragging them underwater when they came to feed. If I happened to see or hear the 'attack' I was sometimes able grab the duck by its legs and the mink would then release it. One of the three mink I used to see in those days was bold enough to regularly attack swans too!

Mink carrying off a fish

Four days ago I watched a mink swim across from the Molesey bank with a fish in its jaws. I guessed there must be a mink around as the swans and ducks were showing signs of distress and seemed extra alert to danger. When I went out to watch the mink it swam towards me but then headed towards the upstream end of the island. It sometimes runs along next door's deck and disappears into their hold and I recently spotted it running through my garden.

Male mandarin duck's favourite 'look out' post

A female mandarin duck with two youngsters started to use one of our riverside nesting boxes as a temporary nest for her ducklings during the day and sometimes at night. Last week a female with three youngsters appeared and another female mandarin kept trying to approach the ducklings. One of the ducklings seemed confused and appeared to want to be with the second female but the other mother kept driving her off. We never saw the mother with two again but suddenly there was a mother with three! We're wondering whether she 'kidnapped' the other duckling because it always seemed slightly apart from the family unit and was never able to keep up with mum and the other two youngsters. For several days the mother would turn up with two ducklings and then a third one would appear much later. We guessed that its chances weren't good and sure enough it hasn't been around for four days now. The crow was always swooping down on the youngsters and, of course, there's at least one mink on the hunt. At least the female mandarin is keeping a close watch over her two ducklings and they are getting quite feisty now and are chasing away other ducks away.

Baby grebe polishes off lunch

The great-crested grebe pair had two youngsters but one disappeared and, while we were away, the other one vanished. Fortunately I was able to take a few images of the parents with one of the babies. In the image (above) the baby is in the process of swallowing quite a large fish for its size.

Baby grebe hitching a ride on Mum's back

Baby grebe waiting for the other parent to provide lunch

Female woodpecker at feeding station

There must be two pairs of woodpeckers visiting the garden. The other day I watched a female feed from the nearby peanuts and then suddenly freeze. A male woodpecker flew onto my summerhouse roof and then over to the other peanut feeder without appearing to notice the female. She carefully shifted her position so as to remain hidden behind the feeder she was on while the male fed from the other feeding station. The female seemed scared to make a move in case she was spotted and only continued feeding after the male had flown off.

One of the woodpeckers has taken to drinking from our pond. It seems strange to see a woodpecker at ground level but this one manages to grip the stones at the edge of the pond and hang down over the pond to drink. It's fascinating to watch how the bird has found a safe way to satisfy its thirst.

Bidou flares her wings in a gesture of aggression at a mute swan

These lovely ducklings only lasted three days

The attrition rate for baby waterfowl (other than Canada geese) is very high again this year and, so far, the baby coots, grebes, moorhens, mallards and pochard ducks have all disappeared. Only the two mandarin ducklings are still around and yesterday I saw six newly hatched pochard ducklings but I wonder whether any will survive. The cygnets have fared better although at least one has vanished, either killed by a rower or taken by a predator.

Female blackbird with nesting material

Several weeks ago the blackbird visited the garden to gather nesting material. She loves grubbing around in the bog garden and also finds material for the nest from the edge of the pond. I took this image of her through my kitchen window.

Bath time for the blackbird

It was great fun to watch her bath every day. She would spend about three or four minutes splashing around in the shallow waters of the cascade. This was another grab shot through the kitchen window as I didn't want to disturb her.

The original six cygnets