Sunday, 29 April 2012

Portraits of Alopecia, the red crested Pochards and a surprise from Bidou

 Alopecia poses

Alopecia took advantage of the breeze to demonstrate that he isn't completely bald.  He stood proudly on our day boat with the wind behind him and tricked us into thinking that his feathers were growing back.  Sadly, when I saw him yesterday he only had one feather 'standing to attention'.

 A full on portrait shows the extent of his feather loss

When you see poor Alopecia from the front the extent of his baldness is striking.  What with his limp - he's quite an old boy and appears to be arthritic - life isn't easy for him!  In spite of his physical disadvantages, however, he is still higher in the pecking order than the male mandarin duck with the withered foot, another regular visitor.

 Alopecia looks better from behind!

 The red-crested pochards spend a lot of time here

We presume that this is the same pair as that which nested on Garrick's Ait last year.  They are very tame and have been spending a lot of time with us.  They are driven off by all the other birds, especially the coots and the mandarin ducks but they occasionally manage to get some quiet time to themselves on the floating platform.

What has happened to his beak?

I was taking a closer look at the pochards and suddenly noticed that the male's beak is deformed.  I'm not sure whether it's a defect from birth but he has a small chunk missing on the tip to the right of his beak.

 Bidou on our deck for the first time

Bidou has been with us for about five years now and in all that time she has never attempted to fly onto our deck for food.  The other morning Dave did a double take when he opened the front door and found Bidou standing right outside.  We're used to side-stepping a drake that follows us around and gets under our feet, and some of the mandarins allow us to almost touch them but it is rare for a swan to fly/climb onto the deck.  In the seventeen years that we've been back on the island we've only had three swans on the deck.  One was a mute swan that took to 'hauling out' by our patio doors one Christmas.  He used to sit down right next to the Christmas tree and watch the world go by.  On another occasion a black swan (long before Bidou) decided to join us on the deck one night.  Swans have poor eyesight in the dark and we had to shine a torch onto the river to show it how and where to safely get back in!  And now Bidou, but she hasn't been on the deck since Thursday.

The only other 'nearly news' is that our duck in the nest upstairs is due to hatch her ducklings but we're worried because the river is in spate, running at about five or six miles an hour.  This is likely to prevent the ducklings from keeping by her side when they do their kamikaze leap from the top deck and launch themselves into the river.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Lovely atmospheric light . . . and mandarin ducks with attitude

 Lovely late afternoon sun turns tree gold

Predictably, since the hosepipe ban came into force, we've had rain every day, sometimes quite heavy and prolonged downpours.  Late one afternoon last week the light was amazing and both of us stopped to admire the glorious colours reflected in the river.

The same tree a few minutes earlier

Here the tree is contrasted against a stormy sky.  When the light filters through the new 'spring' green leaves further along the towpath the effect is lovely. Sadly, the parakeets are tearing off the new growth on the horse chestnuts opposite us with wanton abandon and the river is full of leaves and new buds.

 Male mandarin duck shows off his spring plumage

We have a large contingent of oriental visitors turning up at meal times.  In fact, we seem to have almost as many mandarin ducks as mallards!  Most of them have partners but there are three 'spare' males, two of which spend their time trying to impress any female that's prepared to look in their direction.  The third, nicknamed Alopecia because of his receding crest, is too old and too arthritic to bother.  What's surprising is that they all seem to have taken to standing on the outside table where they now expect to be fed.  They obviously prefer dining at 'Le Premier √Čtage' where they have the advantage of being very conspicuous at eye level which means that I am more likely to notice their presence. The evening routine is getting ridiculous though as the various couples squabble over who gets served first.

 A pair of regular oriental diners

Because of all the fighting between couples Alopecia has to wait his turn although he does take precedence over another 'spare' male which has a withered foot.  It's interesting to watch the pecking order amongst the different species, too.  The mandarin ducks beat up on a pair of red-crested pochards and in turn are attacked and chased away by the coots.  The coots also see off the moorhens and, this morning I watched one intrepid coot face down a swan!  Mind you, the coots closest to our house show more brawn than brain.  They've spent a month trying to build a nest on our plank and there couldn't have chosen a less suitable site.  Apart from all the other hazards it's right in the path of the resident mink!

 Mink returns to one of its favourite locations

I was nearly late for work last week because of the mink.  I had seen it swimming past recently but I hadn't seen it on land for a while.  It was investigating one of its old haunts and showed no fear of Dave's and my presence. 

 There goes breakfast!

The ducks are very wary when the mink is around and they all keep a safe distance but follow it to keep an eye on it.  A number of mallards had spotted it and were swimming just far enough away for it to be unable to 'surprise' them. 

 Sitting for a portrait

Minks have little fear of humans and this one is no exception.  Several times it trotted along towards us then headed back before disappearing in the blink of an eye.

Great-crested grebe with lunch

A pair of grebes already have a youngster and have been busy taking it in turns to feed their hungry offspring.  It spends most of its time on its parents' backs but has grown sufficiently in the last week to spend more time in the river when the adults want a break. 

 Too big a catch to feed junior

 At the moment the baby grebe can only tackle small fry but it won't be long before it can swallow larger fish and, eventually, start catching its own .  It always fascinates me to watch grebes with their catch.  They somehow manage to swallow fish that seem far too large for such small waterfowl.

 Finally, the right size fish for a baby grebe

The river must be teeming with fish at the moment as we've seen the grebes catch so many of varying sizes today.  In fact, one of the grebes abandoned its catch this afternoon when its partner also struck lucky at the same time.  I guess they all must have had enough to eat for one mealtime.