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.

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