Sunday, 20 May 2012

Is it a tufted duck or a pochard?

 Hybrid flies over for some food

I spotted an unusual hybrid mingling with my regulars recently but thought I might have been seeing things as it was getting dark and the duck flew off almost as soon as I noticed it.  It looked quite unusual, so I did some research on the internet and found that red-crested pochards and tufted ducks have been known to inter-breed.  I also saw on the internet an image of the hybrid I'd spotted, or one just like it, that had been photographed in Busy Park over a year ago.  Earlier this week the hybrid was outside the house again and was more than happy to mingle with the other ducks while I was feeding them.

 Close up of hybrid photographed by John Inglis

John Inglis of  Garrick's Ait sent me the above image of the hybrid and very kindly offered to let me use it in my blog.  He, too, had noticed the unusual bird and, knowing of my interest in local wildlife, had contacted me with a picture of the duck in case I hadn't seen it.

 Red-crested pochard and hybrid tufted duck together

While the birds were feeding I was able to observe the similarities between the two ducks.  The tufted hybrid has a red head similar to that of the pochard but only on the top of the head.  Its face is a dark metallic green and it's body is that of a normal tufted duck.  Its bill has a red line around the tip.

 HB leaves her nest

HB is back and has opted for a hanging basket again as her chosen nest site.  She wasn't happy with the state of her hanging basket earlier in the season and opted to nest in a duck box on the top deck.  For some reason her eggs didn't hatch and she has now decided to try a hanging basket again for her second attempt.  As the original basket wasn't fit for purpose I bought a new one but, when she flew into it we thought it would be too cramped for her and all the eggs.  Dave decided to line her old basket for her and we put the old one back in its original spot and placed the new facing the garden.  What do we know about ducks preferences!  She rejected the renovated basket and opted for the new one and the new location and now has seven eggs.

 Watch the video of HB

HB leaves the nest

She seems very happy in her new location and is able to see when it's safe for her to come down for a quick drink, snack and a wash.  We've decided that it's actually safer for her where she is as her comings and goings are less obvious to many of the rogue males hanging around on the river with nothing better to do than chase any female that is unwary enough to get caught.

HB heads back to the nest after a quick breakfast

Another advantage to HB's new nest site is the fact that it's not right next to our day boat.  Whenever we wanted to go out on deck or use the boat we had to remember that she was just above our heads and do our best not to distress her by making too much noise or by getting too close to her.  Now, she gets more peace and quiet but keeps an eye on us when we're near the kitchen window close to her nest.  It's funny to watch her bob down in the nest if she thinks we're looking at her and then poke her head back up above the basket when she thinks she's not being watched.

Mallard with ducklings finds a few moments of peace

Last Sunday a mallard wandered through the island gardens with five newly hatched ducklings and eventually led them to the river.  She brought them down to see us that day and still had four out of the five the next morning but I've seen none since.  So far this year no ducklings have survived on this stretch of the main river.

Limpy stands on his own foot

Our sad old mandarin duck with the damaged foot has been getting more feeble recently.  He often stands on our outboard engine but is foolish enough to try and stand on his bad leg while scratching with his other foot.  If a boat is going past and the boat rocks then the inevitable happens and limpy topples over into the river.  He doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Sparrowhawk on the hunt

Wednesday was wet but warmer and dozens of swallows and swifts put on an amazing display of their aerial skills.  They looked like bats in the gloom of the late afternoon light, racing up and down the river, sometimes spiralling upwards then swooping low and skimming the water.  While I stopped to watch in admiration I suddenly spotted another shape speeding downstream and was amazed to see that it was a sparrowhawk, attempting to take one of the smaller birds I presume.  I did my best to photograph this incredible action but the speed of the sparrowhawk and low light weren't ideal conditions for clarity and sharpness of image.

Sparrowhawk chasing the swallows and swifts

 Attempting a different approach

After failing in its many attempts at catching the swallows as they skimmed the water the sparrowhawk tried a different approach, dive bombing them from above.  In spite of frequent swoops and stalls I didn't see it succeed in its hunt.

Jackdaw chases off sparrowhawk

A pair of jackdaws weren't too keen of the presence of a bird of prey near to their nest and started to bombard the sparrowhawk.  Here, one of them chases him away from their territory.

Time for a scratch during a brief rest

The sparrowhawk must have spent about an hour patrolling the river but I don't think it was successful in its hunt for supper.  It rested for a couple of minutes in a tree along the riverbank before resuming the hunt.

A pause to check its potential prey

After another brief break from hunting the sparrowhawk resumed its patrol of the river but was spotted by a crow and two magpies and chased away for good that day.  I'm wondering whether it will be back another day but, as it had little, if any success, it may not choose to hunt here again.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

What a lovely drought!

The weather has been so damp and overcast in this, the wettest drought I've known, that I've taken very few photographs this week but have some updates on the wildlife in my area. With many parts of the UK experiencing floods, the hosepipe ban imposed over much of southern England seems somewhat ironic. However, there has been very little winter rainfall for many years and the authorities are adamant that it will take a good six months of daily rainfall before the hosepipe ban and drought warnings can be lifted.  The River Thames, while not in flood in south west London, is flowing far faster than it should be at this time of year and conditions are not good news for ducklings and other baby waterfowl.  At least the baby grebe has so far battled successfully against the current and was still alive two days ago so I'm hoping it will continue to cope with the flow. Apart from some welcome sunshine on Monday there's been rain almost every day for over a month and the temperature this past week has been distinctly chilly.

Dave and I were sad to discover that our mallard has abandoned her eggs.  We're not sure why because her nest is safe from foxes and mink and her eggs don't seem to have been spotted by the crows or magpies yet.  Let's hope she has more luck with a second brood.  One unlucky mallard brought five newly hatched ducklings for some food on Friday morning and still had at least four later that afternoon.  However, the demon crow spotted them and tried at least seven times to help himself to supper.  As far as I could see they all dived whenever he swooped on them but I haven't seen any of them since.

Two of the male white ducks in our neighbour's garden

Ducks seem to love foraging in ponds and gardens at this time of year and this unruly bunch of hybrid thugs spend every morning stomping around my neighbour's garden.  They are a bunch of  bully boys who have adopted the surviving female Aylesbury duck (one of the two fat ladies that used to hang around).  She's a sight for sore eyes by the time she's rooted around among the flowers and plants looking for slugs and her beak is a disgrace, completely caked in mud.  Most of the mallards like to run around my garden too and I often find mallards part hidden among the ferns in the bog garden or grubbing around in the upper flower beds.  Ducks in particular, love the pond and I  occasionally find a coot or canada goose in the pond.

Bidou, the black swan, appears to have abandoned her nest and spends hours each day preening and kipping on our plank.  Every time she spots a mute swan passing by or flying overhead she calls out mournfully and does her best to flirt with them if she can get close enough.  The dominant mute male swan still attacks her if she gets too close and most of the others completely ignore her.  In her loneliness she's taken to chatting away to Dave and I when she sees us.

The mandarin male also known as Nike

I lose track of the number of mandarin ducks that turn up to feed throughout the day.  We call the one in the photograph above Nike because of the 'tick' in his white plumage.  Earlier this week we thought Alopetia may have died as he didn't turn up to be fed for two days but I'm glad to say he's fine.

Just before dusk yesterday evening I spotted a most unusual duck and only had a few moments to watch it before it flew off.  It looked like a cross between a tufted duck and a red crested pochard and I've since found out that a hybrid duck of this description has been spotted in nearby Bushy Park so I shall be looking out for it in future.

More rain is forecast for most of next week but I hope we get some sunshine to brighten the gloom. The right light is so important when it comes to capturing good images and these very dull conditions and toneless, drab days do little to inspire and lift the spirit.