Saturday, 19 January 2013

After all the rain, the snow!

 Snowfall on Taggs Island

Yesterday we had our first significant snowfall of the winter and it certainly transformed the landscape.  After what seems like non-stop rainfall last year and early into 2013 we have at last seen some sunny days and then, I'm delighted to say, snow!  I just love it.

Something really strange happened this morning.  One of an islander's Bengal cats was crouched by our patio door ready to pounce on any ducks or birds foolish enough to fly onto the deck where I normally feed them.  I ignored it for a few minutes as there was no food out to attract any ducks and went to feed the ducks on a plank by the front door where they were safe from the cat. Because the deck was so cold and icy it made a loud cracking sound as I walked on it which, presumably, startled the cat.  I think it must have tried to jump from our deck to next door's but slipped on the ice.  I heard a splash and rushed round the corner to see what had happened.  The cat was in the river, yowling and looking shocked, but it was unable to climb out onto either deck because the hulls are fibre glass and too steep.  I tried to lean down and help it out but it was panicking.  I ran for the net but fortunately it managed to swim towards our garden and got its claws into the wooden beam that caps our camp shedding. A bedraggled and mortified moggy slunk off in a hurry and I though I tried to check whether it was okay it high-tailed it back to the other end of the island.

  Mandarin duck in the snow

The snowflakes were quite small at the start of the day but became larger and more impressive later on when I was in a meeting and unable to take photographs.  The sky was overcast and laden with snow so the male mandarin duck brightened up the scene.

 Mr. & Mrs. wood duck

A pair of wood ducks have been flying over from Bushy Park twice a day with a group of eight or so mandarin ducks. I think there may be a lone wood duck too on occasions but I can't be sure. I had a virus over Christmas and New Year and wasn't feeding the ducks regularly and most of the exotic ones stopped visiting.  There's gratitude for you!  One elderly female mandarin duck remained and hung around most days and eventually a male returned but it was only when the temperatures plummeted that the Bushy Park brigade returned to brighten up the feeding station.

  The male wood duck in all its glory

If you click on this image to enlarge it you will see just how fabulous the wood duck's plumage is in all its subtle and not so subtle colours.  His partner looks very similar to any of the female mandarins that I find it almost impossible to tell them apart.  She appears to be a fraction smaller when you see her next to a female mandarin.

When the mornings were really cold and frosty I was surprised to see that the wood duck took to feeding close to our front door as well as on the riverside deck where he normally goes.

It's been interesting to observe the behaviour of the exotic ducks.  A pair of mandarins have taken a particular dislike to a pair of mallards and behave aggressively towards them, bullying them so that they end up skulking beside the hull of the neighbour's dinghy.  If the drake tries to attack the mandarins the wood ducks join forces with the mandarins to give them support!  I've seen that happen twice in the past few days.  The wood duck is very vocal and mutters a lot of the time when he isn't displaying.  He makes a strange rasping sound which isn't at all melodic.  Mandarin males make deep grunting noises when they are displaying which sound almost hollow.

  A welcome visitor

I love little grebes and they never cease to amaze me when I see just how small they are.  They are  secretive most of the time, certainly on this stretch of the Thames, so it's been lovely to watch one, sometimes a pair of them, flitting from one side of the river to the other and heading both up and downstream.  They were around for about a week but I haven't spotted any since.

What I have had the pleasure of glimpsing from time to time is a kingfisher.  One rested on the handrails of our walkway for several minutes a few weeks ago and I've seen one three times in the last five days crossing either from our side to the far bank or vice versa.  On Sunday one flew straight out from our garden, heading downstream, and I haven't seen any of our fish in the pond since!  As three of them are very pale gold and small I'm wondering whether they are now history.  Time will tell.

  Male red-crested pochard

As soon as the weather turned cold he returned after months of absence.  He hung around a lot last summer with a pair of pochards and is recognizable by the damaged upper beak that has a chunk out of it.  He, too, adds a welcome splash of colour to the uniform grey skies of overcast days.

 Mr. Pochard on the feeding plank

Now that he's back the pochard spends most of the day here.  I wonder whether the pair that also turn up with him during the spring and summer months will be back later this year.

 Frost on the towpath

After so much rain the frosty mornings were a welcome change and finally the snow came.  The forecast is for more snow tomorrow but I think the temperatures improve after that during the week.  What a shame. 

 Similar view taken at sunset

  Early sun on trees

When the skies are clear at sunrise the colour of first light on the trees upstream is fabulous.  Here you can see the white duck contingent making their way downstream for breakfast here.  The big fat white female duck now 'favours' a large white male duck as her main escort but has at least two other white male ducks and a 'stretch limo' grey duck in tow.  I've nicknamed the team 'gobble and go' as she arrives with the boys, quacks to get my attention, they all 'hoover up' as much wheat as they can get and then head straight back upstream.