Sunday, 29 June 2014

All gone!

Yesterday our girl in box 2 once again had the nest raided and her last egg was taken.  We don't know whether it's the work of a crow or magpie or whether the final egg was damaged during a skirmish inside the box with one of the rogue drakes.  I do know that she carries off damaged eggs as I've seen her carry two away in her beak on one day.

We're very sad for her and her partner because they put up such a fight to defend their nest over the past few weeks.  Neither seems to want to abandon the nest and we've watched them go back into the box on a regular basis but, when I looked inside this morning, there were no eggs.  Even if she laid one it would disappear. It seems that box 2 is jinxed!

On a lighter note, Dave watched one of the red crested pochards as it rested on a nest box plank.  It was sound asleep with its third eye up and its head gradually dropped down, closer and closer to the river until his beak hit the water and he woke up only to fall into a deep sleep again!

pochard asleep with his third eye closed

As his beak hit the water he suddenly woke up

He briefly lifted his head

In spite of a rude awakening when his beak touched the water he soon went back into a deep sleep and his head and neck fell backwards into the water again!  He must have had a disturbed night!

Friday, 27 June 2014

What a surprise!

Our mallard in box 2 was driven off her nest again yesterday so I looked to see how many eggs were left. When I lifted the lid from the box I was astonished to see the drake guarding the nest from the inside. I've never known a drake to take over nest duties before but, apparently, they occasionally swap places to give their partner a break!

 Time for a drink . . .

. . . and some fresh air

It must be hot inside the nest box in this weather and our girl came out for a quick drink.  While she was on the plank she was chased again by the rogue males but her partner remained inside the box to protect the nest.  We can't work out what is happening to the eggs but there was only one left yesterday in spite of the drake's best efforts.

Drake takes over nest duties

The drake spends most of his time sitting right at the entrance to the nest box and occasionally, perhaps for a brief respite from the hot sun, with his head inside!  

 Time for our girl to get back on the nest

After a drink, a stretch of her wings and a quick wheat treat the mallard headed back to incubate her remaining egg.  The drake was still inside the box which made it rather difficult for her and she waited for him to leave the box.  He, however, had other ideas and, after a while, she somehow squeezed into the box with him! 

Move over darling . . .

The drake finally emerges

As he emerged the drake slipped and slid down the plank. He now seems to enjoy using the plank as a slide.

When we went to bed last night the drake was standing guard at the nest entrance and was still there first thing this morning so we hope their one egg is safe. We're not sure whether the female is still able to lay an egg each day after all this time. It's rather touching to see how much effort the pair put in to protecting the nest and we really hope that they are rewarded by hatching at least one duckling!

The two teenage coots reunited

The teenage coots are becoming territorial and are attacking any duck that comes to feed from the plank.  They're still young and are sometimes seen off by the more aggressive ducks but that doesn't stop them from protecting 'their' food source.  One young coot is much bolder than the other but both flee when an adult coot appears.

We're not sure whether the female tufted duck is nesting in the bog garden and I'm reluctant to disturb her if she is.  Her behaviour yesterday would indicate that she might well be protecting a nest, however. She suddenly attacked one of the male red crested pochards who was minding his own business and resting on our floating platform.  They locked beaks and tugged at each other for quite a while until they ended up in the river and began chasing each other in circles, viciously using their wings as weapons.  Tufted ducks are smaller than pochards so it surprised us that the female 'tuftie' had started the fight.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

No peace for mallard in box 2

The mallard in box 2 is being regularly attacked by a young drake, especially in the early hours of the morning.  We were puzzled about this because her partner is spending most of his time on guard at the entrance to the nest.  However, I discovered why on Saturday, after the female had been attacked and driven off her eggs at least five times in several hours.  Her partner is scared of the younger drake and flies away initially when the youngster approaches!  He then swims back and does his best to defend the female but by then it's too late.

Because the female refuses to desert her eggs she is attacked while 'sitting' and some of the eggs are damaged in the fray.  On Friday I saw her fly from her nest with a damaged egg in her beak, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. When I looked inside the box she still only had three eggs. This means that an egg is damaged most days when she is raped in her box.

 Young  coot

Two young coots have suddenly turned up at our feeding station and lurk behind our neighbour's boat where it's dark and there's very little 'bird' activity.  I wondered why their behaviour was so furtive as coots are aggressive birds.  On Sunday evening I saw an adult coot next to one of the youngsters which had its head under water and wasn't moving.  I realised that the adult, which immediately swam off, must have attacked the younger bird.  On an impulse I lifted the young coot out of the river and felt its neck and checked for blood.  After a few moments it started to breathe and then tried to lift its head but it flopped back down.  I continued to hold the young bird and it gradually lifted its head and started to struggle a bit and when I put in back in the river it shot off and appeared to have recovered.

 Only one youngster

The following day I was disappointed when only one young coot turned up for breakfast but a short while later there were two again. I think that the damaged coot is being extra cautious now and only appears when 'the coast is clear'.

Cygnet grows up

The cygnets are getting quite big now but will remain with their parents for a while longer.  The mother brings them here at least three times a day and they are sometimes joined by the father .

I discovered another potential nest on Sunday when I saw a female tufted duck fly up onto our camp shedding and disappear into the thick bracken at the end of the bog garden.  Her partner hung around until she reappeared. There's a tell tale stain on the camp shedding where a duck has left its calling card! I think she's on her nest at the moment because a lone male tufted duck is in the vicinity of the nest.

This morning a female tufted duck tried to enter both riverside nest boxes but was seen off by the resident mallards.  It may be the same tuftie that has been checking out the bog garden but it could also be another female.

On a final note we discovered that the duck in the garden deck nest box is Flare Tail.  I knew she was nesting again but hadn't realised it was her in the upstairs box.  The magpies have finally abandoned their attempts to steal her eggs and the little black duck has given up trying to lay her eggs in the same nest box.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Another 'homeless' duck!

It's been another week of predation in respect of  mallard's eggs in box 2.  A crow was brazenly stealing at least one a day until the mallard was left with only a couple of eggs.  I thought she might give up at that point as there seemed little hope that she would succeed in protecting her eggs but the strangest thing has happened.  She has been staying in her nest box for most of the day which is unusual as there are only a few eggs. The other odd thing is that her partner has been guarding the nest. This has meant that attacks by rogue drakes from 4.00am onwards have almost stopped so the crow no longer has a chance to remove any eggs as both ducks are around most of the time.

Mrs. mallard checking that the 'coast' was clear

Some drakes still attack Mrs. mallard when her partner takes a brief break and we do our best to see them off if we're around.  On this occasion her partner was around to see them off and Mrs. mallard looked out to see what was happening. 

Mrs. mallard's partner

Fortunately her partner spends most of the day guarding the box which is quite unusual.  Normally drakes hang around for a while and then get bored and joins their chums!  This drake's devotion to duty has protected the nest from predation by the crow and our girl now has 4 eggs.

Time for a rest and a chat with his mate

A hungry baby grebe

The grebes only have one youngster now.  At least some of the pressure is off the parents to provide so many fish but neither adult is prepared to let the baby climb on its back any more.

A fish at last for the hungry youngster

Mandarin ducks on nest box 2 plank

The mandarins still spend time on the nest box planks and occasionally check out the boxes.  This morning one of them tried to enter the other mallard's box (box 1) and was pecked for intruding.  This mallard has now been sitting permanently for several weeks and is no longer being harassed by other ducks nor by the crow.

Lack of 'housing' has reared its head again this week.  Upstairs on our garden deck there are two nest boxes and one was being used by a mallard and another duck. They were both laying an egg a day and we knew it would end in tears!

Unfortunately some magpies discovered the eggs and started stealing them.  Over two days they took three eggs and we were beginning to think that the nest was doomed.  We tried our best to deter the magpies by placing part of an old mop at the entrance but they persisted in raiding the nest. Predation has suddenly stopped, however, and we're not sure why.  The mallard is now the sole occupant of the nest and won't allow Lonely, the black duck, to enter.  Poor Lonely is now homeless and has nowhere to lay her eggs. She must have laid at least four before she was evicted!

Lonely hoping to enter the box

One morning, when we thought that the nest was empty, Dave put his hand in to count the eggs and got such a fright when a duck pecked his hand.  The mallard is so well camouflaged inside the box that it is impossible to tell whether she is inside.  

The straw you can see strewn on the ground around the box is because the magpies kept pulling the nest material out in their hunt for eggs.  We would put it back and I'd add extra, to provide more cover for the eggs. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Ousted from both nest boxes

There has been another development concerning nest box 2.  The female tufted duck waited until the mandarin duck left her plank the other day and then claimed back her nest box.  Unfortunately, she has now been ousted by a female mallard who has commandeered the box and is laying her eggs in there. We think that the tufted duck laid at least one more egg inside the box while the mallard wasn't there but the mallard's partner is protecting the nest now and the 'tufty' isn't able to use it as far as we can tell. It's very sad for her because this is the second nest she has laid eggs in only to have a mallard take it over.  We're wondering whether the mallard will hatch the tufted duck's eggs.

Our tufted ducks having a break from attempts to nest

The tufted duck sneaked back to her old nest

I haven't noticed whether the tufted duck has been hanging around her old nest any more but the mallard is now sitting for longer and longer periods on seven eggs.  When we looked two days ago there were four small eggs and two slightly larger ones of a different hue. We assume that the mallard's eggs are the slightly larger ones.

Drake guarding the nest 

It was so sad to see the tufted duck hanging around her nest while the drake blocked it.  He regularly stands guard at the entrance to his partner's nest which is untypical.  Although most drakes stay fairly close to their partners' nest sites they don't usually guard the nests so closely.

The nest yesterday

When I looked inside the box yesterday there were seven eggs but one had been rolled into a corner. The day before two eggs had been laid so we presume that both the mallard and the tufted duck had laid an egg each.  Now, with the drake guarding the nest so closely, the tufted duck appears to have given up on her second nest.  

Meanwhile the mandarin ducks still turn up and look in nest box 2 although I haven't seen the female enter either box for several days.

Mr. mandarin on our plank

The swans bring their two cygnets several times a day for some wheat.  They've grown quite a lot since I last photographed them but they're still cute.  While the swans are here even the greedy canada geese stay well clear of the adults.

The cygnets are growing

The weather has been rather lovely for the past few days and we took an evening boat trip as the sun was going down.  The river is deliciously quiet at this time and the beautiful light on the water and some structures is delightful.

Hampton church at sunset

View upstream from under our bridge

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Nest box wars

There's a housing shortage in London . . . for waterfowl! We've been watching in amazement as the mallard's chosen nest box is also a female tufted duck's preferred home and is attracting the attention of a pair of mandarin ducks, too.

Yesterday we saw the female 'tuftie' sit at the entrance to the nest while the mallard was inside incubating her eggs - she now has 9.  The 'tuftie' lay down flat on the plank with her head looking inside the box which upset the mallard who suddenly leant forward and pecked at the tufted duck.  The 'tuftie' fell off the plank into the river but made several more attempts to enter the preferred nest. Eventually she gave up and, reluctantly it seems, made use of the other nest box (box 2) to lay an egg. There are now three eggs in that box but we're not sure whether they all belong to the tufted duck. Yesterday a mandarin duck was eyeing up both boxes and her mate has been showing an interest in them both too!

Female mandarin duck on mallard's plank

We can't tell whether this is the same female that entered the mallard's nest box a couple of days ago and rolled all her eggs around before leaving.  Yesterday evening, as we were returning from a trip out on our boat, we saw a female mandarin duck coming out of box 2.  I should have checked to see whether another egg had been laid but I think it unlikely.  However. I was surprised to see a male mandarin standing guard over the entrance to the box for several hours yesterday morning which prevented the 'tuftie' from using the box.  When she (the female tufted duck) finally gave up on the mallard's box she had to wait until the male mandarin vacated the plank to her box. 

 Mrs. Mandy enjoying the evening sun on the mallard's ramp

 Male mandarin duck in moult

Most of the male mandarin ducks are now in moult and looking rather sorry for themselves.  Even the few males that still have their striking plumage have lost their magnificent russet 'sail' feathers although they still have their crests.

 Our hybrid 'tuftard'

Our hybrid duck, a cross between a tufted duck and a red crested pochard, has been around for several years now and is more at home with us. He even comes to feed at the front of the house with the others and, for the first time, climbed on to the large floating platform outside our patio windows yesterday. Unfortunately some canada geese chased him off before I could take a picture of him grooming.

 The grebe family

Our family of great crested grebes is growing and the youngsters seem too big to climb onto their parents' backs now.  It's lovely to watch mum and dad feed them small fish.  Apart from two cygnets and a few goslings on this stretch of the river, we've as yet seen no ducklings and no baby coots here. However, we saw several herring gulls further upstream and between them, the crows, the heron and the pike most young waterfowl don't stand a chance.

 Girl in a kayak

It was a beautiful evening after the torrential downpours of the morning and river users made the most of the chance to get out in the warm sunlight.  This is a view of Molesey Lock, where work to replace the weir sluices continues, hence the large red crane.

A view of Hampton village yesterday evening

It was such a lovely evening yesterday and we couldn't resist a boat trip.  We never tire of the riverscape and all the lovely wildlife the area supports.  Further upstream we saw four cygnets, more young grebes and a mature heron as well as the herring gulls.

And finally a comment on the behaviour of a young starling in the garden yesterday.  While two adults were on the regular peanut feeders the youngster found that it could just get its head inside the opening to an alternative peanut feeder and extract whole peanuts.  As we watched it successfully took out 6 or 7 peanuts with its beak but was then unable to eat them whole and so dropped every one of them.  It didn't appear to have learned from its parents to peck at the regular feeders and take smaller portions.  It might have finally succeeded, given time, but a parakeet flew onto the feeder and chased the young starling away.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

While we were away . . .

While we were away the ducklings hatched as did the coots and the blue tits fledged.  When we got back there were no ducklings and no baby coots. In fact, the only 'ducklings' we've seen are mandarin babies.  There were three with one mother and two with another but they have also disappeared. At least the swans still have two cygnets which seem to be doing well. As for the blue tits we can't tell how they fared.  Some may have survived but it is impossible to identify which youngsters might be the ones from our nest box.

On the day we went away the parents spent most of the morning feeding the youngsters.  Below are a few photos of their activities.

 A tasty morsel for one of the chicks

Sunflower hearts went down well, too

 I'm hungry . . . one of the babies gets impatient

 Another mouth to feed

We hope that most of the young blue tits made it this year.  Last year a neighbour's Bengal cat caught one of the chicks and I rescued another after it flew into the house!  Unfortunately I saw the same cat sitting on our car in an attempt to get as close as possible to the fledglings in the nest.  One false move by any one of them and the cat would get them.  I moved the car to make life as difficult as possible for the cat but it's a demon hunter.

It's now five weeks since the ducklings and coots hatched and their nest boxes are occupied again. When we got back from holiday one of the mandarin ducks was using the coots' nest as a temporary shelter for her three youngsters.  At the same time a tufted duck was checking out both boxes, as was a mallard.

Nothing much seemed to happen for a while but when I looked inside one of the boxes there were two small eggs in it.  We watched more closely and noticed a tufted duck going into the box on a regular basis.  However we also spotted a mallard using the same box.  She has taken it over now and is sitting full time so there are likely to be at least seven eggs.  

Below are two screen grabs taken by the nest camera which is connected to our TV set.

Mrs. tufty rolling the eggs

 Mrs. mallard is now in residence

As I'm writing this I am watching the female mallard sitting in the nest box via a camera linked to our television.  We haven't counted the number of eggs yet as she spends most of her time on the nest now. However, while she was taking a break for food and a wing stretch yesterday I glanced at the TV and got quite a shock.  A female mandarin duck was inside and was carefully rolling all the eggs!  Her partner was standing at the entrance to the box as if to guard it.  I have no idea why a mandarin duck would roll another duck's eggs.   

Meanwhile, the tufted duck is still trying to use the same box and has ignored the coots' nest box up till now.  Perhaps I need to clean it out again since it was used by the mandarin and her three babies for about a week.  I need to get more straw, too, once it's been cleaned. I never cease to be surprised at how creatures adapt to our urban world.  It's most unusual for a coot to build a nest inside a box. It equally improbable that a female mandarin duck would roll a mallard female's eggs.  Mandarins nest in trees but I'm just wondering whether next year a mandarin duck might change the habits of a lifetime and use one of our boxes to raise her young.