Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ugly duckling indeed!

Cygnets are so endearing and 'our' cygnet grows more lovely every day.  The pen brings it round five or six times daily and I always take the time to stop what I'm doing and admire it. The cob is sometimes with them and there's trouble if another swan happens to be in the vicinity.  Both parents race after any rival and the cygnet is left to paddle after them as fast as it can, calling out in distress at being left behind.  Fortunately, once intruders have been driven off, the pen returns to allow its exhausted cygnet to climb back under her wings.

 Mum takes the strain

The swans nearly always approach us from downstream so I have plenty of time to get out their favourite food for them.  Sometimes the cygnet gets so excited at the thought of a 'wheat treat' that it slides off mum's back before reaching the feeding station - but not always!

 Time to slide off mum's back for some wheat

Usually it stays on board till the last minute and then wriggles from under its mum's wings before sliding into the water.

Getting back on takes a little more effort

After a substantial snack it's so nice to clamber back under mum's wings but it's never that easy, especially when mum is seeing off a rival swan. Then the cygnet has to paddle hard to keep up with her.

Preening is essential 

After a good meal it's important to preen before settling down for a snooze under mum's protective wings.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Mandarin duck brings her babies

One of the mandarin ducks brought her ducklings to see us on Wednesday.  There were nine of them to start with but she was down to seven yesterday evening.  She has decided to use the empty nest box on the river for the night and once she has ushered them into the box and followed them in, her mate stands guard for a while at the entrance to the box. She has done this for the last two nights, which is great, but there is now a complication.  I discovered yesterday that a duck has laid two eggs in the nest!  A pair of tufted ducks has been hanging around so I think the egg is probably theirs.

Mandarin duck with her newly hatched ducklings

Unfortunately one egg was broken when I checked the box yesterday afternoon.  I'm not sure whether it was broken accidentally by the mandarin ducklings and their mum or whether a magpie or crow has discovered the eggs.  There is also a third possibility in that the coots are fiercely protective of their own nest close by and have been 'inspecting' the box rather aggressively.  I decided to remove the broken egg as it would have made the box smell terrible after a couple of days. I also added more straw to hide the remaining egg.  When I peeped inside the box late this morning I was pleased to see that there are now two unbroken eggs and the additional straw has provided good cover and also an extra layer of protection.

One of the seventeen male mandarin ducks that visit daily

I should imagine it won't be long before another family of ducklings arrives on the scene but we shall have run out of accommodation if the coot doesn't hurry up and hatch its brood.

I haven't seen Flare Tail's ducklings for some days but she may still have at least one as she is in the habit of flying in twice a day to wolf down some wheat before flying off again.  I think that if she had lost all her ducklings she would remain in the area for much longer.  I do hope I'm right and not being unduly optimistic. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Cygnet and goslings

I think that Flare Tail may have lost her ducklings.  They appeared on their own a couple of days ago and I thought they might be safe as they seemed to be quite happy to lurk in the shallows between our boat and that of our neighbour's.  Flare Tail and her partner, however, spent quite a long time resting in the sunshine on my therapy room's roof the other morning so I'm wondering whether she has either abandoned them or has taken them somewhere safer and heads back to see them after taking a break.

We used to have a mallard duck we called Goldeneye, also with a brown hybrid partner.  She was a disastrous mother, abandoning her ducklings within a day and a half or hatching them as if she got bored and couldn't be bothered with them.  I do have just a smidgeon of hope that Flare Tail has her ducklings safely stowed upstream as she flies in to feed and then heads off again in a hurry. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that she's been clever and taken them somewhere safer than our location.

 Canada geese with goslings

The Canada geese are excellent parents and are fiercely protective of their young.  Even so, this pair now only has two goslings - I'm not sure what happened to the third one.  Of an evening they bring them to our floating platform for the night and I haven't the heart to turn them away though they are not my wildfowl of choice as I've seen them attack ducklings. 

Resident swan with cygnet

Our resident swans were unlucky this year and their nest was regularly raided by magpies and possibly a crow or heron. Hence only one cygnet but they are taking great care of it and it's a joy to watch it sitting proud on mum's back.  They visit the feeding platform three or four times a day and the cygnet seems to enjoy small amounts of wheat as a supplement to its diet  This morning I laughed out loud as the female swan stretched her neck down to retrieve some wheat that had sunk into the riverbed, tipping the cygnet unceremoniously into the water.

Another surprise awaited me this morning. One of the mandarin ducks appeared with 9 or 10 ducklings.  She's very nervous and protective of her newly hatched youngsters but I'm hoping she'll use the spare duck nesting box as a creche for them tonight.  She visited the feeding station several times today with her ducklings but is very wary of humans.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Flare Tail surprises me with three ducklings

Flare Tail surprised me by appearing with three ducklings yesterday.  I wasn't sure when she'd started sitting full time so I couldn't predict the exact day when the 'chicks' would arrive.  I probably should have guessed that ducklings were due any moment because she didn't come to be fed at all on Tuesday.  The first I knew of it was when she and her mate swam past with three ducklings in tow yesterday afternoon.

She's obviously attractive to other drakes because she has been chased on a regular basis and you can see by the scar on her head that she's received some pretty rough treatment.  Last night she was trying to lead her three babies into the empty riverside nest box for the night but was attacked and was forced to leave the ducklings to fend for themselves.  I didn't hold out much hope that they'd survive as they tend to swim off downstream when abandoned and I saw no sign of Flare Tail for the rest of the evening so I was delighted to hear three ducklings calling for their mum this morning. They seemed quite happy to feed on their own while they waited for mum to return and at least they weren't chased or pestered by other ducks.

Flare Tail's kids - two real mallards and a hybrid

She tried a number of times to be with her ducklings but was chased by rogue drakes until they got bored or she managed to elude them.  Finally she reappeared and was left in peace to join the youngsters. Later this morning she and her mate came to feed with the ducklings in tow but I've seen and heard nothing more of any of them today so I hope they're okay, especially as I've just noticed a herring gull on the hunt for a tasty morsel.  Fortunately it was driven off by a crow but then crows are almost as lethal.  I've seen a fair few ducklings plucked from the water by our resident crows.

Flare Tail, looking the worse for wear, with her mate

We are sometimes joined by a pair of red-crested male pochards and occasionally a female joins them but I think she must be on a nest as I haven't seen her for at least a week.

Male red crested pochard in bright sunshine

I don't remember whether I mentioned the fact that 'Squeaks' the lovely old Aylesbury duck must have died.  She had been visiting less frequently and her feathers were looking very bedraggled plus she seemed to have damaged her leg so I guessed that she was nearing the end. When she appeared a couple of weeks ago looking worse than ever she seemed desperate and confused and I wondered whether to call Swan Rescue but decided that it would be too traumatic for her to be grabbed and removed from the river as she was a very old duck.  She would also have missed her male entourage of three suitors.  I was really upset to see her like that but I've learned that it's sometimes wiser to let Nature take its course.  I never saw her again and hope she didn't suffer.  At least she was with her mates and one in particular, a 'stretch-limo' of a hybrid duck, really seemed to look after her and stay by her side.  I do miss her and the excitement she always expressed when she came for her wheat treats.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

First ducklings

Yesterday evening Lonely appeared with 10 ducklings.  They are the first I have seen this year so it was exciting and I'm looking forward to when Flare Tail's ducklings hatch which should be in a few days.

Lonely's clutch of ten

Lonely appeared when the light was low so it was impossible to get a better image of her newly hatched brood.  She is a nervous duck too, especially with her 'babies' in tow, so she turned tail as soon as I went out with the camera to grab a photo.

This morning she arrived with only eight ducklings and by 10.00am she was down to seven. I wonder how many she'll have by this evening!

The attrition rate is always high at this time of year but although I know this I am always sad at at the loss of so many new lives.  The reality is, of course, that there would be far too many ducks on the river if most of the ducklings survived.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The mandarin ducks are multiplying!

There seem to be more and more mandarin ducks on this stretch of water.  Over the winter months they put on quite a cabaret for us at feeding time.  We had as many as 17 pairs and a spare come to visit us every day and it was fascinating to observe the 'pecking order' when it came to which ones were the dominant ducks.  Most of them like to feed from a small bowl on the table on the deck but in theory there is only room for three or four at the most.  However, at times 7 or 8 would pile on top of each other, literally standing on each others' backs to get at the wheat. The ducks lower down in the 'pecking order' couldn't even get near the bowl and had to make do with feeding from the deck and even among those ones some were more subservient than others.  

They don't get things all their own way, however, as two determined pigeons do their best to get to the wheat first.  One of them swoops in and karate kicks the ducks and then bashes them with its wings! It has a powerful beak and generally succeeds in scaring the ducks although there are three or four mandarins that attack back and successfully defend their corner.

A male mandarin duck stretches its wings

Now, during nesting season, the mandarins arrive in the morning at various times, feed and fly back to the nests but in the evening they still turn up 'en masse' and are much more fun to watch than the evening news!

The grebe I saw with two youngsters was around yesterday but only had one with it.  It is possible that the second baby grebe was with the other parent but there is a high attrition rate among grebes at this time of year.

The tufted ducks still hang around but none has shown signs of nesting as yet.  I'm sure it won't be long before a pair tries out the spare nest box on the water.

A female tufted duck 

This particular 'tuftie' has quite a large area of white just above its beak but most of them don't.  She's been around for several years now so I recognise her as she has become used to used to us feeding her.

Flare Tail is still sitting on the nest, though she was driven off it the other day, probably by a rogue drake.  The coots are also incubating their eggs still but I think there will be baby coots quite soon now.