Tuesday, 29 June 2010

More Quackers

I see we have another brood of 7 new quackers on the lower river again, this is in addition to a recent duck with 2 little ones. It's been a great year for Mallards with about 48 survivors to date.

There is a also a chance that we will still get another late brood or two yet.

Sadly I appear to have lost another one of mine, with two remaining Duck and Drake doing well.
I think the predators have taken about 60% this year which is a huge improvement on last year when we lost over 90%.

Jemima has 4 survivors and I have Nipper which is also one of hers that got lost on the way to the river. Nipper is growing so fast it is developing a condition called "angel wing". This is when the outer developing flight feathers point outward and do not fold up neatly on the back. It is on the right wing only and I am taking remedial action to correct it, by taping the wing for 4 or 5 days.
Meanwhile Nipper is taking the place over, and intimidates my dog which I put in the garden for Nipper's protection against predators ! It does give the dog a makeover, ( see video below.)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Spartan Sparrows

It's not only big is beautiful when it comes to birds, take for instance our little common Sparrow.

All too often we take them for granted, but what hardy little birds they are. I cant help but admire how they managed to get through last winter, which was prolonged and incredibly cold for small birds. I took the opportunity to get some shots of a small friend whom I feed everyday during my river walk. She is literally working her tail off feeding 3 youngsters, as one of her tail feathers fell out yesterday!

I think they are truly Spartan birds, and their happy chirping in the bushes and trees is most enjoyable to hear. In the dead of winter they are the spark of life which are a most welcome sight. I will continue to feed them in the garden all the year round.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Heron Strike

A familiar Mid Summer scene on the river these days, if you have the time to see the Heron in action it is worth watching.
Even anticipating the strike, the camera cant match the speed !

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

That Time Again

Now that the Cygnets are growing and mid - summer is almost upon us ( hard to believe ), it is time for the Pen to start moulting. This is a process which will take about 6 weeks during which time she wont be able to fly. However, Nature has been clever and her partner the Cob will only moult after she gets her new flight feathers - this ensures that one of the adults will always get airborne to be able to protect their young!

Today the pen had a vigorous bath, trying to get rid of parasites and loose feathers.

The island was teeming with life and dozens of ducklings all looking for food, and skirmishes between families abound!

(Below video of pen finishing bathtime.)

Monday, 14 June 2010

Best Laid Plans...

After taking everything into account regarding the release of the ducklings into the river on the 10th June, I thought it was the safest thing to do before they flew off from the garden. All seemed perfect until the 12th when one of them went missing, it was the youngest of the 4 but only by a few days, and in any case they were all around 7 weeks old and probably too big to be killed by herons crows or gulls. Today I spoke to one of the residents overlooking the island and was told that on the night of the 10th, an Otter was running riot on and around the island.

He said the ducks were scattering everywhere during the melee. In saying that, all four of my ducklings were still around on the 11th but on the 12th thats when I discovered one was gone.

I wonder if an Otter was the reason, I am quite sad about it, because the youngest was the cutest and used to walk round the garden fork when I was shaking it for worms.

It goes to show how many dangers are out there for the wildlife, and that the best laid plans can be thwarted.

Meanwhile Nipper the duckling is taking the place over, and is twice the size of it's siblings in the river. Enclosed video of the latest swim in the bath !

Friday, 11 June 2010

D - Day for Ducklings

Fearing a repeat of last years carnage, and ending up with virtually no ducklings this year, I decided to try an experiment to offset the predators actions. By incubating a few duck eggs and hopefully rearing them until they were too big to be taken by predators.

I did some research on rearing mallard ducks, but found out that it's a little more involved when actually doing it .

Having occasionally taken care of the odd injured bird it seemed sensible to have an aviary built with a coop etc. This would serve as a place to care for any future injured or orphaned birds, and would also double up as a place to try rearing a few ducks.

I have offered the SSPCA the use of my aviary for any orphaned ducks which could then be put into the river when old enough.

I realise some people might think this is interfering with nature, but my own view is that since we learned to stand upright, we have been interfering with nature ever since - and not in a constructive way ! If we were all abiding by the laws of nature, and thinking what the impact was before we did things then maybe we wouldn't make such a mess of things. The north American sitka spruce that gives the Hoodie crows their nesting site and vantage point would not be growing along the river, but elder Rowan and willow and native species would instead. Likewise the giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed also alien species.

People who remark "it's nature or natural" never seem to realise that we humans are part of nature and not outside it ! That said, I see no reason why nature cant be given a helping hand when required. Interestingly I saw on the news today, how successful it has been to have re- introduced the Great bustard back into Britain - after we shot it to extinction ! Another prime example of humans "being natural". Anyway I digress, but see no harm putting in a few new mallard ducks to boost the gene pool and local numbers.

As it happens this has been a good year for duckling numbers, and I counted 36 plus 4 that I have reared and one I currently have at home.( Nipper) This is an eight fold increase on last years disaster. All of these ducklings come from 7 separate parents so this is good for the genetic mix.

I was told that what I was doing would not work because Ducks "imprint" on people rearing them from incubation, and could not be put into the wild without the help of a bird rehabilitator.

Because of this I researched the subject of bird rehabilitation as well. The key factor seemed to be to have as little human contact with them as possible and therefore easier to put them back into the wild.

Having an aviary with easy access to the coop , seemed to provide the ideal setup for very little human contact.

The upshot is that yesterday at 7 weeks old I introduced the 4 ducklings into the river. I played mother for a couple of hours showing them round the island and riverside, then slipped home leaving them to their new domain. So far as I can tell they have taken to it like a duck to water, and haven't been driven away by the other ducks, or followed me home ! It has been an fascinating learning curve, messy and quite a lot of work - but very rewarding.

I will give you a series of pics showing the start to finish of the project. I hope you find it interesting.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Cygnet Saved

Having just finished my Chili con carne and glass of red wine, I was obliged to answer a knock at the door. It was a Mr and Mrs Williams, regular river walkers and keen wildlife watchers. They told me that one of the Cygnets appeared to be trapped in the rocks just up from the bailey bridge. I grabbed some gear and headed down to the river accompanied by the Williams.

Apparently the Cob and pen were trying to free the cygnet earlier but failed, and when we got down they had gone into the safety of the harbour with the river high and running in spate.

After a brief search I found the cygnet trapped in a crevice, very weak wet and covered in slime. It was difficult to extract and could not be pulled out without pushing my hand under the rock and pushing the cygnet to the top end, which was just enough to get the body out. It squeaked a few times and was thankfully still alive ! I gave it a quick clean and took it to the harbour where I returned it to the cob and pen. The cob hissed a little, and the pen could barely believe the cygnet had returned. The cygnet tried unsuccessfully to get onto the pens back and raised it's head to the pen in recognition - then they all headed for the sheltered north side of the harbour.

Tonight I returned to see how the cygnet was doing and am pleased to report that it has nearly dried off and was heartily eating grass and wholemeal bread !

Enclosed pics of rock crevice, the reunion in the harbour, and tonights pic showing the drying off cygnet. I Did not have the presence of mind to take a pic of the trapped cygnet - too busy trying to get it out quickly.

My Thanks to Mr and Mrs Williams for having the presence of mind coming to my house, their prompt action undoubtedly help save the life of the cygnet today.

Footnote: I was told by a regular harbour user that a Black back gull was the killer of the last cygnet in the harbour.