Friday, 31 December 2010

Hell Hath no Fury - Like an Aggressive Swan !

As I suspected, with the change in weather and temperature the Parents have started harassing the cygnets again, ready for the spring clear out ! The past few days shows a marked change in attitude towards the youngsters followed with a few nips if they get too close. I have observed too the pen in particular is slightly off her food, and has singled out the pen cygnet for special attention. According to size and demeanor, I think there is only 1 female cygnet and it's being chased more than the others by both the pen and cob. I can only assume that this is the Pens way of making sure there is no competition, and is backed up by the cob to reinforce that fact !
The pen seems to be more aggressive than the cob just now, and she is the prime mover dictating the pace and level of aggression. When the wings are up the cygnets are definitely worried. A case of Hell hath no fury like an aggressive Swan! In saying that, after a while the chasing stops they calm down and start preening. If the weather stays mild they will probably be chased away within a fortnight.
I got some better shots of the Goldeneye feeding in the harbour, and the Tufted ducks have joined in the feeding sessions with the Mallards too. Yesterday 3 Swans flew overhead but were put off landing by our lot. Was too late to get the camera adjusted but you can hear the marvellous sound as they pass over. ( video clip below.)

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Nairn Swans Blog 2010 Review

The not so old saying, "Life is like a toilet roll, the closer you get to the end the faster is goes". This is how the last year seems to have gone for me ! January last year was pretty much identical to now - weather wise, with hard penetrating frost and the river festooned with ice sheets. At least 6 months of the past 12 have been pure winter as far as I'm concerned !

The Cygnets are still here just 4 instead of the eight last year, they will no doubt get the boot when the weather breaks and temperatures rise. The 12th February last year was D - eparture day for the cygnets after, being harassed by the parents for 2 weeks or so beforehand.

I took a few V flight shots the day before they left and they looked a flock in their own right, I hope they have lived well and prospered ! After they departed the parents hung about the pier end for a few days waiting as if they should return, the Pen having an air of melancholy about her. One did return for a couple of hours but then left for good. The cob and pen settled down to some well earned rests and slept curled up - more than they had in the previous 9 months. Spring like days increased with the lengthening daylight, and nature stirred the pair to nest making once again. With the Island naturalised, nesting material was more abundant than the previous year, so getting the site prepared was intermittent and mainly a matter of re-hashing the previous nesting spot. Bonding and mating took place through late February to March, and I was fortunate enough to record the event a couple of times. The Pen took about 12 days to lay 8 eggs and a further 5 weeks to incubate them.

On the 17Th May the hatching started and by the following day 6 cygnets were visible. When they all finally took to the water and the pen stopped going back to the nest I checked to see if there were any unhatched. Two eggs remained and from the smell it was obvious they were dead, perhaps contamination was the cause or some other natural reason. As always the parents are fantastic and show such care jointly and individually. One of the cygnets was slower and perhaps weaker than the others and was cared for by the cob - when the pen and others took to the water he stayed by the weaker one in the nest. On the 25th May when the whole family had walked to the nest one cygnet was still at the base of the island out of line of sight of the parents, and was pounced on by 2 hoodie crows. When I heard about it, all that was left was some cygnet fluff scattered around. Hoodies often work in pairs and I witnessed how they tackled a herring gull that was Injured.
Within another 10 days another cygnet was taken in the harbour by a black backed gull, so I was told by one of the local boat owners. Already down to half the previous years brood I was beginning to fear for this lot when I was informed by Mr and Mrs Williams that a cygnet was stuck in the rocks !

The parents had tried in vain to free the cygnet that had got into a crevice between large rocks. When I arrived on scene the cygnet was wet and weak but still alive, the parents had gone to the harbour with the 3 surviving cygnets. I pushed the trapped cygnet from under the rocks enough to grab it by the neck and pull it free. When I returned it to the parents a few minutes later it peeped and squeaked to get onto the pens back and she duly obliged after checking that it was really her lost cygnet. Phew...crisis over...for now !
Meanwhile the ducks seemed strangely missing from the lower river, but what a great surprise when mother after mother turned up with large broods. One in particular had 19 ducklings but I think this was due to a successful takeover of one brood by another. What was really exciting was the fact that some of these broods were already close to 3 weeks old when they arrived on the lower river. This was a bonus because they were less likely to be taken by the hoodie crows and gulls. Either the ducks have learned to stay clear of this area until their ducklings were a safe size, and perhaps also people had taken notice not to try feeding the ducklings during April - June, thus keeping them safe from predators. Either way we had a bumper year for ducklings with over 60 survivors compared to last year of only around 6. Fearful of another disastrous year for the ducks, I invested in an incubator and purchased some hatching duck eggs from ebay. I thought if I could raise a few and let them loose in the river, this might help maintain stocks and introduce fresh blood to the species. Knowing nothing about the subject of incubation I studied all I could from the Internet and other breeders and had a go ! Out of 12 eggs in total I had 5 successful hatching's, not as good as the real thing because I think I got the humidity and egg turning wrong at one stage. I found the whole experience immensely satisfying, although time consuming and hard work ! Millie my dog was intrigued and driven crazy by the squeaking of the ducklings - it was squeaky toy heaven for her ! I find Ducks to be wonderful creatures, gentle and even affectionate , a bit messy but inoffensive and beautiful. I was conscious of the fact that ducklings imprint on people and for that reason had minimal daily contact with them - I wanted to successfully introduce them into the wild. Sadly out of the 5 reared only 2 that I am certain have survived, possibly 3. I did not ring them so difficult to tell the different males in particular. It was bad timing and luck that I introduced them to the river and within a few days a large Otter was seen hunting the ducks on the island, they did not have time to develop the safety and warning skills and were barely able to fly. There were many other wildlife events on the river during the course of the year, the Otter sightings, the Mink, the weasel and other not very pleasant events to be witnessed.

Some however were delightful like the Sparrows feeding their young down by the harbour. .

Not to mention the skillful River predator the Heron, great to watch and even better if you get a good photo of it. .

One of the worst incidents this year was the near fatal attack on the pen by a black Labrador. She was badly bitten on the back at the worst possible time of year when she was in full moult. She had little feathers covering her and was trying to escort the cygnets to safety. The dog was apparently relentless, and the owner had to get into the river and try and drag the dog away. Fortunately I found out within 2 hours of the attack and consulted a trusted Avian adviser Sue Hulbert in Swindon. Sue is an expert at treating swan injuries and has treated about 80 swans this year alone. I phoned and emailed pics of the injuries etc, and she stressed the importance of getting antibiotics into the pen as soon as possible, knowing that infection always follows dog bites. I started treatment within 4 hours of the attack and continued for 2 weeks. The pen made a full recovery within a month or so, and grew her new feathers. What a relief, the Nairn swan family would have been finished if the pen had died. .

There are other dangers too like fishing tackle and inconsiderate anglers who leave tackle laying around. This can be lethal to wildlife, Twice this year I had to remove hooks from cygnets, and also picked up several sets of tackle which the Swans could have ingested. One cygnet in particular was badly disabled for over a month because of tackle around it's leg and a hook in the back of it's neck !

In July I was pushed into the river from a 12' high river wall by a 19 year old local who crept up behind me. He was due in Court in October but this was adjourned until January. It was sheer good fortune that I was not killed or crippled. I look forward to his court appearance!

August saw no decent weather again, and a member of the public told me about a dolphin washed up on the beach. I went to investigate and it turned out to be a Porpoise.

In September I had the moat cleaned out because it had been filled in by shingle from last years big flood. It is now deep and wide enough for the Swans to take off and land if needs be. I was pleasantly surprised by our local plant contractor for doing the job at no cost ! Also this month some resentful - and to my mind despicable locals, decided to go to a community council meeting and make misleading and false claims about me and the Swans Island which I created. This was prompted because of my call for a few signs to be put along the lower riverside for people to keep their dogs under control. I would suggest you read the enclosed Nairnshire Telegraph cuttings, then my reply on this link .

In October I got a rare view of a mink doing it's thing in the harbour-looking for food wherever it could.

November saw quite a few interesting things on the go, one of them being a Sparrowhawk getting into my Aviary!

This Year I have put up over 170 Postings, far too many to keep rabbiting on about here. I would suggest when you have the time or inclination, you can trawl through the archives listed on the left hand side of my homepage at your leisure. Some of the pics I hope will entertain you. I look forward to the new year, better weather, and a continuation of the Nairn River Saga.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Ice + Goldeneye + Heron

Christmas day lived up to it's tradition, peaceful, tranquil even - not a lot stirring and a calmness over the riverside. A slight thaw allowed slabs of ice to break away with the outgoing tide. The weather news tells us that this could well be the coldest December on record, I would not be at all surprised.
The Heron seems to have taken a liking to the Merryton bridge as a roosting / posing spot, and was perched there today and yesterday.
Besides the attractive tufted ducks, I spotted a Goldeneye female, - it has been around for at least several days. Looking up the bird book, it is an interesting bird in so far as it nests in holes in trees, and has only been nesting in Scotland since 1970. Having been provided specially designed nest boxes close to water, they lay 8 to 11 eggs and the young jump several metres from the nest. The light was poor today so the pics don't do the bird justice - I have included a couple I took last March, perhaps the same female !

Friday, 24 December 2010

A Christmas Story

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well, and proof positive today when local man Charlie Black sent me a lovely pic of him holding a Goldfinch. Charlie feeds the birds in his garden and is fortunate enough to have about 20 Goldfinches visiting for their daily dose of Nyger seeds , the Goldfinch's favourite food ! Today one of them hit his window and on inspection Charlie found it on it's back and appeared dead, however he took the bird into the warm and gave it time to revive then put it out onto the bird table and after an hour it flew off. Charlie reckons it's one of the most beautiful things he's had the pleasure of helping. Charlie says "never give up, even when all appears lost." I agree - Well done to you Charlie !

Thursday, 23 December 2010


I would like to wish all my supporters and followers a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year, and thanks to all those who keep an eye out for the welfare of the river wildlife.

This time last year I quipped about the severe winter, remarking "Could this be the start of a mini ice age ?" This winter looks like it's going to beat last years - no problem at all. The river was pretty well frozen over at one point today, and the Swans were walking and weaving their way around. I broke a wee path through the ice at the merryton bridge to allow the Swans to get close enough to feed, they are looking good.
The ducks too are in fine form, (short Vid below 4 days ago).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hard Times

These are hard times for the bird population and they do not have the food distribution services we have ! It crossed my mind the other day when watching the TV chaos unfold around the country due to the wintery conditions. As a species how dependent we are on shops etc for our food, never mind everything else like heating and other utilities. Can you imagine what would ensue if the shops were empty and the heating was non existent and water was frozen solid ? I suspect we wouldn't last long in this weather. Those envious and mean minded people who voiced their "concern" about me feeding the swans and ducks and making them "dependent" - would be first to shout blue murder if the shops were empty and the utilities shut down. The truth is, as a species we are all dependent one way or another on the state and the distribution systems we have created. The swans ducks and other birds merely make use of what we are willing to provide in hard times - at least they have the intelligence to do so.

Today I took a snap of a small bird about the size of a wren, but Looking at the pics I think it's a Firecrest or Goldcrest ? The swans and ducks are looking good and we now have about 12 tufted ducks on the lower river along with mergansers and goosanders.