Category Archives: Water Birds

Obsession

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

It’s only me 🙂

European Robin
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

Those are lines written by the poet Robert Burns in 1785. Okay he wrote that poem To a Mouse but my bird is just as tim’rous.

I am really startled that in 1785, without the benefits of social media, a man could be so aware.

Robert Burns was way ahead of his time.

European RobinMy tim’rous beastie has been obsessing me. I am so close to fixing nature’s social union, so close but not quite there yet.

I noticed that the bird was following my hand. What happens now is that he sits outside my door singing and his song is very clear, so I go to the door. I say hello and I put out a worm or two and the bird is watching my hand because almost before I can withdraw, it swoops down and takes the worm.

So I reasoned that if it knows the hand provides the food then let me offer the food on the hand.

I am doing a lot of this. The neighbour’s think I’m nuts, we’ll see 😉

FeedingIt is still dark outside as I start this post. The Robins started singing at six thirty this morning. I know what I will be doing as soon as it gets light. I have put off writing this post just because I keep thinking, any time now, I will get the pictures that I want but no, this is just going to be an update.

European RobinI need a name for my soon to be tamed European Robin.

In my mind I am making the association with Robin Goodfellow. The bird is cheeky and mischievous but also capable of meanness. Puck just doesn’t sound right (Something that you might play ice-hockey with) but there is a name there somewhere. I am open to suggestions.

European RobinThere is more than one bird and I may need more than one name. I have seen four Robins together outside of my door. That is a bit odd. I have just mentioned that the Robin is capable of meanness, a male Robin will not tolerate another male in his territory and while many animals settle such disputes with a good display of bluster, a Robin will kill an intruding male.

So how come, four birds? The only thing that I can think of is that these are last years chicks and they haven’t dispersed yet. They will have to go soon, the breeding season is starting.

European Robin

Ducks on the Pond!

Mind your language now.

MallardsAs predicted our solitary male has been joined by another male and a female.

MallardThe two males are quite easy to tell apart.

MallardSo the Ducks can have names too, if you like 🙂

MallardsThe trail camera is out watching the Ducks. I would like to make a “sex tape.” The breeding habits of Mallards are quite interesting and deserve some explaining but we can talk about that when I get the video.

I think that this one is my favourite, he is the underdog duck.

Mallard

MallardIs Fizz being neglected while I play with my birds?

If I ever do a post called, “Interesting things you can do with a Dog,” it will involve mud.

Fizz

Fizz

Fizz

FizzThe Sheep are meant to be having their toenails painted today but it is raining. Apparently you do not want to handle wet sheep, the fleece holds quite a bit of water. Well that is something that I have learned today.

SheepOn with the flowers.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)Mercurialis perennis, The Dog’s Mercury

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)Dog’s Mercury is a green woodland plant that does best in partial shade. It appears very early in the year (January) and forms dense mats on the woodland floor.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)A member of the Spurge family,  (Euphorbiaceae) it spreads from it’s rhizomes (rootstalks) to form a large mass of plants that can shade others out.

Dog’s Mercury is dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female plants.

The male plant carries spikes of flowers that open to reveal between eight and fifteen, pollen producing, stamens.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)The flower has no petals, it has three, lime green, tepals (a term used when sepals and petals are indistinguishable from each other)

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)The female plant is much less conspicuous and most easily recognised by the lack of a flower spike.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)Female flowers are carried singly on a long stem.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)The female flower consists of a two lobed stigma above the ovary. The also have the three lime green tepals, soon hidden by the growing seeds.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)The leaves of Dog’s Mercury are spear like (narrowly elliptic-ovate) and grow in opposite pairs. Most of the leaves are at the top of the stem.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)They are finely haired and have a toothed margin.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)The stem is unbranched and by this I mean that the leaves and flowers grow directly from the central stem.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Similar species: The leaves and flowers of Annual Mercury (Mercurialis annua) look very similar to Dog’s Mercury, the big difference between the species is that Annual Mercury grows on branched stems, by this I mean that they grow on stems which branch off the main stem.

I don’t have pictures of Annual Mercury because in the UK, it only grows in the South East of England but if you are unsure of your identification then just Google for images of Annual Mercury and look at the stem.

Poison:

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)(Dog’s Mercury growing amongst Wild Garlic)

Dog’s Mercury is extremely poisonous. The first recorded case of fatality comes from 1693 when a family of five ate it and one child subsequently died. They had boiled the plant before eating it. The most recent case of poisoning comes from the 1980’s and was reported in The British Medical Journal. A couple boiled and ate the plant, mistaking it for an edible. They were hospitalised for two days but recovered without any serious ill effects. Their recovery was put down to the fact that they had boiled the plant before eating it.

Serious cases of poisoning in Humans are rare because there is little reason why anyone would eat this plant, most cases must arise from mistaken identity, or just not noticing the leaves when you pick your Wild Garlic.

Poisoning is more common in animals with several cases of Sheep poisoning being reported. I have also read a lot of reports of Dogs being drawn to eat it and subsequent vomiting. The plant has an unpleasant smell that repels us but may attract Dogs.

Dog’s Mercury in January:

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)   Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)   Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)Taxonomy

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Malpighiales

Family: Euphorbiaceae

Genus: Mercurialis

Species: Mercurialis perennis

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)Wildflowers in winter.

 

 

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Summer Birds

We are having a storm here but it is quite a nice storm with strong warm winds. Warm makes all the difference.  It has been blowing all night and so I found myself sitting outside at four o’clock this morning enjoying the wind buffeting the trees.

I am kicking off with birds today and perhaps the weather will brighten up in a bit. I have seen some beautiful birds this year.

RobinUnlike the butterflies I don’t have to say goodbye to the birds. A couple of lightweights have gone south, fair enough but winter is a wonderful time for watching birds.

Here are a few birds that have featured here this summer.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Sizewise it is about as “great” as a starling. Quite a small bird but it has wonderful presence. The female turned up about a month before the male and made herself at home.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerShe was on the feeder every time that I looked out of the window.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerEventually the male started visiting us too.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpeckers don’t really eat peanuts. As a species they are totally dependant on dead wood habitat and the insects that live therein.

The juveniles visited us for a few weeks but their arrival signalled the end of the visits. They have been missing from the garden for the last couple of months.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerMeanwhile… out on the waters edge…

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin DuckMandarin ducks nest high in trees often in old woodpecker holes. Once hatched the chicks have to leap out of the nest and plummet thirty or forty feet to the ground because they are ducks not woodpeckers. They are very light and survive the fall. It is a spectacle that I would really like to video.

Mandarin DuckMeanwhile out on the farm….

Red Legged PartridgeThis is a Red Legged Partridge, an introduced species. Introduced for the shooting they are quite common here. My bedroom overlooks fields and I can actually lie in bed and watch these birds through my window but I still have to get out of bed to get decent pictures. No situation is perfect 🙂

Red Legged Partridge

Red Legged PartridgeGoldfinches played a major role in our summer. My new landlord’s favourite bird, he had never had them in the garden. They love sunflower hearts and I filled the garden with them.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

GoldfinchThis is a juvenile Goldfinch.

GoldfinchGoldfinches were not the only birds breeding here. The one that got the most blog space was the Barn Swallow. There are lots of swallow nestling videos on this blog but for me the best bit was when they first arrived.

They are supposed to mate for life. Some of the birds are just finding their mate. Some of them are  reuniting. They fuss over each other so much. It is lovely to watch.

Barn SwallowIt would do no good telling me that birds are not capable of emotions. They greet each other with all the excitement of a puppy meeting it’s owner. I have also seen them mourn when they have lost a brood. These are very emotional birds.

Barn Swallow

Barn SwallowThroughout the summer we had all manner of new arrivals, too many to show them all here.

BlackbirdBlackbirds raised a brood in a tractor.

BlackbirdDespite a very wet start to the year the Blue Tits were also very successful.

Blue TitBlue Tits have a large brood and all of that feeding can leave mum feeling a little bit frazzled.

Blue Tit(This bird is actually just moulting, perfectly healthy and happy, or it might be a Zombie Blue Tit, they do happen, I think 🙂 )

The bird that had the greatest success was the House Sparrow. They can have several broods in a year and our birds had a constant supply of food this summer, they made the most of it.

House Sparrow

Blue TitThere are dozens of them and they have been moving around the farm in small flocks. So much so that I was beginning to worry that I was upsetting the balance of nature… Until today that is…

Blue TitI filled the feeders up three days ago and they haven’t been touched, something is wrong.

SparrowhawkThis Sparrowhawk has visited the garden a couple of times this year. He hasn’t stayed very long and hasn’t caused any big problems. It is nice to see him.

I saw him or another just like him this morning. Now he is in his full adult plumage and looks quite beautiful. (no photos yet)

SparrowhawkTo have had any impact on my Sparrow hordes he must have taken up residence or more likely his presence is just keeping the birds away from the feeders. Today I am on Sparrowhawk watch.

Sparrowhawkand looking forward to a great winter of wonderful birds.

Softly Softly Catchee Monkey

I’ll tell you now, we didn’t catch a Monkey but we tried. Today I took my lean, mean, walking machine to the woods.

FizzWe are not going to any old wood. The woods that we were in on our last walk were very nice. English woodland, mostly Oak with some Beech. Very nice but my eyes see managed for timber production. The trees are all the same age, they are closely spaced and there is no significant dead wood, still it’s a nice place to walk.

Today we are visiting a cathedral. You have to walk with reverence around this place. It is beautiful. (but there are no Monkeys)

RSPB NagsheadNagshead is a 1250 acre nature reserve in the Forest of Dean. It is a collaboration between the Forestry Commission and the RSPB. I don’t know exactly where the FC come into it, there is no evidence of their management but I think that they might own the land and have agreed not to mess it up. (Which is very nice of them and I am grateful). Anyway they are not messing it up.

More than half of the reserve is nineteenth century Oak woodland. There are two ponds with viewing hides and quite a large meadow. There are also good, sign posted, trails around the reserve, a long and a short one.

The reserve is managed by the RSPB for birds obviously but it is just as well known for it’s butterflies and dragonflies. Boar and Fallow Deer also wander about the reserve but we didn’t see any today.

The RSPB understand that birds eat insects and so to create a habitat for birds you have to start with a habitat for insects. There is a lot of dead wood here. Whole trees lie on the floor and there are also dead trees standing. There is a lot of life in dead wood and it is very important.

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB NagsheadWe have been here about six times this year and the one thing that I have never photographed here is birds. I did take a few pictures today but the light was too poor. Part of the reason though is that just across the road from this reserve is Cannop ponds and that is brilliant for birds and just as well managed but with more water.

RSPB NagsheadFizz wants to go to the ponds. They have a very nice picnic area and she wants to eat. I don’t really want to go there because we have been walking for three hours, it will take at least two more to get home and the ponds can easily add hours to your day.

Eventually I gave in but just to go to the picnic area, no looking at birds.

Coot

Coot

Coot

Coot

Coot

Coot

CootOne Coot. Coots are irresistible. It was in the way, I had to shoot it to get past and then Fizz got her sandwiches.

I will just show you quickly a few images of the ponds then we have to go.

Cannop Ponds

Cannop Ponds

Cannop Ponds

Cannop PondsAt the top of the ponds there is another nature reserve, that one is wetland and marsh, we just don’t have time today. I wasted the time creeping about in the forest looking for big game, that was what I really wanted but not today.

When I started walking Fizz at the beginning of the year she was absolute rubbish on these long walks.

She was about three years old and had a huge garden to play in but she didn’t get walked regularly and dogs need that. She didn’t have her own lead and she didn’t have any idea how to play ball, it took a while to teach her that.

When it came to walking home she was like a little child. She would throw herself on the floor and try and convince me that she couldn’t go on.

Dead DogI need a carry!

Dead DogYou could drag me.

Dead DogThat was six months ago. Today at the end of a six hour walk she was as full of life as when we started.

FizzIt is really nice to see the difference that six months of basic training has had on her. I, on the other hand, have not got any fitter and I still feel whacked at the end of a long hike.

FizzShe has started calling me “Limpy Old Man.” As in, “Come on, limpy old man.” It’s a term of endearment, I think 🙂

Making it look easy

Mute Swans

I suppose it is easy, floating about on the water.

This is one of our breeding pair and I think that it is the male. The only real difference between the sexes is that males have brighter orange bills with a bigger black knob on top of it. They are easier to sex when you just have a pair of them like this.

Mute Swan The female is on the nest.

Mute SwanIt could easily be the other way around though, they both take it in turns to incubate the eggs which is a good thing because it takes five to six weeks before they are ready to hatch and that is a lot of sitting on a nest.

Then we could have as many as six or seven Ugly Ducklings or cygnets as they are sometimes called. and when they are little they can sometimes be seen riding around on their mothers back. I can see a few good photo opportunities coming out of this.

For now we are just going to have to be patient.

Mute SwanThis is the first time that I have been able to photograph Swans on the nest. This is another family that we are going to see a lot on this blog.

Mute Swan

 

The Cure for Love

In the philosophy of Feng Shui the Mandarin Duck is one of those objects that is used and it is considered to be the “cure for love.” By that they mean that placing images or sculptures around your home will help you to find love. This is because the Mandarin is supposed to mate for life and partners are faithful to each other.

We arrived at the ponds quite early in the day and probably the first thing that happened was that we disturbed/woke up a group of Mandarins. Eleven males and no females huddled together on the bank.

Mandarin DucksOkay that is only six, here are the other five.

Mandarin DucksFinding all of these males huddled together made me start to wonder about the breeding habit of these birds. The females were obviously nesting.

Then we saw a female with two chicks and a male was with her. I couldn’t get a proper picture of this because she scarpered as soon as she saw me but I will post one so that you know I don’t lie.

Mandarin DucksDon’t worry, eleven males on the ground implies eleven females on the nest and a typical brood is eight to twelve eggs. Pretty soon there will be more ducklings than you can shake a stick at.

So now on with the photography and the understanding. I hadn’t planned to photograph the male at all but I ended up with some pictures that I hadn’t seen before and I am quite pleased to have got them.

Mandarin MaleThe males don’t play a part in incubating the eggs. They abandon their partner while she gets on with what, in the world of Mandarin Duck’s, is obviously considered to be “women’s work”.

They pair up again when the ducklings leave the nest and then take an active role  in feeding and protecting the ducklings for the next two months.

Mandarin Male Mandarin MaleI was intrigued by how the chicks get out of the nest. Mandarins nest in trees, with a preference for old Woodpecker holes close to water. These are often twenty to twenty five feet above ground. They must have to teach the chicks how to fly before they can leave the nest and they would not be born with flight feathers.

Silly man. They jump. The chicks are born with the ability to swim but they won’t learn to fly until their flight feathers are fully developed. So with the courage of a Red Beret they fall out of the nest and plummet to the ground. They can fall thirty feet quite safely and then they join their mum in the water and that is it for the tree.

Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin MaleThe other interesting thing that I found out about these birds was their diet. I always imagined that ducks ate some kind of aquatic weed and in fact they do but… Fruits of the forest, Beech Mast and Acorns are two of the favourite foods for the Mandarin. Obviously those are only available in season and in the spring Mandarins eat a lot of insects. Catching midges and even Dragonflies and that makes sense if you have ever looked at the surface of the water. It usually swarms with midges and small flying things. They also eat snails and beetles and catch fish. they are very versatile feeders.

Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin MaleSo that is about it for Mandarins today. I hope that you liked the pictures, some of them were better than others. Photgraphing it out of the water like this and also learning a bit about it has changed the way that I look at this bird and now I am seeing it as much more than just a “Floats on water” Duck. It nests up trees and feeds on acorns and is a proper woodland bird.

Plus it is beautiful.

Mandarin MaleComing soon….Families.

Not exactly ducklings

Well I had a good adventure, thank you. I am a bit tired after my ten hour hike (not as tired as Fizz) so I am just going to show you some of the best bits.

We wanted ducklings but this time we got goslings.

This is a perfect little Greylag Goose, it has even got it’s own reflection.

Greylag GoslingI am getting very fond of the Greylags and I am really pleased to be able to see and photograph the goslings.

GreylagGoslings

Greylag GeeseThis was a family group with both parents proudly showing off their chicks. Well not really showing them off, they were avoiding people but came over to me when a dog jumped in the water on the other side of the pond.

The goslings moved freely between the two adult birds, they weren’t just following mum.

Greylag Geese Greylag Geese

It was really nice to see them and I hope that I get the chance to watch them growing up.Greylag Geese Greylag Geese Greylag Geese

Making Plans

It looks like we are going on an adventure tomorrow. It needs careful planning and I have to make my sandwiches.

Adventures have to start before dawn and right now that means about four AM so planning things the day before is essential.. We are going to the ponds.

Mute SwanYou are probably thinking, “So what, what is there to see at the ponds?” Well, I don’t know, we make our adventures up as we go along and we don’t ever know what to expect.

It is not just the ponds it is getting there, an hour and a half walk through ancient woodland, which is why we have to start at dawn.

Then there is having our sandwiches, that is always good. I just hope she remembers to bring some this time.

Sandwiches.Sometimes there are birds.

Canada Goose Canada GooseIn fact Cannop is famous for it’s breeding Mute Swans. I haven’t really done the Swans justice. They are harder to photograph than you might think. They are very white and easily over exposed.

This one isn’t a breeder it is an offspring so less white and a pretty pink bill.

Mute Swan Mute Swan Mute Swan

Sometimes we just like to relax and drink in the scenery.

DrinkDrink in the scenery, geddit? I’m so funny.

DrinkI’ll bring water.

Cannop is also famous for it’s Mandarins and they are not hard to photograph.

Mandarin

Mandarin

Mandarin

MandarinTomorrow I will be trying hard to get closer to the female of the species.

MandarinThere is one other bird that I am keen to get closer to and that is this Tufted Duck.

Tufted Duck

Tufted DuckWe might see birds, even ducklings. There might be Bluebells on the way and if we are really lucky Fizz might get chased through the woods by a Wild Boar, except that she will be with me so that won’t happen.

She nearly got run over by a Fallow Deer on our last trip. We were walking down a track with woodland on either side and Fizz was about ten feet in front of me. I saw this deer racing through the wood straight at Fizz and just as it broke cover I called her, she turned her head and didn’t even see the deer cross her path. She turned back walked on a few steps and then suddenly picked up it’s scent and went racing off into the wood it had just come out of.

“You are going the wrong way, Nature Detective Dog!”

We will see what tomorrow brings.

Today I am going to have another crack at the Swallows and Martins and take Fizz on an insect hunt. (Shortish walk)

I am excited.

Mandarin