I am eagerly awaiting the first chicks from the common terns at the Country Park so I am going to try and get down there once or twice each week for the next month or so (not a hardship). There are no signs of chicks yet, I am sure there would have been more bringing of fish if there were, but I think there are at least 6 or 7 nesting pairs. The new tern rafts give a pretty good view of the terns and there were several looking as though they were quite settled, some were on scraped up shingle, one was redistributing shingle around the ‘nest’ and I saw a change over between a pair – so definitely some eggs incubating going on. There was quite a bit of bickering and fighting amongst the terns on the raft and even some mating, so I think chicks might be hatching over the space of a few weeks.
However, the terns are not the only nesting birds at the Country Park. For the first time I have found a grey heron’s nest. The last time I was there the heron was sitting there, looking pretty comfortable. This time it looked empty. Fortunately, when I had another look a bit later on, one of the parents had come back and was feeding a youngster. It seems that there is only one in there , so perhaps they are new parents, or the cold weather has reduced the brood. Either way, the chick didn’t look very old – it was definitely grey and tried to flex its stubby little wings. I shall have to keep an eye on this nest as well as the terns!
Anyway, back to the high drama. Other than the herring and lesser black backed gulls that the terns often had to chase off (we watched one almost drowned after being forced into the water), they also had a go at some canada geese and a mute swan. But this isn’t the drama I am referring to.
As well as a mallard with eight ducklings and a pair of greylag geese with four goslings (very different parental approach between the ducks and geese), the aforementioned pair of canada geese also have four goslings. The reason that they incurred the wrath of the terns was because they had been chased halfway along the reservoir by a male mute swan with a huge attitude problem. I know that despite appearances swans are not at all serene and peaceful, but this one seems to see everything as a threat. Suffice it to say there is only the one pair of swans at this end of the water (and they have six cygnets).
At no point did this family (four adults and four goslings) go anywhere near the cygnets, but he chased them across the water and at one point seemed to separate out one of the goslings from the rest (a bit like the sheepdog on One Man and His Dog). The adults would attack the male swan, diverting his attention so the gosling could get further away. But, sometimes this wasn’t enough and several times one or more of the goslings dived underwater (they can stay under for quite some time) to avoid being killed. One poor gosling got completely separated and was chased away from the family group by the swan. Two of the adults worked together to try and get the gosling to safety, whilst the remaining goslings appeared to be under the care of the other two geese. This chase / attack lasted for a good fifteen minutes or so, with the gosling going on land, under water and in the reeds. Eventually it was led to safety by one of the adults and shepherded up to the far end of the water with its siblings whilst the other goose kept the psychotic swan occupied.
Just in case anybody thought that I was being unfair to the poor starlings here are some pictures I took on Thursday.
First the starling lands to take a look. Then he eats everything he can reach.
The ‘action’ (aka blurred) shot was taken as the bird dropped down from the feeder chasing the mealworm that fell from his beak.
This shot was taken as he scoured the ground in disbelief, surely there must be more somewhere!
I have been feeding live mealworms to the garden birds for the last couple of years and think that it is definitely paying off. Although the weather of last May apparently made it a bad year for broods of blue tits and great tits we had more than usual in our garden throughout the autumn and winter. Last year we invested in a new feeder complete with bars in order to keep the starlings out. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against starlings, it is just that I think they are the most intelligent of the garden birds, and they would watch and wait for the mealworms to be put out and then come and eat the lot. Even with the cage they manage to get their heads in and eat the mealworms. To this end my other half has created a modified ground feeder with the mealworms in a plastic pot on the central pole raised from the bottom, the only way to thwart these super-intelligent fiends (never fear dear reader they still get some as we leave some on the bottom of the feeder for them and they capture any escapees). See photos below for an illustration of the starling-thwarting engineered ground feeder.
Contrast this with the behaviour of the humble and incredibly blonde blue tit. Last year was the first introduction of the modified feeder – boy did they struggle. A female sparrow who had not really bothered with the feeder when it had only had seed in it was the first in, went straight to the feeder, did the blag and went off to feed her brood. For a couple of weeks she was the only taker. Eventually the blue tit figured it out, then turned psycho. It chased any bird away that it caught near the feeder, even greenfinches, and they were only taking a break between fights at the sunflower seeds.
Today the first of my multimail mealworms arrived from Wiggly Wigglers. We put them out in the modified feeder which the birds have been using all winter. The blue tit eventually figured the way in, but spent several minutes on several visits looking at the mealworms from underneath, eventually settling for a sunflower heart from another feeder and flying away each time. However, we finally had breakthrough and in record time for a blue tit it was happily murdering mealworms. Next came the great tit, another bird regularly eating mealworms from the same feeder last year. It eventually made its way in and duly sat under the pot, pecking at the worms from underneath. It then started looking under a pile of sunflower hearts for some worms (I assume it found one there earlier), then the blue tit turned up. Aha I thought, the blue tit will give it a clue, but no, the blue tit sat in the hazel for some time, watching, and probably laughing, and then nonchalantly flew to another feeder, grabbed a sunflower heart and sat in the tree to eat it. The great tit then tried hiding between the wheelie bins to tempt the blue tit down, and it nearly worked. At the last minute the blue tit saw him, pulled out and flew away, taking his secret with him. The last time I saw the great tit he still hadn’t figured it out, I guess he will get there eventually.
Blue Tit 1 Great Tit 0.