Campus Wildlife | May 2018

On the morning of 5 September I saw, for the first time, two sparrowhawks over my garden as I was leaving for work. Seven minutes later, I received a text from a friend who I’d envied since she became Science Education Technician at the University of Roehampton to say she was moving on, did I want to apply for the now vacant post? Did I ever?

I’m not big on omens and portents and was looking forward to working in the newly built labs at the school I’d worked at for almost twenty years. The lure of Roehampton won, I was successful and since 6 November last year I’ve been enjoying an amazing job in wonderful grounds full of wildlife.

I’ll just repeat, because some words are so rarely heard together: ‘enjoying work’. So much so that I happily leave home early. I’m often here by 7am, sometimes before 6am.

Truth is, that although I do love my job here, it’s the wildlife that gets me out of bed (and no, I don’t mean bedbugs) to arrive at work more than two hours before I need to be here.

The wildlife here is truly amazing, I spend an hour or two birdwatching before work. You can follow me on Twitter for the latest wildlife updates.

It’s now the middle of May

Winter visitors have come and gone and Spring is giving way to Summer; it’s a bit warmer and in the last few days I’ve seen the first swallow over Froebel College and the swifts have returned too. Aristotle noted that ‘One swallow does not a summer make’ and that’s still true. Occasional swallows do appear in Britain in the middle of winter, but a swift between 15 November and 15 April would be an extreme rarity.

Most of the interest at this time of year though is about the birds breeding around the Lake.

While we all wait patiently for their cygnets to hatch, the swans at Froebel are busy with family duties, the cob (male) is still aggressively keeping intruders at bay, making life very difficult for any geese trying to use the lake.

A swan defending its territory
Cob swan defends Froebel Lake
The swan chases off a Canada goose
Seeing off a Canada goose
The female swan tending her nest
Mother Swan tends her eggs

Meanwhile the pen is patiently incubating her eggs and tending the nest.

Keeping well clear of the aggressive swans, a pair of Canada geese have been caring for seven delightful goslings, who are growing sturdier by the day.

Canada geese parents with goslings
Canada goose family
Baby geese
Canada goslings a few days old
Slightly older geese
Canada goslings two weeks later

They’re now three weeks old and all seven are still doing well. One day those little legs will have to support 7-8 kg of goose! Not surprising that they’re looking less spindly.

Our Canada geese are among the world’s largest geese, the cackling goose, another subspecies of Canada goose and a very rare sight in Britain is one of the smallest.

Meanwhile at Digby a pair of Egyptian geese are raising eight equally cute babies.

Digby geese
Egyptian geese at Digby
Digby goslings
Egyptian goslings
Digby gosling
Egyptian gosling

Perhaps because there are no swans at Digby, the Egyptian geese are parenting very differently. While Froebel’s Canada Geese are always at their parents’ sides and usually keep far from the Lake, the Egyptian goose family are spending a lot of time in the water and the goslings keep together in a tight huddle while both parents chase off intruders (including students!).

Back at Froebel, a pair of mallards have hatched three ducklings.

Mallard ducklings
Male mallard with ducklings
Mallard drake with Ducklings

Sadly one seems to have been lost already, even though the swans seem to tolerate them.

Less obvious, usually hiding amongst the water vegetation, there are baby coots and moorhens.

Baby Coot
Baby moorhen
Baby Moorhen

There are three other pairs each of Canada and Egyptian goose regularly on campus, though none of them seem likely to breed this year. Our resident heron has also missed the chance to find a mate this time around.

Solitary heron
Lonely heron

We get to see more of the water birds’ babies because they hatch out ready to start swimming and walking, even though they’re not quite ready to fly yet. The other birds are still around, but less obvious lately, as they’re busy raising their own families.

Many birds will have already found mates, so they don’t need to show off so much, the dawn chorus is already a little more subdued. Blackbird, wren (tiny but LOUD!), song thrush and robin are still singing to maintain territories, but they too are now spending more time amongst the foliage. Those that have hungry mouths to feed will soon be more visible again. Hopefully next month we’ll start to see some of their youngsters too.

Great tit
Great Tit

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