Campus Wildlife | Spring 2019

Spring migration is well under way, Swallows and Martins are back but long before most birds began to arrive, our Egyptian Geese at Digby started the ball rolling by hatching five cute goslings in the second week of March. 

An introduced tropical species, these geese can breed at any time of the year even so far North. They more often breed in April or May, so perhaps they started their new family earlier this year in response to the unusually warm weather in February.  By the time I first spotted the baby geese on March 13th the weather had become much cooler than usual, and it started to look as if their breeding strategy may have been a little rash.

First sight of the baby geese, March 13th

However after spending most of the first few days huddling under an attentive mother goose, the youngsters were soon running around energetically and Mum had quite a job keeping up.

Proud parents

Meanwhile as ever Dad kept up a more distant but ever attentive vigil, unfortunately spending a lot of energy protecting the youngsters from his own reflection in the library window.

Male Egyptian Goose, attacking his own reflection

Mum and goslings out for a drink

Now over a month old and with the worst of the weather probably over, the young geese are all still looking fit and healthy. Though possibly a little image obsessed, if they had smartphones, they’d be getting ready for selfies.

Goslings preening

While the Egyptian Geese stay at Digby all year some of our other wildfowl are more migratory. 

Roehampton can’t quite match the awe inspiring flocks of tens of thousands of truly wild geese and Swans that visit East Anglia each year, but we do have a small flock of Shovelers on Froebel Lake.  This Winter the most I saw was 5, last year there were as many as 10.  They left earlier this year too, I haven’t seen a Shoveler here since the end of February, maybe they too thought Spring had arrived during the warm weather.

Drake Shoveler

Our resident Swans had a disastrous breeding season in 2018, only 2 of their eggs hatched and neither cygnet survived. I have no idea why this happened, but apparently the Swans at London Wetland Centre had a similar failure, several pairs hatched young there, but only a single cygnet survived the summer.

 I was beginning to think our pair had decided to try their luck elsewhere this year, but they arrived back on 21st March, a month later than last year, after a short Christmas break.

On their return they began nest building in earnest, in fact they seemed to trial three different locations around the lake, before settling on a spot. They are in a much more secluded location than last year, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to see the cygnets moments after hatching this time.

The new location is also popular with our Heron, although the Swans aggressively chase Canada Geese from the water, they don’t seem to mind their new neighbour.

The Heron is no danger to the adult Swans, but I hope they’re careful when their young hatch.  Newly hatched cygnets would make a delicious snack for a hungry Heron!

Swan and Heron, nest under construction

As the nest site is still frequently left unattended, it seems the Swan has not yet laid her eggs (update: she seems to be incubating now, April 14th).

Meanwhile, the Canada Geese have a nest on the island, where the mother goose is constantly sitting on their nest.  It can’t be long before the new goslings arrive, and eventually make the perilous journey to the shore. As well as being potential Heron breakfast, they also have to get past the cob Swan.  One of the Swans on Tooting Common has a reputation for deliberately drowning baby geese, our bird doesn’t appear to be quite so violent, but “be careful out there!”.

Mother Goose (not in a cage, just behind a possibly fox proof fence)

Mallards on Froebel Lake have just produced 5 ducklings who seem to be keeping their distance, although they’re seemingly unaware that a Heron can easily swallow several ducklings at one sitting.  Fortunately, on this occasion, the parents appeared and chivvied the young ducklings out of harm’s way.

By the next morning I only counted four, so we may have lost one already.  It’s hard to be sure as unlike the Geese, the ducklings seem to scatter and hurtle around with little parental control, like children with scooters in Sainsbury’s.

New Mallard ducklings

“Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger!”

One day older, and now there are four

Mallards may appear to be negligent parents, and their morality is at best dubious (Kees Moeliker was awarded an Ig Nobel prize for a paper on some very disturbing behaviour).

Take a read here.

The female in the usual wildfowl arrangement is solely responsible for nest duties.  After the youngsters have hatched the males rejoin the females and together they make some effort to care for their offspring.

Female Mallard is more camouflaged for nest sitting

Which leaves the Drake free to hang out with the boys

But the Moorhens are clear winners in the callous parenting competition at least in Roehampton. In fairness they’re not quite such absent parents as Cuckoos. A baby Cuckoo has to make it’s own way to Africa, without ever having seen or heard another Cuckoo.

Baby Moorhens hatch ready to run around and apparently take care of themselves, which is the way the parents seem to like it. When they are pestered the parent Moorhens will feed their youngsters, especially in the first few days. Possibly it’s hard for even a parent to love such bizarre alien looking creatures, though they’re fluffy and weirdly cute for a few days they soon start to look less lovable.

Very new baby Moorhens at Digby (genuinely an Earth Species)

A little parental care

The tiny baby Moorhens may look like aliens, but they soon start to look more like tiny versions of their Dinosaur ancestors.

An older Moorhen baby at Froebel

Baby Moorhen “when I grow up I wanna be an Emu”

So that’s about it for Easter, next time we should have news about the Swans, Canada Geese and Coots.

Coot incubating

There are also many less obvious small birds breeding on campus, but as usual their youngsters are make fewer public appearances, and are rarely to be seen out and about until they are more or less full grown (and, crucially, able to fly).  More of those after Easter hopefully, meanwhile, more couples may yet join the Froebel breeding roster. Another pair of Egyptian Geese seem to be settling in and 2 pairs of Tufted Ducks are staying on the lake (or under it).

Tufted Ducks, drake going under

If there’s not enough wildlife drama for you at Roehampton, I’ve got a few discount vouchers for London Wetland Centre to give away.  Just email me if you’re interested or contact me on Twitter, where I’m cunningly disguised as @Froebirder.

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