Campus Wildlife | Summer 2019

So much drama has been happening that every time I start to write this blog something else happens and I have to start again! I’m almost glad of the poor weather, making it easier to stay indoors.  In spite of the non appearance of the ‘3 month heatwave’ it’s now Summer and the Swifts are back in Roehampton skies.

I might as well begin with the dramatic but very sad news about our Swans and Heron (though there is a little bit of good news in this story).  After arriving back at Froebel in late March, a month later than last year, the Swans made up for lost time and began busily nest building. The pen (female Swan) began sitting at the start of April, I first spotted eggs when she stood up on the nest on 15 May.  All was peaceful and it looked as if we would soon have some new baby cygnets.

Female swan at her nest

On the 22nd the pen had left her nest and was swimming on the Lake, she had covered over the nest and any eggs in it.  This did not look good!

Pen swimming on Froebel lake, having abandoned the nest

Two days later the Heron, last seen on the 21st, looking to be in good health, was found floating dead on the Lake. By this time it was certain that there would be no cygnets as the nest had been abandoned for several days.

The last picture of the Heron, sitting in a tree near the lake

I later learned that several cygnets had actually hatched and one was found dead near the nest.  We can’t be sure exactly what happened to cause this double tragedy, or even if the loss of cygnets and Heron are connected.

One possibility is that the Heron, who the Swans had tolerated around the nest (unlike the Canada geese which were rarely left in peace anywhere on the Lake), had attacked the cygnets.

The male Swan (cob) chasing a Canada Goose from the lake

If so, the Swans, who are famously ferocious and fearless in defence of their young may have attacked the Heron, causing it to die later from its injuries.

Ironically, I warned of exactly this danger in my last blog, unfortunately Swans can’t read or use computers.

With no cygnets to care for, the cob (male Swan) left us on 3 June, followed by the pen on the 5th.  Let’s hope they return next year.

Now for some good news about last year: I wrote that all of the cygnets had died… but I was wrong!

The Swans had actually hatched 3 cygnets on 18 May (not just the two I saw) and although one was lost in its first few days, the other 2 cygnets were more successful. 

One disappeared during the last weekend of July and I assumed it had died, but I am pleased to be able to tell you that it was rescued by the wonderful Ann and Nicci who keep a watchful eye on our Swans and Geese. A grass seed had become lodged in the bird’s eye causing a painful injury. After being taken into care, it has been released and is as far as I know alive and well.

Unfortunately the third cygnet was killed by a fox at the end of September.

I’ve learned a lot about the family history of our star Swan couple this year and many other waterfowl have bred, but before returning to our avian soap operas let’s look at some of the others.

There have been several exciting new birds this year.

Far and away the most exciting was this beautiful male Ring Ouzel, on the Froebel playing field one lunchtime. This Thrush species is very similar to the Blackbird, in fact Ouzel is an old name for the Blackbird. These birds winter in the Mediterranean area and pass through Southeast England on their way to breed on uplands in the North and West of Britain and Northern Europe (the date when this bird passed through tells us it was probably on the way to Scandinavia). A few birds are normally recorded in Richmond Park, but they can be elusive, so adding this bird to my Campus list very much made my day (24 April).

Ring ouzel on the playing field

Far from being rare on Campus, the Redwing is one of our commonest birds from late November to late February (sometimes in flocks of over 100).  However they are very much winter visitors, and rarely seen after the middle of March this Redwing on 25 April, while looking for the Ouzel, was a big surprise.

Redwing on the playing field

Another bird added to the list on a lunchtime was Red Crested Pochard, when 4 visited the lake in February.

Four Red Crested Pochards

They weren’t the only colourful new ducks, a Drake Mandarin brightened up the Lake on April Fools’ Day.

Drake Mandarin duck

Other new birds included a distant Red Kite, on 23 March, a Saturday, so I too was a rare visitor that time. Too distant for a picture, so here’s one I made earlier in Oxfordshire (I usually only post pictures taken at Roehampton, but I’ll make an exception this time).

Red Kite in Oxfordshire

A month after the Kite, a Peregrine flew over Froebel  in the early morning.

Peregrine Falcon over Froebel College

I did a get a rubbish picture of that one. Peregrine Falcons may be the fastest bird in the world, but I can’t use that excuse as this one was flying quite slowly, apparently carrying prey.

The latest newcomer was a Collared Dove, which I saw briefly on 4 June.  I didn’t have my camera, and the bird was not in sight when I returned with it (frustratingly I could still hear it singing, but out of sight in the trees).

My 62nd species on campus so far.

As well as all the waterbirds, many other birds breed on our grounds. This young Mistle Thrush doesn’t quite look like a baby any more, but was being fed by its parents on Froebel field.

Young Mistle Thrush

With such smaller tree nesting birds the babies aren’t often seen at the cute fluffy stage like water birds (they have to learn to fly before venturing out), and tend to be much harder to photograph. There are numerous youngsters around this Summer including: Long Tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Wren and more.

I’m currently taking Summer leave, and just popped in today to see how all of our birds are getting along.

The Canada Geese still have 3 goslings, who no longer look like babies at all:

Young Canada Goose

The Egyptian Geese at Digby weren’t visible when I checked this morning, they are probably able to fly by now and may well have left us.

The four Mallard Ducklings are still on Froebel Lake, barely recognisable from adult females.

Mallard ducklings

There were also a couple of new arrivals today (26 June). The Tufted Ducks at Digby now have at least two brand new ducklings who were on the Lake for a while before returning to the island. I expect there’ll be many more in the next few days as there are several pairs using Digby Lake.

Baby Tufted Duck

Also at Digby there was a juvenile Grey Wagtail near the Lake.

Juvenile Grey Wagtail

Finally returning to what I’ve learned of our Swans (at least of the male (cob), but Swans being loyal partners and generally pairing for life, it is safe to assume that the same two birds are involved).

He has been fitted with a coloured leg ring which is easier to read so I’ve been able to track his movements. 

During the last Winter he visited the West End and was seen at Kensington Gardens (where the ring was fitted) and on the Serpentine at Hyde Park. 9 kilometres from Adams Pond, so a very short hop compared to Swallows or Cuckoos.

The Cob Swan's Ring
The Cob Swan’s Ring

The cob (male) was first ringed in 2015 in Richmond Park, where he bred at Adam’s Pond. In the Autumn he was attacked and injured by another Swan at Pen Ponds but recovered to breed at Adam’s Pond again in 2016.

The pen (female) was first ringed in 2008, she also was at least three years old when first ringed. It is almost certain that they have been together since at least that time, which makes our Swans at least 14 years old, possibly older and quite a venerable age for any wild birds.

In 2017 they relocated to breed on Froebel Lake where they raised 5 cygnets successfully.  Last year things didn’t go so well: 3 cygnets hatched (from 5 eggs) and the only cygnet to survive was the one rescued (as detailed above).

Let’s hope 2019 is more successful.

We also have another new family of Egyptian geese, who were found wandering amongst the traffic on Clarence lane.  A kind-hearted passer by carried these 4 tiny goslings to our Lake, closely followed by their anxious parents.

Egyptian goslings at Froebel
Egyptian goslings at Froebel

Finally a memory of our Heron doing something special.

The Heron (RIP) swimming on Froebel Lake
The only Heron I’ve ever seen swimming, 2018

And now the Seabird colonies are calling to me and I too must be migrating. Have a great Summer!

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