White Egret and Albino Squirrel

egret stalkMy new years resolution is to take my camera on even the shortest walk as you never know what you might see. On New years day I was richly rewarded by having the rare opportunity to photograph an albino squirrel and an egret within 500 yards of each other.

egret dipI was walking downstream from Waddon ponds when I spotted an Egret fishing in the shallow waters of the Wandle near to Guy Road, Beddington. Usually they are very shy birds and fly away as soon as they detect any human presence. Perhaps because there were few pedestrians and little traffic on the nearby road, the bird seemed unperturbed and spent at least twenty minutes while i was in the vicnity, sourcing his dinner.

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I believe this bird maybe a little egret due to its yellow feet. The little egret is a member of the heron family and was once hunted for its feathers to festoon hats, driving the birds into extinction in Britain. Since the 1950’s thanks to new conservation laws and measures to clean up its habitat, including rivers like the wandle, numbers have increased and are no longer a cause for concern.

squirrel tailOn the other side of Guy Road near to the new footpath heading to Beddington park I saw this Albino Squirrel. This had caused excitement amongst other walkers who had also taken out their cameras and smartphones to grab a picture.

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The chances of an albino squirrel are estimated to be one in a 100,000 although other sightings in Surrey over the last year indicate that they may not be as rare as these figures suggest. Nevertheless this a genuine albino squirrel due to its red eyes, other squirrels may turn white due to a genetic illness, known as leucism, but they keep their black eyes.

squirel treeSadly albino squirrels may not survive for long as they lack the traditional grey camouflage to protect them from predators.

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On my return journey I was pleased to again see the Egret who had continued fishing despite the fading light. Overall a good start to the new year and may I wish my readers a happy and healthy 2018.

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Twelve days of Christmas

Here is my take on the 12 days of christmas featuring the plants and animals that I have seen and included in my blog over the last 12 months. I have also provided a link to each post should you like to read more.

One the first day of christmas my true love sent to me..

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one carp in the pond

On the second day..

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two dirty rats

On the third day..

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three shorn sheep

On the fourth day..

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Four seagulls on a post

On the fifth day..

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five wild flowers (and a honey bee!)

On the sixth day..

On the seventh day..

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seven props for an insect play

On the eighth day…

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eight magnolias

On the ninth day…

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nine cygnets and swans

On the tenth day..

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ten trees in the park entrance

On the eleventh day..

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eleven camelias

On the twelfth day..

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twelve by twelve tulips!

And a Happy New Year to all my readers.

Seagulls and Swans at Waddon Ponds

gulls shadowA sunny day in winter is as rare as tickets to the new Star Wars movie . Plus my daughter let me borrow her Canon PowerShot 14x optical zoom ( better than my 5x) so I hot footed it down to Waddon Ponds to capture the action.

gulls channelWhen I was small boy my mum told me that the sight of  seagulls inland meant there was a storm at sea. All I can say is that most days there must be a storm at sea as there are always gulls at Waddon Ponds. They seem to permanently inhabit the perches meant to guide the Kingfishers through the water channel when hunting for fish. Unfortunately, the idea never took off with the Kingfisher and the only time you will spot him is on the information board.

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Swans investigating any food sources

Of course Gulls are such a common sight inland nowadays that they are referred to as urban gulls. They find rich pickings in the discarded food packets that tend to be left behind on our streets and hang about over refuse centres. They nest at the top of  office blocks and houses safe from their usual predators like foxes so that more gull chicks survive. It is estimated that there are 100,000 breeding pairs of urban gulls in our towns and cities.

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He looked in the water and saw he was a swan

Besides the gulls the swans and the herons were out enjoying the winter sunshine too.

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A swan’s feather

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Heron in the shade of the setting sun

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Heron in color. No sign of his partner that also frequents the ponds

Birds sing at dusk

A recent late trip to Waddon Ponds ponds was undertaken with the light fading fast. As the light dimmed the chatter from the birds in the trees grew exponentially. I knew birds sang in the morning but I wasn’t as aware that they also sang at dusk.

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roosting birds

They sing in the late afternoon to tell other birds they are regrouping in the trees at night to sleep, as there is safety in numbers from predators. It is like calling the family together for the evening meal, but not everybody arrives at once so they make many calls to their fellows to say I am here please join me for a soirée.

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It is usually the male birds that sing and it can take a lot of energy. So they will often leave the trees for a quick feed and then return in numbers. I tried to capture their flight patterns but with the poor light and only my compact camera the results, as you can see, are not so effective.

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Birds roosting  in trees at Waddon Ponds  include starlings, rooks and the ubiquitous parakeets. Water birds will sleep sitting or standing up in the water, They often stand on one leg to keep warm. If you have been following the progress of the two cygnets then you will be pleased to know they are still with their parents and would now be unlikely to be evicted from the family home before xmas. But come the new year and with the adults swans thinking of nest-building, it will surely be time for cygnets to move out on their own.

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I also noticed a large carp or is it a trout in the far pond away from the birds? There was a little more light in this area so I was able to capture the dark black fish against the dark bottom of the pond.

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The far pond where the carp was located -see below

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The fish seemed to be on its own so how it got there must remain a mystery as there is no friendly fish ladder from further downstream  into the ponds. Perhaps a bird took the fish egg and transported it or it might have been a family pet that had outgrown its fish bowl and was surreptitiously deposited into the ponds.

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Currently the entrance to the ponds at Mill lane is closed as paths and entrances are being improved. I will of course keep you updated with developments.

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Two cygnets

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Back in May 10 cygnets  were born to proud parents at Waddon ponds. Now just five months later only two cygnets remain with their parents and I managed to catch up with them on an unusually warm day for mid October.

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To remind you of how small the cygnets were I have included a photo from my previous blog “ten cygnets”

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When we were young

On average cygnets stay with their parents for about six months before the parents push them away, forcing them to depart the ponds and find a flock of swans to join. At around four years of age they will find a mate and in turn have cygnets of their own.

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Today though with the unseasonably warm weather there was no evidence of the swans pushing off the remaining cygnets they were all too busy preening themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly, there are new information boards around the ponds informing visitors of the different species of ducks and mammals you can find at Waddon ponds and warning of the dangers of dumping unwanted aquatic pets in the water. I include a selection of the boards for your information.

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Ten Cygnets

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The first “babies” of the year at waddon ponds belongs to the swans. Ten cygnets were born a couple of weeks ago, a good number considering that the average is around six cygnets and the maximum is ten. The swans at waddon ponds have done well and the parents mate for life so there is potential for a large brood every year.

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cygnets about to try the new slide

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Unfortunately, I am sad to report that a visit yesterday confirmed a sighting of only eight cygnets. The most likely culprits are foxes, crows, magpies and herons that may pick off the youngsters that stray too far from their parents sides.

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I note the swans have moved to a more secluded part of the pond where I photographed the cygnets. I thought at one stage the cygnets were going to walk up the plank to afford me an even closer view, but the female swan sensibly discouraged their adventures by swimming away from the edge of the bank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwans reach maturity after 4 years but the parents encourage them to leave the area from around six months and you can see more pictures of older cygnets on my previous blogs.

Crazy Coots at Waddon Ponds

Now that the coots have finished their “easter eggs” they can get down to the serious business of finding a mate. Once found the difficulty the male has in holding onto his chosen bride is keeping away the other marauding suitors. Best to keep the head down but feathers up position ready to charge at a moments notice. As the following pictures show it’s a case of “sparks” will fly when two males meet and the pond is not big enough for the both of them. Hmm reminds me of a seventies pop group.

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guarding his mate

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Uh oh potential trouble spotted , best adopt head down , feathers up position

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I’m off on the attack

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Nearly caught the intruder

The Canada Geese are adopting a more serene pose , surprisingly, preferring to preen and clean their feathers whenever they come into land. They adopt an upright pose after coming to rest in order to carry out their ablutions.

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How they can stand up in the cold water , almost walking on water is beyond me. If we tried something similar, provided we did not sink first, hypothermia would quickly set in as the cold would be transferred by our veins straight to the heart. In contrast the goose has an artery next to the vein that warms the cold blood and takes the chill off as it reaches the heart.

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You Dirty Rats

Down by the Waddon pond something lurks with a rather long tail. Yes, it’s a dirty rat helping himself to the grain feed left by well-meaning members of the public for the swans and ducks.

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A rat on the bank

It was difficult to photograph a rat as they never sit still as I can testify from the intrepid smaller house mouse that is currently occupying my property. I took many  unusable photographs before the rat got used to my presence and settled down to feed.

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Foraging for food

Later he was joined by a second rat, they never mentioned two of them in “toad of toad hall” or “wind in the willows”. A lady passed by curious that I was standing still and photographing what looked like from her angle an ordinary patch of grass bank. As she came closer she remarked the rats were rather big and furry and gave out a hearty laugh.

 

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deux rats

Later I was photographing the swans who came out from the pond to say hello. A couple of labrador dogs were curious about my camera and stood beside me quietly watching the swans.  The peace did not last long , the swans noticed the dogs and the  swans started hissing and reared up to their full height raising their feathers in a show of defiance. Their year old cygnets were behind them  and the adult swans came extremely close affording me some great shots. Shame that by now the light was fading, but at least you get a good impression of the scene.

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Swan alert

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Swan warning

The parkkeeper came over as it was near closing time and told me the waddon pond swans are very tame. He then politely asked me to leave as he was locking the gates. No one has said that to me since I was a young boy down the very same park. Once I was seven years old ..

 

A week is a long time in the park

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a snowy coombe wood

What a difference a week makes regarding the weather, last Friday snow fell on Coombe Wood Garden. Today at waddon ponds the sun shone and the water was crystal clear.

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The swans were very inquisitive as we stood on the viewing platform. While they may appear contented, the cold snap has caused a dearth of insects and natural algae that the swans feed on.

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The adult swan was even prepared to leave the safety of the water and encroach onto the bank in case we had food to offer.

You should be careful about feeding bread to swans as mouldy bread can kill them and any processed bread is unhealthy. The council parks recommend whole wheat grain in its natural state, not processed, brown rice and  lentils.

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Heron and friend

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a pair of herons

Good news to start the new year, the heron is no longer on his own again. He was spotted high up in the tree with a new partner. They were clearly enjoying the most of the twilight sun before the usual evening chorus of songbirds began.

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One bird that prefers to whistle instead of singing is the aptly named whistling duck a migrant bird to these shores. He was strutting around outside the pond showing off his unusual plumage.

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The duck is also known as “the Egyptian duck “, and hails from Africa where they were considered to be sacred. Certainly a treasure to find him at Waddon Ponds.

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Whistling Duck: what is his favourite tune?  Suggestions please in the comments.

 

How will he and the other birds will manage in the predicted snow over the next few days? I will keep you informed.