I have not had time to post as often as I would have liked to but maybe, one of the positives of spending such a lot of time indoors will be that I get back in the habit of posting more frequently.
There will no doubt be far less people in the parks and commons so I expect to get fewer calls about injured and sick birds. However, with the absence of dog walkers and anglers the birds will be safer and I hope that overall, the lock down will be positive for the swans, geese and, of course, all the other wildlife.
It feels difficult to stay positive in these unprecedented times but here’s a good news story that I would like to share.
At this time of year swans are already on their nests, busy laying eggs. The more mature and usually dominant swans have already bagged the prime locations and any intruder pairs are seen off rapidly. The less mature swans and often, first time breeders make do with the sites that would not be their first choice. Sometimes, this can be in a location where their nest floods and all their eggs are washed away. Although sad, this is a way for swans to learn where is, and where isn’t suitable to nest.
Earlier this month I received an email forwarded to me from the Swan Sanctuary. A local resident was concerned about a swan’s nest on a body of water that led off from one of the Central London docks. My friend, who covers that area, had umpteen rescues outstanding so I went instead. As I walked along it all looked a bit grim, due to the lack natural vegetation. However, as I watched the coots busy building their nests, I noticed several little coot houses put together by local residents. It may not be a pond on a lovely green common but these little urban coots were very proud of their homes. I moved on to look for the swan’s nest and when I saw it my heart sank. In some ways the location wasn’t too bad but it was right underneath a grid! The slats were wide apart and it would only take one idiot to poke things down at the swan, or even her cygnets once they arrived. There was also the chance of cigarette ends dropping down or even broken glass.
I took several photos and sent them back to the Swan Sanctuary. This lovely swan needed protection but there was nothing we could do without the co-operation of the council. Fortunately, my friend Gill, who covers the area, had a good contact at the council – someone that had helped her with a nest problem last year. She made contact with him and he must be one of the most proactive council workers we have encountered. Within 48 hours he had arranged for the nest site to be cordoned off. I cannot begin to say how pleased we were. We now felt the swan had the best possible chance to incubate her eggs safely and we are hoping to see cygnets in May.
In the spring of 2018 I got my first duckling rescue of the year. The caller said one of the ducklings was very lame and struggling to keep up with its siblings. Duckling rescues are never straightforward so on the way I picked up my friend and fellow rescuer, Nicci, to give me a helping hand. The pond was hidden behind some houses, was tiny and on private land. I felt a little more optimistic but suddenly I saw the poor duck being attacked by two amorous drakes. The lady that had called me said their chasing was relentless. Lesser ducks would have flown off and abandoned the ducklings but this beautiful duck stuck close to her babies.
Any chasing of the ducklings, to catch the injured one, could spook mum resulting in her flying – and she also had to contend with her two admirers chasing her! The plan was for Nicci to get in the pond and target the duckling with the limp, separate it from the others, to enable me to net it. As it happened, when Nicci entered the water the duck got out, quickly followed by her ducklings. I was able to identify the one with a limp – in fact it was a fractured leg – and quickly netted it – the job was done!
We were hugely relieved that not only had we caught the injured duckling but that it had been done with minimum disruption. I was not hopeful for the other ducklings as I thought the mum would eventually abandon them due to the two drakes. However, the lady that called me continued to send updates and against all odds the entire brood of ducklings fledged.
In 2019 the duck returned, this time there was only one drake with her so he had obviously seen off his rival! Again, all the ducklings survived. The residents had made a duck house and did as much as possible to make it a good environment for the duck family. It was wonderful to continue to receive updates and last week the duck returned. Slightly earlier than in previous years so there was a rush to get the duck house ready for the class of 2020. I look forward to receiving updates.
When everything about rescuing seems stressful and difficult and you feel like there are barriers whichever way you turn it’s these type of stories that make it all worthwhile.
It’s been several months since I last posted – there were two main reasons for this. One was that I had been too busy to manage to put anything together that was worth reading but I also believed that any rescues I wrote about would start to sound repetitious. Territorials, cygnets being chased, fishing problems, wanton cruelty – they all start to be very similar. I have probably picked up 12 cygnets in 2020 that have been chased off by their parents and they are all so similar they blur into one.
So I got thinking abut what else I could do and I have been looking back on some rescues and the people I keep in touch with. I will have a new post in the next few days but in the meantime here’s a few photos of some swan and cygnet rescues.
Earlier in July I received a call from a member of the public to say a cygnet at Canada Waters was caught up in fishing line and was frantically trying to free itself. I drove as quickly as was legal but when I arrived it soon became apparent that a boat was essential and needed as soon as possible. The cygnet was at risk of drowning. All I could do was phone 999 for the Fire Services and they were amazing. It wasn’t quick as the first crews had to put calls out for 2 water rescue crews. Besides the local crews they came from Lewisham and Bethnal Green and the longer it went on the bigger the crowd, that had gathered, became. Even in the boat, they had trouble catching the cygnet as there were rocks around where he was stuck and it meant that it was difficult to access as the boat kept becoming grounded. All came good in the end though and I took the cygnet, who had a very sore and swollen leg, to the Swan Sanctuary. London Fire Service are the best! https://www.london-fire.gov.uk/…/…/swan-rescue-surrey-quays/
Young juvenile geese featured prominently in this month’s rescues. A couple with broken legs, one with a wing deformity and another with a deformed bill who would never be able to graze and would not get enough to eat in the wild. Fortunately a permanent home was found for him where a ready supply of food will always be available. There was also another juvenile goose with some sort of twine wrapped round his tongue and added to that a twig hanging that was longer than the bird. Young birds do seem to get themselves into a lot of scrapes.
The duckling rescues are slowing down but there’s still plenty and I have recently been told of two ducks nesting in window boxes which will require rescuing! Both are at least 3 floors up on balconies!
And finally, while the hot, dry spell continues please leave bowls of water in as many places as you can. All our birds and animals need clean, fresh water. Thank you.
Recently, I seem to start each post saying that I’ve had even more duckling rescues than the month before. They are still coming in but thank goodness they’re slowing down. However, I want to write about the releases.
With other rescues, once the bird is caught the job is done but if you catch mum and her ducklings you are only halfway there. The release can be stressful as there’s always the fear that mum could fly off and you can’t recover the ducklings. I’m crossing everything when I say it hasn’t ever happened to me (yet) and I believe if you follow a few basics you are okay. The main thing is to put the ducklings on water first. It’s instinct to think it’s better to put mum on the water first so that if she flies off the ducklings are still safe. However, if you do it this way once the carrier is open she will fly out at great speed, but, if she’s held back and she sees her young go on the water, instinct takes over and she will want to catch up with them. This has always worked for me but it doesn’t completely take the stress away.
Most of my duckling rescues are in Central London so I don’t know how the families fare as I release in parks that I’m unlikely to return to. Recently though I did a duck and duckling rescue in Croydon and released them in nearby Waddon Ponds. I know a few people that regularly use this park and so have been delighted to be able to get updates on the family. They went from nine to three ducklings over the course of a couple of weeks. However, this is actually pretty good. It’s not unusual for ducks to lose all their ducklings, within a few days of hatching, so a duck that has had her young in an alien environment then is netted and removed with her ducklings has done pretty well to keep a third of them.
Also, a successful rescue and release will cut our workload. If a duck loses all her ducklings or flies off during a rescue they will usually go on to lay more eggs in the same location. And more importantly it’s a very sad outcome for a duck, that has been incubating her eggs for four weeks, to lose all her ducklings.
June has brought heap loads of rescues for young waterbirds – not surprising at this time of year. Here is a snapshot of some of June’s rescues. A big thank you to Adam, Nicci and Paula for all your help this month.
May has been incredibly busy – mostly dominated by duck and duckling rescues. The ones I get calls for are usually in Central London. Sadly the ones I hear about are probably only a small fraction of the ducks that are nesting in balconies and courtyards. Many must perish. Ducks are losing more and more of their natural habitat and therefore nesting in inappropriate places that are a long way from water. When I drive around London and look at the continuous building programmes, erecting more and more blocks of flats, I am drawn to the balconies and the rather lovely flower displays which to me are just possible nesting sites!
For the first time ever I have had similar rescues but for geese and their goslings. I went to flats in Kidbrooke where a lot of elderly and disabled people were living. The communal gardens, on two different levels, both occupied Canada Geese with their newly hatched goslings. The new parents had put both the gardens out of bounds. Neither the gardener nor the maintenance man would step out there as the geese tried to ‘attack them’ – their words not mine! So the grass becoming overgrown and there was goose poo everywhere. The one good thing was that goslings can’t run as fast as ducks and there was a pond within the complex. Unfortunately the goslings didn’t hatch at the same time so it involved two trips before the residents could reclaim their gardens.
There were a flurry of goslings and cygnets with leg injuries and a couple of territorials where pairs of swans had unwelcome visitors! It is always sad to take injured cygnets and goslings, that are only a few weeks old, although without intervention they would die. They will not be able to be released until they are fully independent which could be another five months. However, they will go onto a sanctuary lake much sooner and they will learn to search for food themselves by pulling up pond weeds and vegetation from the lakes. However, they will still get fed a good supplement of swan pellets and grain.