April 2019

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Duckling Rescue – possible drop if ducklings fall
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Two ducklings were caught in the car park with mum
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The rest of the ducklings were well hidden in this window box
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Hidden in the window box
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Prior to release
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The best bit! Releasing the family
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Other injured birds
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Poorly gull with botulism
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Duck with fracture to wing
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Baby heron
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2018 cygnet being kept on land by cob
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Released into Kingston Flock

The duckling season has started. Most of the waterbird babies are hatching slightly earlier this year.  Usually I would get one or two duck and duckling rescues in April but at the time of writing this I have done seven and there’s been lots of orphaned ducklings brought to me as well.  They’re never easy and it’s hardly worth having a plan as it just doesn’t seem to work out.  Next is a summary of a typical but tricky rescue – copied from my post on Facebook.

Today brought my first duckling rescue of 2019. Duck and duckling rescues can be notoriously difficult and I had been to this rescue location last year. The concierge, who looks after these rather nice flats in Belgravia, had kept my number from last year. Mum was running round the car park with two newly hatched ducklings. Fortunately, they were quite easy to catch but that wasn’t the end. The staff there said there were other ducklings on one of the balconies. They also thought they might be on the roof!  So we started on the roof and worked our way down eight floors, searching every window box on each landing. Success came at the sixth floor. We found the window box where mum had made her nest. The window boxes were crammed with plants and ivy and it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. I found five ducklings and then there was silence so I hoped I had them all. I continued searching the window box very thoroughly and destroying plants in the process but nothing. I set off to my next rescue with the duck family on board. I was in Richmond when the concierge rang to say he had found another duckling in the window box. I phoned a friend who luckily was able to get the train (and a taxi) up to Sloane Square to collect it. She brought it to me in style in a taxi and after reuniting him with his mum and siblings we got another call to say there was another duckling running round the carpark. I had to collect my granddaughter from school so lovely Paula made a return trip to get the ninth duckling. It was so important to keep these single ducklings warm and she did brilliantly and was very inventive. I think she must have watched Blue Peter as a child!
I now have all of the ducklings and I will keep them a few days to feed up mum and help the little ones gain strength. An eventful but hugely satisfying rescue. Paula Redmond thank you for sharing photos.

It’s important to try and catch the mother and when I do it’s usually a straight release, into the nearest, safe pond.  Sometimes, if the ducklings are only a day old I keep the entire family in my shed and run, for another five days.  It creates a massive cleaning programme but I think it makes a big difference. Mum has built up a stronger bond with her babies and they have grown stronger while in care – with plenty of good, nutritious food.

When I am looking after a mum and ducklings it’s quite handy if I pick up a lone duckling, as if they are a similar size I can sneak them in with the family, without mum being aware she has an extra one or two!

Besides, duckling rescues the rest has been a mixture. One of the last of the 2018 cygnets got chased off – this was on the day that the new cygnets hatched.  I’ve also had an assortment of injured gulls, coots and ducks and a lovely baby heron that fell out of his nest.

It’s got off to a busy start and I expect it to continue in the same way in May.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.   I hope you found it of interest.

 

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The Tale of One Feisty Coot

In my last post,

I briefly mentioned this rescue in my last post but on reflection decided to cover it more in depth.  Although coots are small, their behaviour is very much like that of swans.  It’s only in recent years I have noticed just how many similarities there are.  They are fiercely territorial and the males seem to partake in territorial fighting especially during the mating season.  Rescuers get numerous calls to coots, with injured legs, that are very lame.  The majority of them are best left.  However, I had a call from a volunteer rescuer from a pigeon charity.  She was very concerned about a coot with a bad leg that was being kept out of the water.  It was a fair distance from where I live but I said that if she could catch it, call me and I would collect it.  This woman had not caught a coot before but managed to get this one which made me think it was one of a few that actually need intervention.

The coot’s leg looked like it was sprained and he was worryingly thin.  There was no real treatment just rest and feeding up.  I decided to keep him rather than pass on to the Swan Sanctuary.  Fortunately, he was not stressed and he ate whatever was put in front of him – although sweetcorn was his favourite.  However, after 7 days he became stressed at being confined.  He had a large shed and run but was pacing up and down and losing interest in food.  He was far from perfect but needed to be released.

I firmly believe that any bird should be released back to where it was picked up from – although I realise this isn’t always possible.  However, this coot would hopefully hold his own if he knew his territory but if he went anywhere else he had no chance as the resident coot population would not accept him.  They will always target the weak and injured.  He had gained lots of weight so I set off early one morning to release him.  Unfortunately for me this was a 50+ mile round trip as he came from Bluewater Shopping Centre but it made it all worthwhile to see him successfully released.  It was an expensive trip though as it would have been rude not to do some shopping while I was there!

The volunteer, who rescued him, has been back there and was able to report that he’s doing well.

Sometimes there is no perfect answer and you have to take a bit of a gamble – I’m glad this one paid off.

 

 

March 2019 – part 2 – not just swans!

Egyptians are quite unique in so far as they seem to produce goslings at any time of the year – quite literally from January to December – although the optimum time would be May to August.  Each year, I see a few sites where Egyptian goslings appear in January.  Sadly,  I know the goslings will almost certainly perish as the weather is too cold.  I always get calls by concerned members of the public who ask for them to be collected and taken to the Swan Sanctuary.  However much I explain why I cannot remove the tiny goslings from their parents I know people are unhappy about it.  And, of course, when they die, I have an irate person telling me they could have been saved if only I had rescued them!  Not only is it illegal to remove wildlife under these circumstances it would cause huge stress to the parents.  I was a teenage mum and I liken it to someone taking my daughter away and saying ‘you might love your baby but I am older and more experienced and I can look after her better than you can!’

I have personal experience of a lady removing goslings from Mitcham Common.  There was nothing I could do but she came back to me a month later and realised what she had done was wrong. I was fuming inside but managed to hide my annoyance to get the surviving ones back from her.

The sad thing was, this lady had fed the Egyptian parents for years.  They would happily feed from her hand as they trusted her.  Once she stole their babies the trust was broken and a year later they were still keeping their distance from her.

On a brighter note, despite all the odds, the Egyptian goslings, born in January, at Barnes, have thrived.  There are still nine and they’ve gone from strength to strength.

My November blog was named woodcock month as it’s the only month I get calls about woodcock – until 2019.  In November, the woodcock that come into my care have usually flown a couple thousand miles to reach the UK for a milder winter.  However, for the first time I have had a few in March  – obviously getting into trouble before their long flight home.  We have some very strong winds which I attribute to the woodcock getting blown off course. It was a privilege to release these shy little birds at night and get an insight into their nocturnal behaviour.

I’ve also had a collection of small water birds, some need to go to the Swan Sanctuary but often they don’t as meds isn’t needed and company not essential – in some cases.

I currently have a coot that really wasn’t coping after sustaining a leg injury which was probably sustained by fighting.  He just needs some rest and is doing very well. He was very thin when I got him but has eaten non stop since arriving which is excellent.  His favourite food is sweet corn.  Also two herring gulls, one good to go today the other will be with me for a couple of weeks as he has botulism.

 

 

 

 

 

March 2019 – part 1

The territorials that kept rescuers busy in February have continued throughout March.   In the last few years cygnets seem more reluctant to leave their homes.  It used to be a very rare sight to see cygnets, still with their parents, in March but now there are lots.  In some cases the pen is on her nest and still last years remain.  Of course if the cob becomes too aggressive, we will have to pick up the cygnets and relocate them.  I had a call to a local park and the cob was behaving very aggressively towards all three of his cygnets although targeting one in particular.  When I got there, the cygnet was hiding in the reeds.  I tried to see if I could get close enough to hook it out but sadly it was an impossible task on my own.  The following day, with three additional rescuers, we went to rescue the cygnet.  It had been sighted at lunchtime and we arrived early evening.  No sooner had Adam got into the water when he found the cygnet dead.  Sadly a fox had attacked it just before we arrived.  We were all pretty gutted and  now the cob had turned his attention to the remaining cygnets.  We all agreed that they should be moved to a flock so we went ahead and caught them.  With two cygnets secure in my car we got ready to leave, while watching the fox hover round the dead cygnet, ready to take it as soon as we left.  She probably had cubs to feed – at least it was a natural death but still not the outcome we wanted.

Usually, territorials result in the intruder swan being put straight into a flock – or if it’s a night rescue held until the morning.  However, last week at Richmond Park, an intruder swan showed no sign of flying out and was kept on land between two ponds which were both occupied by pairs of swans.  Unfortunately, I was nowhere near but a man who has helped me in the past was able to catch the swan and secure it in some stables overnight.  The swan had a very peculiar wonky neck so when I collected him in the morning, I took him to the Swan Sanctuary for a more thorough check.  Fortunately, despite the odd shape,  there didn’t appear to be anything wrong and after a few days obs he will be released.

I started this post saying it was odd how many of last year’s cygnets are still with their parents.  Even odder is the fact that a pair of swans in East London have already produced cygnets – they arrived in Mid March.  Before this, if cygnets arrived at the end of April we would consider them early.  Yes, it’s been a mild winter but no different to many other years and I always understood that a bird’s cue for breeding was more determined by daylight and their circadian rhythm rather than temperature.

I am conscious that my posts have had lengthy gaps so I have kept this short and part 2 will follow when rescues subside!

February 2019 – territorials – a shortage of ponds?

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I looked at my ‘swan’ diary to see what rescues I had done and which to write about.  I knew I had been busy and there were lots of rescues but a distinct lack of variety.  All bar two were territorials.

At this time of year an increased amount of movement is expected.  A few of last year’s cygnets are still at their nest sites so they are either being chased off by their parents or being chased if they move onto waters that are already occupied by a breeding pair. They really need to find a flock but for a young swan that is inexperienced at flying this is no easy task.

There are often more than one pair vying for the same nest site.  I have some sites where three pairs have arrived and in these instances rescuers hold back.  Hopefully, the swans can sort it out for themselves and the less dominant pairs will give up and fly off.  It is not in any swan’s interest to become injured so few will actually battle until death.  However, some swans do die as a result of territorials.  A swan may become greatly weakened and then can easily be drowned by the victor.  Cygnets are particularly vulnerable and it is more likely that a rescuer will intervene if the territorial involves a juvenile swan.  Many intruders are also kept on land, in a busy park full of dogs, another reason to intervene and move them to a safe body of water.

To me there seems to be an increase in swans although in the last RSPB count they were still on the amber list for concern.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/uk-conservation-status-explained/

The successful breeders already have their territory and may have bred in the same place for several years.  The less mature swans will continue to search for a site later in the year and may end up with their cygnets not appearing until late June/early July.  In the last couple years I have seen small ponds occupied by breeding pairs and some of these sites had previously not had breeding swans for over 50 years.  They are not particularly good sites which is why they were unoccupied for so long.

I do sometimes wonder if the future will bring changes to how swans breed.  Will they end up breeding in flocks?  Will two pairs happily share a large lake?  This works for Black Swans and most species of geese so why not Mute Swans?  There are already a very small number of swans that have ‘shared’ a lake and I feel sure that this will occur more frequently.  Or maybe more swans will remain singletons and stay in flocks for a lot longer?

Polish Swans

While off work I have checked on a few ponds that still have cygnets from last year.  They need to move on as it won’t be long before we have the class of 2019!

At Barnes’ Pond I got chatting to someone who questioned why one cygnet was already completely white.  I said that it was a Polish Swan and we had quite a lengthy chat about these unusual swans.  The woman was surprised by what I said and it made me decide to post something about Polish Swans.

Science was never my strong subject so I am going to avoid explaining how Polish Swans occur.  Just to say they are not albino and more akin to a leucitic water bird.  For those interested I have copied the BTO’s description below which explains Leucism and Albinism a lot better than I could. If you’re not interested just skip this bit!

Leucism & albinism

Leucism

 Dunnock by John Harding

Leucistic Dunnock

In leucistic birds, affected plumage lacks melanin pigment due to the cells responsible for melanin production being absent. This results in a white feathers, unless the normal plumage colour also comprises carotenoids (e.g. yellows), which remain unaffected by the condition. Although leucism is inherited, the extent and positioning of the white colouration can vary between adults and their young, and can also skip generations if leucistic genes are recessive.

The reduction of pigment in leucistic birds causes feathers to weaken and be more prone to wear. In some situations this can hinder flight, which, in addition to leucistic birds usually being more conspicuous, can heighten risk of predation. There is also evidence that leucistic birds might, on occasion, not be recognised or accepted by a potential mate.

Collared Dove by Pauline Warman

Collared Dove with ‘diluted’ plumage

In our Abnormal Plumage Survey, ‘leucism’ is being used as an umbrella term to encompass a number of plumage irregularities that can be difficult to distinguish from each other. One of these is called ‘progressive greying’, which also results in white feathers. While leucism is heritable, progressive greying is not – but without knowing the history of a bird, these two conditions are difficult to tell apart.

‘Dilution’ is another condition that we have grouped under the category ‘leucism’ in our Abnormal Plumage Survey. Here, plumage colour often appears ‘washed out’ (i.e. ‘diluted’). This Collared Dove (pictured) is a good example of this. In dilution, melanin cells are present (unlike in leucistic birds) but produce less pigment than normal. White feathers can also be caused by chromatophore (pigment cell) defects, rather than an absence of melanin-producing cells.

Albinism

Albinism also results in white feathers but true albinos are thought to be rare in the wild. Albinism is caused by a genetic mutation causing an absence of tyrosinase in pigment cells. An albino individual is unable to produce melanin pigments. This leads to a good diagnostic feature with which to distinguish leucistic and albino individuals – the colour of the eye.

Albinos have pink eyes while the iris pigmentation of leucistic birds remains dark. Most albino birds die soon after fledging, primarily as a consequence of their poor eyesight, and albino birds are not thought to progress to adulthood in the wild. As with leucistic individuals, albinos can retain carotenoid pigments if normally present in the plumage. A common misnomer is ‘partial albino’ – this is not possible since albinism affects the whole plumage of a bird, not just part.

 

Anyway, that’s the technical stuff out of the way but I do know that if you see a Polish Swan it’s much more likely to be a female.  Males are usually carriers of the gene but having said that there are still some male Polish Swans.  I do know that if both parents are Polish then all their cygnets will be Polish too but I’m yet to see a pair of Polish swans.

They were first described over 170 years ago when they were sighted around Poland – hence their name.  At the time, they were thought to be a totally different species to the Mute Swan.  There has been very little research done into these swans – specifically their distribution around the United Kingdom – until a paper was published in January 2018 following a survey that was carried out in 2016.  Despite being rare we have two Polish families within a couple of miles of each other.  I am convinced that both of the breeding females are related but, of course, it’s impossible to prove.  They have BTO rings but they were not added until both swans were adults.  I do know that pens often return close to where they were born, when they breed.

Polish Cygnets are born white and look very different from their grey siblings and yet very few people seem to notice this when they are feeding them.  They have much paler legs and once they become adult this is pretty much the only way to identify them.  In my experience, and that of other rescuers, they seem less robust than other cygnets.

The breeding pair of swans at Barnes Pond produce some Polish cygnets each year although the majority of the brood are grey.  However, the other pair, that breed in nearby Roehampton, haven’t had Polish cygnets for the last couple of years.  Although they have moved locations, we know they are the same pair as their BTO rings are checked annually. There’s no doubt Polish swans are very rare but as most swans spend the majority of time in water the number could actually be under reported.  They are virtually impossible to identify unless their legs are visible.  Until 2013, the numbers logged were in single figures.  Even the highest figures, logged in 2016, show only 37 Polish cygnets to have hatched in the UK.  I hope future swan surveys describe Polish swans and encourage members of the public to identify them separately.  We might find that there are more Polish swans than we think.

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Polish Cygnet.  Nine months old and soon to be chased off by mum and dad
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Barnes Polish Cygnet
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Swan family at Barnes last summer.
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Adult Polish Swan.  Pale feet are the only identification.

 

 

January 2019 Highlights

I have finally returned to rescuing after surgery on my hand.  Officially, I was meant to stop for 12 weeks but I resumed rescuing 9 weeks post op.  It was meant to be a one-off that no-one else could get to.  But then there was another and so it went on.  My first rescue of 2019 was an interesting one.  A swan had crashed into a tree at South Norwood Lake and remained totally stuck.  The Fire Brigade was called and it took the fire fighters about 30 minutes to cut the swan down.  They then led her to the safety of the lake but were slightly concerned that she wasn’t quite ‘right’.  A couple of park users watched the swan and were worried how quiet she was.  They phoned the Swan Sanctuary and the call was passed across to me as no-one else was available.  It was my grandson’s birthday and I had only just arrived to see him, but rescues never come at convenient times.  I set off to attempt to catch the swan – my first proper rescue since October.  Once I got there, I tried to entice the swan, over with some bread and grain, but she wasn’t really interested.  She was naturally wary after her ordeal and was out of arm’s length so I ended up hooking her in.  I felt like I didn’t have a good grip on her and was kneeling on a bank very close to the water.  I was concerned she was going to get away from me at any moment but luckily two passers-by came over to offer assistance.  They helped me contain the swan and carried her to the car.  I took her to the Swan Sanctuary but apart from being a bit bruised and sore there was nothing much wrong so she was released within a couple of days.

Then, a few days later, just as I arrived at my dentist in Bayswater I received a call to say there was a swan in the road at Wimbledon.  I said I was unable to help but like most rescuers, I kept thinking about the swan and hoping that someone had been able to go.  It didn’t help listening to my phone ringing – it wasn’t a good sign but at least it was a distraction from the hygienist torturing me!  As soon as I left I phoned the guy to be told that yes, the swan still needed rescuing but some the residents in the street had shepherded her into a front garden so she was relatively safe.  The train journey home seemed an exceptionally long one – the District line must be the slowest of all the tube lines.  Finally, I reached Earlsfield and sprinted back to my car.  By the time I arrived at South Wimbledon the swan had been penned up in the front garden for three hours.  Luckily it was made very simple for me to catch and afterwards it was just a case of releasing her into the Kingston flock on the Thames.

After that, there seemed be a rescue most days – mainly territorials – some intruder adults but mostly cygnets being chased off by their parents; the very parents that had nurtured and fiercely protected them through the previous months.  Nature can be terribly cruel sometimes.

Last week-end there was a swan that landed in school playing fields, she had been there for several hours and made no attempt to fly out; in fact, she didn’t even stand up.  There were some very pro-active ladies who managed to get keys to open up the school gates to allow me access.  These rescues can be unpredictable.  I have often been told a swan hasn’t moved but as soon as I walk within 20 metres it miraculously flies off. It always feels little unsatisfactory when that happens.  You worry that it is injured and will come down again further up the road.  This one had a leg injury and was admitted to the Swan Sanctuary.  She probably landed awkwardly as she was a heavy, mature bird and would have come down with quite a thump.

Sadly, there seems to be an increase in swans being shot and there was recently a petition run by Swan Support calling for the licensing of air rifles.  I find it unbelievable that anyone 18 or over can purchase one quite freely.  Swans being shot creates quite a bit of publicity and stories sometimes even get covered in national newspapers.  However, there are numerous geese suffering the same plight but they do not attract the same attention.  Many are also living with pellets inside them.  We have some real black spots and if ever a goose appears with a lump on its face, in these areas, you can almost guarantee it’s been shot.  One this month, that another rescuer caught, had the largest ball bearing I have ever seen.  I have included the photos as seeing really is believing.  This poor goose must have been in such pain but I am very happy to say he is well on the road to recovery.

Finally, the cygnets that were currently residing in my shed, until today, were lightly oiled after a diesel spillage on the River Wandle.  In the summer, they may have coped with a little contamination but the freezing weather conditions mean they could die of hyperthermia.  One of them is quite underweight too.  There is no clear indication where it has come from but fortunately the geese seem to be less affected.  This is so often the case as, compared to swans, geese spend much more other time on land so are less likely to suffer from the pollution.  They are now being assessed at the sanctuary.  The weight of cygnets can vary so much; in this instance one was 6kg the other 9kg – 50% heavier.

Thank you for taking the time to read this – it’s good to be back rescuing and I hope everyone looking at my blog has a happy and healthy 2019.