Notes from a riverside garden July 2020

Notes from a riverside garden July 2020

This blog post comes from SB with her observations of the flora and fauna in her garden on the banks of the River Stour. Lockdown brought an added peace to the river and its wildlife; with restrictions now easing the river again is attracting human visitors. 

With the slight easing of lockdown the tranquillity of the river has come to an abrupt end with the sudden influx of people whether in canoes, on paddleboards, swimming or enjoying the riverbank environment, particularly on the warm, sunny days of late. It has been remarkably busy along this stretch of river at times as people enjoy the freedom of being out and about again. I imagine this sudden change must have come as rather a shock to the river and riverbank dwellers who no doubt relished the lack of disturbance particularly during the breeding season.

We had an unexpected visitor in the millpond for a couple of weeks. A large red-eared terrapin was seen sunbathing for most of each day on one of the fallen tree branches. It would climb out of the water, make its way a short distance up the tree branch and find a comfortable position in the full sun.   It appeared to have found the perfect spot but then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

The pair of swans now have three cygnets. Only recently hatched they are venturing out onto the river with their mother. One of the routes back to the nest within the lake involves negotiating a small weir with a raised “step” either side of a fast running middle sluice.   Yesterday we observed the family returning to the nest via the weir. Mother easily negotiated the step but the small cygnets were having difficulties and only the tops of their heads were visible. She called to them but despite their best efforts they were unable to clamber over. She then went back down the step and with much vocal encouragement took them to the edge of the weir where some debris had built up and once again she returned into the lake. One by one the little chaps scrabbled up through the debris, the last one making a big effort but eventually all were safely in the lake and heading for the nest through the reed bed. We have now placed a couple of bricks in position to aid them until they grow a touch larger!

A cygnet rescue mission happened the following day when I noticed the mother trying to get them out of the river via a too steep area of the bank. Eventually she gave up and took them back up river. I wondered how she would guide them back to the nest via this route and hoped she wouldn’t try coming down the fast flowing main river weir with them. A short while later I spotted the mother with just one cygnet coming up through the area where we had placed the bricks previously. I rushed around to peer down into the swirling river below the weir and there were the other two cygnets looking decidedly sodden and cheeping pitifully! I rushed indoors for my husband’s fishing net thinking I may be able to scoop them out and reunite with the family. By the time I had got back to the river they had made their way downstream from the weir and were heading for the inlet to the lake. They obviously had a homing instinct of some sort and needed very little guidance from me back into the lake. Then faced with a forest of reeds it took them a while to find the channel made by the parents back to the nest. Meanwhile the mother seemed oblivious to the fact that two of her three youngsters were missing! She did eventually call to them when their frantic cheeping got closer to her and they were all reunited once more. I am not sure that swans have the best parenting skills! Perhaps this is her first brood.   I have now made a slipway in the bank where they originally tried to leave the river to enable the cygnets to scramble up, hopefully! This is the route the parents often use to return to the lake across the island.

Having time to observe the wildlife in the garden has made us more aware of the individual ducks that spend their time here. A pair of ducklings appeared to be abandoned by their mother when half grown for one reason or another. They have survived and are always together, very seldom seen apart. We have named them “The Twins” as they are inseparable it seems. Several ducklings have made it through the perilous early days and are now brought by their mothers to the duck feeder on the lawn or up to the terrace outside the kitchen window for food.   On average it seems four ducklings survive from the original large brood.   We are still seeing the occasional late brood of small ducklings being guided into the reeds for safety when out and about in the garden. Two Mandarin females also join the large group of Mallard lounging about on the lawn. A young moorhen, still not fully mature, seems to rule the roost. Its antics darting about chasing the ducks and generally acting in a thuggish way is hilarious to watch.

Two of our previously used nest boxes have been taken over by what we think are tree bumblebees. One of the bumblebee colonies has occupied a sparrow terrace nest box and a nest box beneath was being used by a blue tit. Thankfully, the arrival of the bumblebees took place in the final days of the feeding of its young. The unfortunate blue tit had to brave the bumblebees circling around the nest box entrance above.   I observed the blue tit hastily leaving its nest box accompanied by two or three unimpressed bumblebees on several occasions! It would then perch on the pyracantha beneath furiously scratching at its presumably stung face.   The bumblebees will be in residence for a few months and then disappear.   They are not a nuisance to us so we are happy to let nature take its course. The blue tit soon vacated the area along with its young seemingly none the worse for the experience.

A large clump of yellow flag irises at the edge of the millpond has become a regular gathering and resting site for a multitude of banded demoiselles. These are fabulous insects with the most iridescent blue body and black bands on their wings. Seeing them all clustered together is quite a spectacle.

Aphids seem to be a major problem with infestations on honeysuckle, lupins, roses to name but a few. However, I observed a large blue tit family deftly removing the aphids from a climbing rose on the pergola. The young blue tits darting about picking off the tasty morsels.

We were recently thrilled to see several swallows, martins and swifts, swirling together over the river as they hunted for insects. Having read reports of reduced numbers arriving this spring this was a most uplifting sight.    SB