Monday, 21 August 2017

Eclipse news - from the mallards

An update on the eclipse of the mallards on the day of a total eclipse of the sun in the USA.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the mallard drakes in complete camouflage outfits while they waited for their new wing feathers to grow. Some of them, such as this one, are still in eclipse plumage.  He seemed quite pleased with himself.

Here he is with a duck for comparison.  Note her darker and two-tone beak.

When the sun came out he was doing a bit of yoga.

Then suddenly there was trouble as another drake appeared.  This one is well on the way to developing its breeding colour plumage and wanted to take over the mound of rushes.

The first drake jumped into the water to escape so the newcomer attacked the duck

and chased her into the water as well.

Once he had cleared all the others away he gave a victory salute.

The first drake sat and watched until the intruder went away.  You can see the green just starting to appear in his head feathers.

And his wing feathers are largely regrown.

This is one of this year's young, now full grown and showing the beautiful indigo speculum feathers.

You can tell it was a quiet day in the hide when the most interesting bird on the lake was a mallard!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A sheep in wolf's clothing

One way of getting on in the insect world is to pretend to be fierce and dangerous by disguising yourself as something that really is - a tactic known as Batesian mimicry.  I have posted photos of hoverflies that mimic bumblebees before but this is the first time I have seen one pretending to be a wasp.  This is Volucella inanis, a wasp mimic hoverfly.  The photos were taken in Coton Manor Gardens in Northamptonshire.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Red squirrels in summer

It's been some time since I posted any red squirrel photos so here are a few of the latest.

This one with a dark tail is the dominant male.  His ear tufts are just starting to regrow after moulting.

Although they look cute and furry, squirrels have a pretty hard life and there is a lot of fighting between them.  The boss has had a few bites out of his ear.

One of the females has a very blond tail.

She also carries a few scars.

A younger male has a two-tone tail.

Another female has similar colouring.  I saw at least four individuals but it is difficult to keep track of them all as they run and chase each other around.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Bird of the week - Mallard

Our most familiar duck tends to be taken for granted but it is a beautiful bird. The drake in particular has spectacular iridescent plumage.  These photos were taken in spring.

The female's colouring is much more understated as she has to be camouflaged while sitting on the nest but she has the same iridescent blue speculum feathers.

Mallard chicks are precocial - that is they hatch with feathers and are able to walk and swim almost immediately.  They have to feed themselves as well but are closely guarded by their mother.  Again these photos were taken in spring.

These two photos from spring show the drake's head feathers as he turns his head - changing form iridescent green to velvet black.

Mallards moult in summer.  This is a drake, taken this week, in "eclipse" plumage which improves his camouflage while he is unable to fly.

If I zoom in and crop it a bit tighter you can see where his new wing feathers are just starting to grow.

Mallards are common and widespread and have been doing well in recent years.

They are found in most areas of the British Isles.

The summer population of around 100,000 pairs swells to around 700,000 pairs as winter visitors arrive from the north.

The mallard is found throughout the northern hemisphere.  Although we tend to think of it as a resident duck it is migratory in North America (

The mallard is Anas platyrhynchos, meaning broad-billed duck.  Thomas Bewick included the mallard in his A History of British Birds vol II published in Newcastle in 1832.  Not his finest bird portrait.

True to form he writes about how good they are to eat and then includes six pages on how to catch or shoot them!

This is John James Audubon's illustration for Birds of America.

Archibald Thorburn painted mallards on several occasions.

The mallard was also a favourite subject of Sir Peter Scott.

You can listen to Chris Packham's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on mallard here.