June 2024: "From A New Forest Inclosure” by Ian Thew

June 2024: "From A New Forest Inclosure” by Ian Thew

The past two days have been absolute scorchers and all around the Forest is bursting with new life.  From my study window I have, all winter, been able to look down the length of a grassy ride that separates a broad leaf enclosure from a Douglas fir plantation but, almost overnight, that vista is gone.  A mature oak tree, just beyond the fence, has opened its first leaves and at the same time has produced masses of pendulous flowers.  The weight of both the foliage and flowers has lowered the branches to such a degree that my view down the ride is now non-existent. But I don’t mind, it’s a sure sign that spring is giving way to summer and every day brings a new delight.

The oak flowers remind me of a nest that was built two years ago above the door of an outbuilding by a pair of spotted fly-catchers.  It was constructed entirely from oak tree flowers and took them just a day to complete!  It was an exquisite example of just how clever and industrious some birds can be.  I’m sorry to report that despite the abundance of both nesting material, and food in the form of flies, there’s been no sign, so far, of these endearing little birds.  They didn’t turn up last year either and were sorely missed.  I do hope they arrive this season; there’s still time and central Africa is a long way for tiny wings!

The mallards on the pond have become quite tame and usually come for their food at about six o’clock in the evening.  The drake is usually the first to arrive and his silent arrival is only marred by a slight splash as he lands on the water.  After a quick feed, he will sit, resplendent in his brilliant plumage, to await the arrival of ‘The Missus’ and we certainly know it when she arrives!  It’s the mallard ducks that make the all too familiar ‘quack’. (the drakes have a much weaker, rasping call) and this lady certainly likes to let you know that she’s around.  She can, without fail, be heard from some distance as she approaches the garden and, quite often, she’ll attempt a touch-down on the lawn instead of on the water, which usually results in the duck-equivalent of a crash landing.  After such a disaster, she’ll pick herself up and, with an indignant waggle of her tail, she’ll shout and holler at her poor mate, no doubt blaming him for her recent predicament.

But more recently, she’s had something else to shout about; their peaceful existence has been shattered by the arrival of some colourful Asian invaders; a few weeks ago a pair of mandarin ducks had the cheek to gate-crash their European cousins’ party.  Needless to say, this gave way to outrage on the part of the mallards and, with much quacking and flapping 

Mrs Mallard saw them both off whilst her hubby sat and watched.  But her victory was short-lived, for the next evening the mandarins returned mob-handed; not one, but three gaudy drakes, accompanied by two more sombre ducks, arrived to show them who were the bosses – and then the fun began.  Mandarins are perching ducks and they quite happily landed, much to the indignation of the incumbents, in the trees above the pond and on top of the adjacent fence posts.  Now this flummoxed the mallards, especially Mrs Mallard who, quacking vociferously, waddled up and down below them.  But the mandarins were not fazed by all this bravado and gradually, they took it in turn to drop onto the pond for a feed, but at each attempt they were attacked by the territorial mallards, and some exciting ducky punch-ups ensued, with both contestants coming off about even.  After several evenings of heated arguments and heavy loss of plumage, a truce was reached and, apart from the odd squabble, life on the pond is, once again, peaceful.  I’m pleased to be able to tell you that, to date, I have counted, at one time, seven mandarins and two mallards on this tiny pond – it’s amazing what a few handfuls of barley, scattered each day, can encourage.

I remember telling you, last August, about the pair of swallows that had been investigating my stables as a prospective nesting site --- well they’re back, and if it’s not the same pair, then I’ll be very surprised.  They were first noticed, a day or two ago, wheeling and twittering excitedly in the airspace above the paddocks.  They quickly made repeated investigations of the interior of the stables and I sincerely hope that they’ll take up residence; of course that’s only if Isaac will let them.  Isaac is a diminutive mule of unpredictable temperament who is currently occupying one of my boxes.  He’s tolerant of humans but has a hatred of cats and dogs and will chase both from the yard, or fields, if either should have the temerity to enter his space.  All joking aside, I don’t suppose for one minute that his presence will deter the swallows from nesting; indeed, they seem to prefer to share a location with animals and people, even if they are irritable and stubborn!

Must go for a ‘swallow’ myself.

Ian Thew 




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