Based as we are a stone’s throw from the banks of the river Thames, it’s hard not to get involved with the wildlife in our local patch, so I’ll post some thoughts about the river life from time to time under the broad title of ‘Tales from the riverbank’, which seems appropriate! If I’m not on location, flat out on an edit or article, Rufus my dog and I always try to get down to the river once or twice a day.
Recently we have been keeping a closer than usual eye on our local river bank wildlife to see how things are fairing, following the wettest winter on record and with the banks of the Thames having been flooded here for literally months on end. (Well, I keep an eye on the wildlife and Rufus tends to send the ducks scattering if they are too close to the beach, but that’s another story!). Questions I’ve been keen to answer are: what damage has been done by the unprecedented and sustained high river levels? and how quickly can the flora and fauna recover?
Recently during this pursuit I have got to know a pair of pretty Crested Grebes that built a fragile looking raft on a tributary of the Mole/Ember river where it joins the Thames near Hampton Court Palace earlier this month. It was a secluded spot with the raft loosely attached out in the river to some overhanging vegetation.
I was delighted to see this sign of forthcoming life and from a fisherman’s perch I found on the bank that wasn’t too close, but within long telephoto lens range, (and Rufus safely left at home during these photo sessions), I could get a good view of the nest and cause no stress, disturbance or interference.
I rarely photograph nests, and never photograph them close up, always using a long telephoto lens, in this case 500mm, from a good distance to ensure no disturbance.
I also checked that Crested Grebes are not on the Schedule 1 notice of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to disturb certain breeding birds when they are at or near the nest, without a special permit. Slavonian Grebes and Black necked Grebes for example are protected. For anyone intending to photograph birds, it is important to check these things and to note that all birds, their nests and eggs are protected by the law and not only is it is an offence to damage or destroy an active nest, it is also illegal to prevent parent birds access to their nests. There is more on the RSPB website here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/law/whatsintheroof/thelaw.aspx and Natural England publish a list of species with extra protection under the act here: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/ProtectedSpeciesLists_tcm6-25123.pdf
Pair bonding seems strong with the species.
Having taken a few shots of the female on the nest using the telephoto lens, I kept an even greater distance for the next few weeks, observing the pair from the opposite bank of the tributary through binoculars, eagerly anticipating the hatching of the young, when I intended to go back in to the fisherman’s perch and take some more photographs. Around 4 Eggs are apparently normally laid after May, so our pair could be early starters as the female I saw was on the nest earlier this April and the incubation period for Grebes is around 21 to 30 days. I noted with some concern that the river towards the end of last week was looking quite high again and over the weekend and into early this week, the trend continued, with the Thames moving quite swiftly. Although not as high as previous months, it is still a reminder of the huge power of this river which during the height of the flooding in January, was said to have been moving at 400 tonnes per second at Old Windsor! The culprit now are Spring tides rather than excessive rain as before, nevertheless, to my utter dismay, I noticed the day before yesterday that the nest and its precious contents were gone, presumably washed away by the flow of the spring tide.
I returned the next day to make sure and saw the pair apparently bewildered and going in circles near where the nest had been. Grebes are very vocal, so it was really quite sad to hear the bleating noises they were making. I spoke to locals who know the birds on this stretch of the river well, who were of the opinion that Grebes were known for building flimsy nests in comparison say to Coots, who seem better builders, although they also face their challenges on this stretch of the river. We’ll just have to hope that this pair will try again, make a more secure nest and that Old Father Thames doesn’t have any more tricks up his sleeve this year! AL 30/04/14