We’ve been so busy at our pond watching the swans and coots nest, we didn’t notice that the ducks had been quietly getting on with it until we visited this week to find a clutch of ducklings!
There were six ducklings on Monday. They were very tame so we were able to study them close-up. The children distinguished one that is the only one with pale stripes along the side of its beak. They’ve named it “Link”.
The new arrivals were so cute we visited them again on Wednesday. This time there were only five ducklings of the original clutch. We were pleased to see our “Link” still among them.
One of our favourite ducks – the one we haven’t been able to identify (a cross-breed?) was nestled on the grass by the water’s edge. We watched her quietly for a while, and then she moved to reveal a single, tiny duckling underneath her!
One animal we weren’t so happy to see at the pond edge was this black predator! There are houses all around the edge of the pond so I guess it’s not surprising cats come and try their luck with the tame little ducklings.
In other pond news, our swan is still nesting.
The pair of Egyptian geese are back, having disappeared for several weeks.
Yellow irises are beginning to bloom.
We noticed lots of these (lily?) rhizomes in the shallows. The children decided they were alien pods (very scientific, ahem).
A few hundred yards from our pond is a much more secluded set of ponds. Only a few shy birds swim on these, and they teem with life.
I wonder how many ducklings we’ll see next week?
For previous pond study posts dating back to early March, see here.
The more we visit our pond, the more we enjoy it. These days, when it’s so easy to travel far and wide, it’s such a treat to spend time becoming intimately familiar with one special place. I continue to be so appreciative of Angelicscalliwags for inspiring us to to this.
The swans were the stars of the show at our pond this April. Back at the start of the month we noticed that they had built a nest on the island.
The following week we witnessed some very beautiful swan rituals. C(9) said it looked like they were synchronised swimming.
There is a final photo in the series but I’ll spare your blushes and show you this preening close-up instead!
Bird Ringing Scheme
Later, one of the swans gave us an excellent view of its leg, on which it wore a metal ring. By zooming in on the photo, we could read that the ring was labelled “BTO British Museum Nat Hist London SW7”.
We looked this up when we got home, and learned about The Ringing Scheme, which allows members of the public to report sightings of ringed birds.
The rings on the Ringing Scheme website had numbers on, but we couldn’t find a number on our swan’s ring. C(9) has emailed the Ringing Scheme to find out more about this.
The coots are also nesting. They’ve picked an excellent spot, at the edge of the pond but very well concealed. I was only able to get this (very zoomed in) photo from the far side of the pond.
Our female coot has been sitting on her nest for the last few weeks. The incubation period is just over three weeks so we should see coot chicks at our pond very soon! (When we were wondering about the correct name for the young coots, J(8) suggested that they should be called “cuties”. That one may stick :-))
The male coot, meanwhile, has been much less shy.
We admired how green the trees and plants around the pond have become, and brought a few small samples home to paint.
Life at our pond is hotting up. We’ve noticed new signs of spring each week since our first trip. One of the most welcome is the temperature – so mild, we were actually able to sit on our blanket and quietly watch the pond for a while, which was heavenly!
Nesting and Mating
This week’s big excitement was a swan nesting on the island. At least it looked like it was sitting on a nest. When it briefly got off the nest we didn’t see any eggs, but we supposed they were buried within the nest to stay warm? (Or was it practising??! We’re all learning around here!)
We saw a coot swoop low over the pond with a short willow branch in its beak. It landed near the base of a willow tree where we later spotted it on its nest.
Some of the mallard ducks had found mates – we counted at least two pairs – but the male mallards still heavily outnumber the females.
Identifying Our Birds
We’ve seen one pair of geese at our pond with very unusual markings. When we got home we used the excellent online RSPB bird identifier to work out that they are Egyptian Geese (how exotic!). Apparently these geese were introduced to ornamental ponds and have now begun to breed in the wild.
This very sweet little thing was dabbling around the “moat” by the island on its own. It was very tame, and quite talkative. The RSPB bird identifier wasn’t able to help us with this one. Our best guess is that it’s a juvenile of some sort. If you have any idea what it is, please do let me know!
We also saw a pair of jackdaws and – far off in the distance – a pied wagtail (thank you, RSPB identifier!).
The willow tree that J(8) has chosen to study has begun to grow leaves.
We brought a bit home to sketch. I love how when you draw something you see it in a totally new way. Mixing up watercolours helped us focus on the leaf colours, too.
Angelicscalliwags’ One Year Pond Study has had me excited about nature study in a way that hasn’t happened since … well, ever! Like angelicscalliwags, we’ve tried using an assortment of books, blogs and curricula for inspiration but nothing seemed to stick, so I contented myself knowing that with daily dog walks in the woods and by the river, summers at the beach and hours playing in our garden, C(9) and J(7) have plenty of opportunity to experience nature first hand.
But the idea of observing a local ecosystem regularly over the seasons really captured my imagination. So a couple of weeks ago we set off to get better acquainted with our own beautiful local pond.
I didn’t have any agenda for our first visit to the pond, other than to let the children explore and for me to observe what interested them. They were keen to take their nature study notebooks which I’d retrieved from the back of a shelf (last entries, May 2011 – ahem!)
What is a pond?
One of C(9)’s first questions was “Why do we call this a pond and not a lake?”
When we researched the answer later, we discovered some experts say that the difference is just about size, while others say it has to do with depth: ponds are shallow enough for plants to grow across the entire pond bottom. This area where plants can grow is known as the “photic zone”, meaning the sun’s rays can reach the bottom.
We also discovered that a person who studies bodies of fresh water is called a limnologist, from the Greek “limne” meaning “pool” or “marsh”.
We saw mallard ducks – “about four male ducks for every female”, C(9) noted in her journal.
A pair of Canada geese.
Even evidence of moles – our puppy (happy to be finally let out of the car once we were safely away from the swans) was especially interested in these!
We saw daffodils in bud.
And in bloom.
J(7) picked a willow tree to draw.
C(9) tested the temperature of the water and was surprised to discover that at 5℃ (41℉) the pond was warmer than the air (2.9℃ /36℉).
Pond temperature has higher resilience than air, so it is slower to lose heat following cool air conditions. While air may have high daily temperature variation, water remains relatively constant. (Now we know why we often see steam over the river on winter mornings.)
An unexpected bonus – Frogspawn!
We struggled to find a benchmark to measure the water level in the pond, but we know it must be pretty high because the surrounding meadow area was covered in large puddles. It was in one of these puddles that we were excited to discover a jelly-like substance with lots of little black dots in – frogspawn!
My mum said experts are concerned about frog reproduction this spring because with the late cold snap, ponds are too cold for frogspawn. Well our local frogs had found a solution – we just hope the puddles don’t dry up too soon!
Also in the unexpected category – C(9) found a solitary egg drifting around the edge of the pond!
Our pond is in the middle of a popular dog-walking area, so we were find a tiny island which is close enough to shore for us to observe, but provides a small wildlife sanctuary from humans and their pets.
Surprising local history
When we looked up the name of our pond (which is in the next village, about 5 minutes’ drive away) we discovered some fascinating local history: until the 1970’s, naked bathing was permitted there! There were changing huts (for those with more modesty, we speculated?) and even a lifeguard in attendance at 630am on summer days. How times have changed since I was a child!
What a great time of year to begin a pond study. After a long winter with nothing much happening, nature is preparing to burst into life before our eyes. And as we braved the snow flurries (on 25 March!) I imagined how pleasant it will be to spend time pond-side when the spring sunshine finally arrives!
Sometime over the last 29 years I forgot how to tell the difference between a moorhen and a coot. A fact which has mildly bothered me every time the children and I have seen one (or the other), and I’ve found myself exclaiming “Ooh look! A coot! … Or is it a moorhen? … I can’t quite remember which…”
We ate our sandwiches in one of the two play areas.
Then strolled around the boardwalk through the reeds and bulrushes. (Well, two of us “strolled”, anyway.)
En route we came across a camera obscura, which excited Big J very much. C and J loved being in a dark den, though the science was a bit lost on them (but is, I’m sure, one of those experiences they’ll recall one day in the future).
Next we glided through the bulrushes on a silent boat, where we spotted baby grebes among other things.
We rounded off the day with tea and cakes and a play in the “Pond Skater” playground.
And I learned – for the second time – that a coot has a white beak, and a moorhen has a more colourful red beak.
I love RHS Garden Wisley with its beautiful plants, trees, wide open spaces and gigantic glasshouses, but persuading children to go there has always been something of an effort. Yesterday, with the help of some wonderful ladies from the gardens’ Education Centre and a bunch of friends from our local home education group, we all had a wonderful time there.
After the children had had plenty of time running around playing on the grass together, we went off to the Learning Centre for an engaging talk on plant adaptations – no, really, it was great! The first session began with a brief discussion on plant habitats and then had the children deciding in groups whether words like “light”, “water”, “drought”, and “competition” belonged in “desert” and or in “rainforest” (or both). I liked the emphasis on creativity rather than there being right or wrong answers. The next activity was similarly open-ended: various objects, like a ladder, an umbrella and a candle, were brought out while the children, in small groups, looked at laminated photos of plants and considered which plant each object reminded them of. This primed them perfectly for venturing, clipboards in hand, into the Glasshouse, to spot the plants for real.
Later, during a talk from a real life “plant explorer” the children were taught how to take cuttings and even given the chance to take and bring cuttings home for themselves. Which is why we now have two tiny peperomia plants nestling on the window sill among the vegetable seedlings 🙂