Nature Notes

By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

GARDEN ponds are a magnet for wildlife and on a sunny May afternoon our biggest pond had already been visited by blue tits and a blackbird for a bath. Perhaps luckily for them they had moved on by the time a male sparrowhawk zoomed in and landed in one end where it briefly stayed immobile, fluffing out its feathers to let the water soak in before indulging in a frenzy of splashing with half-spread wings, after which it flew to the fence and sat in the sun to dry.

In the evening, the same pond welcomed another bather, the first hedgehog we had seen for a while which, appropriately for Hedgehog Awareness Week, sat soaking in the shallows before resuming its rambling.

One of the other ponds, now twenty years old, has developed a leak in the liner and has been losing water although even that has its positive side for, in the sunshine the mud left behind at the edge attracted peacock and speckled wood butterflies before a tiny holly blue alighted and spent half an hour with tongue uncurled sucking up a solution of salts from the wet soil (pictured). It was a treat to see one so close for I have got used, in the spring, to seeing an occasional holly blue floating by, sometimes quite high up but seldom on the ground for they often feed on the honeydew from aphids high in the trees rather than on flowers.

In March in this column, I described how a pair of mallards had returned to our garden ponds, the female quickly investigating the site of last year’s nest from which she had successfully reared eight ducklings. This year she laid ten eggs in a nest concealed beneath a frond of heather almost at the same spot and settled into a similar routine to last year, leaving the nest to feed on the pond at the opposite side of the house before creeping back up the garden and swimming across the pond to the nest site. Her mate, identifiable by a very slight white neck ring, had departed. Four weeks ago, the female was found floating head down in the pond close to the nest, dead but with no obvious injury, the victim we suspect of drowning during a forced mating attempt by a rogue male which had appeared the previous day, an assault she would have resisted, having no further interest in mating once she was incubating eggs.

At the time of writing, the ten eggs, visible through the heather from above, are still intact, strangely untouched by the crows, magpies, jays and squirrels that are frequent garden visitors, testament to a small wildlife tragedy.