Thursday, 28 February 2013

Every day I walk past the Vista I am met by a Black-Headed Gull, ring number EY09813, which trots expectantly up to my feet to be given a couple of pieces of biscuit. Normally I would never feed gulls, but this one has become a client after I threw it some crumbs to keep it still while I read the ring.

Gull ring experts will note that this is a recent number; the gull was ringed as an adult on 18 January 2012 in Kensington Gardens, so it has no particular history.

I met Alan Gibson, a very serious gull ring recorder, on the side of the Serpentine with his powerful scope. He had a very good haul of sightings of Black-Headed Gulls ringed in Germany, Poland, Sweden and Finland.

The two Egyptian Geese who had a brood on the Vista and, as always, lost them all within three days, are now wandering around Buck Hill shouting noisily at each other, and no doubt they will be breeding again soon, to equally little effect.

How do you describe the noise that Egyptian Geese make? It is somewhere between the honk of a 'proper' goose and the quack of a duck, fitting for these birds which are neither one nor the other.

A pair of Mallards were resting on the north shore of the Serpentine near the bridge. They have been hanging around this place for several days, and probably plan to nest in the shrubbery just across the path.

There were two Little Grebes in the reeds under the parapet of the Italian Garden, calling to each other and fishing busily. Each one caught two in five minutes as I watched them.

A friend sent me a link to some pictures from the weekly illustrated newspaper The Graphic,  in its issue of 18 November 1922. They show the newly created bird sanctuaries in the park, which we are familiar with but didn't exist until then: all along the east shore of the Long Water, around the greenhouses in Hyde Park, and the Dell. Probably the shrubbery behind the Peter Pan statue and around the leaf yard was included in the scheme, though there is no picture of that.

The date may be significant: the naturalist and popular novelist W.H. Hudson, who had studied the birds in the park, had died three months earlier. Possibly he had campaigned for the creation of these sanctuaries, or they were a tribute to his memory. Three years later the Rima fountain was installed in the sanctuary around the greenhouses, commemorating Hudson with a figure of the heroine of his jungle romance, Green Mansions.

The Dell had a lurid history in previous centuries, as it was the place where the London aristocracy fought their duels. It was secluded and fringed with trees, which made it very convenient for the purpose as duelling was illegal. Much blue blood was spilt. Some accounts of duels are given here.


  1. Ralph, do you have any contact details for Alan Gibson ? I photographed and took notes on a ringed BH gull at my work place several weeks ago. I sent my recordings off to the relevant section on the BTO website, but have never received a reply.

    1. No, I'm sorry, I don't. I just run into him occasionally in the park. I don't think he has a computer.