Sunday, 7 April 2013

There are four Tawny owlets. We had been wondering whether their parents, who have now been breeding for a decade, would still be able to produce four, especially during the recent atrocious weather -- and the answer is a triumphant yes. Here is one of them, in a tree just to the north of the northern edge of the Flower Walk where the adults have been for several days. The others were disposed in adjacent trees.

However, one of the owlets had a narrow escape just after noon today. It was being harassed by various corvids (Carrion Crows, Magpies and Jays) and was knocked out of its tree and fluttered to the ground, where it was attacked by a dog. Luckily Des was on the scene and grabbed the bird and put it behind the railings of the Flower Walk. His hand was deeply scratched by its razor-sharp claws, but it was an honourable wound, and at least he avoided the fate of Eric Hosking the wildlife photographer, who lost an eye to an angry Tawny Owl. Here the owlet is sitting behind the railings recovering from the shock.

When I came past the spot a couple of hours later it had gone. It may not have been able to fly too well, though obviously these birds can fly, as they are 300 yards from their nest. But owls of all ages are skilled climbers, and no doubt it had gone up the nearest tree trunk. In fact none of the owlets was visible when I returned, and they may have retreated into the hollow sweet chestnut tree where they were first found.

When I left, the male owl was being buzzed by an angry Mistle Thrush. An owl's life is not an easy one. Here is a fine picture of the female of the pair taken by Chris Hinton, who managed to see the whole bird. When I have visited them they have always been partly hidden in the leaves of the evergreen trees they have chosen for this year's day roost.

There were two pairs of Teal on the lake yesterday, and this morning Des saw one pair flying from the Long Water to the Serpentine. I went round the lake looking for them, but they must have been in good cover as I didn't find them.

The Northern Wheatear is still on the Parade Ground, for the fifth day. And there are still plenty of Redwing and a few Fieldfares here, generally north of the bandstand.

I came home through St James's Park and was surprised to see three Little Grebes, all fishing in open water and being harried by gulls. I haven't seen any Little Grebes on the Long Water for a week now. I wonder whether they have deserted us for the other park.

Update: Two Little Grebes reported to be still present in our park.

Further update: Revisited the Tawny Owls at 7.30 pm, as darkness was falling. One adult visible. The whole area was resounding with the chipping of cross Blackbirds and the whirring of infuriated Mistle Thrushes.


  1. I think you can refer to the evergreen tree, in which the owls have been takeing cover, as a 'bay tree', for the average reader. It is not the usual Laurus nobilis, most commonly found in English gardens, but if you rub the leaves, as I did this afternoon, it exudes the aromatic oils recognisable as those of culinary bay leaves.

  2. Yes, a good idea. It seems to be fairly closely related to the European bay tree, Laurus nobilis, and its leaves are also used in cooking though the flavour is stronger.

    The important thing is that it is not related to the very common garden shrub called 'laurel' or 'cherry laurel', Prunus laurocerasus, which is poisonous. I have been told (maybe wrongly) that people have died after putting a laurel leaf in a rice pudding by mistake for bay.