Friday, 31 May 2013

There are all kinds of young birds all over the park. The Mute Swans at the Italian Garden were taking their four cygnets around the Long Water. The fifth egg is still in the nest, unbroken but it is now clear that it was infertile. However, four cygnets make a decent brood.

The two Greylag broods total nine goslings, again more than usual in the park. Here are six of them, attracting a lot of attention on the shore of the Serpentine, but their father was more concerned about shooing off other geese that any possible threat from humans who were throwing food at the family.

I watched the second pair of Great Crested Grebes for a while, but could only see one chick's head, and I think there is only one. They remain out in the open at the northwest corner of the island and are much easier to see than the brood of (probably) three at the other end of the island, which so far have not emerged from the shade of the bushes.

I saw the first young Long-Tailed Tits of the year in the Dell; it was impossible to miss them as there was a large family group making a lot of noise. These gregarious birds share childcare duties, an unusual thing in birds -- Canada Geese do it too. Here one of them loudly demands food.

A similar demand was being made by these two juvenile Pied Wagtails on a post to the east of the Lido.

Both parents were busily catching flies for them. There was an adult Grey Wagtail in the same area collecting a large beakful of flies to take to their nest in the Dell.

And finally, this young Robin was waiting for its parents to bring food in the Leaf Yard.

No Swifts were visible in the park today; maybe they have moved on to wherever it is they nest. However, the resisdent House Martins were busy catching flies over the Serpentine. Some of the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls have returned to the Serpentine, after being almost totally absent yesterday.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Mute Swans at the Italian Garden do indeed have cygnets, four of them.

There is one unhatched egg still on the nest, which may be a dud. When I arrived, the female swan had just taken her new brood for a little swim, and was settling down again on her nest. They all wanted to go under one wing. But with a bit of shuffling, she managed to get two comfortably under each.

The new Great Crested Grebe family was in front of the Serpentine island, but so far I have only been able to see one chick. The earlier family at the other end of the island still have three, as I saw when they were being fed.

There was a pair of Reed Warblers in the reed bed west of the Lido, where the Bearded Tits were seen earlier this year. The male was singing his clattering song, and the female flew briefly over the top of the reeds. Last year, a pair of Reed Warblers managed to breed in the very small patch of reeds just the other side of the bridge. Today's place would be a better one.

A Grey Heron has started hanging around on the terrace of the Dell restaurant. Having been given food by a few people, it has become remarkably demanding. Here it is pushing its luck with a surprised customer. It did get some food off him.

It was the day of the monthly bird count, and I was delighted to be able to include a Little Grebe again, seen diving around the fallen horse chestnut tree in the Long Water. These birds have not been seen in the park for a while, and I was thinking that the lack of suitably small fish had driven them away.

There were remarkably few gulls compared with the large numbers only a few days ago. I saw four Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and just one Herring Gull. The Herring Gulls that hang around Paddington Station nearby are said to breed in the locality. It is likely that this is the same population as we see in the park, and that the two Herring Gulls that sit on the fish stall in Church Street Market are also part of the family.

Greylag Geese are flying to the Serpentine to find a safe place to moult their wing feathers -- well, a fairly safe place, given the irresponsible behaviour of dog owners. This unusual-looking goose is newly arrived. It is presumably a Canada-Greylag hybrid; note the typical grey feet. But it is a peculiar brown colour, unlike those of either of its parents.

Coots are known for their eclectic taste in nest furnishings, but this one has gone farther than most by adding a whisky bottle and a baseball cap to the ensemble.

The nest is at the outflow of the Serpentine, and this picture was taken from the parapet looking straight down on to it.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Another pair of Great Crested Grebes has hatched at least one chick -- there may be more but this is the only one whose little stripy head I could see poking out of his father's wings.

This is the pair from the northwest corner of the Serpentine island, and the adult has adopted this crouching posture because the is defying one of the pair from the northeast corner, who also have chicks. The invisible frontier between their territories is halfway along the landward side of the island.

Other grebe frontiers are easier to see. In this case the grebes on the right of the line of posts are defending their territory against invasion from the left.

One of the wire baskets full of twigs, teeming with small fish, is on the right of this picture; a precious resource to be defended. It doesn't matter, or course, that the basket contains enough fish to feed every grebe on the lake.

The female Mute Swan nesting below the parapet of the Italian Garden was sitting with her wings spread out, as if guarding something underneath them.

It looked very much as if her eggs had started to hatch. I waited for some time to see if she would move and give us a sight of what was going on, but she wouldn't, so I am just speculating here. Will keep a close eye on developments.

Again, there were hundreds of Swifts over the Serpentine, with a good number of House Martins at the east end near their nests in the Kuwaiti Embassy. Here a Swift zoom over the head of a Coot.

Its tail is fully deployed in executing a tight turn. When the bird is going straight ahead its tail is folded down to a neat little V to reduce drag, and plays almost no aerodynamic role at all. This is something that aircraft designers can only envy.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On a dark, chilly day of persistent rain, the most notable sight was hundreds of Swifts over the Serpentine, some of them at high altitude, others skimming the water. As usual, there were a few House Martins mixed in with them, though I only saw one Swallow.

The rain didn't deter some Starlings from making themselves even wetter.

Only three of the brood of four Egyptian Geese survive, but they include the blond one, on the left here showing clear signs of growing into the unusual white-headed pattern with no eye patch. There are two Egyptians like this in the park, both female but this may be chance. The young ones are quite large now.

So far, there is no sign of any other broods of Egyptians in this difficult year. I have never yet managed to see an Egyptian Goose nest. They are said to be in tree holes; they would need a pretty big hole, but of course there are lots of hollow trees in the park for them to choose from. Their habit of perching on top of dead trees seems to have more to do with display than with actually making a nest.

There are two broods of Greylag Geese: one of three (originally four, they lost one), and another of seven, which I photographed on Sunday. Today they were both near the Serpentine island, but keeping separate. Canada Geese often share their child-care arrangements, but I haven't seen Greylags doing this.

There was a Goldcrest near the Serpentine bridge.

It must be quite difficult for such a small bird in heavy rain, where every drop threatens to completely douse it. No wonder they are so often seen in dense evergreens that provide some degree of shelter.

A Treecreeper was also visible on the usual oak tree at the southwest corner of the leaf yard.

They are so often on this tree that I think they must have a nest higher up it, and out of sight. There was also a Great Spotted Woodpecker in an adjacent tree.

Sorry that this has been a dull day's reporting. I hope that there will be more action, and less rain, tomorrow.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Great Crested Grebes who lost their nest under the willow tree near the bridge have managed to get going again, and have built a new nest under the same tree a few yards away -- they couldn't return to the same place because some Coots have nabbed it. It is  visible from the shore but not in such a good place for photographs, as it is mostly obscured by twigs and leaves. Let's hope they have better success this time.

Meanwhile there is a lot of action at the bridge. The resident grebes are hauling bigger and bigger fish out of the basket ...

... and intruders are being made to leave in a hurry. This one was so flustered by its hostile reception that it actually flew away for some distance.

There was a Common Tern fishing on the Serpentine.

It called frequently, but I couldn't see a mate or juvenile anywhere. These terns spend a good deal of time on the Grand Union Canal which, despite being murky, is teeming with fish, and only come down to the park occasionally.

Near the Queen's Temple I heard the call of a Hobby and it shot between two trees with a Carrion Crow in pursuit. It didn't come back into view.

The Song Thrush nesting near the Serpentine Gallery is becoming remarkably insouciant about humans. It stood on the edge of the busy path for some time as people passed within a couple of feet of it. It acted as if it thought it was invisible -- which, from the point of view of most of the people, it was.

The Coots who have been harassing the nesting Mute Swans below the Italian Garden have now built a nest in the reeds just two yards away from the swans' nest. One of them was sitting on it, uttering irritable chippy cries. They really do seem to enjoy being aggressive.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Another pair of Greylag Geese have managed to elude the park staff and have produced seven goslings, which they were touting around the edge of the Serpentine hoping that people would feed them. I did, of course.

Yesterday, near this spot halfway along the south bank, I saw a Greylag landing on a branch near the top of a tall tree, no mean feat for a bird this size with flat webbed feet unsuitable for gripping branches. Possibly they had nested here, knowing that on the ground they were not safe from foxes, dogs or humans. It is no problem getting the goslings out of the nest, because they are so light and fluffy that they can fall any distance uninjured, and if their mother calls them they will confidently leap out of a tall tree. They can't go back up, of course.

There were five male Mandarins offshore from the Peter Pan statue, along with two Gadwalls. It proved impossible to get them to group for an attractive picture, even by bribing them with biscuits.

The Great Crested Grebe family remain in hiding under the bushes at the east end of the island. It is still not possible to count the chicks, but there were at least three. Here one of them looks out from the sheleter of its father's wings.

Using their wings as a playpen ruins the parents' flight feathers, but they will moult and regrow them before they need to fly anywhere.

Some of the Egyptian Geese are regrowing their flight feathers now, and some aren't: there seems to be no kind of schedule, unlike the Greylags which moult in unison during June. I suppose that these birds, far to the north of their natural home, have lost touch with the seasons. This would also explain why their breeding season seems to have no definite time.

The Little Owl was in his usual tree, looking as fine and fierce as ever.

There is no sign of owlets -- but there is no sight of the female owl either, so it seems likely that they are still looking after their young on the nest in this very delayed year.

To continue the theme of Great Tits in flight, here is a picture hastily snatched by Andy Sunters of one landing on my hand. It is stopping as hard as possible, with its wings and tail almost at right angles to its direction of travel, and stretching out its feet to grasp my fingers.

Great Tits can land on an unfamiliar object with great ease, but Blue Tits, Robins and Chaffinches find it harder and sometimes miss and have to go round again until they have learnt the technique.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A pair of Great Tits are nesting an a box on the north side of the Vista nest to the Henry Moore sculpture, giving a good view of their activities. Both parents are bringing food to the nestlings, and leaving the nest carrying a 'faecal sac' -- the young birds produce their excrement conveniently wrapped in a membrane, which keeps the nest clean. Here one of the parents arrives holding a caterpillar. Although this picture was taken at 1/1600 second, the wings are still blurred, which shows how fast they move.

And here is an odd shot. Small birds such as tits fly with what is known as 'bounding flight', in which they fold their wings completely for a moment and just shoot through the air like a bullet. Despite the height they lose at this time, apparently it is a more energy-saving method than flapping continuously. This tit is approaching the box where it will have to deploy wings and tail at full stretch sideways on to brake, but it still has a moment for a complete fold.

The Starlings nesting in the plane trees next to the small boathouses -- there are at least three nests here -- were also bringing food to their nestlings. Again, both parents were fetching food. Here one of them arrives at the nest hole with a worm.

Starlings don't use bounding flight. They glide between bouts of flapping, neatly and efficiently. I think they are the smallest birds that are able to glide -- perhaps not surprisingly, considering that they are the most skilled flyers among birds of this small-to-medium size.

And I don't know what this bird is.

It was sitting on the railings on the edge of the play area of the Lido, and when I took this hasty shot I thought it was a Dunnock, because this is a favourite perch for the pair that live here. But when I got home and looked at the pictures, it had none of the characteristic streaky plumage, and looked more like some kind of warbler. The colour of its plumage is bleached out by direct sunlight, so it is hard to see the markings. It doesn't seem to be a Chiffchaff, because they have dark legs, or a Willow Warbler, because they have brownish legs, or a Sedge Warbler (although they have pink legs) because its markings are too pale, or a Reed Warbler because its beak is too short. Can any reader identify it? This is the clearest of the few shots I was able to take before it flew away, so it's all the evidence I can provide.

There were still a reasonable number of Swifts and some House Martins, bit I saw just one Swallow over the Serpentine.

The Great Crested Grebe's nest outside the net to the west of the Lido, which had been deserted, seems to be occupied again, and the male was sitting on it in a determined way which suggested that there were eggs in it. It is in a dreadfully vulnerable place, exposed to the oars of careless rowers. But nests have survived in worse places, so there is always hope.

Friday, 24 May 2013

A cold wet day kept people out of the park, but the birds were not deterred by the weather. A Blackbird was singing in the rain, encouraged by the fact that it brings up worms and makes finding food easier.

This Starling, and plenty of its colleagues beside the Italian Garden, were pulling up worms as fast as they could eat them.

They looked very wet and bedraggled, but it is only their outer feathers that are wet and they still have plenty of insulation; and a well fed bird uses most of its food as fuel to keep warm. In fact these Starlings were so unconcerned by the weather that some of them were bathing in a puddle.

The surface of the lake was alive with hirundines, not just the usual Swifts, but plenty of Swallows ...

... and House Martins.

The rain will provide wet mud for the House Martins to repair their nests and, we hope, build new ones. They are still paying more attention to the Kuwaiti Embassy than the French Embassy, although the French one has a better aspect, facing into the setting sun so that the masonry is warmed and stores heat during the night.

It is now three years since the French Embassy was refurbished and the old nests cleared out of the cornice, and the birds went over to the building opposite. Clearly, from a House Martin's point of view, it is better to reuse an old nest, and save the labour of building one from scratch, than to move to a more favourable site. Also, some of these birds will be returning to the nests that they used last year.

The Great Crested Grebe family are still staying in the shelter of the bushes on the Serpentine island. With large numbers of ravenous gulls, it is too dangerous to venture out with small chicks. The parent who is not holding the babies goes out fishing on the open lake and returns, alternately diving and surfacing to confuse predators about its course, then dives under the wire baskets and comes up behind them to deliver the meal to the chicks. Sadly, they are too far away and the place is too shaded for even a halfway decent photograph, especially on a dark grey day.

The London Bird Club Wiki reports a House Sparrow in the Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament. They have been very rare in central London for more than a decade, though one was seen here in the park a few months ago. I hope that the Peregrines who nest on the Victoria Tower have enough pigeons and don't bother with this little bird.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

There is one young Robin in the leaf yard. No doubt it will be followed by more, as there are several families here.

Juvenile Robins are naively confident birds, and will come and take food from your hand, trusting the enormous creature holding it out. Adults are much warier, and usually have to know you, and see you feeding other birds, before they will venture down.

Here, in a dramatic photograph taken by Andy Sunters, is an adult Robin taking off.

You wouldn't think that its spindly little legs would deliver much of a jump, but they seem to be adequate for the purpose. However, when a Great Tit pushes off with its much stronger legs, you do feel considerably more force.

The pair of Nuthatches came down to take food from the fence. They too have become quite confident, and have abandoned their usual habit of rushing round to the back of the tree branch when you look at them. I still can't get either of them to come to my hand, though. Here is one of them in the characteristic head-down posture, having just caught a fly. It flew off still holding its prey, which suggests that the pair have a nest with young.

Nuthatches tend to move down trees when hunting insects, and Treecreepers almost always move up. But both have that amazing ability to walk along the underside of a horizontal branch, holding on with their sharp hooked claws.

Here a Tufted Duck comes down on the Serpentine, creating a surprisingly large splash.

Diving ducks, which have their legs set farther back than dabbling ducks like a Mallard, are less good at water skiing on their webbed feet when landing, and hit the water harder. But their descents are a model of control compared to those of Great Crested Grebes, which fly until their toes brush the water, and then fold their wings and crash in, raising clouds of spray. Little Grebes sometimes stop flying at an altitude of 3 ft, and plunge in head first.

Still plenty of Swifts to see whizzing across the surface of the lake.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Great Crested Grebes at the northwest corner of the island are off their nest, so all the eggs must have hatched. They were just visible in a dark place under a bush, and I could see the heads of three chicks on their father's back. Their mother arrived with a fish, but it was not small enough and they couldn't swallow it, so she politely gave it to her mate instead and went off to look for something smaller.

It's quite difficult for them, because the fish are spawning late this year, and most of the young fish in the lake are now over two inches long.

I met Andy Sunters, who has been watching Little Grebes at the Wetland Centre. He said he had seen one with chicks to feed which had caught a large perch and shook it violently for three minutes till it fell apart, then dispensed the pieces to the chicks. It was also taking large caddis fly larvae and treating them in the same way. I have seen Little Grebes shaking fish very hard, but Great Crested Grebes don't seem to have picked up this trick to feed their young.

Both species of wagtail were hard at work getting food for their nestlings. This Pied Wagtail at the Dell restaurant had a collection of unidentifiable grubs or worms, and one long object that I think it must have picked up by accident.

This Grey Wagtail had come up the lake as far as the buoys marking off the swimming area at the Lido, and had a beakful of flies.

After I had taken this picture, it sped off in the direction of the Dell, where the pair are nesting. There are often wagtails on these buoys, which they use as a base for catching flying insects -- you see them leaping into the air to grab one. They like the buoys because they are far from human disturbance, and there are insects flying low over the water on both sides.

This Cormorant had just caught several small fish under the iron gratings below the Italian Garden, and was having a good scratch while it digested them.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Grey Wagtails are nesting under the little plank bridge in the Dell. I saw the pair fly under the bridge, and a few moments later one of them appeared with a beakful of flies, showing that the young have already hatched.

Yet another lamp post has been used as a nest by Blue Tits, this time at the southeast corner of the Dell. This bird was whizzing in and out of the top of the iron column at frequent intervals, bringing caterpillars for the nestlings.

In fact I heard this nest before I saw it. There was a faint high-pitched noise that I thought was a Goldcrest -- there are Goldcrests at this corner of the Dell -- but it turned out to be coming from the lamp post, and it was the baby tits calling for food.

This is the Great Crested Grebes' nest at the northeast corner of the Serpentine island.

I couldn't see more than two chicks on their parent's back, but the birds are still taking it in turns to sit on the nest, and more eggs may yet hatch. The other grebes' nest on the island is still occupied, by it is even more masked by wire baskets than this one, and you can't see waht's happening. Ugly as these baskets are, they do give the grebes useful protection, and some plants are beginning to grow in them, in a rather half-hearted way.

There were seven Mandarins on the Long Water, six males and a fermale, the most I have ever seen here. Here four of them slug it out with some pigeons for biscuit crumbs.

They are quite fierce birds and were able to dominate the Feral Pigeons; the Wood Pigeon in the background didn't take part in the scuffle.

There was a Spotted Flycatcher over the Long Water again, darting out of the bushes for an insect and back to the same place to wait for the next one. It was visible from the Italian Garden, but too far away for a photograph. There were still a lot of Swifts over both lakes, and the usual small number of House Martins at the east end.

Monday, 20 May 2013

A Grey Heron is back in one of the nests on the Serpentine island.

As you can see, it is quite a young bird and I am not sure whether it is serious about nesting. But it is remarkable how, after all that activity in the early spring, the herons seem to have abandoned their breeding plans. They are not alone in this, of course, as the dismally cold spring has disturbed the schedules of many birds and other creatures, and indeed plants.

The Mute Swans' nest site on the island is still untenanted, though I did see a couple hanging around the spot. This is odd when less suitable sites have already been occupied.

However, some are getting on with it. This Pied Wagtail was running and flying along the south edge of the Serpentine picking up one insect after another, and eventually flew off carrying a large beakful to its nest.

They nest in holes in walls, or under stones, or in the old nests of larger birds which they adapt for their small purposes. From the direction in which this bird flew, I think it was going to the Dell, where there are rough stone walls intended to look like natural rock ledges.

The Little Owl was also standing outside his nest somewhere in the broken-down old sweet chestnut tree that the couple have chosen.

I do hope we shall get a glimpse of the owlets when they emerge, which will make up for the disappointing viewing conditions for the Tawny Owls this year -- no one has seen these since the 6th, as far as I know.

The Greylag Geese with four Goslings were defending their patch with great vigour. Here the gander chases off a Mute Swan that had got too close.

A large cloud of flies had gathered over the Serpentine Gallery for some reason, possibly to admire the new pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, which looks like being one of the gallery's greatest successes in contrast to the dismal underground concrete thing last year. Some Swifts had discovered them and were fairly hoovering them up as I passed.

The new family of Great Crested Grebes on the Serpentine island seemed to be in good order. I couln't count the chicks, as a Lesser Black-Backed Gull was glaring at them from a nearby post and they were rightly sheltering under their parent's wings.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A pair of Greylag Geese on the lake have four goslings. Here their mother looks after them solicitously.

Their father was on the other side, head held high, scanning the horizon for threats. These included a harmless Egyptian goose, which he attacked furiously and drove far away, returning to his family with visible pride. The park keepers try to prevent Greylags and Canadas from breeding by finding their nests and pricking their eggs, but usually a few of these intelligent birds outwit them. The Egyptians are safe from human interference because they nest in trees. Their numbers are going up 50 per cent a year at the moment.

The Little Owl was out on his usual branch basking in the warm sunshine.

It must be quite  near the time when the owlets emerge. The leaves on this sweet chestnut tree are already quite dense and it will be hard to see them.

One of the Great Crested Grebes has developed a new fishing technique. She swims slowly over the top of the wire basket and tries to grab fish from above.

It must be easier to see them here. While I was watching, she caught several small fish and ate them with her head still under water.

A  Coot tried to emulate her technique, without success.

The grebe chicks on the Serpentine island are intermittently visible, but the wire baskets of water plants are very much in the way. This nest sags down into the water quite quickly, and every two or three days the parents build it up. They are then easily seen. But as the nest sags again, they disappear from sight.

The Swifts and Swallows have moved on, though the small flock of resident House Martins remains in place around the east end of the lake.

The Nuthatches in the leaf yard put in an appearance, and came and took food from the railings.