Sunday, 30 June 2013

Both Tawny and Little Owls showed up again today. One of the young Tawnies was in the horse chestnut tree next to the nest tree, and this one was in the adjacent beech tree.

The Little Owl was in his usual place, not doing anything but enjoying a warm day.

The leaf yard is resounding with the cries of young Great Tits begging to be fed. Here one of them chases his mother up a branch. The young bird has a simplified version of adult plumage, with a black stripe on its breast that has not yet differentiated into the broad stripe of the male or the narrow zigzag of the female.

It would be easy to say that the young one looked hopeful and the mother looked a bit peeved by her offspring's constant demands. But it would be quite wrong, and one should not try to read human emotions into birds.

There were also three young Chaffinches at the back of the bushes, being fed by both parents. Usually when the male of a species has more elegant plumage than the female, it is a sign that he doesn't attend to the upbringing of his brood. But here the male, resplendent in puce, iridescent grey, black and white, was working hard to collect food from us and take it back to the family.

The pair of Nuthatches were doing the same. If you put whole peanuts into a crack in a tree, they come down and prise them out and carry them away to their young. These birds have lost much of their normal fear of humans, but no one has managed to hand-feed them yet.

The Blackcap family were making a noise in the bushes on the other side of the Long Water, and there were two Reed Warblers singing.

The pair of Egyptian Geese who live on the edge of the Round Pond have hatched six young, and the family were feeding on algae on the east side of the lake. They guard their young quite well, with the mother keeping them close and the father constantly on the lookout. There were no gulls in sight when I saw the family this afternoon; they are all on the Serpentine, rushing in as soon as people start feeding the waterfowl.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

It was an interesting day for owls. I went to see the Little Owl and couldn't find him in his usual place. But then he suddenly flew out of the sweet chestnut tree and up into the tall lime tree next to it, and disappeared into the leaves. He has used this lime tree as a perch before, last year when the pair were nesting in the sweet chestnut on the other side of it.

As I approached the Tawny Owls' nest tree there was a flurry of wings and the male owl flew from the horse chestnut on the north side into the nest tree, where he started hooting frequently and continued for several minutes. It was not clear what had disturbed him, but one of the young owls was perched just about where he had flown from, as shown in this picture.

Perhaps the young one had annoyed its father by demanding food in the daytime. Tawny Owl parents like to keep some distance from their restless young so that they can get some sleep, and often sit in an adjacent tree.

This young Blue Tit in the leaf yard was demanding food too, and getting it.

The parent kept shuttling down to my hand to pick up pine nuts which promptly disappeared into the ravenous fledgeling.

There was a family of Long-Tailed Tits in a nearby bush. This young one quietened down for a short time and spread its feathers out to sunbathe on a twig.

There were two Grey Herons in the Italian Gardens again, staring intently into the pond where they had been yesterday. I put on my Polaroid glasses, which allow one to see better into the water, and walked round the pond looking for fish, but didn't see any. However, herons are better at finding fish than humans.

As I was looking over the parapet of the Italian Garden, a small brown bird darted out of a tree on the east side of the water and returned to the same place. I thought it was the Spotted Flycatcher which was seen here a couple of months ago. Then it crossed the lake, spent a short time in the reed bed and returned, and I saw that it was a female Blackcap. She was getting insects to feed to two fledgelings. Here is one of them.

The Coot nesting near Peter Pan still has only one chick, and as far as I could see there are still four unhatched eggs in the nest. A Herring Gull came too close and the male Coot chased it furiously away.

Friday, 28 June 2013

There were three Grey Herons in the Italian Garden. As usual with herons, they were squabbling, and here a senior heron is dismissing a year-old bird. As Grey Herons age, they become more black and white.

One of the herons was staring earnestly into the northwest pond. It seemed to think there are some fish in it. Normally there are none, but in this case I think the bird was right, because I had seen a dead goldfish in the pool two days before. People sometimes dump their unwanted pets, and there was an incident a few years ago when someone threw an entire aquarium full of goldfish, at least 40 of them, into this same pool.

On the path nearby, a young Magpie and a rat were warily assessing each other's edibility.

The result was a draw, and the Magpie flew off to pester its parents while the rat retired into the shrubbery.

The Pied Wagtails normally seen hunting insects along the edge of the Serpentine have moved to the Round Pond, at present heavily carpeted in algae which are full of small creatures. This bird, which had been running around on the surface of the algae, is flying off with two insects (I ought to be able to recognise them, but can't).

Normally there are 60 or 70 Mute Swans on the Round Pond, but today there were only 10. All the others have moved down to the main lake, and show no sign of returning despite the constant fighting that has ensued. But in spite of the turmoil, there are four broods of cygnets on the lake, totalling nine.

The Canada Geese are beginning to regrow their flight feathers, which you can see emerging here in their blue packaging -- the wrapping is necessary because otherwise the barbs of the feathers would stick on their way out.

The Greylags are running later than the Canadas, and I haven't yet seen one with new wing feathers. Most of the Egyptians have got right through the change and are flying again.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Coots on the nest at Peter Pan have hatched their first egg.

There are still four eggs in the nest, and a fifth has unfortunately fallen out and rolled down the side, lodging against a twig., and it is beyond the power of a Coot to get it up again. This very exposed nest is in danger from big gulls, which ate the last brood rather quickly. However, at the moment the gulls are all on the Serpentine.

The pair of Common Terns are back on the Long Water after a two-day absence, and as usual the female is screaming at the male to bring her food. Here she gets what looks like a bit of bread, much less welcome than a tasty and nutritious fish.

The pair of Nuthatches were at their usual place in the leaf yard, collecting large amounts of nuts and taking them away, presumably to feed some offspring out of sight in the bushes. Here one of them leaps up from a twig with a downward swish of its wings.

As a bird's wing flaps to throw air downwards and keep the bird aloft, it creates a vortex in the air which is shed at the wingtips. There is a diagram of this here. You can almost see the vortex emerging as the Nuthatch's wings meet under its body.

The four Moorhen chicks in the Italian Garden had all survived the night, despite having become rather adventurous and wandering out of their safe enclosure. Here one of them gets fed a piece of biscuit.

This is better fare than their usual diet of just about anything. But being an undiscriminating omnivore is the secret of the Moorhen's success.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The House Martins' nesting season is in full swing on the French and Kuwaiti embassies, and there is a constant relay of birds between their hunting grounds on the Serpentine and their hatchlings in the cornice. Here a pair attends a nest. You can see the muddy traces of its construction on the right corner of the square hole.

In parts of the park it looks as if it had been snowing, as the black poplars (Populus nigra) release huge quantities of fluff. This is the kind of tree that Americans call a 'cottonwood', and you can see why. Here a Moorhen is slightly alarmed as a rabbit charges past.

All four Moorhen chicks in the Italian Garden are still in good order, thanks to the shelter of the clumps of water plants. Here one of them scrambles through the wire mesh to be fed.

When they are too large to go through the holes in the wire mesh they will climb it easily with their huge feet. The adults literally run up the fence and drop off on the other side without bothering to open their wings.

The Tawny Owls had disappeared into the foliage again. One has to be very lucky to see them now. However, the male Little Owl was in sight, sunbathing in his new place right at the top of the usual sweet chestnut tree.

No sign of the Common Terns for the second day running; they may have gone for good. However, there was a Reed Warbler singing loudly from the small clump of reeds on the Long Water next to the bridge.

Here is a Wood Pigeon drinking.

Pigeons are unique among birds in their ability to suck up water. All other birds have to take a beakful and throw their head back to swallow it.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

It was a good day for owls. Three young Tawny Owls were visible in a group in the horse chestnut tree just to the north of their nest tree. They were moving about and would not pose in a neat group, so here are two pictures. They deserve the coverage, as we have seen so little of them this year.

They are almost completely adult in appearance apart from the slightly round, soft look common to teenagers of most species. I couldn't see a fourth owlet: we are not sure whether all four survived. Nor could I find the adults. They would not have been in the same tree as their offspring, as they like a bit of peace during the day.

Both Little Owls were also visible in their usual tree, though the female only came out for a short time and had gone in again by the time they arrived. The male has taken to perching on the leafless top of the tree, on the sunny side; he also spent some time here yesterday. Here he enjoys a good scratch.

It was time for my monthly bird count. There were 120 Greylag Geese and 131 Canadas on the Serpentine, a typical total for June when they come here to moult their flight feathers. There are sometimes higher numbers in winter when there is snow on the ground, another time they take refuge in the park because it is easy to scrape the snow off the grass on the Parade Ground.

There are nine Greylag goslings on the Serpentine, from two broods. No Canadas have managed to breed, owing to the vigilance of the park staff in finding their nests and pricking their eggs. Not that it makes much difference, as they breed briskly elsewhere, for example on the Grand Union Canal.

The Mute Swans still have nine cygnets from four broods, despite the sad loss of three from the brood on the Long Water, probably taken by a fox.

The Coots have not had a good year by their usual standards, and I only found four chicks. However, there are still quite a lot of nests on the go, and we may expect more. Here the male of the nest at Peter Pan strikes a heraldic pose while washing himself and simultaneously keeping an intrusive Mallard at bay.

All four Moorhen chicks in the Italian Garden are still with us, thanks to the cover of the reeds. I didn't see the ones under the boat hire platform, but they often stay under it for a long time.

There were three singing Reed Warblers: one on the Long Water, one at the Diana fountain, and one in the reed bed at the east end of the Serpentine.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Nuthatches at the southwest corner of the leaf yard have some young. It wasn't clear how many there were, because they were being fed on the far side of a bush. There was also a young Song Thrush, whose parent chased away a Jay that had come too close.

The Little Owl was visible in his usual tree after an interval of several days.

But I don't think we are ever going to see this pair's family, if indeed there is one. Once they have left the nest they may be anywhere, but most likely in the shelter of the leaf yard where they are almost impossible to see.

The two Common Terns were in their usual place. Here the female, on the left, shrieks at her mate to go and get her a fish. He did, after five minutes of loud prompting from a distance of a few inches.

He also picked up some bread from the surface of the water, which is not what one would expect a tern to do. Probably he thought it was some kind of water creature, and was disappointed to find a soggy morsel of no interest.

The tern raft in the Long Water has been floating lower and lower in the water, and seems to be on the verge of sinking. It was left unfinished when it was built, and no one has ever seen a tern on it. It will not be missed -- though it would be splendid if we had a proper tern raft with pebbles and shelters and actually got the birds to nest here. There is no reason why they shouldn't: lots of terns nest on rafts in London reservoirs.

The two broods of Greylag goslings are growing rapidly, and both families were together touting for food near the Triangle car park. This is the elder brood of three; the other six are a little smaller.

And the Egyptian blonde was looking attractively windswept at the Dell restaurant.

Her flight feathers are growing and so far her wings seem to be straight -- always a worry with Egyptian Geese because of the high prevalence of 'angel wing' among the population in the park.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Mute Swans on the Long Water have lost another cygnet, and only one survives. Here it is being carried protectively by its mother.

No doubt this loss was caused by another fox raid. All the possible nesting sites around the Long Water are dangerously exposed to foxes, which can lie up in the dense shrubbery by day and come out at night. The male of this pair lost not only his nest but his mate to a fox last year, and when he and his new mate looked for a nest this year, they took a long time over it and rejected this site several times before settling for it as the best of a bad lot. Sadly, their suspicion was well founded.

All the other broods of swans are on the Serpentine, and there have been no losses in the past few days: there are three broods of four, three and one.

The Great Crested Grebes have also been hesitant about nesting, and there have been many false starts. The pair who built on the edge of the reed bed to the west of the Lido -- where there are currently two singing Reed Warblers -- have just reoccupied the site after several attempts and failures. The pair under the willow tree near the bridge abandoned their last one and have now built a fourth nest farther into the tree and very hard to see. This is the pair whose territory includes the baskets of twigs near the bridge. Here is a technically poor but quite interesting picture of one of them submerged and withdrawing from an examination of the twigs.

It is swimming backwards: I don't think any bird except a grebe, with its unique turbine-blade toes, is capable of doing this. It poked its head into the basket and backed out again several times before it surfaced.

The bizarrely sites Coots' nest on the open edge of the Serpentine is still there after three days, and occupied.

It seems impossible that it will succeed, exposed as it is to gulls, dogs and humans.

The Common Terns are still on the Long Water.

This Wood Pigeon tried to steal a peanut from a Carrion Crow, and was sent packing by the furious bird, which emerged from the encounter with a beak full of grey feathers.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A brood of four Moorhen chicks has appeared in the Italian Garden from an unsuspected nest in one of the clumps of plants.

The wire netting around these clumps is convenient for Moorhens, because the chicks can be kept inside the enclosure out of harm's way while their parents feed them through the mesh.

Another pool in the Italian Garden holds a new Coots' nest. The previous one had been given up, for no discernible reason, and this one was probably built by a different pair. It is very hard to tell individual Coots apart.

The latest brood of four Egyptian Geese was being fed on the edge of the Serpentine when a Coot tried to sneak in and grab some of the food. It received a ferocious sideswipe which it only just managed to dodge.

There are now plenty of young Starlings. This one was foraging in the unappetising scum at the edge of the lake, and opened its beak oddly wide to seize some morsel.

The Common Terns are still occupying their posts near Peter Pan, and the male is still bringing fish to his mate. It is time they flew off to find one of the breeding sites on the subrban reservoirs.

The number of rabbits on the east side of the Vista has now reached at least 18 -- that is the largest number that anyone has managed to count in a single view. There are two litters of young ones. It may be too early to say, but they finally seem to be returning after the colony was nearly wiped out by myxomatosis a few years ago. With more rabbits there will be more foxes. Previously these were numerous enough to be noticeable on most days, and one pair raised several cubs somewhere on the west side of the Long Water between the Vista and the bridge.

A patch of scabious in the little enclosure at the southeast corner of the Serpentine has attracted plenty of bumblebees.

Friday, 21 June 2013

On a quiet June day with nothing remarkable to see, a survey of some of the amazingly unsuitable places where Coots choose to build their nests. We have already seen this one, at the top of the weir where the water flows out of the Serpentine.

Two chicks survive, and here their mother is collecting some nourishing algae for them. The last time I looked at this nest, a third chick fell down the weir, and it looks as if it never made it back from the pond underneath, under the footway, which is a filter that (I suppose) keeps bits of debris from blocking the narrow pipe in which the buried Westbourne river continues its course to the Thames at Chelsea Bridge.

This nest is built on one of the racing skiffs that are stored in one of the small boathouses on the north side of the Serpentine. The proprietors are going to have a nasty surprise when they next open the doors.

When I first started coming to the park in the early 1950s, the lake was filthy and had little life in it -- really only waterfowl that could come out of the water and eat the grimy but edible grass on the shore. At this time the boathouses contained two small motorboats which were used to spread chlorine around the swimming area at the Lido in an effort to avoid the swimmers being poisoned. This, of course, further contributed to the lifelessness of the lake. The boats were called Doreen and Chloreen. I am not making this up.

And this third nest is the most clueless of all, built on the open shore of the Serpentine near the Triangle car park. There is really nothing to say about this foolish enterprise.

Here is a Moorhen chick from a much more intelligently sited nest, well hidden under the boat hire platform.

You can see its odd little wings, almost devoid of feathers. The projection at the leading edge will be the bird's alula, a little group of feathers at the leading edge of the wing that can be raised in low speed flight to form a slot that smooths the airflow over the wing and allows it to sustain lift at a higher angle of attack. The alula is moved by the digit that corresponds to the human thumb, which is easy to see here, but does not show on a fully feathered wing. Apart from this, birds have two finger bones, index and middle, which are fused together at the tip to make a strong support for the primary flight feathers. The other fingers had no function and were abandoned tens millions of years ago.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The blond young Egyptian Goose has now grown to a fair size, and is beginning to take on the look of one of the two unusual pale adults on the lake, which lack the usual brown eye patch. Here is the young bird ...

... and here is an adult for comparison.

Both the adults are female, so it is reasonable to suppose that the young one is too. This adult had seven young last year, all of whom successfully made it to adulthood, but she seems to be taking a year off breeding after last season's Hero Mother exploit. You can see that she has not yet grown her flight feathers back fully after moulting, but the dark tips of the new primaries are just becoming visible.

The Great Crested Grebes at the east end of the island are down to one chick, and the ones at the west end have lost their only one. However, the single survivor seems in good health and louder than ever.

This low survival rate is probably due to the unfortunate timing of this late year, which caused the fish to spawn late, so that there were no small fish to feed the chicks. The new fry have now hatched but they are still barely an inch long. This chick is now nearly large enough to eat the larger fish from last year, which are now about three inches long. If it can make it to this point it is out of danger of starvation -- though of course a wild bird is never out of danger. And the later broods this year will be in good time to feed on this year's fish when they have grown a bit larger.

Here is a female Ring-Necked Parakeet blending superbly into the leaves of a laurel bush.

They are nearly invisible in summer, but staringly obvious in winter when there are no leaves on the trees. because they are Indian in origin, they have not evolved to deal with deciduous trees. The northern strategy of being dull brown with disruptive spots or stripes has simply not been required.

There are other ways of blending into the leaves. The greenish yellow of the underside of a Great Tit is exactly the colour of the sunlit upper surface of a leaf, and the greenish brown of its back is the colour of the shaded underside of a leaf. The reversal of colours makes it hard to see the shape of the bird, and at the same time its dull upper side makes it hard to see from above.

The Common Terns are still here, and were flying over the Serpentine. They were using a new strategy of skimming low over the lake and seizing something from the surface. I think they were probably taking dragonfly larvae.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Tawny Owls appeared again, in the next horse chestnut tree to the north of their nest tree. It is remarkable luck to be able to see them at all in the middle of June. Only the adults were visible, though probably the young owls were not far away. Here the female stretches out a foot, possibly in a gesture telling me to go away and leave her in peace.

There was no sign of the Little Owl, despite the warm sunshine. This was because a Carrion Crow was sitting threateningly on the end of his usual branch. The Tawny Owls had also been having to put up with scolding by Crows, Magpies and Jays -- which is how they came to our notice, of course.

The very visible Coots' nest on the post near Peter Pan has become quite an attraction for visitors. Several people exclaimed in amazement as they manoeuvred their latest decorative addition into place, a McCoy's crisp packet whose shiny gold bits appealed to their taste.

On the edge of the leaf yard, a young Robin was preening its speckled juvenile plumage.

The pair of Song Thrushes between the Serpentine Gallery and the bridge are daily becoming more imperturbable. You can go up and more or less poke a camera in their faces, and they just stare at you.

The pair of Common Terns are still on the Long Water, and the female is still sitting on her post expcting the male to bring her fish. He didn't seem to be catching as many as on previous days, but it seems unlikely that two birds could eat their way through the fish stock, so probably the fish had just moved into the shade on a sunny day. After a while he gave up trying and sat on a post and preened himself.

The Reed Warblers are still singing on both the Long Water and the Serpentine, and the House Martins were putting up a good show at the east end of the lake.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

There was a good deal of fighting today. For no reason I could see, four Carrion Crows had a noisy brawl next to the leaf yard. Maybe they were just bored.

I gave them all peanuts and they forgot their quarrel at once.

There was a more complicated dispute in the water near Peter Pan. There is a Coots' nest on a post just offshore, and the male Coot defends his territory aggressively. The female Mute Swan who nested on the Long Water, and who has recently lost two of her four cygnets, probably to a fox, brought the surviving two closer to the Coots' nest than the Coot liked. While he was cruising about menacingly with raised wings, a Grey Heron waded in from the other side. This caused the Coot to lose his temper completely and he charged the heron, bouncing off its chest and falling back into the water, which is the moment you can see in this picture. Meanwhile, the swan was hissing furiously at both of them.

After this collision, they all retired to what they considered a safe distance. But the Grey Heron perched on a post too close to the female Common Tern, and her mate made several menacing passes over the heron's head until it gave up and flew right away.

The discord continues in this series of small pictures. Beside the Serpentine, a pair of Carrion Crows were cooperating in ripping a hole in a rubbish bag and removing the contents. They were happy to find some sandwiches.

But they also dislodged an apple, and a Greylag Goose started eating it.

It was challenged by a Herring Gull, but chased it off.

However, in the confusion a Coot saw its chance ...

... and carried off the apple. These persistent birds always win in the end.