Monday, 31 March 2014

One of the original pair of Little Owls appeared briefly several times in their usual chestnut tree. It was probaby the female, since she went into her hole as soon as she realised she was being observed. Here she is blinking with her oddly human-shaped eyelids, which gave me a chance to press the shutter button before she vanished.

There was no sign of the Tawny Owls, or of the other pair of Little Owls. This morning I saw a Stock Dove carrying a twig into the hole in the oak tree where the new Little Owls were seen recently. However, Stock Doves have been hanging around this place for some time, during which the owls have often been seen in the hole, so it isn't clear who is going to end up owning this excellent nest site.

The reed raft on the Serpentine has now had a new piece added to double its width, and is almost the size of a singles tennis court. Its wire fence, broken by the Mute Swans, has been mended, and today several swans were probing the defences. They will probably get in eventually.

The Egyptian Geese can fly in and out, and were roaming around the space honking at each other, along with some Coots and Moorhens. Here beside the raft are some newcomers: two very pale Egyptians.

They didn't seem to be mates, as one of them was carrying on with a normal coloured bird. I think they are both female, since all the blondes in the park have been female, and also because they are rather small. They are probably sisters.

A little farther along the raft, two Tufted Ducks were mating.

They haven't managed to breed in the park for at least a decade, and when they do nest they tend to do so later than the other ducks, so I think the male was just messing about.

As an example of swans' ability to break through barriers, this pair has ripped open a join in the netting of the reed bed near the Diana fountain and are building a nest.

At the top of the Long Water near the Italian Garden, a Coot was doing its best to annoy the sitting female swan by walking around closer and closer to her. She is used to these impudent birds now, and took no notice.

A Green Woodpecker was laughing loudly from the top of a tall lime tree near the Serpentine Gallery.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The male Nuthatch of the pair nesting near the leaf yard was singing from the top of a tall oak tree.

However, the sight of me putting pine nuts on the railings 60 ft below him soon brought him down from his lofty perch, and both of the pair came out to be fed.

The male Wood Pigeon in this picture, farther from the camera, is bowing to a prospective mate, part of their courtship ritual.

She looks unimpressed. If she is seriously annoyed by his attentions she will chase him away. Africa Gómez, in her blog The Rattling Crow, has some interesting observations about the courtship of Wood Pigeons and also, most recently, a fascinating article on the intelligence of Goldfinches and Siskins.

The Coots' nest in the racing skiff in the small boat house, which was started several weeks ago and then abandoned, has been completed and is occupied.

So far the pair have three eggs, but more can be expected.

The floating reed bed, still offshore in the Serpentine, has even more Mute Swans on it than yesterday, as well as a couple of Egyptian Geese and a pair of Moorhens.

It has certainly been an instant success. It will not be left out there, but will be anchored to the shore on one side of the lake outflow, with a matching raft on the other side. Although this will lose the attraction of its being safely away from the land, the birds probably also like it because the base of the raft gives them a firm footing and a place to sit. The natural reed beds, where the reeds are growing in water, attract only specialist reed-dwelling birds such as Reed Warblers and last year's Bearded Tits.

In spite of the warm weather there was no sign of any of the owls. I made three visits to the Tawny Owls' tree withut success, and also looked on adjacent trees in case the owlets were out. If and when they do emerge they may not be taken far away, as the new leaves on the nest tree already give quite good cover.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

This morning the London Natural History Society had a bird walk in the park, and I did my best to guide them around the local sights. We managed to see almost all the more interesting birds except for the Little Owls, though Paul Turner had had a brief glimpse of the female looking out of her nest hole in the chestnut tree near the leaf yard.

The male Tawny Owl didn't disappoint us.

A Little Grebe also appeared momentarily on the east side of the Long Water near the Vista. Here, in a distant shot taken across the lake, it nips smartly past two Mallards which were moving to chase it away.

A Dunnock was singing in the Rose Garden, so intent on his song that he was quite approachable, most unusual for such a shy bird.

There is a Nuthatches' nest in a tall beech tree at the southwest corner of the leaf yard. Here one of them is leaving the nest hole, which is in the top of the scar of a broken-off branch just behind the bird's left foot.

The male of the pair has been singing from the top of this tree or an adjacent one for several days, without which we wouldn't have noticed the nest.

The floating reed bed in the Serpentine, still moored offshore, has attracted a horde of Mute Swans which have already broken the wire mesh surround to make it easier to get in and out.

At the top of the Parade Ground, a Mistle Thrush and a Feral Pigeon were sharing a bath.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Two Herring Gulls were doing their worm dance side by side in the Diana fountain enclosure.

The pattering of two pairs of feet simulating rain was twice as effective as with one pair, and they were hauling up worms one after the other. I made a video of one of them catching several, which is here in MOV format and here in FLV -- if the first doesn't work for you, the second probably will.

The new floating reed bed had been temporarily moored offshore in the Serpentine, and had attracted a Greylag Goose .

It was also being investigated by Mute Swans, though it is hard for them to get over the wire fence, and by Coots. Actually a floating island would be an excellent idea, especially on the Long Water where there is no solid island to give nesting birds protection from foxes.

The swans' nest on the Long Water was being guarded by the male while his mate was away feeding. They had covered the eggs with reeds, so it was impossible to count them, and also with a lot of miscellaneous rubbish. I don't know whether the rubbish is intended to act as camouflage or they just think it's pretty.

A Mandarin pair were at their nest hole safely up a tree.

This excellent picture was taken by Virginia Grey.

The rabbits on the east side of the Long Water are increasing their numbers with traditional speed. I saw 15 on the Vista, plus this single one which has found some particularly lush grass neat Rudolf Steiner's bench and has been there for several days.

A pair of Long-Tailed Tits were hopping around the bushes near Peter Pan.

I haven't managed to see a nest this year. One was reported, but the person who found it has sensibly kept quiet about its location.

This Carrion Crow, having found a bit of stale bread, was dunking it in a puddle to make it more palatable.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Nuthatches in the leaf yard are calling loudly. Two of them were coming down to take food from the top of the railings. They will now come within inches of you when you are putting some pine nuts down for them.

There are clouds of little gnat-like insects around the lake, and the Pied Wagtails are taking advantage of them. Here one is about to spring into flight to seize its prey.

I am no good at insects and don't know what they are. Unfortunately their wings move too quickly to come out in photographs taken at the fastest speed I could manage on a rather dim day, so all you can see is a stick-like body.

One of the Green Woodpeckers at the bottom of the Parade Ground was posing elegantly on a young tree.

The number of Tufted Ducks on the lake seems to be going up. I counted 84 of them when I did my monthly count on Tuesday. Here a female one turns upside down to preen her belly.

The male Tawny Owl was in his usual place, being mobbed by Jays and not taking much notice of them.

It is now quite difficult to get a clear view of him through the young leaves, and when eventually we find the owlets it will be hard to take pictures of them.

The first section of floating reed bed was being towed into place.

They will be put on either side of the Serpentine outflow, on the south side extending the existing reeds, and on the north side running along the edge of the terrace of the Dell restaurant. They should get a fair amount of bird life in a very viewable position. It will no longer be possible to see the concrete edge of the lake which is often used by the local pair of Grey Wagtails, but these also stand on the other side of the path, at the top of the Dell waterfall above their nest side under the bridge.

Presumably the roots of the reeds will eventually grow through the foam plastic that the rafts are made of, and they will perform a useful service in taking nitrates and phosphates out of the water.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

An early Swallow was passing over the Round Pond, an encouraging sign of the progress of spring on a cold wet day.

Three Coal Tits were visible in the Flower Walk, two of them singing at each other. This one is in a budding apple tree, but the main reason for the number of Coal Tits here is the many evergreen trees which give these tiny birds cover.

Paul Turner was lucky enough to see Little Owls both in the chestnut tree near the leaf yard and in the oak near the bicycle bath. Both looked out of their holes for a moment and then vanished inside. He also saw the male Tawny Owl in his usual place, but by the time I arrived he had gone inside, and a hailstorm deterred him from emerging by the time I went home.

The Mute Swans nesting near the Italian Garden now have two eggs -- possibly more, but two were visible, almost covered with reeds by their mother.

She had gone off to tout for food at the Peter Pan railings, leaving her mate to look after the nest. He seemed disgruntled, shuffling about and snorting.

The area at the bottom of the Parade Ground, where the grass was ruined by the German funfair, is now being restored, and the new grass should be ready just in time to be ruined again by a concert. The disturbance frightened off the Pied Wagtails, and five of them were at the Lido. Three were perched on the posts around the reed bed and constantly leaping into the air to catch passing insects. Two were standing on the blue plastic matting on the jetty of the bathing area.

A pair of Mandarins were sitting side by side on a post next to Peter Pan. Here they are, caught in a brief moment of sunshine.

The endlessly patient Grey Heron was standing over the grating under the marble fountain in the Italian Garden. This grating covers a semicircular enclosure which was originally part of the water system for the fountains. It is full of fish, and the herons know it. Victoria Grey, who was here earlier, took this fine picture of it catching a perch.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Dunnock was singing in the bushes at the northeast corner of the bridge.

You can hardly see his distinctive stripes from this angle, and until he started singing I thought he was some kind of warbler.

The pair of Grey Wagtails were flying around the east end of the Serpentine and the Dell, where they will nest under the little plank bridge. Here is the female standing on a rock at the top of the waterfall.

You can tell she's female because the males have a black bib and more yellow on their front.  Usually females have a grey bib; this one has an unusually white throat.

Near the Dell, workmen are assembling floating reed beds. They are made from large tiles of what looks like black sponge rubber, covered with a very thin layer of earth and a pre-grown mat of reeds laid like turf. When I went past, no one was there so I couldn't ask where they will be put. This is probably a good idea, since when normal reed beds were laid in 2010 three-quarters of them died because they were planted in the toxic city sludge that had accumulated on the bottom of the lake.

The first tile was already afloat and clothed in reeds, and a Moorhen had promptly made itself at home.

A pair of Mandarins were wandering about on the west side of the Vista, until they were chased away by a Magpie which objected to them for some reason.

This male Chaffinch follows me around to be fed.

While I was taking the previous photograph there was a sharp cheep and I discovered the little bird standing on the ground by my toes. He has taken at least 20 sunflower seeds from my hand, one after the other.

The male Tawny Owl stayed inside for some time -- it was an unpleasant morning -- but had emerged by 4 pm when I revisited his tree.

Monday, 24 March 2014

After a late appearance yesterday, the Tawny Owl was back on his balcony all day.

It is hard to tell what is going on with the family. I went and looked for owlets in all the usual places. They may simply be a bit late this year; normally they are way ahead of the usual nesting and breeding times for Tawny Owls, but no one is keeping them up to speed.

Lower in the same tree, a pair of Ring-Necked Parakeets were canoodling on a branch.

They are nesting in a hole on the south side of the tree about eight feet above ground level which in previous years has been used by Starlings. Parakeets do tend to push other birds out of nest holes, but there are so many trees with suitable holes in the park that it makes little difference.

These Mallards are planning to nest in the bushes on the east side of the Long Water near Rudolf Steiner's bench, where they have been for several days.

The drake is looking proud but watchful: this is fox country. But these ducks don't have anywhere to nest in complete safety. It is not surprising that Mandarins, which nest in holes in trees, have been increasing in number.

A pair of Great Crested Grebes near the Serpentine island were saluting each other with elaborate courtesy.

One of them had just been round the other side of the island for a few minutes, but grebes never miss an opportunity to celebrate.

A Greenfinch was perched on a variegated holly tree beside the Long Water, its plumage closely matching the leaves.

Under the marble fountain of the Italian Garden, a Grey Heron was getting on with the serious business of fishing.

This is one of the best fishing places on the lake, a fact well known to Grey Herons, Cormorants, and Great Crested and Little Grebes, all of which visit the area constantly.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

During a sunny spell, one of the original pair of Little Owls made a brief appearance on the usual chestnut tree near the leaf yard. Here he contemplates a passing fly, of which there are already a fair number after the mild spell.

Not long afterwards a heavy black cloud rolled over and he retired into his tree before hail started to fall.

I still can't find the Tawny Owls, and as far as I know no one else has.

The Mute Swans near the Italian Garden still have only one egg, but at least they are looking after it properly. It was covered with reed stems while the female went off to feed, and when she returned she uncovered it before settling down on the nest.

A pair of Ring-Necked Parakeets, having found a nest hole in an old chestnut tree near the leaf yard, were mating on a branch.

Carrion Crows are also nesting. Someone had been combing a very hairy beige dog on a bench near the Italian Garden, and there was hair all over the path. A crow came and gathered as much as it could carry.

I was reminded of the lines in that sardonic Scots ballad 'The Twa Corbies', where one of the ravens says,
Wi' ae lock o' his gowden hair
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare.

The male of the pair of Mistle Thrushes that feed on the Parade Ground was singing at the top of a plane tree.

There was a motley crowd of birds on the wire baskets around the Serpentine island. Here a young Herring Gull states balefully at a huddled pair of Mallards while Moorhens climb around in the background.

Update: the male Tawny Owl was seen in his usual place at 5.15 pm. It is not clear what this means: last year he remained in this place for several days after the female had gone off with four owlets, because he was looking after a fifth one that was still unable to fly.