Thursday, 17 January 2019

Several Redwings were looking for worms in the grass near the Serpentine Gallery.

There was a Mistle Thrush with them, one of a pair that are among the few permanently resident Mistle Thrushes in the park -- the rest are winter migrants. It's used to people passing by and you can get quite close to it.

Long-Tailed Tits ranged through the trees on the edge of the Serpentine. They looked so pretty in the sunlight that I think we can have two pictures of them.

The Little Owl at the Queen's Temple was also enjoying the sunshine.

A Carrion Crow drank from a muddy puddle in the sand of the horse ride.

A Little Grebe uttered its giggling call from the far side of the Serpentine, and I managed to get a very distant picture of it skulking under a dead branch. Of course I wouldn't have seen it at all if it hadn't called.

A Great Crested Grebe preened imperturbably while being bounced up and down by the choppy little waves produced by a brisk wind.

Two Coots were enjoying a fight.

A small group of Shovellers fed under the parapet of the Italian Garden, gyrating in pairs because there weren't enough of them to form one of their grand shovelling circles.

A fleet of Tufted Ducks remained at a safe distance from the whirling Shovellers.

The two Gadwalls were still in the Italian Garden fountain eating things on and just below the surface. I looked carefully into the water to see what it might be. On a sunny day you can see water fleas (Daphnia) zooming around in the water, but I couldn't spot any.

There was a rabbit under the Henry Moore sculpture, preferring to eat dry dead grass rather than the available fresh grass. It's the first rabbit I've seen for months. Every year you think they've been completely wiped out by myxomatosis and foxes, but somehow they manage to bounce back.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Grey Herons in the middle nest on the island were squawking excitedly and poking around in the bottom of the nest, strong evidence that there are eggs in the nest. The nest is probably too high to see a heron actually sitting on eggs here.

In one of the Italian Gardens fountains, the odd couple of a Red-Crested Pochard drake and a female Mallard seemed happy together. They are not even the same general kind of duck, since a Red-Crested Pochard is a diving duck (and dives during this video) and a Mallard is a dabbling duck. Two Mallard drakes in the same pond left the couple undisturbed.

There was also a pair of Gadwalls in another pond here ...

... and some Tufted Ducks in another, bringing the species count to four.

This pair of Great Crested Grebes was hanging around in the fallen poplar tree where they have built a nest every year since the tree fell into the lake.

Two Pochards in the background complete the number of species present on the lake. We haven't seen any Mandarins here for months, though I'm sure they are going strong on the Regent's Canal nearby and some may arrive at any time.

The Bar-Headed--Greylag hybrid goose was preening on the edge of the Serpentine.

This surprised me, because a couple of days ago I had seen it wandering around the lake calling, as if searching for another goose, and yesterday as I walked through St James's Park I saw what I am sure was the same goose there, still calling. And today it's returned.

Tom was also in St James's Park yesterday, and got this fine shot of a Little Grebe. Their numbers have fallen in St James's Park and I think there may only be two there now. We see them occasionally on the Long Water or the Round Pond, but it's impossible to know whether these small, surreptitious birds are permanent residents here.

Another good picture from yesterday by Tom, this time in Kensington Gardens: one of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the leaf yard. There is certainly one pair here and there may be two.

There was a Jackdaw in the Dell, the first one I've seen there. Since they returned to Kensington Gardens five years ago after more than forty years' absence, they have been slowly expanding their territory and have now reached the eastern end of Hyde Park.

Prêt à manger: a Carrion Crow investigates a snack box it has pulled out of a bin.

Both the Little Owl near the Albert Memorial and the one at the Queen's Temple were just visible lurking at the back of their holes. But the second one showed briefly when annoyed by a Rose-Ringed Parakeet squawking on a nearby branch.

There was one Peregrine on the barracks tower.

A Song Thrush sang in a tree in the Flower Walk ...

... and a bold Wren skittered around on the path.

The painted pigeons were back, and I got a shot of the gaudiest one, bringing a touch of colour to a grey day even if it is artificial.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

There was only time for a quick walk round the park this morning, but two Little Owls were visible again at the Queen's Temple ...

... and in the oak tree near the Albert Memorial.

A Long-Tailed Tit paused on a branch near the leaf yard.

A Cormorant in full breeding plumage is no doubt attractive to the opposite sex, but looks odd to us.

The male Egyptian at the Henry Moore sculpture has spent the last week waiting by himself while his mate is on her nest in a nearby tree. She only emerges briefly to eat and drink before returning to her eggs.

When two Coots start fighting, other Coots join in just for the fun of it.

The Great Crested Grebes from the west end of the island displayed as a gesture of solidarity while trying to extend their territory to the other end of the island.

People drop food on the terrace of the Dell restaurant, which attracts insects even in winter, and in turn that attracts Pied Wagtails which run around under the tables.

For the rest of today's blog, here's something I've been thinking of compiling for some time, a collection of pictures of gulls playing with toys. Mostly these are first- and second-year Herring Gulls, but the small Black-Headed Gulls also play, and there is even an adult Lesser Black-Backed Gull in one picture.

The most popular toy is a mossy stone dredged out of the lake, which can be dropped back in ...

... and retrieved until the gull gets bored.

Sticks are also favoured ...

... and they can be carried up, dropped and retrieved in midair, a skill which takes a young gull some time to learn but is very useful when trying to steal food from other gulls.

A chicken bone serves as well as a stick.

Anything can be dropped and retrieved, and this gull played for a long time on a frosty day with a burst tennis ball.

Other toys have included leaves ...

... bits of reed ...

... conkers, particularly enjoyable because they can be rolled around ...

... and plane seeds.

Odd bits of plastic are also liked, especially if they are brightly coloured ...

... or can be splashed around in a puddle ...

... or make an interesting noise when pecked.

Bits of broken bottle make an interesting tinkling sound when dropped on the tarmac.

Also seen, a green plastic sponge ...

... a wrist strap ...

... a baby's dummy ...

... and a small dinosaur.

The plastic buoys at the Lido can be walked along, with a big Herring Gull struggling to keep its balance ...

... or pushed around ...

... and pulling ropes is a favourite game.

Perhaps the oddest toy I've seen is a sample of carpet which got into the lake somehow.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Two Little Owls were visible today, at the Queen's Temple ...

... and near the Albert Memorial.

I was worried about the second pair of owls, because yesterday when I passed the hole I saw a squirrel in it.

But the owl seems to have got rid of the intruder. Little Owls may be tiny, but they have terrible claws and are ready to use them. In all recent pictures of owls in holes, it has been the female on show. They are bigger and stronger than males, and definitely the owners of the nest holes where they incubate and raise their eggs.

There was nothing exciting to see in the lowest Grey Heron nest on the island, just the head of one bird sitting on the eggs. So here is a view of the other two nests on the shore side of the island.

They always have one bird standing in them, which seems to be a sign that they are not yet incubating, but sometimes you see them poking in the nests as if eggs had been laid. The eggs will stay alive for a while without being incubated, so that eggs laid on different days can all develop more or less at the same time once the bird warms them by sitting. But if the promised frosty weather comes, their attempt will fail and they will have to try again later.

There are about 45 Common Gulls at the Round Pond, and only a few on the main lake.

It's like this every winter, and I wonder what the Common Gulls find attractive in this bare, windswept place. It may simply be that there are never many of the larger gulls here, so they don't get bullied much.

We only ever have a few Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, and they tend to prefer the Long Water to the Serpentine. There were six at Peter Pan today, including these four in a row.

Again, perhaps, they keep off the Serpentine to avoid the numerous Herring Gulls, of which there are sometimes over 100. The pigeon-eating Lesser Black-Back on the Serpentine, an unusually large gull who jealously guards his patch, may also have something to do with it.

A Cormorant caught a fair-sized perch in the old water filter under the marble fountain of the Italian Gardens.

The semicircular stone wall around the filter provides shelter for the fish, and they spawn there. But the Cormorants are hoovering them up at such a rate that there will be few left in the spring.

The Great Crested Grebes at the west end of the island were making a vague attempt to attach a nest to the back of the wire basket -- you can see the weed draped over it. They don't have the skill to poke twigs through the mesh in a way that will make them stick, so they won't succeed here. Last year this pair nested successfully in the same place by waiting for a Coot to build a nest, and then stealing it.

The grebes at the bridge were mooching around under the willow tree.

A Moorhen stepped delicately off a stone block at the Lido. Their huge feet are fascinating. They can swim quite briskly in spite of having no webs, by using a sort of underwater bicycling action.

Two pairs of Gadwalls were dabbling and upending at the Lido. The first method is used to get food off the bottom in shallow water -- mostly algae and water plants. The second is used farther out where the water is deeper.

The Bar-Headed--Greylag Goose hybrid was touring the Serpentine calling plaintively in its rather quiet voice. Perhaps it is missing its relatives and will return to them in St James's Park.

Two Wood Pigeons ate pansies in the Rose Garden.

There is always a large gang of Feral Pigeons on the top of the holly tree at the southwest corner of the bridge. As I passed, there was an explosive clattering of wings as they fled in panic. Looking up, I saw that a pair of Carrion Crows had knocked them off the branch, just for fun. They cawed to each other, looking pleased with themselves.

The woman with the painted pigeons was at the top of the Dell, where she had set three of the four down on the parapet. They are all painted -- you can see an unnatural gloss on one of the black and white ones.

She was holding the fourth, which is the gaudiest of them all, but I didn't photgraph it because she is running an operation (I won't say a racket) where you have to pay £5 to photograph her birds. This is illegal in the park, of course, though hardly a major crime. I discovered that she is Bulgarian, and the fancy white pigeons are bred by her father. They can all fly, though probably not all that well with those ridiculous feathers, but are accustomed to her and never fly away. She travels around with them in a perforated suitcase, probably earning a reasonable living. Is this cruel? Not really, I'd say, as long as she uses non-toxic colours. The pigeons seem content enough.