Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Coots nesting in the plants in the Italian Gardens now have seven eggs. The plant boxes here are meant to restore the original planting scheme of the garden made in the 1860s, when there were clumps of tall irises and other water plants. However, until the garden was built the polluted and smelly waters of the Westbourne river flowed into the top of the lake, so there were not nearly as many birds -- let alone the 120-odd Coots that the lake now harbours. The Westbourne was then rerouted in a pipe along the north edge of the park and enters the Serpentine down the valley of the Tyburn Brook, behind the Ranger's Lodge (this little stream is not the Tyburn River, which is a mile to the east). The lake is fed from a borehole.

Another trace of the past is the teazles which grow along the east side of the Long Water. These tall and heraldic-looking things were planted in the clearing by the Rudolf Steiner bench in an effort to attract goldfinches, which are fond of the seeds. It failed, and goldfinches remain rare in the park; but the teazles have prospered and spread. 

At the Serpentine island, the Great Crested Grebe family was out on the water next to a new brood of Mallard ducklings. A Herring Gull swooped around the corner of the island, bent on lunch. The grebes dived as one and surfaced behind the wire plant baskets. The mother Mallard just managed to herd her babies under the post and chain in time, and the gull was forced to sheer off.

The eight young Egyptian Geese on the Serpentine have now grown their flight feathers. Here one of them stretches out a long wing. They have all grown perfectly, unlike the ten young Egyptians on the Round Pond, three of which have angel wing and will never fly. This supports the idea that the malformation is hereditary, and perhaps due to inbreeding.

Many of the Mallards are now moulting their wing feathers. Since the males are also going into eclipse, they look very tatty indeed. The female black and white duck has not yet moulted. Here you can see her strangely marked wings with pure white primaries. The tips are badly frayed: white feathers are not as strong as dark ones, which are strengthened by the melanin that gives them their colour.

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