Monday, 30 April 2012

A beautiful day, and plenty of new life in the park. The first Coot chick of the year -- just one -- was beside one of the small boathouses being fed by a parent.

There were nine new Mallard ducklings in the reeds west of the Lido, reasonably safe for a while in this cover.

The nearby Mute Swans' nest has had eggs in it since the beginning of the month, and they should hatch soon. The young Grey Herons have still not left their nest on the island.

Starlings from two nests in the lakeside plane trees west of the small boathouses were making bee lines across the lake to snatch potato chips from the plates of the diners at the Lido restaurant and bring them back for their chicks. In Kensington Gardens, the starlings' nest in the Tawny Owls' tree is full of chicks clamouring loudly to be fed.

One very brief glimpse of an owlet flying from tree to tree. As soon as it landed it became invisible among the leaves. Paul saw the male Little Owl for a short time early this morning. That is the best time to see him, often on the ground looking for worms.

And a momentary sight of a female Pied Flycatcher flying over the Long Water near the Italian Gardens, doing a brisk 180° turn to grap a passing insect.

There was a Goldcrest bathing on the edge of the waterfall at the top of the Dell. This place, easily visible from the path, is a favourite bathing place for small birds, but scaffolding is going up to repair the parapet and it will be no use for a while.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A curious spectacle on the Long Water: a pair of Moorhens building a nest up a willow tree next to the northwest corner of the bridge. They have been doing this for several years. The tree leans over the water at such an angle that its branches are almost horizontal, and the birds trot along these, eventually reaching a place somewhere near the bridge parapet. But the nest is impossible to see either from the bridge or the ground.

These resourceful birds will nest almost anywhere. On the opposite side of the Long Water they build a nest inside a drain -- this year, they will have to wait for the end of the wet weather to use it. A few years ago a pair nested in the filter beds where the Serpentine flows into the Dell, under the false bridge that carries the footpath across the earth dam that formed the lake.

A pair of Coots had also tried to nest here several times, and all their chicks had been washed away one by one. But the agile moorhen chicks, able to run and jump as soon as they were hatched, survived.

Not much else to see on a cheerless wet day, but the Swifts were dashing about over the Serpentine again, catching insects and raindrops. Since they never land except to build nests, Swifts drink either from rain, or by flying low over the water and scooping it up in their beaks. There is a photograph of this remarkable feat on the London Swifts Homepage.

That's well beyond my powers as a photographer. So here is an ordinary Greylag Goose having a wash.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Both of the Tawny Owl parents and four of the owlets were just visible today through the leaves. Finding them is made easier by the fact that they have decided to stay in the same few trees for the time being: the nest tree and the middle two of the row of horse chestnuts in front of it.

There were a few Goldfinches and Greenfinches around the leaf yard. For some reason neither of these is very common in the park; especially odd in the case of Goldfinches, which can be seen in large numbers in gardens not far away.

About 30 Swifts were hunting over the Serpentine, with a couple of House Martins. No sign of House Martins nesting on the French Embassy yet.

As usual, there was a huge mob of Coots on the Serpentine near the Triangle car park. There are over 120 of them on the lake. They are hard to love, with their ungainly appearance and savage fights.

But they have a softer side. They are particularly fond of red and pink things, because of their instinctive response to the red faces of their young chicks, and like to decorate their nest with them.

Shiny things are also attractive. Here is a Coot trying unsuccessfully to round up a silver helium balloon to attach to its nest. But it didn't get the idea of towing it with the string, and eventually the balloon blew away.

There were four Mistle Thrushes and two Song Thrushes flying around the large isolated plane tree at the south end of the Parade Ground. Thrushes have always liked this area, but every winter they are driven off it by the huge and hideous Winter Wonderland funfair, and have to take refuge on the centre reservation of Park Lane where, in spite of the noise, no one bothers them. It is good to see that they are keeping a hold on their original territory.

Friday, 27 April 2012

It was time for the monthly bird count. My route is around the Long Water and the Serpentine, with a circuit of the Dell. I count only water birds in Kensington Gardens, since the land birds are counted by Marie Gill, but I count both kinds in Hyde Park. This odd arrangement is because there is no point in counting water birds on half the lake, when they move so freely from one end to the other.

Naturally the count is dominated by routine pigeons and ducks, so it's pleasing when something more interesting turns up. This time I found the pair of Willow Warblers again, in the children's play area behind the Lido, and a Kestrel flew over both lakes.

There was an unexpected glimpse of four owlets in the Tawny Owls' nest tree. Their father was in his usual place on one of the four trees in front of it.

A pair of Blue Tits is building a nest in one of the gas lamp posts behind the Lido, as in previous years. The nest is in the hollow post, not in the lamp itself. The birds were furiously scolding a Jay which had landed on the crossbar of the post and was looking down the hole.

Near the Dell restaurant, a Carrion Crow was living up to its name by picking the last scraps off the carcase of a pigeon that had probably been killed by the Lesser Black-Backed Gull -- see my posting of 25 April.

There are three pairs of Gadwall on the lake, which is more than usual. But they are never permanent residents, as their real home is on the lake at Buckingham Palace.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

There were two Swallows and a Swift over the Long Water, but no trace of any of the House Martins on the lake, or on the French Embassy where they nest, or on the Round Pond. The ones I saw earlier on the Round Pond may simply have been on their way through. Despite its lack of cover, the Round Pond is often a better place to see migrants than the main lake, and when vagrants such as a Mediterranean Gull or a Little Gull show up in the park, this is where they will be. It may be because birds use the conspicuous gilded spire of the Albert Memorial as a way marker.

The male Tawny Owl was still in his usual tree, barely visible through the leaves. While I was looking for him, a female Chaffinch came to take food from my hand for the first time. She has been showing interest for a while, and watching the male Chaffinch who is now a confident visitor.

Starlings are nesting all over the park. One place that is particularly easy to see is a plane tree on the edge of the Serpentine to the west of the two small boathouses.  While I was watching them going in and out, a Pied Wagtail ran past along the water's edge, nimbly dodging the waves stirred up by the brisk wind.

There used to be a lot of starlings' nests in the open eaves of the bandstand on Buck Hill, but builders blocked up the gaps and they have had to find other places. There is a starlings' nest in the Tawny Owls' nest tree, as well as a Stock Doves' nest and possibly a Nuthatches' nest near the top. Since the tree is hollow from top to bottom, there is plenty of room for multiple occupancy.

The Mute Swans' nest at the Lido seems to be a success, in spite of its very open location -- see picture. The one at the outflow of the Serpentine is constantly attended but I can't see any eggs in it. The well established nest on the Long Water has failed, possibly because the eggs were taken by a fox. It is not clear what is going on on the Serpentine island, since one swan seems to favour a site at the west end rather than the usual place in the bushes.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

There was a pair of Willow Warblers, one of them singing, on a fence behind the Lido. I got a distant and not very good picture of one of them before they flew off. At least I think they were Willow Warblers: the song was right but this bird has slightly mottled sides. David Lindo, who runs the Urban Birder blog, was in the park today and also heard one singing, which is reassuring.

The male Tawny Owl was in one of his usual spots, but I couldn't find any of the others. The male is relatively easy to see because he is a creature of habit, and you just make a tour of his favourite places until you find him.

There were several male Blue Tits bringing food to prospective mates in an effort to show what reliable providers they would be.

The two young Grey Herons were standing in their nest on the Serpentine Island, flapping vigorously to exercise their newly developed wings. They are still not actually trying to fly. Another Grey Heron was gathering twigs for the nest on the east end of the island.

I also saw a first-year Lesser Black-Backed Gull carrying a large twig; when it dropped the twig it came back and fetched it again. It seems unlikely that it was thinking of nesting in the park. The familiar Lesser Black-Back that kills and eats pigeons was having a go at some from its usual perch on the Lido restaurant. It was not successful this time, but it often is. The preferred technique is to drop on them from above, seize them by the scruff of the neck and bring them down to the lake to drown them; I have seen this twice but never managed to catch the moment in a photograph. Here it is devouring a pigeon which it has carried onshore for easier eating.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The adult Tawny Owls were still visible in one of their usual row of four horse chestnut trees, and no doubt the owlets were in there too, but the foliage is now so thick that they were quite invisible. As the owl viewing season ends, here is a fine farewell picture kindly sent to me by professional photographer Tim Plowden.

I met someone in Hyde Park who said that he had seen a Little Owl in the shrubbery around the Lookout a few days ago. This would accord with last year's sighting of a Little Owl on an oak tree near the Bluebird Boats cabin, which is only a short distance away.

There was a Great Crested Grebe at the top end of the Long Water zigzagging around puposefully and picking up small objects just below the surface. I watched it carefully through binoculars and could not see what these things were, but would guess that they were dragonfly larvae.

A Grey Herons' nest on the Serpentine island was full of activity, with both parents bringing in food for their two large young. One of these stood up and flapped huge, well developed wings. It should be ready to fly out soon.

Monday, 23 April 2012

A drizzly day and only one owlet visible, sheltering from the rain under an overhanging branch. There was nothing much to see around the lake, apart from a male Blackcap jumping around and ticking furiously, probably agitated by a Magpie.

I went up to the Round Pond. The House Martins have arrived, and I saw eight of them hunting insects low over the water. There will be plenty of mud for them to build their nests in the cornice of the French Embassy in Knightsbridge. A Pied Wagtail, also in search of insects, was running along the edge.

The only brood of Egyptian Geese on the pond was down to three, and two of these had angel wing, so the poor creatures will not last long. Usually the Round Pond is a better place for Egyptians than the main lake, but this year there are six surviving young on the lake. It is still early and there is plenty of time for these prolific birds to breed again. Roy Sanderson said to me, 'They will be the next Canadas,' meaning that they will become numerous enough to be a nuisance. But their young are very attractive.

These birds, though not actually geese (they are big ducks), are genuinely Egyptian. Here is a wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun, a rich official of about 1400 BC, showing him wildfowling in the marshes with his wife and daughter. The original is in the British Museum. An Egyptian Goose stands in front of his feet, about to disappear into a stand of papyrus. Other birds in the picture include male and female Pintail (occasionally seen on our lake), a Grey Heron, and a Red-Footed Falcon.

The Egyptian hieroglyphic for 'son of' is an Egyptian Goose, and you will find this symbol in the names of pharaohs, which are easy to see in the text as they are written in oblong boxes.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Only three owlets visible today in one of the four horse chestnut trees, despite the best efforts of three people to find the others among the leaves. We are getting to the end of the Tawny Owl viewing season, but it has been an exciting six weeks. Here are two of them, caught in a moment when they emerged from cover.

A Mallard has an early brood of ducklings, but they were down to two by the time I arrived. I counted 118 Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and Herring Gulls on the lake, all eager to seize the survivors.

I looked for the Pied Flycatcher that had been reported yesterday on the London Bird Club Wiki site, but there was no sign of it. The most likely place to see one of these is flying across the footpath near the Peter Pan statue, though this one had been seen on the other side of the lake.

A Grey Heron in the Dell had speared a carp too large for it to eat, and was ineffectually poking it around under the waterfall. Herons often kill fish that they have no chance of swallowing, to the despair of owners of ponds carefully stocked with koi.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Yes, there really are five owlets. After I and two other people had marched round and round the Tawny Owls' nest tree and found just the usual gang of four, I came back an hour later and found that a fifth one could be seen near the top of the tree, but only from a distance because of the leaves. I came back to the tree and made absolutely sure that the original four were still together, and the new sighting was not just caused by one of them moving.

This is the first time that the Tawny Owls have had five young. They have been nesting in the same tree for at least six years, and have always had four or three before.

There is a Treecreeper's nest in a dead tree a few yards southeast of the Speke obelisk, Google map reference 51.508783,-0.178598. The birds were carrying twigs and fluff into a hole under a piece of peeling bark.

Friday, 20 April 2012

It seems very probable that the Tawny Owls have a fifth owlet. After all four of the usual bunch were found, with difficulty, in one of the horse chestnut trees in front of the nest tree, there was a fluffy grey bundle in the nest tree itself. The bird was facing away, and you could see that it was still completely grey, unlike the older owlets who are rapidly getting their brown feathers and losing their down. No picture was possible, as the weather was ugly around midday with thunder and hail and sheeting rain.

It is not at all clear how this happened. As soon as the first four owlets came out, their mother took them 200 yards away to an oak tree near the Albert Memorial, and their father remained on or near the nest tree. Of course the owlets had been in the nest for some time, growing their flight feathers, before they were allowed out, and there was plenty of time for a late egg to hatch. But the last owlet must have remained in the nest while the mother and the other four were away. Could the father have remained where he was so that he could bring food to it?

A pair of Kestrels flew over the Long Water just before 2 pm. Neither of them was the male bird who was here for several days a few weeks ago, pictured here. This one had a primary missing from his right wing, which made him easy to identify.

The pair of Gadwall who have been on the lake are as tame as the resident Mallards. They will come on shore to be fed.

For some days a Pied Wagtail has been frequenting the patch of lawn at the back of the loggia of the Italian Garden. Here it is on one of the old tunnels where the Westbourne used to flow into the lake. Although these birds are common enough in the park, you usually see them on the edge of the Serpentine or, for no known reason, in the south part of the Parade Ground.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The male Little Owl showed himself again, on a day of heavy showers, hail and thunder when there was almost no one in the park. He allowed me to take several pictures of him before flying to his usual hole in the sweet chestnut tree.

The tree, oddly, had several Great Tits and Coal Tits and the bold male Chaffinch in it, all of whom came to be fed as soon as the owl had gone in. I am sure that the owl would make a meal of any of them if he got the chance.

I sheltered from a violent downpour under one of the horse chestnut trees in front of the Tawny Owls' nest tree, with the male owl in the same tree forty feet above. I didn't see any of the others in a quick trip around the usual trees, but lightning was flashing around me and it was no day for hanging about in the open air.

The Chaffinch had followed me up to my shelter and perched on my hand for more than a minute eating pine nuts and sunflower seeds. There were also a pair of Mallards under the tree; even these waterproof birds don't like being hailed on. I gave them some bits of digestive biscuit.

In heavy rain you notice that some birds are less waterproof than others. Blue Tits become very bedraggled, and Ring-Necked Parakeets get absolutely saturated.

The parakeets in the park are Psittacula krameri manillensis, a subspecies from southern India and other hot regions. It is remarkable how hardy they are in this chilly country. But they have been in the west for a long time as pets. Here is a mosaic of about 200 BC from the Palace at Pergamon in Asia Minor, then a Greek city. The artist has overdone the red tesserae: these birds' beaks have a black lower mandible and their feet are beige.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

People who want to see the Tawny Owls should hurry. They are on the point of vanishing into the leaves, not to be seen again till next winter. The four owlets were in a neat row, the first time I have found this year's brood so well lined up, but there were too many leaves in front of them for a good picture.

An early visitor to the park saw one of the Little Owls at 6 am, on the ground looking for worms.

It seems that the Little Grebes are nesting on the west side of the Long Water between the fallen horse chestnut tree and the Italian Garden. Their mating call -- slower and lower pitched than the normal giggle -- is often heard from here. There is little hope of seeing the nest from the other side of the water, since these birds make their nests out of floating rubbish, and it looks as if it had drifted there rather than having been deliberately assembled.

One of the terrapins on the Long Water had climbed unusually high up a branch to warm itself in the occasional sunny intervals. There are three, two European and one American, all dumped in the lake by pet owners who had got tired of them. They are not entirely welcome visitors, since they eat ducklings.

As I was returning from the owls' tree, the bold male Chaffinch plonked himself on the ground in front of me, chirping loudly for service, and would not shift until he had been given a peanut.

Coming home through Hyde Park, I saw a female Blackbird running across a path -- actually running, putting one foot in front of the other, instead of the usual rapid two-footed hop. I don't think I have seen this before.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A parakeet became an owlets' breakfast today, and there was a sad remnant with a few green feathers under the nest tree. All the owlets were there, hopping and flying about restlessly, so that their parents had both taken refuge in the horse chestnut trees in front of the nest tree. This is the first day that their mother has not been in the tree with the owlets. They are growing up.

Someone saw the male Little Owl yesterday, but as soon as he noticed that he was being looked at, he rushed into a hole. This bird has learnt his lesson about humans.

For the past few days there has often been a Green Woodpecker foraging in the grass between the Queen's Temple and the bridge. Their harsh green colour is surprisingly visible against the grass, though of course the red head also helps with spotting them.

A pair of Little Grebes were noisily calling to each other while fishing under the balustrade of the Italian Gardens. This is a good spot for small fish, as the air bubblers that are supposed to oxygenate the water bring up sediment, which attracts small creatures and the birds that feed on them. In winter the bubblers are popular with Shovelers, but these have all left now.

Several families of Long-Tailed Tits were taking their new broods around to feed them. Here is a young one waiting to be brought an insect.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The male Little Owl is hiding from people, though when he first appeared he was not bothered by them. Sadly, I have found out why. Someone told me that a few days ago he saw some children throwing stones at the poor bird as he sat in the low sweet chestnut tree. Well, he has learnt to fear humans, and he is quite right to do so.

All the Tawny Owls were in the nest tree. The owlets were jumping around restlessly, and their father had retired to the far side of a thick branch to avoid being bothered by them. Some Crows were trying to harass the family, without success as the leaves are already thick and give excellent shelter.

I passed by the Diana Memorial Playground, where there is a thing like a xylophone on the ground, where children can play chimes by jumping on the bars. There was a Blackbird in a tree nearby, singing exactly in tune with the chimes.

After which I went round the Long Water to look for Little Grebes, of which there are four at present, but they are hard to see hiding in the reeds and bushes. Just as I was giving up to go home, a pair started calling loudly on the west side of the Vista, and emerged from the bushes. A glimpse of these charming little birds really makes the day.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Here is a picture of a cormorant on the Serpentine, sent by Johanna van de Woestijne, who commented on this blog earlier. She took it on 3 March last year. She asks whether it is the British species Phalacrocorax carbo carbo or the European mainland species rather confusingly called P.c. sinensis.

It is said that sinensis can be identified by its having white streaks on its head, like the bird in the picture. However, both subspecies grow these white feathers as the breeding season approaches.

The only reliable indication is the shape of the gular pouch, the patch of orange or partly orange skin at the base of the lower mandible of the bill. If the angle of the upper rear corner is acute, it's the ordinary British species. If It's obtuse, it's the European _sinensis_ subspecies. The difference is illustrated on this page.

The bird in the picture has an acute angle, so it is a normal British cormorant, P. c. carbo. But sinensis birds have been seen on the lake, by Des McKenzie.

The number of cormorants in the park has fallen sharply this year. Previously they used to turn up mob-handed and fish the lake in line abreast in an alarmingly organised fashion. We think that they have eaten all the fish that were of a suitable size, and that is why one seldom sees more than two or three now.
The Tawny Owls are internationally famous. Today as I was going round the Serpentine a man from Boston, seeing the telltale roof prism binoculars round my neck, came up and asked me where they were. There has also been a visitor from Norway looking for them. The owl family and their father were in the four horse chestnut trees between the nest tree and the path, the owlets moving around restlessly and their father asleep in the third tree from the north. Their mother was in the nest tree, very hard to see.

Many Green Woodpeckers were calling loudly in both parks, and the nest beside the path was attended. Another bird was in the Leaf Yard very close to the tree where the Great Spotted Woodpeckers are nesting.

There were three male Mandarins and  one female on the Long Water. They come and go freely between here and the Regent's Canal, which is where they have the best breeding success because there are trees close to the water and not many large gulls. The pair of Gadwall is still here; they too come and go between here and Buckingham Palace gardens, where they breed. They have not tried breeding on our lakes and, seeing what happens to Mallard ducklings here, I don't blame them.

Two Little Grebes were calling loudly to each other.

The old tern raft, now replaced by a larger one, is still drifting around the Long Water and today had fetched up near the bridge. The idea was to attract the Common Terns whose main area seems to be the Grand Union Canal, but no birds have ever tried to breed on the raft. One I saw a pair flying around it, but they didn't even bother to land. When they visit the park they usually sit on moored boats in the middle of the Serpentine.

I went to the French Embassy to see if any House Martins had arrived: none yet, but this is a place to watch at this time. After two bad years, the first caused by rebuilding work, the second by a drought that denied them mud for their nests, it will be a while before their numbers build up again. In contrast, the colony on Rossmore House near Regent's Park did well in both the last two years.

One of the Grey Herons' nests on the Serpentine Island was busy, with two chicks being fed. (Difficult to think of these big gawky creatures as a chick.) Another nest had an adult in it.

In the Flower Walk, I heard an odd repeated call, like a very short blast on a referee's whistle. It turned  out to be a Nuthatch. I have never heard one calling like this before.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Green Woodpecker's nest in the plane tree had one of the birds sunning itself outside. You can see how neatly the hole is made.

The Tawny Owl family were still in their usual place on the nest tree, with their father on one of the trees in front. The owlets had obligingly perched in a visible place. They are already beginning to turn brown.

The male Little Owl now definitely has an aversion to being stared at. As soon as he saw me coming, he flew down from his branch and nipped into a hole in the tree. He has done this to other people too. A pity, because it is enjoyable having that yellow stare directed at you, but one can hardly blame him for wanting a bit of peace.

There are three Grey Herons' nests on the Serpentine Island now. I went by, but there was no visible activity.

There was a Yellow-Legged Gull on the Long Water, on one of the posts near the Peter Pan statue. They are fairly frequent visitors. It was too far away for a good picture.

And I gave a pine nut to a Robin, who took it to his mate, a charming sight. Being a practical bird, he promptly came back for another one and ate it himself.

Elizabeth has sent me a fine photo essay on the Egyptian Goose's lack of parenting skills. Click here to see it. However, the two broods of three on the Serpentine have managed to survive. The younger ones were completely alone when I went past, not a parent in sight.

Friday, 13 April 2012

All the owls were in the same places as yesterday. The young Tawny Owls were very restless, flying around and jostling each other along the branches. The leaves are now so thick that you can only get glimpses of them, so here is a picture taken several days ago, when they were in a still leafless oak tree.

The male Little Owl in the sweet chestnut tree took exception at being stared at, and flew round the tree. We went to the other side, but there was no sign of him, and there didn't seem to be a hole nearby that he could have gone into. After some time it became clear that he had flown right away from the tree in a straight line that prevented us from seeing him. I had seen him do this same trick a few days before when he was being pestered by a Magpie. Neither I nor the Magpie had any idea where he had gone.

A kind person showed me the Green Woodpecker's nest I had been searching for yesterday, though nothing was going on there. It's where the path from the Albert Memorial to the Physical Energy statue crosses the path that runs from just south of the Serpentine Gallery to loop around the north of the Round Pond.  The tree is a tall plane on the northeast corner of the intersection, and the hole is on the south side under the stump of a branch, about 30 ft up and easily visible from the path. It is perfectly round and looks as if it had been cut with a power tool. Coordinates are 51.5054,-0.177922 .

A very bold male Chaffinch who is now coming to my hand to be fed has pursued me over an area stretching from the Round Pond to the Italian Garden, a large range. Anywhere in this area, there is a sudden loud chirp and there he is, sitting on a twig expecting to be given a pine nut.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Tawny Owl family was still in the nest tree, but they are getting very hard to see through the leaves. Their father was in one of the four horse chestnuts nearer the path, today the third one from the north.

The male Little Owl was in the same sweet chestnut tree as yesterday.

At the Leaf Yard, a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were calling in a lime tree in front of Mrs N.D. Griffin-Wilson's bench. They have been seen working on a nest hole in a tree inside the yard, a few yards north and set back from the fence so it is quite hard to observe.

Also here, a Great Tit with a five-note song, *SDSU. It's easy to suppose that Great Tits just sing 'Teacher, teacher', but actually their songs are quite varied and individual.

I have been told that a pair of Green Woodpeckers is nesting in an old broken tree on the Circle Path that skirts the east side of the Round Pond. I have heard yaffling and drumming in this area over the past few days, and have seen isolated birds nearby. I went there, but they were silent and I couldn't find them.

Oh, it's those humans again.

How boring.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Tawny Owl family have returned to their nest tree -- for directions, see the entry for Saturday 7 April. We had looked long and hard for them for several days, but maybe they had been home all the time. It is getting hard to see through the leaves. The male owl was, as usual, sitting on one of the four horse chestnut trees between the nest tree and the path, the second from the north.

The male Little Owl has moved a short way, to an old sweet chestnut a few yards southwest of the chestnut where the nest is: 51.50752,-0.176543 .  Sunny days bring him out to sunbathe. I think that these birds, who are of Mediterranean origin, feel the cold and take advantage of any warm spots, which is why you sometimes see them in holes in walls where the sun has warmed the masonry.

Our native Tawny Owls, on the other hand, are pretty tough.

One of the Coal Tits of the family group in the Leaf Yard was carrying a bundle of dog hair to a sweet chesnut near the southwest corner of the enclosure. Another sweet chestnut, near the Speke obelisk, is home to some Treecreepers. What a boon these old broken-down trees are to hole-nesting birds. They all date from 1690, when Kensington Gardens was laid out for William and Mary, who had decided to live out of town to get away from the stink of Whitehall and its memories of the ousted Stuarts.

Several pairs of Mallards were ambling through the shrubbery. Their nesting seems to go all right, but when the ducklings emerge on to the lake the Lesser Black-Backed and Herring Gulls make short work of them.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

One of the black and white mallards seems to be a girl, as for a couple of days she has been hanging around with a normally coloured drake.

One expects these odd-coloured birds to be male. But that is a misunderstanding of the way in which the patterns of birds' plumage are generated. The basic pattern of repeated brownish mottling seen on female ducks and many other birds is actually a very delicate balance, and any disturbance causes it to break up into blocks of plain colour. The slight disturbance caused by male hormones produces the pattern of a typical drake or other gaudy male bird. A more severe disturbance caused by some genetic accident produces a black and white bird, and a disturbance so severe that it breaks the patterning mechanism entirely gives a pure white bird.

You can see an analogous process in Wolfram cellular automatons, where a coloured pattern is generated by assigning colours to a row of numbers and then adding, subtracting or multiplying adjacent numbers to form the next row down. Here are two examples: left, a repeating pattern made by repeating a sequence of numbers; right, a broken pattern caused by disturbing the regularity of the numbers.

Another odd couple has been seen on the lake for the past three years: a pair of a Canada-greylag goose hybrid with a pure greylag. These hybrids always have Canada fathers, since the sexually aggressive Canada gander jumps on the greylag female. The offspring imprint on their greylag mothers and consider themselves greylags, and they are accepted by their peers.

There are now several family groups of long-tailed tits taking their newly fledged young around to feed them. The male tawny owl was in his usual spot, but the family have been off the map for the past three days. The little owl was in his usual lime tree, and was calling to his mate, who seldom bothers to answer.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A drizzly day, just what Blackbirds like. Which gave me an idea.

First, an explanation. The number of Blackbirds in the park has declined catastrophically in recent decades: down by an order of magnitude, from hundreds to tens. This has happened at a time when the number in the country as a whole is increasing slightly, the number in London is constant despite people paving over their gardens, and the number in nearby Holland Park is also constant.

We think it's caused by the destructive way in which the park shrubberies are managed. In autumn the dead leaves are blown out with leaf blowers, destroying the blackbirds' natural habitat containing the worms and bugs they feed on. The cleared area is then covered with tons of half-rotted leafmould from the dump in the Leaf Yard, which gives the ground that monochrome brown look that gardeners seem to think is neat. The mould contains little animal life, since this has been cooked out of it by the heat of fermentation.

However, it does contain large quantities of nitrates and phosphates from the decayed organic matter. So there is an explosive growth of nettles and thistles, sometimes to head height or more -- which may be good for butterflies, but not for anything else.  Here is a picture of the edge of the Leaf Yard taken on 9 June 2011. In some years it has been worse than this.

Thus, the stuff that was added as a mulch to prevent the growth of weeds has precisely the opposite effect from what was intended. In areas where this is not done -- for example, the east side of the Long Water -- there is far less growth of weeds, and the shrubberies both look better and contain more Blackbirds. But the people who run the park, sitting behind their desks, are unaware of this.

Last year, Roy Sanderson organised a survey of Blackbirds in Kensington Gardens, to see how far numbers had fallen. The people who do the normal monthly counts of park birds, of whom I am one, each took a route to walk at fortnightly intervals, six times between April and June. The results were sad: Roy estimated that the number of permanent Blackbird territories was down to 18.

I had chosen what I thought was likely to be the best route for seeing Blackbirds: up the west edge of Kensington Gardens, skirting Kensington Palace, along the north edge by the Baywater Road, down the east edge along the top of Buck Hill to the Magazine, then down to the bridge and a loop around the Long Water. My walks along this raised 13 to 16 Blackbirds each time.

Last winter there was a sudden influx of Blackbirds. I wondered whether they had merely migrated in and would leave in the spring. But so far the numbers seem to be holding up.

So today I walked exactly the same route I had followed last summer, and saw 26 Blackbirds. Not a gigantic improvement, but mildly encouraging.

There was also a flock of about 30 Goldfinches near the Orangery. These birds, though common in London, have not been numerous in the park for some reason. But recently numbers of Goldfinches and Greenfinches have been rising.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Roy Sanderson tells me that a Coot ringed in Hyde Park on 11 December 2010 (GC 87114) turned up in Groningen in the Netherlands on 17 February this year.  That's 496 km ENE of here. He comments, 'One rarely sees Coots in flight and their tameness in the park gives the false impression that they are all resident.'
Not an owl to be seen. Well, one day there are seven, the next none; so it goes. The lack was partly made up by splendid song in the bushes around the Long Water, including six Blackcaps, two Chiffchaffs, three Song Thrushes, a Mistle Thrush and a Goldcrest. Farther from the water there were several Green Woodpeckers, maybe as many as four, yaffling and drumming. All three Grey Wagtails were hunting around the bridge.

The prolific but clueless pair of Egyptian Geese at the Vista have lost the last survivor of their second brood this year. They are inattentive parents and let their young swim around on the lake to be picked off by Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, of which there are at least twenty, many of them first year, as well as several Herring Gulls. However, the two broods of three Egyptians on the Serpentine are still there, now maybe large enough to be out of danger of being snatched.

There were two lively Great Crested Grebe fights, each two on two, on the Long Water and the Serpentine. An unattached bird was keeping in practice by menacing a Coot.

On the path near Peter Pan, a Grey Heron was watching a rat moving around in the shrubbery waiting for a chance to grab it. But the rat, perhaps sensing that it was on the menu, moved off. I have seen a heron seize a rat by the tail and toss it in the air to catch it head-first and swallow it. It is remarkable what herons will try to swallow: here is a picture of one in the Dell trying to eat an adult Moorhen. After a good deal of gulping it flew away with its victim stil clamped in its beak, so I don't know whether it succeeded.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

All the Tawny Owls were visible today. Here are their positions in Google Maps -- enter the coordinates in the box where you would normally put a place name.
Tawny owlets and mother: 51.50537,-0.178313
Tawny Owl father: 51.507865,-0.179387
Tawny Owls' nest tree 51.507991,-0.17994
URL for Google street view of nest tree:

The male Little Owl was also in his usual daytime tree, and his mate out of sight, presumably inside the nest tree:
Little Owls' nest tree: 51.507613,-0.175765
Little Owl male's daytime tree: 51.507497,-0.176016
URL for Google street view of nest tree (sweet chestnut, right of picture) and male's daytime tree (tall lime, left of picture):

It was a slightly chilly, breezy day and I didn't meet anyone. I went round the lake. The Mute Swans are now nesting seriously, with a lot of territorial threat displays on the Serpentine. There are four nests that look permanent: on the east side of the Long Water, a bit to the north if you look across the lake from Peter Pan; on the east side of the Long Water near the bridge; on the Serpentine south of the outflow; and on the south side of the Serpentine just to the west of the Lido restaurant. The last of these had, I think, five eggs in it on Monday 2 April. I thought then that it was too exposed to last, but it is still occupied.

A Great Crested Grebes' nest is now a going concern at the east end of the Sepentine island.

This is not a very successful spot, as the Grey Herons can wade to it, and have destroyed nests in earlier years -- and of course, they are now themselves nesting on the island.

There are several black Mallards with white fronts on the lake; I think there are three altogether, all with slightly different markings. Other ducks include at least three Red Crested Pochards, and a pair of Gadwall.

There are quite a few Greenfinches singing on both sides of the bridge.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Welcome to the Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park birds blog! This blog is intended as a notice board for all who love and watch the birds in the park, and I welcome any news and comments that readers provide.

It is not a direct replacement for Des McKenzie's much missed blog. I am not an expert birder, and I don't have Des's phenomenal ability to spot a buzzard through a brick wall. So I am relying on all of you who read this blog to make it an informative and  useful place.

To start you off, what's going on here in early April?

The most exciting news is the recent arrival of three pairs of Little Owls in Kensington Gardens. The most easily visible pair is nesting in one of the old sweet chestnut trees at the southeast corner of the Leaf Yard, a few yards from the signpost. The female sits on her nest in the top of the hollow tree and only emerges occasionally, but the male is often seen on a tall lime tree nearby, and sometimes calls to her.

The famous pair of Tawny Owls to the west of here, who have been nesting in a horse chestnut for many years, are still in the park and have four owlets. However, the family are harder to see than in previous years, when they kept to a spot near the nest tree. The male owl remains in the area, but the female and the owlets have been obliged to go farther afield, because a foolish attempt was made to poison the rats in the Leaf Yard where the owls caught much of their food. Now the family may be anywhere in an area half a mile across, and finding them is a matter of luck, especially as they prefer to spend the day in horse chestnut trees, which are already coming into leaf.

The rats, of course, have already returned in force and, lacking their usual predators, will probably be more numerous soon than they were before. The only permanent casualty seems to be the family of Wood Mice who lived under one of the benches.

Last year a pair of Grey Wagtails bred under the small plank bridge at the foot of the waterfall in the Dell, and have been seen there again this year. They and their one surviving offspring range the whole length of the lake.

The pair of Grey Herons who nested on the Serpentine island last year have returned to the same tree. At least two of their young from last year, still largely monochrome grey, are often to be seen, usually around the Long Water.

There are 18 Great Crested Grebes on both lakes, beginning to make nests in their usual off-and-on way, and  four Little Grebes on the Long Water -- one pair in full breeding plumage, the other only beginning to colour up.

A pair of Mute Swans has established a nest on the east side of the Long Water. Other attempts at nesting are going ahead on both lakes, but it is too early to say which sites will succeed.

For some years several people, including myself, have been feeding small birds in the Leaf Yard, mostly along the southern edge. As a result, many of these birds have lost their shyness and will come to the hand. Anyone with a handful of pine kernels or shelled sunflower seeds can feed a Great Tit, and maybe a Blue Tit. Regulars can also attract Coal Tits, Robins and a bold Chaffinch. The local Ring-Necked Parakeets have also got into the game, though they prefer peanuts, both unshelled and shelled.

Now, over to you. Please add your comments on anything interesting you have seen in the park.