Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Mute Swans in the reeds under the Italian Gardens have six cygnets. They had seven eggs: possibly one is still to hatch, or was infertile or cracked.

Somehow a banana skin has got into their nest. It was always strewn with crisp packets and similar rubbish, more than would have accumulated by chance, and I think the swans may have  collected it because they thought it was pretty.

The female swan had been sitting in a spread-out posture for a couple of days as if she had something under her wings, and I had been wondering whether the eggs were hatching.

There were more Swifts over the lake than yesterday, perhaps about 80 though they move too fast to count. Towards the east end of the Serpentine they were increasingly mingled with House Martins. These usually stay at that end of the lake because it is near their nests in the French and Kuwaiti embassies, and there are plenty of insects for all so there is no need to fly farther.

People often tell me that they have difficulty distinguishing between Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. Here they are in that order from left to right.

Swifts are the largest, with long, curved, pointed wings and an extremely energetic flight. They are dark brown, looking completely black against the sky. They make a high-pitched screaming sound, while that of the other two is more chirpy. Swallows are intermediate in size and their wings are not as long. They have distinctive 'streamers', long feathers at each edge of the tail. They have pale sides and bellies and, though you don't see this at a distance, red sides to their face. House Martins are the smallest, with fairly blunt wings. They are white underneath and also on the top of the rump, between their dark wings and dark tail. You can see this white patch when they bank and you get a flash of their upper side.

A young Herring Gull was demolishing a crayfish beside the Serpentine. This needs quite a lot a work, picking the unfortunate creature up and banging it against the ground.

The gull is just coming up to its second summer and has the beginnings of its adult silver-grey back.

Both Little Owls were visible, but not together. The female dashed into her hole when I was still 75 yards away. The male came out later, but was not in a convenient place and the light was dim on this grey day, so you don't get much of a picture.

To end with, here is a far better picture by Johanna van de Woestijne of a female Ring-Necked Parakeet taking a peanut from my hand.

It is easier to give parakeets whole peanuts. If you let them eat shelled nuts or seeds from your hand they take a long time to finish them, spilling a lot, and often bite you when the supply runs out.


  1. I was glad to finally meet you last Sunday watching the great crested grebes. Thanks for the camera tips, and also the useful shot today of a swift, swallow and martin

  2. A great shot of the Swift, Swallow and Martin!

    1. Afraid that's a montage, simply for instruction. Should have said that clearly. I have sometimes got two species in the same picture, but never three.