Friday, 27 February 2015

A Blackbird was singing near Kensington Palace.

This is one of the many birds that have found a home in the enormous beech hedge enclosing the 'Wiggly Walk', a path of hairpin bends down a steep slope at the uphill end of the building -- a very fit wheelchair user could make it to the top. This precipice is part of the larger slope of the Broad Walk.

A geologist told me that the slope, which you can also see in Kensington Church Street, marks the transition from one flood plain of the Thames to the next one down, as the enormous river carrying away meltwater from the glaciers at the end of the Ice Age gradually shrank. The Thames was bigger than the Amazon and, because sea levels were much lower, turned north around East Anglia and joined the Rhine to meet the ocean in what is now the northern part of the North Sea.

Another Blackbird was singing near Rima, and so was the male of the harem of Wrens that live in the scrub between here and the road. Here one of them is foraging under a lime tree.

The male of the pair Coal Tits here was also singing. But the pair in the leaf yard were too intent on following me to be fed to bother about music.

The familiar Robin outside the ticket office of the Lido had taken up his usual station in the olive tree and was singing fit to bust.

On the Round Pond, Blondie the Egyptian Goose was having a frantic wash.

She is now always seen with her newly acquired mate. We might get some blond babies in due course.

One of the pair of Great Crested Grebes at the top of the Long Water had caught a perch under the willow tree, and was turning it round so that she could swallow it without the spiny dorsal fin catching. No wonder grebes have to eat feathers to protect their insides.

The male Little Owl looked out of his nest hole for a moment.

And the male Tawny Owl was in his usual place enjoying the sunshine.


  1. I'm a visiting birder from the US and could you say where the trees are that the Tawny and Little Owls are nesting? Just some landmarks or areas in the park that might help me locate it? We live in Great Horned Owl nesting habitat in Northern California but I'd love to see the Tawny Owl

    1. Welcome to the park. Hope you manage to see some owls. Here are directions. However the third pair of owls, the 'other' Little Owls, may have been ousted from their hole, as Jackdaws have been seen in it recently throwing stuff out.

      Tawny Owl: find the path that runs between the statue of Physical Energy and the obelisk that is a monument to the explorer Speke. Exactly half way along it is a bench, on the west side of the path. From here, walk west (slightly to the right of right angles to the path) for 50 yards, to a tall horse chestnut tree with its trunk broken off about three quarters of the way up. This is the nest tree. The male Tawny Owl likes to sit in the broken top of the trunk. Either owl or both may be round the far side of the trunk about 10 ft lower, sitting in the scar of a broken-off branch which provides a kind of balcony for them. The female owl also likes the beech tree a few feet away from the nest tree, and you can see her by standing under the nest tree and looking up at the beech. Her preferred perch is on a branch near the top of the tree, which from your viewpoint is directly in line from the trunk; she sits on a twig coming out of the right side of this branch.

      Little Owl: start at the leaf yard, the fenced enclosure with the statue of Peter Pan on its east side. At the southeast corner of this enclosure there is an old battered chestnut tree. Look for the next one, a few yards away to the southwest. Then look for the one after that, at a slightly greater distance and up the hill a bit. It has brambles round its base. This is the Little Owls' nest tree, and the male owl's favourite branch, when viewed from the north side, is at the top left corner of the tree. One or both of the Little Owls may also be high up inside another chestnut tree adjacent to this on the uphill side, and visible from the north or west side of this tree.

      Other Little Owl: start on the north side of the Albert Memorial and walk north towards the statue of Physical Energy. When you get to the bicycle path, turn left (west) and walk until you come to the first intersecting path, which crosses at a very shallow angle. On the near left (southeast) corner of the intersection there is an oak tree. The nearest tree to this, also an oak, tree has the Little Owls' hole in it. You need to view the tree from the south side, that is, the side away from the path. Seen from this side, there is a thick branch sticking out slightly above horizontal about 35 feet up the trunk, with a large bulge in it and a large round hole in the bulge.

    2. Hi Ralph,
      Thank you so much for the great directions to the Tawny nest tree I got there about 5pm and no owls were out, but I had a good time exploring and hunting for the Little Owl nest tree as well. I think I need to study up on London winter leafless tree identification!
      I was thrilled to see the Great Crested Cranes doing some courting behavior near the Italian Garden and I'd never seen a Mandarin Duck before.
      You are a great resource for the park and birders from afar, and I appreciate the help with directions and responding so nicely. Happy Birding!
      Cheers, Elaine

    3. Thanks. Sorry you missed the Tawny Owl. He is usually visible at 5pm, so you were unlucky. But that's birds for you.

      The Little Owls' chestnut tree is one of the original ones planted when William III had the garden laid out in 1690, and it looks as old as it is.

  2. Hi Ralph,
    The "Wiggly Walk" is actually hedged with hornbeams.
    We once asked a gardener who told us so and I have just found confirmation of this fact on the Royal Historic Palaces website:
    "The new Wiggly Walk, utilizing a new resin bonded buck coloured pathway to achieve level access, is immersed in the midst of hardy native Hornbeam hedging, with mid-green leaves throughout spring and summer producing green catkins from late spring to autumn, turning to clusters of winged fruit in autumn providing food for local wildlife."

    1. Thanks. But I'm surprised, as they have kept most of their dead leaves through the winter, as beech trees do but hornbeams are said not to.

    2. Yes, that's what I thought too (incidentally, I learned that young beech keep their leaves on in winter, as opposed to mature ones, from the wonderful Nobel prize-winning novel "The Wonderful Adventures of Nils" by Selma Lagerloef), hence the need to double-check. It might be a hornbeam cultivar. Laura

  3. coming to England from Canada in late August and will be in London for three days. I am so glad to see some of this info online as I was looking forward to a bit of a birding walk amidst the other touristy things we are doing. I work at a wild bird feed store here and have become quite addicted to birding. My daughter and I saw our first snow owl last year and our first screech owl this year.

    Is it best to look for the owls in Kensington Gardens at dusk time? Would you recommend anywhere else to add to our birding tour?

  4. Hope you get this reply, as the post you have commented on is over 5 months old. The Tawny Owls are seldom visible in summer, but with luck you should be able to find some Little Owls. They are awake and active during the day.

    Probably the best single place for birds in the London area is Rainham Marshes, on the east edge of the city and only a short train journey away -- see information here.

    Please keep an eye on the blog just before you come and comment on an up-to-date post, and I should be able to give you advice about currently interesting things in the park.