Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Scaup was still on the Round Pond, staying in the middle so that he had to be photographed from an inconvenient distance.

The rain didn't deter a Pied Wagtail hunting around the edge of the pond. You can see that it has picked up a good deal of mud on its beak from poking about in the wet grass.

A party of Mute Swans left the Serpentine and headed for the Round Pond.

This is where the low-status swans without a hope of claiming a nest site live. It is not a very attractive place, but there is enough to eat and they are not constantly beaten up by the dominant swans. The single young swan on the Italian Garden pond has chosen a different, though lonely, solution.

There was a dense crowd of Shovellers next to the reed bed beside the ornamental rock near the Italian Garden -- this reed bed has not been altered by the recent works. They have been in this exact spot for several days, so there must be an unusual amount of food in the water here.

The works in the lake continue with the construction of a shingle beach at the Vista. The idea is that it will attract wading birds. In recent years various species of waders have paid brief visits to the park -- several kinds of sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Lapwing -- and it seems a reasonable hope.

This female Tufted Duck on the Serpentine has a lot of white feathers at the base of her bill.

It is not unusual for female Tufted Ducks, but it causes confusion because it makes them look like female Scaups, which routinely have this white patch. However, Tufted Ducks have tufts -- those of the female are short, but clearly visible -- and Scaups don't.

The wire baskets of twigs near the bridge still have fish in them, though the stock has been much depleted by Cormorants. A Great Crested Grebe caught a perch.

The male Tawny Owl emerged in mid-afternoon, at my third visit to his tree.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The second Little Owl nest hole, near the bicycle track north of the Albert Memorial, is occupied again.

The owls were there last spring, but were evicted by a pair of Stock Doves that wanted the hole for themselves, after which we never found where they had gone. There seem to be more than just the two pairs we know, since several Little Owls have been seen hunting on the grass in front of Kensington Palace after dark -- and after the park is shut.

In the tree nest to this one, some Ring-Necked Parakeets were having a loud dispute over the ownership of another hole.

The male Tawny Owl was not in his usual place when I passed the first time. Instead, there were several squirrels chasing each other around the tree. One of them stared cheekily into the nest hole.

The owl came out later in the afternoon.

One of the Kensington Palace Dunnocks was climbing up the trunk of a tree looking for insects in the cracks in the bark.

The Grey Heron that hangs around the Dell restaurant had been forced off the pavement by the press of people. It isn't shy, but can't bash its way through crowds of humans like a swan. It flew on to the restaurant roof, where it was buzzed by gulls. So it went to the far end of a restaurant terrace and perched on a rusty cast iron urn which is there for some reason. As soon as it arrived it was attacked by a Carrion Crow. A heron's life is a hard one.

Just offshore, the local pair of Great Crested Grebes were resting. The one that was in winter plumage recently has almost grown its summer feathers.

I can't tell which of this pair is male and which is female. They are both solidly built birds with broad heads, and look male. Grebes often get confused too.

The Scaup is still on the Round Pond. He stayed obstinately in the middle of the water, so this is a very distant shot.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Scaup is back on the Round Pond. Probably it has been spending the past few days on the Serpentine, though it was only seen there once. It is very easy to miss, as it looks like a Tufted Duck from a distance, tends to stay far from the shore, and spends a lot of its time submerged.

Two Shoveller drakes were fighting at Peter Pan. They usually go around in pairs, and an unattached male had got too close to a female and was being chased off by her mate.

The pair of pigeon-eating Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were on the Dell restaurant, and the male launched himself off the roof in an unsuccessful attempt to catch a passing pigeon. He is the one of the pair who actually does the hunting. You can tell him by his larger size and the very deep yellow colour of his legs.

A Common Gull on the Serpentine was playing with a stick, as many species of gulls do. But this is the first time I've managed to get a picture of a Common Gull at play.

There were six Redwings foraging under plane trees near the Speke obelisk. As I was creeping up for a closer picture a dog disturbed them and they flew into the trees.

The Dunnocks at Kensington Palace are becoming quite easy to photograph. All you need to do is wait beside the feeder. This is near the palace wall at the northwest corner of the Sunken Garden.

This Robin in the leaf yard is being particularly aggressive, even by the standards of Robins. If any other small bird gets within twenty feet of the bush that is its territory, the angry bird launches itself at it.

The male Tawny Owl was out on his tree all day again.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The bird feeder between Kensington Palace and the Sunken Garden is doing roaring business. It was visited by a Dunnock and a Blue Tit ...

... while some Goldfinches waited in a tree for their turn.

Kensington Palace is closed till the end of the month, so there are fewer people around than usual. This gave free range to the little birds in the ornamental holly trees in front of the Orangery. A Wren was poking around beside one of them ...

... and a Robin had pulled up a small worm.

The small birds in the leaf yard were very hungry on a cold morning with an icy north wind. Great and Blue Tits and a single Coal Tit (top left) collected in a tree and came down to my hand in an orderly queue.

Occasionally two came down at once and there were indignant squeaks as they avoided a collision.

There were also two Nuthatches, which zoom down to the railings, scattering the other birds, and speed away as fast as they have come.

The wind had raised choppy waves on the Round Pond, which were breaking over the edge. This didn't deter a Pied Wagtail, which dodged the waves simply by taking off, causing it to be blown away in the opposite direction.

The male Tawny Owl seems to have settled into a habit of spending the day inside his tree and not coming out till it is getting dark. This makes it hard to get a good picture of him.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

This Black-Headed Gull seen at the Dell restaurant is a Swedish visitor, with ring number 6424936.

It wasn't me who spotted it: I was talking to Alan Gibson, who records and reports numerous gull rings every winter.

A first-winter Common Gull at the Round Pond was beginning to grow adult pale grey feathers on its back.

It takes a Common Gull three years to get full adult plumage. The smaller Black-Headed Gulls manage it in two, and the bigger Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backs take four.

On the Long Water, work is now starting on the stone sill to attract waders. This is on the east side of the Vista, a place undisturbed by people and convenient to view across the lake with binoculars or a camera with a long lens. Meanwhile, the workmens' floating skip is moored near Peter Pan. A Moorhen was exploring it.

A Tufted Duck was flying his tuft like a banner as he headed into the breeze near the Serpentine island.

Someone (I would guess Paul Turner, though I didn't see him) had left some dried mealworm pellets on the parapet of the Italian Garden. Carrion Crows are particularly fond of these, and Charlie, Melissa and Kevin had found them. Here is Charlie cramming in as many as he can manage.

As usual, the Jackdaws flew out to meet me at the Round Pond. Here one of them, perched on a stake holding up a young tree, stamps his foot impatiently waiting for his modelling fee of half a digestive biscuit.

The male Tawny Owl spent most of the day inside the nest tree, and it was almost four o'clock when he finally emerged.

The Song Thrush in the Flower Walk was singing again at sunset, high in a tall tree.

Today Great Tits, Blue Tits, a Greenfinch and a Goldfinch were also singing.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A solitary Redwing was foraging under the catalpa trees between Peter Pan and the Italian Garden. There hasn't been a sighting of the usual large flocks this winter, and the most I have seen together is half a dozen.

One of the Kensington Palace Dunnocks appeared among the ornamental holly trees in front of the Orangery. The gardeners are encouraging small birds in this area with feeders and nest boxes, and it is full of Robins, Blackbirds and Wrens.

The usual Coal Tits ...

... and Nuthatches ...

... came down to take food from the railings in the leaf yard.

And a Jay waited impatiently for me to stop photographing it and give it a peanut.

At Peter Pan, Charlie (left) and Melissa gave a display of synchronised eating. Crows are technically songbirds -- that is, they belong to the order Passeriformes -- and they have the strong perching feet of songbirds, which can hold a piece of food and a branch at the same time. They are holding their peanuts to peck them open in exactly the same grip as a tit would use on a smaller seed.

There had been no Red Crested Pochards on the lake for several weeks, but today two drakes reappeared at the Serpentine island.

Presumably they go to Regent's Park or St James's Park when they aren't here. The sight of their big ginger bouffant hairstyle is always cheering.

The male Tawny Owl was guarding the nest in the horse chestnut tree.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Wren was drinking at the little pool at the top of the Dell waterfall. People throw coins into the water, following a very ancient superstition. The Wren was standing over a shiny new penny, which is 20 mm, just over ¾ inch, in diameter.

On a larger scale, some Carrion Crows were drinking and bathing in the Round Pond.

In  the area where the grass was devastated by the funfair, work has already started on laying new topsoil and high-quality sports turf -- apparently it costs half a million every year to do this. A bunch of bold Black-Headed Gulls were following the harrow, searching for worms it had turned up.

I was hoping to see some Redwings in the quieter parts of this fenced-off area, where they often congregate, but so far it hasn't attracted any. There were just various gulls, Carrion Crows, a couple of Pied Wagtails and a flock of Starlings flying about -- all of them after small creatures of one kind or another.

Some Greylag Geese flew down from one of the still grassy parts of the Parade Ground to the Serpentine.

At the Lido, a Great Crested Grebe was fishing among a mob of Black-Headed Gulls. You often see them fishing among other birds, which provide cover. The fish are not worried by gulls or most waterfowl, so the agile predator can dart among them unexpectedly. However, if the grebe catches a fish, it has to surface some distance away or the gulls will grab it.

A Little Grebe appeared on the Long Water, fishing under the willow tree next to the bridge.

The male Tawny Owl retreated into his tree in mid-morning, disappointing several photographers. I went past the tree again just before half past three, and as I approached he came out again. But the light was fading on this grey day, so the picture is a bit dim.