Thursday 31 May 2012

The bushes are full of young songbirds being fed by their parents: Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, and a family of Wrens near the bridge. It is very hard to photograph them as they stay mostly inside the foliage. But here is one young Great Tit waiting to be fed.

The Grey Wagtails have two youngsters, who were sitting on on of the wire plant baskets around the Serpentine Island while one parent brought them food.

The eight young Egyptian Geese are well and growing fast, as are all the four broods of Mute Swans. But, ineviatbly, the Mandarin on the Long Water has already lost one of her ducklings. The lake is a very hard place for ducklings, and the vague way in which their mothers look after them doesn't help.

There were about 30 House Martins over the Serpentine, with half a dozen Swifts and two Swallows. All these birds seem to favour the lake on cloudy days; presumably sunshine causes more insects to appear in other places.

There were at least a hundred Greylag and Canada Geese on the lake, and numbers will climb further as more come in to take refuge during the summer moult of their flight feathers. Incomers included this blond Greylag. It is the third blond goose I have seen in the past two years, and the palest of the three.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

There were four Mandarin ducklings on the Long Water, under a bush near the Peter Pan statue. Their mother was sensibly keeping them well hidden from marauding gulls.

The careless Egyptian Geese still have their one survivor, and had somehow got it on to the tern raft -- the wire netting around the edge must be broken.

The eaves of the bandstand on Buck Hill had been boarded up to stop Starlings from nesting there. But the ingenious birds have found a way around the edges of the boards, and there were at least three nests. It is always pleasing to see the works of man defeated by nature.

There were plenty of young Great and Blue Tits chasing their parents around the bushes crying for food. Here a young Blue Tit perches on a twig waiting to be served.

There was also a young Grey Wagtail out on the edge of the Serpentine -- the young one, with a whitish front rather than a yellow one, is at the top of the picture, and the adult is below.

A lot of noise from nesting Ring-Necked Parakeets in the plane trees near the owl tree, and they could be seen going in and out of their nest holes. There was also a tiny fight between two Wrens on the path to the east of Italian Garden. Probably a male had dared to intrude on the territory of the local nesting male, always a temptation, as male Wrens are polygamous and can't watch all their mates all the time.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

The prolific but incompetent pair of Egyptian Geese from the east side of the Vista have hatched yet another brood, their third this year, and immediately lost all of them but one to marauding gulls. What a contrast with the pair who have jealously guarded their brood of eight for so long. You would think that with this kind of evolutionary pressure, waterfowl would become supremely competent parents in a few generations. Well, it has happened with swans and with real geese, but ducks (and Egyptian Geese are ducks) don't seem to have heard of Darwin. I saw this pair on the Long Water; they have been driven off the Vista by the building of the huge hoarding erected to stop us seeing the Henry Moore thing being installed.

A pair of Great Crested Grebes were building a nest in the overhanging willow tree next to the bridge. It is a good spot and has succeeded before, but unfortunately there is a Coots' nest far too near, and there were already sounds of dispute. Although a Great Crested Grebe can drive off a Coot in a straight fight, the Coot will always win in the end through sheer persistence.

At the Coots' nest in the Italian Garden, the sitting bird obligingly stood up for just long enough to allow me to photograph seven eggs.

Sad to say, a young Tawny Owl was found dead behind the Albert Memorial. It's impossible to say whether it was one of the five hatched by our regular owls. There are certainly other Tawny Owls in the park, though their whereabouts and habits remain mysterious.

A Starling was carrying nesting material into a hole in one of the plane trees near the small boathouses. At least two nests in these trees have already produced young Starlings, who are now chasing their parents all round the park, so this is a very late effort, perhaps a repeat after a brood failed.

The American Signal Crayfish are now back in large numbers. Peter Scott, who runs the boat hire on the Serpentine, reports that he was using a net to clean some debris out of the lake, and accidentally trapped hundreds of these creatures. They predate young fish, and may have already had some influence in causing the fall in the number of fish in the lake.

I know I have already published a picture of a young Robin, but can't resist putting up a picture of another, found wandering rather gormlessly under a bench on the edge of the Serpentine. I gave it some pine nuts and it became quite friendly.

Monday 28 May 2012

Today I did the routine monthly bird count. Results were much as expected: the number of Great Crested Grebes down to 10 after peaking at 19 earlier in the spring, and the number of Greylag Geese rising as they come in to moult their wing feathers during most of the month of June. The lake provides a refuge for them when they are flightless, the only danger being from the dogs of irresponsible park visitors, and possibly a few foxes at night -- but there are few foxes in the park since the rabbits were nearly wiped out by an outbreak of myxomatosis.

There were two pairs of Coal Tits behind the Albert Memorial, with the males loudly singing their iambic song.

The Coots in the Italian Garden have chosen a most eccentric ornament for their nest. While they collect all kinds of objects, usually they prefer red things and shiny metal foil. The bird sitting on the nest stood up for a moment and I saw at least five eggs, maybe six.

The Moorhens' nest at the Italian Garden also has eggs in it, but it is hard to count them through the reeds. This rather obscured photograph gives an idea of the problem.

The Egyptian Geese still have all their eight young, and the four pairs of Mute Swans still have 18 cygnets. There was just one Mallard duckling near the bridge.

To add to the pictures of birds sunbathing, here is a female Blackbird looking as if she had crashed. A few seconds after I had taken this picture she got up, shook herself to straighten her feathers, and flew away looking as neat as usual.

Elizabeth has made a small collection of some pictures of Blue Tits at a nestbox in her garden, which you can find here.

Sunday 27 May 2012

One of the teenage Tawny Owls was cheekily sitting in his father's favourite place in the nest tree.

There is a Moorhens' nest in the reeds just under the parapet of the Italian Garden. There is usually one here every year, but this is the first time that it has been built so close to the edge, and has been visible. I fear that it won't escape the sharp eyes and sharper beaks of the Grey Herons.

The Moorhens built a nest even more in the open a couple of weeks ago and got as far as laying an egg, but then abandoned it.

A large hoarding is being erected on the east side of the Vista, where they are preparing to replace that very ugly Henry Moore sculpture. When it was site there some years ago, the foundations were not strong enough and it subsided into the ground and was removed, to general relief. But last year they built some massive concrete foundations for it, and evidently the thing is going back in time for the Olympics. Which would not be bird news except for one thing: the workmen have just added a pair of large iron gateposts. So it looks as if this great lump is going to be made even more hideous by putting an enclosure around it -- another encroachment on the open space and wildlife habitat of the park. It is not as if it needed protection from the public, since the area is already behind railings. Sadly, it's made out of stone, not bronze which might have led to its being stolen by scrap metal thieves.

Here is a remarkable picture by Andrew, of a Common Tern that has just caught a fish. It was taken last year; there have been few visits from terns this year because there are not enough fish of the right size in the lake. These birds can often be seen flying up and down the Grand Union Canal from Paddington Basin out to beyond Wormwood Scrubs. Heaven knows how they manage to see the fish in its murky water. But it is quite a healthy habitat and I have seen other fishing birds there, such as Cormorants and -- just once -- a Little Grebe.

Saturday 26 May 2012

The first young Blue Tits are out of their nests, and flitting around in the bushes being fed by their parents.

Most of the Great Crested Grebes have left. I think that the stock of suitable sized fish in the lake is now too low to encourage them to breed. They do this not at any particular time of year, but when they are very well fed, which is a useful indicator because it means that they will be able to find enough food for up to five ravenous chicks. However, the pair at the Serpentine island who lost their nest to a Grey Heron have now rebuilt it, about a yard farther out from the original site. It might be in deep enough water to be safe, but I doubt it. And there is a herons' nest in a tree only 30 ft away.

I am still not sure whether there is another grebes' nest in the rushes by the Serpentine outflow, but I think so, as one bird of the pair was hanging around outside the netting, probably indicating that its mate was on the nest.

There were still a few Swifts, flying high over the lake but audible. It is remarkable how far their screaming calls carry.

The House Martins at the embassies are constantly visiting their nest sites. This picture shows how the nest is fitted in behind the plaster rose in the bottom of the cornice. It is an ideal place, saving a lot of building work; no wonder the birds come back to this place year after year.

All the Mute Swans' cygnets and the eight young Egyptian geese were present and in good order.

Here is another of Andrew's superb pictures. You might think that this is a Lesser Black-Backed Gull, but he tells me that it is a Yellow-Legged Gull, its grey back looking darker than usual because its wings are raised as it takes off from the water. These birds are the same colour as Herring Gulls but distinguishable by their bright yellow legs.

Friday 25 May 2012

Not much to be seen today, as a lot of the birds were sheltering from the hot sun. Even some of the Mute Swans had retired into the shrubbery on the island. However, the family with seven cygnets from the Lido were begging for food on the edge of the lake, just 20 yards from the Egyptian Geese with their eight. The parents were eyeing each other aggressively, but both families were being fed by several people and they decided that it was too hot for hostilities.

Do birds get too hot? Honestly I don't know. In cooler weather when the sun is out, you can see them sunbathing in oddly abandoned attitudes, like this Robin

or this Starling.

The full-size original of the Starling picture is here, and you might like to view the central part at full size to see the wonderful iridescence of its feathers.

When birds are bathing, it often looks as if they are trying to cool down, like these Starlings,

but probably they are just trying to relieve themselves of parasites. Here is another of Andrew's splendid photographs, showing a Mandarin giving a master class in splashing.

The female Tawny Owl was still visible at the top of the nest tree, well shaded by the leaves.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Yet another three cygnets on the lake, from the Mute Swans' nest at the west end of the Serpentine island. That makes 18 in all, a record. The various broods are being taken round the edge of the lake at a safe distance from each other, and I didn't see any fighting. However, the father of the first brood of seven was taking a hard line with some teenage Egyptian geese that had strayed into his zone of influence.

The eight young Egyptian geese are still in good order. Here is the family eating algae in the middle of the increasingly scummy Serpentine.

The House Martins have now started building nests in the cornice of the French embassy, their original preferred place, as well as in the Kuwaiti embassy. I saw twelve birds attending to six nests, three in each building. They also fly over the bottom end of the Serpentine hunting for insects.

The female Tawny Owl could be seen with difficulty at the top of the nest tree.

Andrew Williamson, a professional photographer who spends a lot of time in the park, has kindly sent me some superb pictures to use on the blog. Here are two of young Long-Tailed Tits waiting for their parents to feed them. When a parent approaches, their eyelids, which are usually orange, flush red. I don't know whether this is because of excitement or a stimulus to their parents to give them food; it could be both at once.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

The lake is now lined with Coots' nests in every suitable place. Having run out of good places, they are now using bad ones, and the overcrowding causes a good deal of noisy territorial dispute. This nest in a patch of irises in the Italian Garden now has several eggs in it. The irises are sadly ripped up, and workmen have been putting netting around the other clumps to stop coots from using them too. Actually I don't think that this is necessary, because the existing pair would chase off any rivals that got that close.

Another pair of Coots has built on a plastic crate under the overhanging terrace of the Dell restaurant -- well sheltered, but at risk from the Lesser Black-Backed Gull who hangs around the area.

The Mute Swans nesting at the outflow of the Serpentine have hatched three cygnets, and today the parents took them out for their first swim in the lake.

The female Tawny Owl was unexpectedly visible in the nest tree. Every time I see an owl here I think it will be the last time this year, and take an indifferent picture as a record, and then a few days later an owl pops up again.

Here is one of the Ring-Necked Parakeets that are now coming down to take food from people. They have become very bold and can be fed by almost anyone. Their bright green plumage makes them nearly invisible among the leaves as long as they stay still -- just as it makes them absurdly conspicuous in winter when the trees are bare.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

The Mute Swans nesting on the Serpentine island have brought their new brood out on to the water. There are five cygnets. This makes three broods of cygnets so far, totalling at least 14 -- it is still not clear how many there are at the outflow of the Serpentine.

There is probably a Great Crested Grebes' nest in the reeds at the south side of the outflow, but it is impossible to see anything except the parents going in and out. The bottom of the netting fence only reaches just below the water, so they can dive under it easily. It makes a useful barrier against predatory gulls.

There were still a few Swifts high over the lake, and some House Martins circling above the Kuwaiti embassy.

There is a thick growth of hair algae, especially on the Long Water, and likely to be a lot more if the hot weather continues. The algae started growing before the weather warmed up -- in fact in chilly weather that would not normally have started it -- almost certainly because the recent heavy rain caused a lot of soil to be carried into the water, bringing with it of nitrates and phosphates to feed the algae. The problem is particularly severe on the west side of the Vista, where the land drains overflow whenever it rains hard and a stream runs over the tarmac. It is exacerbated by the gardeners spreading leafmould on the grass. The amount of organic material going into the lake will have completely swamped any effect of the tons of expensive gloop they poured into the lake to absorb phosphates (if indeed this stuff has any effect). But on 18 May, just as the algae were beginning to thicken, there they were again idiotically spreading leafmould on the Vista to make the problem worse.

However, the algae are good news for some.

The Mistle Thrushes nesting near the Serpentine Gallery were hopping around the grass, standing stiffly upright when they stopped.

Monday 21 May 2012

The Mute Swans nesting near the outflow of the Serpentine have at least two cygnets, with more probably still to hatch.

They are not in such a good place for viewing as the family near the Lido -- whose seven cygnets were all present while they begged for food at the restaurant. I have heard that a third nest on the Serpentine island has hatched, but couldn't see anything myself.

The Egyptian Geese have also kept their brood of eight intact.

Several of the Coots' nests are also hatching, which has made these aggressive birds more furious than usual.

I saw one chasing off a pair of Red-Crested Pochards that had ventured too close, and they are also attacking Moorhens. One pair of Coots is building in the Italian Garden, on a clump of the newly planted yellow irises which it has pecked to bits to make the nest. If they persist, there will be a fine view of developments.

And the first young Robins are out of their nests and going about with their parents. Their fronts are still brown and slightly speckled.

Update: Forgot to mention four Greylag goslings seen near the small boathouses.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Large clouds of flying insects around the lake, and the Swifts had returned in large numbers to take advantage of them. There were also quite a few House Martins, both feeding over the lake and circling the Kuwaiti embassy. I hope that more nests will be built.

On the edge of the Serpentine a Grey Wagtail was also feeding, by suddenly jumping up from the ground to seize a passing insect and then landing to wait for the next one.

The young Pied Wagtail which has been begging for food from its parents also showed that it was learning to hunt by catching a crane fly, a slow-flying insect ideal for beginners.

It was feeding time for the young Starlings too, in this case with a piece of biscuit. The parents patrol the terrace of the Lido restaurant looking for scraps on unoccupied tables. Sometimes they seize food from occpied tables too, to the amusement or horror of the diners. Potato chips are particularly sought after.

In the Leaf Yard, a pair of Song Thrushes was having a loud singing duel. It is easy to think of their song as repetitive, if cheerful. But when challenged by a rival they become quite creative, though they can never challenge a Blackbird for sheer musical invention.

Writing this a bit late, as I have been for a long walk beside the river. I went past St Mary's church on the river bank in Battersea, where there is a colony of Greylag Geese living around a ramp that leads down into the water. As usual, they had produced two broods of goslings, thriving in the uncertain conditions of a tidal river in a heavily built-up area. There is no need for people to mow the grass in the churchyard or the nearby housing estate: the geese keep it down to bowling-green smoothness.

Saturday 19 May 2012

The Blue Tits' nest in the lamp post on the path behind the Lido is a going concern. Here a parent brings an insect to the chicks.

A brood of Great Tits are out of their nests already in Hyde Park near the north end of the bridge. The young birds are chasing their parents, begging for food with scratchy calls.

Four pairs of House Martins are building nests in the cornice of the Kuwaiti embassy. Not many, but the colony seems to be re-establishing itself after its recent near collapse.

There were only two Swifts, but the comings and goings of these mysterious birds are quite unpredictable.

No Swallows have been seen for several days, but they never stay long in the park, and they have performed their duty of announcing the spring. A Greek vase of about 510 BC, now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, shows three people looking at the first swallow of spring. Inscriptions too faint to show in the photograph, and written in the peculiar spelling of the Athenian dialect, say:
Look, a swallow / Yes, by Herakles / There it is / Spring already!

The Mute Swan family ventured on to the Long Water to eat leaves off the willow tree near the bridge. But there was a pair of males shaping up for a fight,

so they soon went back to the relative safety of the Serpentine. When I passed their nest later, the mother and the cygnets were all back on it peacefully dozing.

No Tawny Owls to be seen, but I heard the female calling from the tree immediately north of the nest tree.

Friday 18 May 2012

A fourth Grey Herons' nest is going up on the Serpentine island, midway between the two on the landward side. It is well hidden in the foliage, but birds could be seen flying in and out carrying twigs. The nest at the east end of the island is still going, thought at the moment all you can see is the head of the sitting bird. When the young hatch in this nest, there should be fine opportunities for watching their development.

The Mute Swans at the Lido have kept their brood of seven intact, and the Egyptian Geese nearby have kept their eight. These were sitting in a close huddle on the edge of the swimming area. They have grown visibly in the past few days.

After a while their parents took them up on to the daisy-covered bank.

A Grey Wagtail was running all over the ornamental stonework on the Serpentine bridge hunting for insects.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker in the leaf yard was drumming loudly and insistently.

An adult Tawny Owl was visible in one of the horse chestnut trees in front of the nest tree. In the nest tree itself, two owlets could be seen; probably the rest were nearby hidden in the thick leaves.

Thursday 17 May 2012

The Mute Swans have already started taking their cygnets around the lake to beg for food, a tactic that  they know is extremely effective, as no one can resist their fluffy babies. When I saw them they were working the waterside tables at the Lido restaurant and getting plenty of contributions.

The Egyptian Geese still have all their brood of eight, despite a dozen Herring Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-Backs eyeing them from a few yards away. When I passed, the male was noisily seeing off a Coot that had got too close. Clearly he has the right attitude for keeping his offspring alive. Here one of them investigates a swan feather but finds that it is not good to eat.

At the Tawny Owls' nest site, a couple of owlets were still partly visible through the leaves. This distant photograph is not good, but it does show that they now have completely adult plumage and their juvenile grey fluff has disappeared.

The Pied Flycatcher was on the Long Water, and for the first time I saw her sitting still on a branch. But she was on the far side of the Vista, barely recognisable even through binoculars and well beyond the range of my camera.

Nearby, two pairs of Great Crested Grebes were enjoying a territorial dispute, with a lot of threatening and circling and diving and loud territorial calls -- aark-kk, aark-kk. But the grebes have been very slow about setting up nests, with the exception of the pair that have already nested on the Serpentine island and been raided by a Grey Heron. These were looking at the same nest site again. I hope they don't choose it, because it is as vulnerable as it ever was.

There has been no sight or sound of Little Grebes for at least a fortnight. I am beginning to think they have gone away.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

House Martins are now definitely making nests in the cornice of the Kuwaiti embassy. This picture shows the downward-facing stucco roses on whose petals they build. It is very hard to see the actual nests even with binoculars; you just see birds flying in and out of the holes. Also, the embassy security men take a poor view of people staring at their building through glasses, let alone taking photographs of it. I was able to take this one because they were distracted by roadworks going on in the street.

There were fewer Swifts, and I think the Swallows have all moved on. They never stay long in the park.

The Mute Swans have taken their seven cygnets out for a small expedition. Here their mother watches them with anxious pride. Later she took them back to the nest and settled down with them all completely hidden under her enormous wings.

A visit to the Tawny Owls' nest tree revealed just one owlet, with the rest completely invisible in the leaves.

The Egyptian Geese have managed to keep all their brood of eight alive. It helps that there are fewer Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls than there were a week ago. But it is also noticeable that some of these birds are much more attentive parents than others, and keep their young close to them.