Tuesday 31 July 2012

The Coots nesting in the Italian Garden have five chicks. Thanks to someone using the nickname Alopochen aegyptiacus (the scientific name of the Egyptian Goose) who commented on yesterday's blog post, I was alerted and went to see them today. Both parents are being most solicitous of their new brood, and the male is bringing the female presents of leaves (unfortunately, hacked out of the other plantations in the garden).

The same contributor sent me a link to a splendid close-up he took yesterday; you can find it here.

As I left the Coots, a Kestrel flew over, like a symbol of the dangers facing newly hatched chicks -- though in the case of Coots, it's the big gulls that do the real damage.

A Little Owl was calling from the dense cover of the leaf yard.

Beside the Serpentine, a couple of policemen were guarding an injured Greylag Goose that had been hit by a cyclist as it crossed the path. They had got through to Malcolm, who was on his way. But there is only one Wildlife Officer for all the London Royal Parks, and he would have taken some time to arrive from Richmond through the traffic jams.

The Robin family behind the Albert Memorial brought their two youngsters out to feed on some pine nuts I put down for them. Most small birds are very keen on these expensive things. Here, one of the young birds begs for food by vibrating his whole body, uttering a trilling cry.

A Grey Heron taunted by a pair of Carrion Crows lost its temper and chased them away. A pigeon, caught in the path of the charge, made a hasty exit.

Monday 30 July 2012

The Great Crested Grebes nesting on the Long Water had more to contend with today. All the Bluebird hired boats have been banished from the Serpentine as the Olympics begin to bite, and have had to be moored on the Long Water. The large solar-powered electric boat was moored close to the fallen poplar tree which the grebes have eccentrically chosen to nest on. The boat people were careful, but the birds were naturally alarmed by the approach of this 30 ft long silver vessel, and the sitting bird left her nest several times. However, once the boat was safely moored she came back, and was soon sitting again as if nothing had happened.

Mr Scott of Bluebird Boats kindly took me out in a dinghy to look at the nest. We kept at a tactful distance but the grebe was already a bit rattled and got off again, though she returned in less than a minute. At least this gave a sight of the inside of the slimy mess that a grebe calls home.

Only two eggs were visible; Great Crested Grebes usually lay four or five. I think that they have already hatched and lost at least one chick, since I am almost certain I saw one yesterday, at a distance through binoculars. But I also saw the sitting grebe snapping at a low-flying Black-Headed Gull, and the nest is in a very vulnerable place. Let's hope they have better luck with their remaining eggs.

The Coots' nest placed equally strangely in the Serpentine outflow is still in business. I heard at least two young birds calling from inside the culvert, but have still not seen any. The Reed Warblers near the bridge were also uttering occasional quiet calls from inside their reed bed.

Here the black and white Mallard and her light coloured mate enjoy a siesta in the warm sunlight on the edge of the Serpentine. They are still flightless, but their new wing feathers are growing in.

And the two elder Moorhen chicks at the Vista venture out from under their protective bench.

Just after I took this picture a Grey Heron arrived, intent on a Moorhen lunch, and they ran swiftly and gracefully back into the undergrowth.

Sunday 29 July 2012

The Great Crested Grebes nesting on the poplar now have at least one chick. No wonder the nesting bird hung on so bravely when threatened by the weed cutting machine. It is impossible to take a good picture of this nest because it is so far from anywhere you can stand on the shore, but here you can see that the male is sitting with his wings slightly raised to shelter a chick on his back, while the female fusses around in the water nearby.

The Moorhens under the bench beside the Vista have belatedly brought out a third chick, much smaller than the others. Despite its late start, it was running around the tarmac with great vigour while I fed it biscuit crumbs. At one point a hungry Mallard knocked it over, but it picked itself up and ran on.

Everything is very late this year. I went to see the House Martins at the Kuwaiti embassy and found more nests: 12 in all, of which at least 8 were certainly being attended. Can they get their young flying by the end of September, when it is time to go back to Africa?

The Coal Tits in the leaf yard have come back to be fed after being absent for a while. I haven't seen any young ones, though all the other kinds of tit have bred successfully. They follow me about, coming down from time to time to take a pine nut from my hand. They take some time selecting the nut they prefer, and are quite likely to be knocked off by a larger bird before they have made their choice, but always come back when the coast is clear.

Here the Coot in the Italian Garden begins the strenuous climb up the wire netting, bring a waterlily stem to his mate. It was in vain: she didn't like it and threw it out of the nest, and he had to go off immediately and get a more attractive leaf from a clump of rushes. Still no sign of their eggs hatching.

Sheltering from a shower under the Tawny Owls' nest tree, I found a fresh owl pellet containing rat bones. Good to know that the owls are still here even if they are invisible. I have been told that owls have favourite places to stand while regurgitating their pellets; this one was within inches of the last one found on 22 June when I was there with Nigel Reeve taking the GPS coordinates of the tree.

Behind the ugly sprawl of the vast Olympic compound there is a pretty patch of native wildflowers in the grass. The blue cornflowers are particularly beautiful.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Four families of Blackbirds today, a good number. After an influx of Blackbirds last autumn, numbers seem to be holding up, so the rapid decline in population that has affected this park uniquely may be arrested or even reversed. One of the families was enjoying the dark red plums on a tree beside the little path that leads down from the Triangle car park to the Serpentine. Normally people pick these plums, which are small but tasty; but this year they are behind the Olympic barrier and only birds can reach them. There was a Song Thrush in the same tree.

Here a female Blackbird emerges from the shrubbery to have a rest from feeding her young and attend to her feathers. She is well camouflaged among the leaf litter.

One doesn't normally think of Grey Herons as birds that use camouflage: their way of remaining unnoticed is to stand stock still. But here are three herons in the fallen horse chestnut tree in the Long Water, and they are remarkably difficult to see.

Both families of Great Crested Grebes at the Serpentine island are doing well.

They will probably have to move when the wild rumpus starts on the lake. There are now plenty of small fish in the Long Water, but they will have to take the territory of the pair near the bridge who have not nested, but are behaving quite fiercely -- see yesterday's picture. The grebe nesting on the fallen poplar bravely remained on her nest yesterday when the man operating the weed-clearing machine came recklessly close to them, and I am glad to say that the pair are are still there today.

The family of Greylag Geese were efficiently begging for food at the Lido restaurant.

Note: Elizabeth mentioned yesterday that she had rediscovered how to enlarge the photographs on this blog for a better view. For any readers who don't know, all you have to do is click on any picture. You will be taken to a page with a black background, and can view all the day's pictures by scrolling up or down with the mouse wheel, or clicking on the thumbnails at the bottom. To close this page and return to the text, click the X in the top right corner.

Friday 27 July 2012

The Reed Warblers on the Long Water near the bridge have a family. I saw and heard them moving around in the evergreen trees across the path from their reed bed, and had quite enough sight of them to be certain what they were. Their scratchy calls are much as you would expect after hearing the male Reed Warbler's harsh, clattering song.

A little farther up the lake, two Great Crested Grebes were enjoying a territorial fight when a couple of Coots thought it would be amusing to join in. The grebes gave up immediately, dived, and surfaced some distance away in their respective territories. Grebe fights look savage but are actually wresting matches in which no one gets hurt. The idea is to get a grip on the opponent and hold his head under water so that he submits (or her head: boths sexes fight, sometimes two on two). Coots fight to injure, so their intervention was spoiling the fun.

The Little Owl was calling repeatedly from a tree in the leaf yard. As usual, it remained invisible. But it is good to know that this elusive bird is still with us. There has been no sign of any family, but we would be unlikely to find out if there were one.

A pair of Moorhens nesting in a well hidden place in the reed bed below the Italian Garden have just hatched five chicks, and were feeding them on the edge of the filter under the ornamental fountain.

Here is a closer shot of a baby Moorhen's curious red and blue head. It is strange that newly hatched Moorhens have black feathers and red beaks but, as they grow larger, they change to shades of drab brown all over. When adult, they become black again and regain their red beaks.

And here two bees gather nectar from an Australian bottlebrush flower (Callistemon) near the Lido.

Thursday 26 July 2012

A young Jay made an appearance in the hazel thicket at the bottom of the leaf yard. It is just growing its adult face, with a fierce painted-on moustache like a Kathakali dancer, but still has that tatty, elderly look of an adolescent bird. Birds start off grey; we end up grey.

Both families of Great Crested Grebes from the island were out on the water. Here a parent bird with young on its back is passed by the Greylag Goose family.

The two grebe families were in sight of each other and, as always when this happens, started squabbling about territory. But there are plenty of small fish and it was too hot to quarrel, so they just exchanged a few insults and threatening gestures, backed off from the borderline, and went on feeding their chicks.

Here one of the Coots at the outflow of the lake climbs up his newly made ramp. The plaintive cries of chicks could be heard echoing in the cavernous space behind, but so far they have not emerged. And why should they? They are safe from gulls and their parents are feeding them.

The Black-Headed Gull with the ring mentioned here on 18 July came close enough for me to take photographs. It was obliging enough to shift its stance, allowing almost the whole number to be seen. It is almost certainly EX63693, only the last figure being unclear because of the angle.

This is one of several gulls that Roy Sanderson ringed in Hyde Park in December 2011. If the last figure is 3, it was seen later in Bushy Park before it headed off to its breeding site, probably in the Netherlands or Scandinavia, and here it is back home for the winter.

A reminder: if you get even a partial view of a gull's ring number, please put it in the comments here and Roy may be able to tell you about it.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

It was time for the monthly bird count: a pretty low total. Many birds are keeping well away from the noise and disturbance as the Olympic preparations gather pace, or have simply left. I don't know whether I shall be able to get into Hyde Park at all once the games have started. About a sixth of the two parks is now covered with construction. This is the most damaging event that the parks have suffered in their entire history.

The weed-chopping machine was on the Long Water, stirring up a good deal of mud and making the water murky. The algae here have mostly died, and have been succeeded by a true plant, a species of Najas which, although not very pleasing to look at, is purifying rather than polluting the water, and should have been left to grow to keep the water in the Serpentine clear. So, as usual, human attempts to clean up the lake are making things worse.

But amid the destruction and noise, there were cheering sights. A pair of Great Crested Grebes from the other, west, end of the Serpentine island has produced two very young chicks from an unsuspected nest somewhere behind the wire plant baskets.

In Kensington Gardens near the bridge, a young Wren was calling noisily for food while its mother explored the bushes for insects.

There was another kind of dragonfly on the edge of the Long Water. I looked it up, and it is apparently a White-Tailed Skimmer, though why this mainly pale blue insect should have that name is a mystery to me.

And in the shrubbery near the Rudolf Steiner memorial bench, a fox was taking no notice of anyone.

Update: Gino confirms that the plant is Najas guadalupensis. He also points out that cutting it up and leaving bits strewn over the water surface will cause it to spread faster.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Moorhens in their hidden nest in the top of the willow near the bridge have at least one chick, seen here on a branch of the tree.

After I had taken this picture they climbed down from their unusual habitat and took to the water like any other Moorhens.

I need not have worried about the Coots nesting in the outflow of the Serpentine. Someone -- probably Malcolm, the Royal Parks Wildlife Officer -- has kindly made them a little wooden ramp so that they can climb out over the weir. I heard the chicks calling from inside the outflow and waited for a bit to see if any of them came up the ramp, but none did.

The Reed Warbler nearby was singing from a patch of reeds a few yards away from his usual place. In the patch where he is usually found, I thought I could hear faint scratchy calls like nestlings waiting to be fed. I listened for a while, but the noise of the park made it impossible to hear more. Will keep an ear on this spot.

The Great Crested Grebe family from the Serpentine island have now come right across the lake, where their parents were feeding the chicks on tiny fish with great efficiency. Here one of the chicks stretches out a leg, giving a good view of a grebe's unique turbine-blade toes that make it the fastest of all foot-propelled swimming birds. (Penguins are faster, swimming with their wings. These modifications come at a price: penguins can't fly, grebes can hardly walk.)

In the Dell, a Grey Heron was enviously eyeing some carp far too big for it to catch.

There is a family of Robins in the bushes behind the Albert Memorial. Here, one of the young birds waits for a parent to bring food.

When about to be fed, a young Robin vibrates its entire body violently, like a tiny high-speed version of a dog coming out of the water. 

Monday 23 July 2012

The territorial battle of the Mute Swans continues on the Long Water. This time the male at the Lido turned up before the rest of his large family and confronted the lone resident male at the line of posts that is the current frontier of their territories. He then crossed the line and made efforts to push the other swan back to the next line, which is marked by a fallen horse chestnut tree sticking into the water.

These are both big birds, about equal in strength. Normally an intruder on to another swan's territory would lose, but this one has a family, which gives him considerable status in these confrontations. King David got this right:
Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant,
Even so are the young children.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.
(Psalm 127:4-5)
Nearby, a female Tufted Duck was foraging among the algae.

You can see that the Long Water is still fairly clear, though there are mats of dead green algae which, if the weather remains warm for the next few days as forecast, will be overgrown with toxic blue-green algae. However, the Serpentine is as murky as oxtail soup. The algae are nourishing a good growth of young fish -- these are mostly roach with a few bream. (Thank you, Gino, for telling me this when I was taking the picture.)

But the water is really in a pretty bad state. The murkiness is due largely to the work on the Olympic jetty, and careless use of motor boats, stirring up mud from the bottom. The top two feet of the heavy growth of algae has been cut back with a curious machine looking like a cross between a combine harvester and a tank -- it actually has tracks, which propel it on both water and land. This has also churned up a lot of mud. Once it comes up, it takes days to subside.

But even before this, the lake had been badly disturbed. Last year, when a triathlon was held in the lake as a trial run for the Olympics, the lake was also weedy, though not nearly as bad as it is now. So they poured thousands of gallons of hydrogen peroxide into it, which killed the algae but seems to have knocked the ecosystem badly out of kilter. This spring, many tonnes of mineral sludge were dumped in the lake in an effort to absorb the nitrates and phosphates that nourish algae -- it consisted mainly of fine clay with some compound of lanthanum (a radioactive element). Soon after this, although the weather was cold and no algae would normally have been expected, there was a strong growth of three kinds of green algae, which has not abated.

At the same time, all the Little Grebes left the lake and have not been seen since. In Regent's Park, where the water has not been mucked about with, there are plenty of Little Grebes and they have bred.

I would not want to swim in this water, and feel sorry for the athletes who will have to.

To return to more cheerful matters, here is a white dove that has managed to avoid involvement in the opening ceremony.

And here a purple loosestrife plant has escaped from the planting in the Italian Garden and is decorating a nearby fence, to the delight of a young photographer.

Sunday 22 July 2012

A sunny Sunday and the park was full of people, and the shyer birds had retreated. Of course many of the park birds are completely blasé about crowds. Here a moorhen feeds her chick unconcernedly in the middle of the pavement near the Bluebird boat hire cabin, unworried by photographers. 

And here a Greylag Goose explores the edibility of the hedge plants, on a narrow path with people a few inches away.

And of course, all the usual geese, swans, ducks and pigeons were efficiently following people with bags of bread, and are now joined by increasing numbers of Black-Headed Gulls. The experienced park birds can spot the telltale carrier bag and stance on the edge of the water from a distance of 300 yards, and instantly head for the spot from all directions.

The Coots nesting in the Italian Garden, having completely wrecked the clump of plants they nested in, have now started chewing up the plants in the other clumps. Here one returns form an expedition with a stem of purple loosestrife and climbs the wire netting around the nest to present it to its mate.

Fond as I am of letting birds do their thing, it is a pity the Coots are making such a mess of the attractive new water plants in the Italian Garden. The flowering rushes have just come into bloom.

Saturday 21 July 2012

The Ring-Necked Parakeets have returned from their summer holiday in the fields, and are as keen as ever for peanuts. Unlike other birds, they seem to prefer peanuts to the more expensive kinds. Perhaps they find shelling them amusing.

The Mute Swans from the Lido came to the shore next to the Peter Pan statue to be fed. The lone male swan who lives on the Long Water, who lost his mate and his nest, probably to a fox, resented this intrusion. Here he is approaching in the background, and the male of the pair, on the right with wings half raised in threat, is heading out to confront him.

They had a long bout of circling each other threatingly, but did not come to blows. Meanwhile, a Grey Heron thought it would fun to buzz them.

Eventually the dispute was settled. The Lido swans now rule the territory on the right side of the line of posts, and the lone swan has the territory on the left. But any crossing of the line will bring trouble.

I saw two Reed Warblers at the patch of reeds on the Long Water next to the bridge. One flew down from a tree and vanished into the reeds, and then I heard faint calls in what sounded like a Reed Warbler's scratchy voice from the tree. It could have been a young Great Tit calling for food; I was not sure. So I looked up into the branches, and got a momentary but clear glimpse of a Reed Warbler moving around in the twigs, I suppose looking for insects.

A pair of Coots has built a nest inside the outflow of the Serpentine. There is a large filter bed behind the balustrade, under the path. I heard young Coots calling plaintively from inside, while a pair of adults stood on the weir, over which water was flowing briskly.

I hope the young birds can get out. In previous years a Coots' nest here has failed, and a Moorhen's nest has succeeded; but young Moorhens are more agile than Coots and better able to jump up the weir.

Roy Sanderson has looked at the picture of the ring on the leg of a Black-Headed Gull that I put on the blog on the 18th. He has changed his mind about it, and think it may be one of his. He writes:

'It is a British ring. The "NW" is actually part of www , the web site address of the BTO [British Trust for Ornithology]. In quite small letters above that is part of "museum", the address to send the ring number to. The ring number is possibly EX 6369x, the x being a missing number; EX is a guess. That series of ten EX numbers was used by me in December 2011, all in Hyde Park. 63693 was seen in Bushy Park and 63694 in Regent's Park before they left for their breeding sites, probably in the Netherlands or Scandinavia.'

It shows how much information you can get from a ring, even when it's a guess at a partial number.

Friday 20 July 2012

The Great Crested Grebes nesting on the Long Water were calling excitedly to each other and displaying their crests. I could see no reason for this, but it is possible that their eggs are beginning to hatch. It's a pity that this spectacle happens at such a distance, which makes a good photograph impossible.

The grebe family on the Serpentine were also rushing around, and both chicks were being fed by their father. He was catching a small fish every time he dived, about twice a minute, so there is now no shortage of food for the young. He was clearly getting bored with his solitary labour, and stopped from time to time to call his mate, with the 'aaaAAAaaa' call that in the language of Great Crested Grebes means 'Come here.' But she was nowhere to be seen.

On the Long Water, one of the male Red Crested Pochards in eclipse came over with his mate. As you can see, they now have almost exactly the same plumage, and you can only tell the male by his bright red bill. He will be regrowing his usual showy plumage quite soon.

Opposite the Peter Pan statue, a Grey Heron stood indifferently in a line of Black-Headed Gulls, some of which were playing their usual game of knocking each other off the fence posts. I don't know whether this is caused by high-ranking birds pushing the lower-ranking ones away, or whether it is just a general display of aggression.

The young Egyptian Geese at the Round Pond are trying their new wings, flapping across the water trying to get airborne. None of them managed it while I was there. It is a poignant moment, because seven of the ten will be able to fly and three, which suffer from the 'angel wing' deformity, will not, and don't have much of a life to look forward to. Here one of the unlucky ones thrashes desperately to no avail.

Thursday 19 July 2012

I went up to the place where the sighting of the Red-Breasted Flycatcher was reported. No result, but it is an interesting area. There are more Blackbirds here than anywhere else in Kensington Gardens, where the population has fallen severely in recent years. They are mostly at the extreme northern edge of the park by the Bayswater Road, where the park is bounded by a holly hedge that they like -- they don't seem to be disturbed by the traffic only feet awat. I think they roost and nest in the gardens of the houses in the side streets, and fly into the park by day to find worms in the grass. There was a young Blackbird among them, with speckled juvenile plumage, following its mother and calling for food.

The avenue of lime trees parallel to the edge of the park is a good place to see Long-Tailed Tits, which move along it in flocks looking for aphids.

(If you park your car under a lime tree, the aphids will cover it with their sticky secretions, which are hard to remove.)

On the Long Water, some of the Mallard ducklings have reached a fair size.

The posts are now covered with returning Black-Headed Gulls, gradually losing the chocolate brown head feathers of their breeding plumage. In winter they will have white heads with a dark spot around the ear.

Here a Green Darner dragonfly rests on the tarmac at the edge of the Serpentine. It was remarkably calm about being photographed, and this shot was taken at a distance of six inches.