Friday 31 August 2012

Amazing what difference a bit of sunshine makes. Yesterday when I did the monthly bird count on a dark grey day I saw no Grey Herons -- which is most unusual -- but today there were three. Yesterday there were no Starlings, today more than 40 stealing food from the people at the Lido restaurant.

Nearby, there was an unusual Coot with a speckled white head. Pure black birds often have a few white feathers, as if the strain of producing all that melanin was too much for them.

This young Carrion Crow has white secondary wing feathers, which you can see under its folded black primaries. It is one of a family on Buck Hill, which I have watched growing up over the summer. The young bird has stopped pestering its parents for food, and now realises that it is more efficient to cut out the middleman and pester me instead. I am more than happy to give it an occasional peanut, as long as it waits until I'm dead before trying to eat me.

The Moorhens in the Italian Garden were busy climbing the wire netting around the clumps of plants. Rather unkindly, in the interest of getting this photograph I threw food into the water outside the netting so that they had to come out and get it to feed their chicks inside. I also wanted to see whether the two larger chicks really were unable to get through the wire mesh, and I am pretty sure that they are. Even the smallest chick had to make a considerable effort to wriggle through.

At the foot of the waterfall in the Dell, a Grey Wagtail was sunning itself. This is where a pair of Grey Wagtails has nested over the past few years, raising several young. The nest is invisible under the small plank bridge that crosses the stream. I have often seen adult birds flying under and emerging from the bridge.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Time for the monthly bird count. No great surprises, though the number of Common Pochards remains at a very high 30. As the fish in the lake grow, the number of Cormorants continues to rise, and there were 11 in all, five of them sitting together on the fallen poplar tree in the Long Water.

Two of the three young Moorhens remaining in the Italian Garden have now grown too large to get through the wire netting, though the smallest can still manage with a bit of a squeeze. They will not have much difficulty in climbing out with their big feet. Their parents stroll up the wire as if it were a completely natural part of their habitat.

The Mute Swans' eldest set of seven young have now fully grown their flight feathers and are showing the first signs of wanting to fly, though they are still only flapping briefly and making a run of a few feet. They are also realising that their big new wings are a job to look after, especially on a windy day.

The two young Robins behind the Albert Memorial are now coming out regularly to be fed, expectantly sitting on the railings of the Flower Walk. Any food thrown on the ground gets grabbed by the numerous Feral Pigeons, so they have started taking food from my hand. Several people feed the many Robins along the Flower Walk, and both adults and young birds have become quite relaxed about being fed by humans.

After yesterday's sighting of a mass of House Martins, I was expecting to find them all gone. But there were still a few flying around the Kuwaiti embassy.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Being stuck under a tree in the rain has its compensations. Sheltering from a heavy shower on Buck Hill, I watched a Mistle Thrush poking around in the grass.

Suddenly there was the mechanical whirring sound of a flock of Mistle Thrushes, and two dozen of them passed overhead. The single bird flew up to join them.

It started to rain hard again as I went past the Serpentine Gallery, and I took refuge under another tree. This time the entertainment was a large band of House Martins, about 80 of them, more than I have ever seen in the park at one time. They whirled around twittering at treetop height. Perhaps they were the colony from Rossmore House at the southwest corner of Regent's Park joining the local birds from the Kuwaiti embassy to begin the long journey to Africa. I tried unsuccessfully to photograph them in the rain.

Several flocks of Long-Tailed Tits went past in various parts of the park, looking like exclamation marks flying dot first on their erratic course from tree to tree. Their numbers are increasing, a welcome development as the sight and sound of these tiny birds lifts the spirits on the dreariest day.

The Cormorant whose odd behaviour with a leafy twig I noted a few days ago has taken up a permanent station on the fallen horse chestnut tree on the Long Water.

 A red maple leaf announces the arrival of autumn.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

There was more to hear than to see today: young Blackbirds begging noisily in the shrubberies, the twittering of House Martins hunting for insects high overhead, and the shrill cries and harsh chirps of large flocks of Long-Tailed Tits charging through the trees along the paths. Although Long-Tailed Tits are swift fliers, the flock as a whole moves at about walking pace, so if you walk down a tree-lined path in the same direction as the birds, you stay in their midst for several minutes.

The lake is echoing with the cries of young Great Crested Grebes demanding food from their parents. Although there are only nine of them, they make such a constant noise that it is the dominant sound on the water. The two at the Serpentine island are now almost as big as their parents, and quite capable of catching their own fish, but that does not stop them from pestering their father ...

.... until he gives in and dives to find them something.

A Greylag Goose had turned upside down and was splashing vigorously to wash the parasites out of its feathers.

This picture of what seems to be a tropical rainforest was actually taken from the outflow of the Serpentine looking down the waterfall into the Dell. Even the familiar Grey Heron looks quite exotic in such surroundings.

Monday 27 August 2012

Today's post is late -- sorry. After a brief visit to the park, it was off to the Tate Modern, where I was glad to see one of the resident Peregrine Falcons flying up the river. (I believe the place is an art gallery too.) So I have seen two pairs of Peregrines in London in three days, as I saw the birds on the Metropole Hilton Hotel on the 25th -- here is a very distant shot of the female on her 200 ft tower.

At the Tate, I met some people from the RSPB who had set up telescopes to give the public a view of the Peregrines. We need more of these beautiful birds in central London, and there are more than enough pigeons to satisfy them.

On the Serpentine, a Grey Heron had finally found a good use for a health-'n'-safety sign.

The newly returned Mute Swans are settling into their usual routine. Their mother brings the cygnets across to muscle in on some harmless Greylag Geese that are being fed. In the background, their father keeps watch for rivals.

There were a large number of first-year Lesser Black-Backed Gulls on the Serpentine, at least 30 of them at the eastern end of the lake. At least I think they were all Lesser Black-Backs, judging by the shape of their bills, which are slimmer than those of Herring Gulls. Otherwise the two species look almost identical at this age.

In the Italian Garden, a hungry young Moorhen reaches across for a large beakful of algae.

Sunday 26 August 2012

A pair of Kestrels passed over Kensington Gardens. One was carrying some small object, and dropped it. The other swooped and neatly retrieved it as it fell, and they continued on their way. A pair playing together, probably.

In several places in the undergrowth, the burbling cries of young Blackbirds calling for food could be heard. Near the bridge there was a tremendous chittering and whirring noise coming out of a bush, like a Wren but even louder, and lower pitched. It turned out to be a young Robin demanding food from its parents, and clearly getting impatient.

There has been a large influx of Common Pochards on the Long Water. I counted 33 from a single vantage point at the Vista. Sometimes the total number on both lakes is only three or four. It is not clear to me where they come from, or where they go.

The Mute Swans with seven cygnets have re-established themselves in the patch of reeds were their nest was. They are probably feeling in need of a bit of territorial security after being caught twice, put into a straitjacket and carted about in a van.

The pigeon-eating Lesser Black-Backed Gulls are definitely a pair. Here they stand in their favourite spot on the pointed corner of the canopy of the Dell restaurant, keeping a lookout in opposite directions for a Feral Pigeon rash enough to fly below them, so that a gull can drop on it and seize it by the back of the neck. Judging by the number of times I see them eating one when I pass the spot, the strategy is very successful.

Saturday 25 August 2012

A dark, threatening day, and I only had time for a brief rush round the lake before the rain started sheeting down, so sorry for today's rather dull photographs. But it was long enough to see that the Mute Swans from the Lido with their seven cygnets have returned, a welcome sight. They are almost fully grown but have not completely developed their wings, so it will be a little while before we see them rushing up the lake together trying to get airborne.

The family of Great Crested Grebes from the nest on the Long Water near the bridge have ventured under the arches on to the Serpentine. Here are three of the chicks. The picture shows how effective their camouflage is: the combination of dazzle-striped heads and necks and the low grey outline of the body does not look like the outline of a bird at all, more like two different things that just happen to be next to each other.

Here a skein of Greylag Geese returns from the Round Pond. It has taken a while for the geese to readjust to the lake being open and unobstructed once more.

In Kensington Gardens during a brief sunny interval, for some reason both a Nuthatch and a Coal Tit started singing.

Yesterday I went up the Edgware Road to look at the Peregrine Falcons on the Hilton Metropole hotel; the female was perched on her high ledge. There is about an even chance of seeing at least one of these splendid birds on any day. But they are much too high up their tall tower to make even a halfway decent photograph.

The expedition took me up the Parade Ground to Marble Arch. The huge area covered by the London Live enclosure has been completely devastated, with many acres of ground thickly covered with wood chippings preventing any return of grass without completely razing the surface and spreading hundreds of tons of topsoil to start again from scratch. This is the worst damage to the park I have ever seen in a long lifetime.

Friday 24 August 2012

The Mute Swans with cygnets are coming back, or at least some of them are. I saw two pairs each with three cygnets. The original numbers when they were cleared out for the Olympics were seven, four and three cygnets, so it looks as if one of them has been lost in their exile at Esher, that haunt of fearsome carnivorous stockbrokers. Let's hope that the rest of them return soon.

A Cormorant was behaving strangely on the Long Water. There were two of them in the lake by the Peter Pan statue, one standing on a post drying its wings, the other fishing under a bush. After this one had caught and eaten a fish, it broke a large leafy twig off the tree and took it across to the other bird, and brandished it with outstretched wings.

The other cormorant took absolutely no notice and remained on its post. Rebuffed, the first cormorant swam off, still holding the twig, to the fallen chestnut tree fifty yards away, on to which it climbed. After a while it dropped the twig.

This looked like some kind of mating display, but at the wrong time of year and far away from its breeding ground. I have never seen anything like it before.

In the Dell, a pair of Moorhens with two chicks seemed, at a distance, to be caressing each other's necks in a display of affection. But I think that in fact they were picking off and eating each other's parasites, thus combining affection, nutrition and hygiene in a single act.

Thursday 23 August 2012

A pair of Blackbirds in the leaf yard constantly come out when I arrive, demanding food for one insatiable young bird. I give them pieces of cheese, worrying slightly about whether it is putting too much salt into their diet. But no doubt when I am away they revert to worms, a much healthier food. Here the male Blackbird takes his turn with the feeding.

The family of Greylag Geese was working along the edge of the Lido restaurant begging for food from the diners. It is hard to refuse them when they look at you with their gentle brown eyes. Canada Geese are much more aggressive and sometimes peck you in the shins if not promptly served, a less effective technique.

The Wood Pigeons are not pestering humans for food, as they are gorging themselves on berries, crashing clumsily around in the bushes. When they take off, their wings thrash violently through the twigs. I am surprised that their flight feathers don't get completely shredded.

Here a Mallard has the good sense to keep her young in the shelter of a basket of water plants. If they were all as careful as this, there would be a lot more Mallards on the lake.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

There has been a sudden, very late outburst of Mallard ducklings on the Round Pond: one brood of eight and two of two each. They were all out in the open; indeed, there is precious little cover on this pond with its paved edge. But luckily for them, all the Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and Herring Gulls were on the Serpentine.

The duckling that was bullying its smaller sibling yesterday was behaving perfectly today. I wondered whether its mother had disciplined it, but decided that that was an anthropomorphic view. It was probably just feeling relaxed in the warm sunshine with plenty of algae to eat.

The Round Pond hosts a large flock of Starlings. As soon as anybody stands on the edge with a plastic bag and looks as if about to feed the ducks, these sharp-eyed birds rise into the air as one and race to the spot, landing with that peculiar sideways twist that Starlings use to lose air speed. Here they wait for the magic moment. The deckchair attendant was giving them a sour look, as if they ought to have paid him £1.50 each for the use of his chairs.

The young Great Crested Grebes at the Serpentine island were fishing together. Here one of them dives, to be followed an instant later by the other. I waited for a while to see whether they would catch something, but they didn't.

One the other side of the lake, an adult was doing much better.

Two years ago, there was a family of Great Crested Grebes on the Long Water who lost all their chicks except one and, in the unisentimental way of birds, nested again and cast their two-month-old offspring adrift. It had to learn to fish in a hurry. I watched it once hunting for small fish in the shallow water by the Peter Pan statue, and it was doing quite well, catching one about every ten minutes. Then its mother cruised over and, with practised ease, caught ten in thirty seconds.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

A male Tawny Owl hooted briefly in the leaf yard, but as usual was invisible in the dense foliage. It is good to know that they are still around. There are also Little Owls in the same place. Outside the brief window in early spring when the owls are breeding and the leaves have not yet grown, it is impossible to see much of the doings of these birds. There is probably at least one more pair of Tawnies in the 'Bird Sanctuary' in Hyde Park -- that is, the shrubbery around the greenhouses -- but that is a particularly difficult place to examine, even in winter.

Three Gadwalls have turned up on the Long Water: two males and a female. One male is just emerging from eclipse and beginning to grow his elegantly vermiculated breeding plumage. The female is as neat as a new pin with sharp wing feathers and a beautifully patterned back.

Usually when these ducks arrive in the park, we assume that they have flown up from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, where there is a permanent resident population on the lake. But the other male Gadwall has dropped all his flight feathers, and has clearly been unable to fly for some time.

So it is surprising that they haven't been noticed before. However, they can lurk among flocks of Mallards unnoticed at a distance, especially when all are in eclipse.

On the Round Pond, a Mallard had two ducklings. One was much larger than the other, and was unmercifully bullying the smaller one, which had to keep running around the far side of its mother to avoid being beaten up.

One of the young Egyptian Geese was spreading a remarkably large pair of wings, which seemed excessive for carrying this not very big bird. But I suppose it will grow into them.

Monday 20 August 2012

The dreaded pigeon-eating gull on the Serpentine had struck again. But this time it was sharing its prey with another, slightly smaller Lesser Black-Backed Gull -- the one farther from the camera. Can they be mates? I did see this gull sharing with another last year, but the guest was not the same as this one since it was exactly the same colour as the killer, and this one is a slightly lighter grey.

The black and white Mallard, which has been inseparable from a light-coloured male Mallard for several months, is showing a bit of green on its head as its new feathers grow, and under the black speckling its beak has traces of yellow. I had assumed that this duck was female, but it's looking like a male now. Well, I'm sure it won't spoil a beautiful friendship. The duck's unusual white-tipped primaries make it easy to see how far its new wing feathers have grown: probably not enough to fly yet. Its companion now has fully grown feathers with the tips crossing above its tail.

In the Olympic enclosure, a male Common Pochard was elaborately preening its fine new feathers. Here it gives its wings a shake to settle the feathers down in their right places.

And here a bee gathers nectar from a lavender flower. Honey gathered entirely from lavender flowers is a speciality of Provence and tastes much as you would expect -- rather odd. But this bee will have plenty of variety in its expeditions. The enterprising keepers of Regent's Park have beehives and sell their honey.

Sunday 19 August 2012

The lakeside corner of the Olympic zone near the island, still fenced off but now empty and neglected, has become a place for all kinds of waterfowl to rest on the shore undisturbed. As you can see, they have made their own contribution to the mess. The male Common Pochards have got through their late summer moult and are now looking smart again, well ahead of the larger ducks such as Mallards and Red Crested Pochards which are still in eclipse. The male Tufted Ducks are also still looking very dowdy.

The Moorhens in the Dell, who have bred twice this year, have just one surviving chick. Although this place is reasonably safe from large gulls, the resident Grey Heron takes a terrible toll. It doesn't just eat chicks, but has a go at adults too, as you can see in my post for 8 April.

Some of the young Egyptian Geese from the Serpentine had come on to the Long Water and were trying to grab pieces of bread tat people were throwing to the ducks by the Peter Pan statue.

Soon there will be so many Black-Headed Gulls that they will snatch all the food before it touches the water. Well, bread is not good for waterfowl anyway.

In a thicket near the Rima relief, some Speckled Wood butterflies were chasing each other. The butterfly season has been late and scanty this year because of the cold and rain earlier in the season.