Sunday 30 September 2012

The Hobbies were in Kensington Gardens today, and one of the young ones was sitting in their usual lime tree. It was a cloudy day and the back light was not too strong, so I managed to get a poorish photograph. How I wish they would sit on the other side of the tree with the sun shining on them.

The Little Owl was again calling in the leaf yard.

Thanks to two people who reported an unexpected, very late brood of Egyptian Geese on the Round Pond. Here they are, all ten of them, flanked by their watchful parents.

Three first-year Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were circling over the pond, but these seemed more interested in the bread that visitors were throwing to the swans than in these young birds.

Six Gadwall were rooting about on the Serpentine, and a seventh flew in to join them. They are never present in large numbers. Here you can see the distinctive white speculum formed by the inner remiges of the wings, which shows as a larger white square when the bird is flying. This makes it easy to tell a female Gadwall from a female Mallard, whose speculum is iridescent blue.

In the Italian Garden, a Carrion Crow takes a moment to contemplate Prince Albert before returning to its digestive biscuit, a snack of which crows are very fond.

Saturday 29 September 2012

The Hobbies are still in the park. At the bottom end of the Serpentine I heard what I thought was one of them calling, but there were gulls screaming at the same pitch and I discounted it. Five minutes later, as I was walking along the upper edge of the Dell, an adult and a youngster whirled overhead, briefly glimpsed between the trees lining the path, and flew away towards Hyde Park Corner. They didn't reappear and were probably perched in a tree. So now they have been seen at opposite corners of the park, and evidently their hunting ground extends over its whole area.

The early arrived Shovellers were visible at the top of the Long Water, from the balustrade of the Italian Gardens. More will be coming soon.

And one of the Little Grebes was fishing under the willow tree. When the Shovellers swam off it followed them at a distance of a few feet, perhaps hoping that they would stir up some aquatic creature that could be seized.

On the other side of the balustrade, a Moorhen was climbing precariously on the steep slope of a stone volute. But it never missed its footing.

Here a Black-Headed Gull chases a Coot that had been luck enough to grab a piece of bread thrown by a visitor. The Coot, realising that running was no use, dived instead, and when it bobbed up again like a cork a few seconds later, as Coots do, the gull had gone.

Friday 28 September 2012

On a grey drizzly day a couple of late Swallows were passing through, followed by about 20 House Martins.

There was another Canada Goose with a speckled head, whiter than the one previously seen on 9 August. Again, it seemed to be a pure-bred Canada, normal in all its other markings and with the usual black feet, unlike the grey feet of hybrids.

One of the young Mute Swans was flying by itself, for practice or just enjoying the novel sensation. It managed a reasonably smooth landing. ('Landing' is not the word, but English does not have a word for coming down on water. French does: amerissage.) They are restricting their early flights to a low altitude safely over water, and quite right too.

Here is one of the pair of young Great Crested Grebes, almost grown up and looking supremely elegant in the water ...

... and much less so when it takes a walk along the edge of the Serpentine.

Although they seem clumsy and helpless when out of the water, they can actually run. In December 2010, when the lake was frozen, I saw a Great Crested Grebe running briskly across the ice between two patches of clear water. It fell over once in its 50-yard run, but to be fair it was on a slippery surface and other birds were falling over too.

Thursday 27 September 2012

No sign of the Hobbies today. I thought for a moment I heard one, but it was a Sparrowhawk, which has a similar but slower call. The Hobbies will be off to Africa soon. A bird in Germany that was fitted with a tiny radio transmitter was tracked as far south as Zimbabwe.

There were two male Mandarins on the Long Water, one of them now in his full finery.

There were also two newly arrived Shovellers, two males and a female, but they stayed under a tree and would not come out for a picture.

The Olympic site is now largely open again. The removal of the fence has not affected its popularity with Canada and Greylag Geese, which appreciate the expensive sports-grade turf that was laid on the site. They were accompanied by a lot of Black-Headed Gulls, I suppose looking for insects and other small invertebrates disturbed by the geese.

One of the seven young Mute Swans strayed into the territory of the swans farther down the Serpentine. Approached menacingly by a male adult, it raised its wings in a half-hearted threat gesture.

But when the adult bore down on the youngster, it decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and fled.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

The male Tawny Owl was seen this morning, sitting in his favourite place in the horse chestnut tree where they have their nest. A Hobby was also in its usual lime tree 50 yards away, again infuriatingly impossible to photograph because it could only be seen by looking directly into the sun.

I saw 38 Cormorants, ten more than yesterday. Most of them were in a bunch at the Serpentine island. Another three were flying over. Here are some of them clustered darkly round the last Great Crested Grebes' nest of the season. The eggs should be hatching soon, but what will happen with these sinister attendants is hard to predict.

At the bridge, the grebe family with four young were having a hard time too. Here one of the young, who has just been given a fish, dives hastily to avoid a raid by a Black-Headed Gull.

The five Gadwall are still at the top of the Long Water near the Italian Garden. The male of this pair has now finished growing his finely vermiculated breeding plumage.

And nearby in the shrubbery, I saw this interesting little skewbald rat. It would not be correct to describe it as piebald, which means black and white, like a magpie. It was with its mother and a sibling, both of them a normal all-over brown.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

It was the day for the monthly bird count around the lake. Everything was much as expected, and the number of Cormorants is now up to 28. I also saw both of the eldest brood of Great Crested Grebes -- I had only seen one for some time and feared that the other had had an accident, so it was a relief.

One of the juvenile Hobbies was in the same lime tree as before -- see the blog post for Sunday 23 September. But the only place from which it could be seen was straight into the sun, so I couldn't get a photograph. I didn't see the other one, but it was probably in the same tree hidden by leaves. The Swallows and House Martins that the parents were hunting have moved on and are probably in France by now on their journey south, though I saw a couple of House Martin stragglers in Kensington Gardens.

The three young Moorhens in the Italian Garden ponds have now got working wings. One made a short flight of a few feet. It is only a short time since I remarked on their pathetic little featherless wings -- how fast they have grown.

A young Grey Heron was also learning adult skills, prospecting for rats in a bramble patch on Buck Hill. It didn't get any, and flew off.

At the Dell restaurant, one of the killer Lesser Black-Backed Gulls was planning his lunch. This pigeon was eventually scared into the air but got away. They are more agile than big gulls and can out-turn them to escape.

Here is another fine picture by Paul Sawford of the familiar sight of a Coot chasing another across the water, half flying, half running.

Monday 24 September 2012

The lake was alive with Swallows, impossible to count but there must have been over 200 of them flying over the Long Water and the upper end of the Serpentine.

There was also a smaller flock of House Martins, mostly at the lower end. While I was watching the spectacle, a small falcon appeared and the Swallows melted away in a few seconds; it was not clear where they had retreated to.

At some distance and in bad light, I could not see whether it was one of the usual park Kestrels or one of the visiting Hobbies. It didn't catch anything, and flew away towards Marble Arch, and ten minutes later the Swallows were out again.

Then two falcons appeared and one of them called to the other, the 'tewtewtewtewtew' call of a Hobby. So it was clearly the two adults hunting for their young ones, who would have been parked on a tree somewhere in Kensington Gardens. I had been looking for them earlier, but hadn't found them.

The seven young Mute Swans made a very brief flight together and came down on the water with varying degrees of skill. I waited for them to have another try but they would not oblige, although their father made several short flights as if to encourage them.

The number of Cormorants on the lake continues to increase, especially around the island where there are convenient places for them to sit.

Here is another splendid picture by Paul Sawford, of the female Kestrel in Kensington Gardens. The pair seem to be permanent residents.

Sunday 23 September 2012

A superb picture of the two young Hobbies, sent to me by Paul Sawford, who first spotted them in the lime tree. As you can see from the clear blue sky, the picture was taken yesterday. One of them is experimentally stretching out a newly developed wing, which it hasn't quite grown into yet.

Lovely weather for ducks, as my grandmother used to say when it rained non-stop.

But at least there is some interesting news: two juvenile Hobbies being fed by their parents. They were right at the top of a lime tree a short distance north of the Physical Energy statue. If you enter 51.507674,-0.17852 in Google Maps you will see where they were spotted. On the ground you walk from Physical Energy towards the Speke obelisk, and it is the third lime tree on the right (the first tree is not a lime, and doesn't count). Since the Hobbies have not been seen until a couple of days ago, and the first sighting was several hundred yards away by the Diana playground, it seems probable that the nest was outside the park, and the family is just coming in to feed.

There were about 40 Swallows hunting over the Serpentine, no doubt pausing for a good feed on their way southeast. The rain had brought the insects down to a few inches above the surface, so the birds were whizzing around at ankle height and it was difficult to be certain that they were all Swallows, but I think they were.

The Red Crested Pochards are emerging from eclipse, and a male on the Long Water was already looking quite smart, though he was too far away for a picture. As the ducks get into their winter plumage, the small group of very pale mallards that live on the Serpentine become distinct from the others. This is one of the palest. Others are more normal, but their iridescent heads are dark red rather than green.

Near the outflow of the Serpentine a second-year Herring Gull enjoys an unexpected treat.

And a young Great Crested Grebe makes a brief visit to the shore, not really a place for a bird that can hardly walk.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Two of the seven young Mute Swans have started flying.

I first noticed when they passed over my head from behind at a low altitude -- I was too surprised to catch a picture of them. I did not hear them coming; their wings seem to make little noise, unlike those of adult swans. They circled the lake and landed, quite neatly, near the rest of the family. Their five siblings showed no sign of wanting to join the expedition. Later the same two flew to the Dell restaurant and joined the group of geese touting for food from visitors.

A pair of Cormorants were flying in circles around the bridge. Usually when you see Cormorants flying they are going from A to B in a straight line. Possibly they were looking for fish. The lake is getting clearer now that the weather is cooling down, and medium-sized fish would be visible from above if they were not swimming too deep.

The water is clear enough for a good view of this young Great Crested Grebe's feet as it preens its back. It will be a couple of months before this bird will be able to take to the air.

At the Italian Gardens, a pair of Little Grebes were looking for food among the reeds. They eat not only fish but any kind of small aquatic creature, and insects if they can catch them. A Little Grebe is quick enough to seize a dragonfly that comes incautiously close.

This Comma butterfly was sunning itself in the leaf yard.

Sometimes I look at the statistics page for this blog to see the Google arguments people have been using when they find it -- not always deliberately. One person was searching for 'Italian chicks', and found a picture of the Moorhen chicks in the Italian Garden. I hope he liked them.

Friday 21 September 2012

Again there was a big crowd of House Martins over Kensington Gardens. They must be massing before migration, but they seem to be doing it quite gradually.

The Mute Swans on the Serpentine, having nothing better to do on a quiet afternoon, were enjoying a territorial fight. Several of them chased each other the full length of the lake. Here one of the parents of the seven cygnets repels an intruder.

The victim is being driven not on to the open lake, but into a corner at the end of the bridge, whose shadow can be seen at the top of the picture. This is a popular tactic, because if the swan can be pushed out of the water on to the shore and through the pedestrian tunnel under the bridge, it will be stuck on the land, as there are only two places on the Long Water where a swan can get down to the water and they are both a long way from the bridge. A few months ago Malcolm the wildlife officer had to come and rescue a swan that had been beached in this way.

The gulls were also bickering in their usual style. Here a Lesser Black-Backed Gull swoops nimbly into the water between two Black-Headed Gulls to seize a bit of bread that someone was throwing to a swan.

Here is an adolescent Wood Pigeon just beginning to grow its white collar. The white wing bars that distinguish one of these birds in flight were also beginning to show, but at this stage the mixture of new white and old grey feathers just registers as a slightly lighter grey stripe.

At first glance this is a very routine picture of a Grey Heron standing patient and motionless waiting for a fish to come into sight. But look what it is standing on, a thin cord.

It had absolutely no difficulty staying apparently stock still, though I am sure that its legs were making little motions of adjustment the whole time. Like many birds, it can sleep standing on one leg, but when a tall thin heron does this trick it looks particularly impressive.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Two Little Owls were calling to each other in the leaf yard. As usual, they were completely invisible in the foliage. Winter may bring another chance of a sighting of these elusive birds.

The number of Cormorants on the lake continues to rise. There were about 20 today, divided between the Serpentine and the Long Water. Here is a mob of them on the Serpentine island, some of them unusually standing among the trees. Perhaps they were sheltering from the autumn wind on this grey day. Since their feathers are not waterproof, they may get a bit chilled until they have dried out; they certainly take advantage of any sunlight to spread their wings.

Some people were feeding a family of Mute Swans when a Grey Heron tried to creep in and grab some food. It was promptly chased away by one of the young swans, though it could easily have retaliated with its terrible beak.

At the top of the waterfall in the Dell, a young Moorhen was taking a drink on the brink. I don't think I've ever seen a Moorhen fall off anything.

The youngest Great Crested Grebe chick was being fed near the place where people used to fish.

Now that the stocks of fish have returned to something like normal (as the Cormorants know), we should see fishermen returning to this spot. They don't catch much, but it is really a form of meditation anyway. I have often seen Great Crested Grebes come close to the fishermen and negligently hoover up one fish after another as if mocking their lack of skill. But it is probably because the fishermen had been throwing ground bait into the water to attract fish.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

A juvenile Hobby was seen in the northwest corner of Kensington Gardens, near the playground. This is the third year in a row that these small falcons have been seen in the park. There have been plenty of dragonflies, their favourite food. Here is a picture of another juvenile that I took in 2010, just across the road from the top of Buck Hill.

There are still some House Martins to be seen. It is time that they were off to Africa.

Following up Roy Sanderson's remarks on identifying first-year Lesser Black-Backed and Herring Gulls, I took some more pictures. This is a Lesser Black-Back, as can be seen from the pale grey tips of the inner primaries. On a Herring Gull the tips would be white. However, no first-year Herring Gulls came anywhere near today. Will keep looking.

The water in the Dell, which was affected by blue-green algae during the hot weather has now cleared, and the Grey Wagtail has returned to its favourite spot at the bottom of the waterfall.

Here a Moorhen does its tightrope-walking act on a chain connecting the posts near the bridge. It may have been expecting to find insects lurking in the links, but my impression was that it was enjoying its acrobatic skill.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The male Tawny Owl was calling from a tree near where the owlets were first seen this spring
-- that is, a short way north of the Albert Memorial. It remained invisible in the leaves.

While I was photographing some Long-Tailed Tits hunting insects in a tree ...

... a Chiffchaff suddenly appeared among them, and I got a couple of shots before this shy bird flew off. Of course there is a twig in front of its face, but never mind, it's the first time I have managed to photograph one.

Foraging Long-Tailed Tits accept both other small tits, such as Blue and Coal Tits, and small warblers such as Goldcrests into their flocks -- I even saw a Firecrest in a flock once. So the presence of the Chiffchaff was not extraordinary.

Some Wood Pigeons were lurching about heavily in a holly bush eating the half-ripe berries. They are not graceful birds.

In the Italian Garden, one of the three young Moorhens was strolling around on top of the wire netting, grasping it sure-footedly with its long toes.

I think that Moorhens enjoy balancing in difficult places, and I have often seen a Moorhen walking along a strand of rope with its wings outstretched for balance, looking just like a human tightrope walker.

A young man was flying a large radio-controlled aeroplane over Buck Hill. It had about the same wingspan as a Herring Gull and was white. A passing Kestrel was intrigued by this phenomenon and came over for a closer look, but soon decided that it was too large to kill and might fight back.

Update: on my attemped identification of the first-year gulls (see post for 16 September), Roy Sanderson writes:

'It really is a minefield, so many different plumages over three years, pale and dark birds ... Plumage changes between autumn and spring. Bill size and shape are seldom mentioned and head shape not at all in my books.  However, the art of gull recognition is developing as more people search for the more unusual species, such as Yellow-Legged and Caspian, even the occasional American Herring Gull. Life is too short! Best criteria in my ringing guide is the inner primaries. Pale tips in Lesser Black-Backed and white tips for Herring. Head and bill measurements are 5 mm longer in Herring Gulls, but you've got to catch your bird first! There is a very active ringing group at Pitsea and Rainham, North Thames Gull Group, who are cannon-netting the gulls on a rubbish tip. They will be more conversant with the plumage variations than me. It is quite an interesting web site to visit. You may be correct in your ID, but I am really not sure.'