Saturday 9 March 2013

On another grey day, there was a feeling that things were on hold before spring begins properly. The Grey Herons on the Serpentine island, after several false starts, are not really serious about nesting yet. Here one of them stands in an absurdly small nest which doesn't seem to have got any larger over the past few days.

The Great Crested Grebes at the east end of the Serpentine, whose nest was taken by Coots, have lost enthusiasm for recovering it, but the Coots have deserted it too, and the grebes are now just sitting in front of the site every day.

When the mood takes them they will probably start from scratch somewhere else in the reed bed, behind the netting if they have any sense. The net only reaches to water level and is easily dived under.

But the Starlings do seem to be taking things more seriously, and there are now three pairs visiting holes on the trees next to the small boat houses, where I photographed one on Thursday.

And once Mallard drakes, those insatiable creatures, get the idea that it is the mating season, there is no stopping them. A disturbance in the water around one of them revealed nothing until suddenly a female duck popped up like a cork alongside.

She had been held entirely under the water. It was our old friend the black and white duck who, despite appearances, is female (or so the drake thinks, anyway). Being a female duck is no fun at all at this time of year.

The Tufted Ducks are flying about in small groups, which seems to be part of their courtship ritual. It looks as if there is competition between the drakes giving a show of strong and agile flying, but it may just be that several of them are chasing a female. The drakes are also trying to impress the females by holding their heads up very high in an absurdly stiff-looking posture. However, even if they did decide to breed this year -- which they haven't for some time on the lake -- their season is later than that of the larger ducks, so all this display is not a sign of imminent nesting.

The number of Common Gulls has fallen considerably. Evidently they are off to northern Europe for the breeding season. The Black-Headed Gulls will soon be departing as well.

No sign of activity from the Tawny Owls yet, but everyone is hoping for a sighting in the next few days. Little Owls have been heard calling several times in the leaf yard in recent days, but their breeding season begins later, as they are birds of southern Europe and need a bit of warmth to encourage them. They were introduced in the 19th century and have now settled in well and become common, but you can see from their habit of sheltering in holes facing the sun that they would really like the climate to be a bit warmer.

A pair of Red Crested Pochards lend a bit of colour to the proceedings.

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