Tuesday 30 April 2013

The Tawny Owls have moved farther west along the Flower Walk, and were in a newly leafed horse chestnut tree on the north side of the Flower walk where it intersects with the path from Queen's Gate.

The adult owls have preferred horse chestnuts to other trees in the past, mainly because these come into leaf early in the year and give them cover. They have had enough cover in the rather gloomy shade of evergreens this year, but it looks as if old habits are reasserting themselves.

One of the Great Crested Grebes nesting in the reeds at the east end of the Serpentine was having trouble with a large stick she had found. She couldn't dive under net net carrying it, so she was working hard to poke it through the netting.

The manoeuvre succeeded, and she dived under the net to present this useful thing to her mate. Actually their nest, which is made mostly of cut reed stems, is a very good one by grebe standards (which are not high), and doesn't need the constant maintenance of a nest built of twigs and weed on a floating branch.

Behind this reed bed, the pair of Egyptian Geese with four young had found a place that was relatively safe from attack by the numerous Herring Gulls on the lake.  Here are two of them.

There are trees on this patch of scrubby grass, which impede the flight of a large gull trying to swoop in to seize a chick. A pair of Mute Swans is also nesting here; they don't have any eggs yet.

The swans at the Italian Gardens have lost all their eggs. There are no traces of broken shell, so I fear that the predator was a malevolent human rather than a fox. However, the nest near the Lido seems to be still going well.

This Chaffinch was sitting in a Japanese maple tree just coming into pink leaf. He was taking a rest after eating rather a lot of pine nuts off my hand. When a Chaffinch wants to be fed, he comes out on a twig and chirps loudly to attract your attention. Once they get past their initial shyness, they become quite demanding.

There were a dozen House Martins over the Serpentine, but no Swifts or Swallows that I could see. The martins are residents, since they nest on the two embassies in Knightsbridge, but the others come and go erratically.

Monday 29 April 2013

The Tawny owlets are very hard to photograph when they are stuck in the middle of an evergreen tree. But yesterday Paul Sawford found one that had ventured out on to a horse chestnut just coming into leaf, and got this superb shot.

This is one of the three younger owlets. The eldest is already well on the way to turning an adult brown. Today I found two owlets and their mother in the tall holm oak just to the east of the California bay.

Coots fight constantly, but at this time of the year they fight even more.

The male of the pair nesting beside the post offshore from Peter Pan has been ferociously chasing off any other Coot that comes near the nest. This is hard news for the many Coots that usually gather here to be fed.

The pair of Mute Swans nesting at the Italian Gardens have let things slide on the Long Water, and today there were 14 other swans on it. The male will chase them all away in due course.

The female Great Crested Grebe on the right of this picture is adopting an alluring pose, clearly tempting the male. But grebes only mate when they have built a nest, so in effect she is saying 'Build a nest with me and you can have your way.'

These birds were on the Serpentine between the Lido and the bridge, where the newly arrived grebes always go because they have not yet claimed territories, and it is a wide open area. I think that they are only beginning to be a couple, since an existing pair would not bother with such tactics: they would display and dance and go and build a nest at the first opportunity. However, this area of water is not a peaceful as it might be, because shortly after I took this picture one of the grebes from the nest on the other side of the bridge came out and chased them farther down the lake.

Song Thrushes have been rather silent during the recent cold weather, and are taking their time before they start singing again. This one was in the shrubbery at the northeast corner of the bridge. He sang a couple of phrases but no more.

There was a fair number of Swifts over the Serpentine, all at considerable altitude although there are plenty of small flies just above the water. But they know where the most insects are.

Sunday 28 April 2013

The eldest Tawny owlet was just visible in the California bay tree, but so masked by leaves that it was impossible to get a photograph. Judging by the noise made by some Carrion Crows, there were more owls in one of the trees on the south side of the Flower Walk, but I couldn't see them.

The air above the Serpentine was full of Swifts,


and House Martins.

While I was struggling to take these sadly distant photographs, I caught a small falcon in the viewfinder and managed to take some pictures of that too. When it called, it was clear that it was a Kestrel, and when I got home and looked at the pictures, it turned out to be a male one -- probably the bird that I have photographed a few times already in Kensington Gardens.

I was relieved that he didn't catch a bird, though I sympathised with his desire for a good lunch.

Apart from this mild excitement it was a pretty ordinary day. The large number of Herring Gulls persists, and almost every wooden post on the Serpentine had one on it. They are mostly young birds, either coming up to one year old and still with completely tweedy plumage, or coming up to two and beginning to develop a pale grey back. But there are a few adults as well.

This young Grey Heron has just realised that the wire baskets of twigs near the bridge are full of small perch about two inches long.

This is the first time that I have seen a heron on these baskets. The Great Crested Grebes have known about the fish in them for months, but since they hunt under water they can get a better view of the proceedings. The addition of the baskets has proved a boon to the ecology of the lake, providing food for the fish-eating birds. But I am not sure whether they were intended to be fish nurseries; the men putting them in just told me vaguely that they would encourage the growth of organisms that would improve the ecology.

Saturday 27 April 2013

The whole Tawny Owl family could be seen in the Flower Walk today. The owlets were in the California bay tree, mostly hidden by leaves, but I could see bits of the eldest and a confused mass of grey fluff which was probably all the other three. Their mother was looking very fine in her usual place in the holm oak.

But their father was also in the California bay -- this is not a very good view of him, but I include the picture because it is the first time I have seen him since the owlets came out. As usual, he was fast asleep and took no notice of me crashing about in the bushes to find the best angle.

The Great Crested Grebes nesting under the willow tree near the Serpentine bridge now have five eggs, which I managed to see as the female was turning them.

Four grebe nests are now visible on the Long Water, all on the east side; and two on the Serpentine, one at the northeast corner of the island and the other in the reeds at the east end of the lake. There may well be others out of sight.

There is no problem with seeing the nest of these Coots, since it is built on the chain connecting the posts just offshore from the statue of Peter Pan. Here the pair work together to lay a large twig in the best place.

This spiky nest looks extremely uncomfortable, but when they have finished it they will line it with leaves, and may decorate it with any bright coloured objects they find -- they prefer red and shiny silver.

A pair of Pied Wagtails were flirting on the net enclosing the reeds to the east of the Lido. The chase each other along the edge of the net and through the air. The female doesn't like the male to come closer than 6 ft away, and rushes off as soon as she gets nearer.

There are now three Mute Swan nests: one west of the Lido and one next to the Italian Gardens, both or which have eggs; and one on the fenced area at the southeast corner of the lake, which is fairly new. The Egyptian Goose family with four young were also in this area, peacefully cropping grass and not bothering the sitting swan. However, at the Italian Garden there are two Coots who don't like the swan at all, and constantly wander around the edge of the nest in menacing attitudes until the swan takes a swipe at them to scare them away.

Friday 26 April 2013

The House Martins have returned to the French and Kuwaiti embassies in Knightsbridge. I saw a dozen of them. They nest in the plaster roses on the downward facing side of the cornices of these ornate Victorian buildings; the upper side of the petals makes a neat little shelf on which a nest can be built without having to collect too much mud.

Some Swifts have also been reported, though I didn't see them myself.

The Sedge Warbler was singing on the western bank of the Long Water in the thicket between Peter Pan and the Vista, a place in which it is quite impossible to see anything, let alone get a picture. There was also a Reed Warbler singing its urgent, clattering song in the reed bed on the other side, not far from the Italian Garden.

Three Nuthatches were chasing each other in a tree near the leaf yard. Two of them were clearly a couple, as I saw a male giving an insect to his mate. As usual with fast moving birds, the moment flashed by before I could get my camera on to them. But at least I managed to grab a hasty shot of one of them on a branch.

Male Great Tits are also feeding the females, who beg for food in the same way as juveniles, by vibrating their wings and uttering a burbling call. It is a way of testing the suitability of the male as a food provider when the female is on her nest and when the young hatch and have to be fed; any man who has taken a girl out for an expensive dinner will recognise the strategy.

The female Tawny Owl was in the California bay tree in the Flower Walk, but only her back was visible and she wouldn't look round. Still, there was a chance to admire the beautiful markings on her back.

Paul visited the Flower Walk at sunset yesterday and reported that the owlets were leaping about from branch to branch and making quite a noise as feeding time approached.

These Wood Pigeons are clearly in love.

Thursday 25 April 2013

The female Tawny Owl had returned to her usual place in the holm oak tree on the north side of the Flower Walk, and gave me a deep dark stare.

I couldn't find the owlets, but they must have been close by in another evergreen tree. As far as I know, no one has seen the male owl for some time.

The Mute Swans nesting under the balustrade of the Italian Garden have five eggs, not easy to see through the remaining reed stems; I could only count them because they were turning them. And the pair at the Lido have four, and have now settled down comfortably to incubate them.

It remains to be seen whether these very public and exposed nests will succeed. Meanwhile, the nest site in the prize position, in the bushes on the Serpentine island, remains vacant, though I have seen swans wandering around nearby.

It was the day for the monthly bird count, and I saw that the number of Mute Swans on both lakes is down to 29, half the recent maximum. Fighting for precedence is still going on, and will continue until only a few breeding pairs are left -- and it may continue even then.

The number of Herring Gulls is also down, from an exceptional 80 to a more normal 26.

There were Goldcrests singing in several places around the Long Water, and at the top of the Dell near the waterfall.

I was afraid that the destruction of the bushes in this area would have driven out this pair of Goldcrests, but they seem to have found somewhere to live. There is another pair of Goldcrests in a yew tree at the southeast corner of the Dell.

The total number of terrapins and turtles is now up to four, as someone told me that he had seen yet another irreponsible owner dumping his pet in the lake. They are surprisingly good hunters and probably eat a fair number of ducklings. On sunny days, they come out of the water and sunbathe on the branches of fallen trees. This Red-Eared Slider is basking on the fallen horse chestnut tree in the Long Water.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Tawny Owls are still in the Flower Walk, but have moved a few yards west, to a tall holm oak on the south side of the path. They are very hard to see and impossible to photograph. The Little Owl, as usual, was out early but had gone in by the time I arrived.

Passing the Serpentine island, I heard a bird song I didn't recognise coming from the bushes around the Ranger's Lodge. It was like a Reed Warbler's but not so frantic, quite leisurely and spaced out. I looked for the bird and didn't find it. When I got home, I checked the London Bird Club Wiki and there was a report of a Sedge Warbler, and listening to a recording of the song showed that this was what I had heard. They are uncommon visitors to the park.

There were plenty of singing Blackcaps, a more familiar kind of warbler, round the Long Water.

The Great Crested Grebes' nest under the willow tree near the Serpentine bridge can be seen by looking down from the bridge parapet.

When the leaves grow more it will be harder to see from here, but probably still possible, and there will always be a fairly good view from ground level on the path. It is always fascinating to watch grebe chicks growing up and being cared for by their devoted parents.

There are a lot of Pied Wagtails on the new turf that has just been laid on the Parade Ground. Whatever their prey is, it seems quite sedentary, as the birds are walking about rather than running and leaping into the air as they often do. This one was close to the fence and was disturbed by my arrival and flew into a tree.

Robins are going about in pairs.

These are two of the three robins that live close together in the sanctuary on the east side of the Long Water. The male was giving food to the female when I passed, a sign that he will look after her when she is on her nest. I have not yet managed to get a picture of this elusive moment -- you have to be very quick to anticipate it. The third robin doesn't seem to have found a mate, and I found it alone 50 yards away and consoled it with some pine nuts.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

A pair of Treecreepers are nesting in the old sweet chestnut tree where the Little Owls nested last year -- that is, one chestnut to the east of where they are at the moment, and next to the path, from which they can be seen. The nest is under a flake of peeling bark, a typical site for a Treecreeper nest. However, the hole seems to be to big, as the birds are making strenuous efforts to fill it up with bits of wood and bark from under the tree. Here one of them strains to lift an impossibly large chunk, which it dropped and retrieved several times before giving up.

But it got a piece nearly as large up to the nest hole.

The male Little Owl was out early this morning, but had gone inside by the time I arrived and didn't emerge, in spite of the arms sunlight. Nor could I find any of the Tawny Owls around their usual place. But there will be other days.

A pair of Common Terns, the first of the year,were flying over the Round Pond, hovering to look for fish before plunging into the water.

They won't nest here, despite the provision of a tern raft in the Long Water. After the raft had been built, launched and anchored, people lost interest in equipping it with the necessary furniture -- a surface of white pebbles the size of tern eggs, and a bucket on its side for shelter. The raft is probably too large anyway, since all kinds of larger birds can sit on it.

The Great Crested Grebes under the willow tree near the bridge now have four eggs. A pair of newly arrived grebes were dancing on the Serpentine.

There are quite a lot of suitable sites for grebe nests on the Serpentine, behind the nets in various reed beds. In previous years the birds have show no interest in nesting inside a net, but the nest behind the net at the east end of the Serpentine is now a going concern, and other birds may copy this pair.

The Mute Swans at the Lido also have four eggs, and are now showing interest in their nest after a very vague start. It is too early to say whether they will stay there, or whether the eggs laid earlier and neglected have remained viable.

Monday 22 April 2013

For several days there has been a large crowd of Herring Gulls on the Serpentine -- at least 80 of them. Most of them are last year's birds, still with speckled plumage. I think they are all Herring Gulls rather than lesser Black-Backed Gulls, as they stay together and some of them are into their second year and beginning to grow pale grey adult feathers, like the one at the back here.

Eight more Great Crested Grebes have arrived on the lake, bringing the total to about 20. You could tell that they were newly arrived because they were sitting peacefully together in the water. In a day or two they will have started breaking up into pairs and bickering about territories, of which there are not enough on the lake for birds that like to claim a wide area.

One pair of grebes -- an established pair -- has made a nest in a new place on the northeast corner of the Serpentine island, behind the wire baskets of water plants. It doesn't look a very secure site but, as you can see, they have made quite a large nest by grebe standards, and evidently mean to stay there.

As with the Great Crested Grebes by the bridge, their is a Coots' nest awkwardly near. But perhaps the slight danger to the chicks from Coots is outweighed by the Coots' aggressive attacks on predators that threaten them both, such as Grey Herons. Coots will go for anything, and even the huge Mute Swans nesting in the reeds by the Italian Garden have been harassed by Coots that wanted to nest there.

In the hazel thicket across the path from the leaf yard, a Blue Tit was industriously pecking leaf buds apart. I think it was looking for insects inside rather than wanting to eat the young leaves, but tits are omnivores and it's impossible to be sure.

One the other side of the Long Water, a Blackbird had gathered as many worms as he could carry, and flew off to give them to the nestlings.

Two visits to the Flower Walk and one to the Tawny Owls' nest tree failed to reveal any owls, and no one else seems to have spotted these elusive birds today.

Sunday 21 April 2013

A beautiful sunny morning. Here a Long-Tailed Tit poses obligingly among the spring leaf buds.

At least two, probably three Tawny owlets were perched in a heap in the California bay tree in the Flower Walk. However, they were so hidden by leaves that you couldn't see more than the occasional patch of fluffy grey feathers, and I couldn't get a usable photograph. However, their mother was more visible in the other tree.

I don't know what kind of tree this is either; it is similar to but not the same as the bay. Some of its leaves have smooth edges, some are slightly serrated.

The Little Owl was sunbathing in his usual tree. His mate stuck her head out for a moment too, shortly before I arrived so I didn't get a picture of both of them.

This owl really seems to be calming down in the presence of people. He didn't shift when a noisy party of French students were milling around under the tree and one of them tried to climb it -- which fortunately is impossible.

The Mute Swans at the Lido now have three eggs, but are being oddly neglectful of them, although they are hanging around the edge of the nest. I am not sure whether these eggs are a going concern or not. It is possible that the swans have been pushed off the nest by the press of humans walking along the path only a few feet from them.

Yesterday evening at 7 pm, Marie Gill, my fellow bird counter for the Wildlife Group, was going home along the towpath in Little Venice -- the section on the Grand Union Canal just west of the intersection of the Regent's Canal and the Paddington Basin. And what should she see but a Red-Legged Partridge. This is her picture.

It was running around on the towpath and the adjoining road, and fluttered on to the roof of a canal boat. It was remarkably tame, she said, and came within 6 ft of her and started calling. This is probably the same Red-Legged Partridge that has been reported in London in recent weeks on the London Bird Club Wiki site.

Saturday 20 April 2013

On a beautiful sunny day, the female Tawny Owl was sunning herself in the usual bay tree. When she heard me crashing about in the flower bed trying to get an angle for a picture, she lazily opened one eye for a few seconds.

I didn't manage to see the rest of the family. Owl spotting in evergreens is a new and tricky sport.

The male Little Owl was also out in his nest tree enjoying the sun. As usual, he had his back to it, so that he could feel the warmth on his feathers but not have the sun shining in his eyes.

I wonder whether the rather human-like eyebrows that Little Owls have are an adaptation to their diurnal habits, to shade their sensitive eyes.

The Great Crested Grebes nesting under the willow tree near the Serpentine Bridge now have one egg.

When I passed the nest, the male was turning the egg over to keep it evenly warmed. Both parents take an equal share of sitting duty while their mates go fishing, first for themselves but later for the chicks as well. The active bird will also bring back materials to build up the nest. This nest includes a whole plastic carrier bag laid horizontally, which you can see in yesterday's picture but today had sunk below the surface as the constantly sagging nest was built up. Grebes must be the only birds that find plastic bags useful, rather than a hazard. Coots may add a brightly coloured or silver bag to their nest as an ornament, but don't use them in construction.

The Great Crested Grebes at the east end of the Serpentine have now built a new nest sensibly sited inside the netting and made out of reed stems.

The second-year Great Black-Backed Gull, which I had not seen for some weeks, has returned to the Long Water. Here it is offshore from Peter Pan, eating a slice of white bread that someone has thrown in for the ducks. Gulls will eat practically anything.

Friday 19 April 2013

At least some of the Tawny Owl family were in a tall yew tree a few yards to the west of their usual bay tree. Their presence was revealed by a Jay furiously scolding them. But I couldn't see any of them through the thick foliage.

There were Willow Warblers singing in several places around the Long Water, as well as some Chiffchaffs. I had to compare this photograph with pictures in my bird book before I was certain that it was a Willow Warbler rather than a Chiffchaff. Colour is not a reliable guide, especially when the bird is backlit as here, but the relatively long wings identify it.

There were also several singing Blackcaps, yet another kind of warbler but, unlike most of this rather featureless family, easily identified by the black cap of the male and the brown one of the female.

The Great Crested Grebes nesting under the willow tree near the bridge, whose nest was raided by an unknown predator, have built a new one under the same tree but nearer the bridge. It is too near to a Coots' nest to be ideally sited: Coots are omnivorous and aggressive and likely to eat a small chick that wanders off. On the other hand, this aggressiveness does deter other predators, so there is a dangerous bargain to be had. I think the water under this spot is deep enough to keep off the Grey Herons, anyway. There is abundant food here, since the wire baskets full of twigs just the other side of the bridge are alive with young perch about two inches long.

However, this grebe seems to feel that having to go through all that nesting rigmarole again is pretty boring. Soon after I took this picture she went to sleep. Her mate is the very dark bird with hardly any white on his face.

Blackbirds have also started nesting. This one carrying a worm made no attempt to eat it, and flew off holding it. He must be feeding his mate, as it is too early for their eggs to hatch.

And the Mute Swans nesting near the Lido have two eggs.

The unwise location of their nest can be seen from this picture. All I had to do was wait till the sitting swan got off her nest to swim around for a couple of minutes, and I could poke a camera right into it. They should have stayed in the reeds, as they did last year with the very successful result of seven cygnets.

Thursday 18 April 2013

There are three male Mandarin Ducks on the Long Water, but no females. This may be a sign that the females are already sitting on their nests in tree holes. During this time the males hang out with each other, useless but decorative, while the females balance the task of keeping their eggs warm and finding food -- they are omnivores, so this possible though it must be a strain. Here a male rests idly on one leg on one of the posts in the lake by the Peter Pan statue.

The female Tawny Owl was in the usual bay tree, with at least one of the owlets mostly hidden above her. Here she stares suspiciously at a squirrel coming up the trunk towards them.

The squirrel left hastily: you don't want to get close to an annoyed owl guarding her young. We couldn't find any other owlets, or the male. I went to the nest tree to see whether he had returned there, but could see nothing.

Looking for House Martins over the Round Pond, I found a couple and of them and some Swallows with them. Although the House Martins are resident, on the two embassy buildings in Knightsbrige, and Swifts fly over the lake in lathe numbers later in the year, we don't see all that many Swallows, and when they do arrive they are just passing through.

More Wheatears have been seen on Buck Hill. They have been favouring the area near the children's playground, but they move around a lot and might be anywhere. There are still several Willow Warblers around the Long Water, I think. They weren't singing today, and at a distance you could never be sure whether you were looking at a Chiffchaff, a very similar bird.

A Nuthatch was walking around on the ground in the leaf yard, a slightly unusual sight as you almost always see them in trees. Its blue-grey back and orange-buff front were most effective as camouflage among the leaf litter.

A male Gadwall on the Long Water came close, revealing the beautiful patterns of its feathers.