Tuesday 31 December 2013

On a day of persistent drizzle a Blackbird was shaking the water off his feathers.

A Shoveller under the bridge was unconcerned. Ducks simply don't get wet.

The male Tawny Owl was in his usual place on the balcony of the nest tree.

This picture clearly shows the small patch of white feathers that the male has grown in this year's plumage, and which now distinguishes him from the female. It may be a sign of aging. He is now at least 11 years old, twice the average lifespan of a wild Tawny Owl, though the oldest recorded age for a wild bird is 17. Or it may be a chance spot and will not reappear after his next moult.

The base of the owls' tree is in the centre of the territory of a Robin, which is now quite unconcerned about visitors and will take food thrown to it.

Here it is rummaging around for bugs in the leaf litter, remarkably well camouflaged by its bright red front.

Since turf was laid around the Henry Moore sculpture, it has rapidly bounced back as a habitat for all kinds of animals that had been driven away by the dismal jungle of misfit plants that was here till recently. It now supports numerous rabbits, a frequently visiting fox, a pair of Egyptian Geese and any of several Grey Herons that like to perch on top of the arch. Carrion Crows are frequent visitors poking around for worms and insects in the lush new grass, and the latest addition is a pair of Moorhens. Here one of them trots around probing the turf for bugs.

The presence of these last two species shows that the new grass is far from sterile, and must have arrived already in possession of a good ecosystem.

Starlings and Mistle Thrushes are briskly polishing off the last of the berries on the rowan trees on Buck Hill.

All the birds have started at the top and eaten their way down, and there are now almost no berries above head height. Does this mean that the berries ripen from the top down, or that the birds feel safer higher up the tree? Neither species is averse to feeding on the ground.

Monday 30 December 2013

Gulls are creatures of habit. This Black-Headed Gull is from Poland, where it was ringed as a juvenile in Kampinos National Park near Warsaw on 14 June 2012.

It came to Kensington Gardens last winter on 6 and 7 November 2012, in tweedy first-year plumage, and was seen here again on 25 January 2013. Now it has returned to the same spot for a second year. It is in adult plumage but the marmalade colour of its feet shows that it is still quite young.

As you can see, the plastic ring on its right leg reads T4UN; Polish plastic rings on these gulls have codes beginning with T. The number on its metal ring reads P184.318, and its origin is given as Gdansk, Poland -- all Polish rings say Gdansk, wherever the bird was ringed.

Black-Headed Gulls can live for 30 years and more, so this bird may be coming here again for decades.

The reliable male Tawny Owl was also in his usual place on the balcony. He hasn't missed a day for weeks, and he and his mate have been nesting in the same tree for at least 11 years. His feathers are blowing about in the strong gusty wind.

I couldn't find the female owl, though I looked around the nearby trees. She is probably back on her nest. The fact that she was outside yesterday indicates that she hasn't laid any eggs yet.

A Coal Tit surprised me on the east side of the Long Water by coming to my hand for food when I was feeding some of the more confident Great and Blue Tits.

Maybe it was originally from the leaf yard, where the Coal Tits know us, and had been flying around with a flock of Long-Tailed Tits, as often happens in winter.

Nearby on Buck Hill, a family of Carrion Crows were brawling over a peanut.

I had fed them all, but they enjoy a fight.

A solitary male Pochard on the Serpentine was looking rather fine in the low afternoon sunlight.

All the other Pochards were on the other side of the bridge, as I know because I was doing my monthly bird count.

Sunday 29 December 2013

The female Tawny Owl surprised us by appearing when we had thought she had already settled down in her nest. She perched in the beech tree next to the nest tree where her mate was asleep on the usual balcony. She was rather restless, looking around and preening herself. Here she scratches her face with a large feathery foot ...

... and here she shakes down her feathers.

There was no sign of a Little Owl despite two visits to their chestnut tree. However, Ulrike reports having seen both of them here at dusk on the 26th, when it was too dark for a photograph.

There was a good attendance of small birds at the leaf yard, hungry after a frosty night. There was a pair of Chaffinches; this is the male, hunkered down on his twig in the low position characteristic of Chaffinches.

He took food from my hand, but we have not yet managed to tempt his mate out of the bushes.

There were three Coal Tits and three Nuthatches. Here one of the latter peeps warily from behind a twig before dashing down to the fence to seize a pine nut.

Long-Tailed Tits are not interested in humans; nor are they particularly wary of them, and often come quite close. Here one of them hangs upside down from a twig while prospecting for insects.

There were several Mistle Thrushes harvesting rowan berries from the trees on Buck Hill.

They were joined by a couple of Blackbirds and the usual flock of Starlings. The berries have now been eaten about three-quarters of the way down from the top of the tree, and will last only a few more days.

One of the photographers I saw yesterday was still devotedly taking pictures of Cormorants next to the bridge.

Saturday 28 December 2013

On a sunny day, when there are people eating outside at the Lido restaurant, birds are keen to take their share. Here is one of the Starlings that spend most of their time in the plane trees around the small boathouses and nest there in spring. They fly across the lake, raid a table and return to their trees. This one has only got a piece of bread -- their favourite food seems to be chips.

This Black-Headed Gull has done better, and has won a piece of ginger cake.

The Herring Gull had taken what I thought was a biscuit, and so did the gull. But when it started to peck at it, the morsel proved completely impenetrable and the bird abandoned it and flew away to find something better.

I inspected it too and it seemed to be an odd-shaped bit of plastic, but its identity remains a mystery.

A Blackbird near the bridge was happy with more conventional fare, and ate rather a lot of yellow berries.

When I arrived at the bridge there were three very serious wildlife photographers with big cameras and long lenses taking pictures of Cormorants fishing over the wire baskets. I said hello to them and went round the lake. When I returned to the same spot almost two hours later they were still at it. I admire their dedication and am sure they got some wonderful shots, and certainly it is an excellent place that allows you to get far closer to Cormorants than you would normally. But I don't have the time or the patience for such perfectionism.

The reliable male Tawny Owl was in his usual place in the nest tree, where even the most casual amateur photographer can get a pleasing picture of him.

Friday 27 December 2013

The young Great Black-Backed Gull was back on the Serpentine. It is a second-winter bird, about 18 months old, and is still looking very young and speckled, with only a few feathers of its dark adult plumage beginning to grow on its back. It will still be partly speckled next year as it goes through its four-year adolescence.

This seems to be one of only two Great Black-Backs that visit the park; the other one is a full adult. There are occasional reports of what may be them appearing elsewhere in London; for example there was one at Wanstead Flats yesterday. But their movements through London are mysterious and there is no clearly identifiable individual, for example with a ring. Indeed I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to put a ring on this ferocious great creature.

Some of the Great Crested Grebes are already beginning to grow their breeding plumage. This one was fishing in the shallow water just offshore from Peter Pan.

The Cormorants had taken a few minutes off from their fishing in the wire baskets next to the bridge. This one, resting on an adjacent post, is a juvenile bird, as can be seen from its whitish front.

A Grey Heron had taken advantage of the break to prospect one of the baskets.

I waited for several minutes to see if it would catch anything, but it didn't. It would have been fully visible to the fish in the basket, so maybe its fishing technique of patient waiting is not effective here. Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes rush in and grab fish, and seem to do better.

A brisk wind was whipping round the trunk of the Tawny Owls' rest tree, ruffling the feathers of the male owl.

Thursday 26 December 2013

The Lesser Black-Backed and Herring Gulls' crayfish predation is getting more ambitious, perhaps because they are learning from each other. This young Lesser Black-Back had dredged up a particularly large one near the bridge.

After trying to swallow it whole -- unsuccessfully, no wonder -- the gull took to the air and carried it away to a quiet spot somewhere on the Long Water so that it could rip it up undisturbed by the other gulls fishing in the same place.

The pair of Egyptian Geese whose home territory is under the Henry Moore arch had flown to the Italian Garden, where they were preening side by side, which seems to be part of a courtship ritual, and then displaying and honking.

It looks as if they are thinking of breeding. Not only are they hopeless parents, they have no idea of timing. Maybe this is to be expected, as they are an African species found on both sides of the equator, and in their native habitat there would be little variation in day length.

I have published several pictures of Moorhens knocking Black-Headed Gulls off the posts where they stand. For a change, this gull decided that it wouldn't be moved. The Moorhen came up along the chain from one side, was confronted by the gull, and had to retreat.

Then it approched from behind, and the gull swivelled round and took a peck at it. This surprised the Moorhen so much that it lost its footing and fell off, a most unusual event for such an agile and well balanced climber.

The male Tawny Owl was back in his usual place on the balcony in the nest tree. A pair of Jays had a brief go at him, but he was not disturbed.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

The male Tawny Owl was being annoyed by several Magpies, and had flown from the nest tree into the adjacent beech, from which he gazed at them with dislike.

After a few minutes they gave up and he composed himself and settled down again.

While I was here a Japanese couple came up, evidently having heard of these famous birds. We did not have a word of a common language, but pointing and exhibiting recently taken pictures allowed them to find the owl and they were gratified, as one is by the sight of one of these splendid birds.

The Little Grebe was again in the reeds near the Italian Garden.

It seems to be an excellent spot for small fish, and perhaps a Little Grebe is the only fishing bird small enough to extract them from their shelter among the stems.

Beside the Serpentine near the bridge, a female Blackbird was finishing off the last few berries on a bush.

Even the abundant rowan trees on Buck Hill are looking a bit denuded now after being blitzed by all kinds of birds for weeks. Here is one of the Mistle Thrushes that have been patronising them, standing on the ground in that typical upright, lanky-looking posture that distinguishes the species.

It is not always possible to see that they are paler and greyer than Song Thrushes, but the shape and placing of the spots on their front is always a clear indication. The spots lower down on their bellies are oval and occur more or less at random. Those of Song Thrushes are pointed at the top end and tend to be arranged in vertical lines.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Arrival at the Tawny Owls' tree coincided with a violent hailstorm. The male owl was out on the balcony, and stayed out, but after ten minutes he was a sadly soggy bird.

Soon after I took this picture he shook himself like a wet dog. I couldn't catch this because it was so dark that the camera wouldn't go faster than 1/160th second.

A visit to the rowan trees on Buck Hill brought the expected Mistle Thrushes and, gratifyingly, a Redwing.

It seemed to be alone, unusually for these gregarious thrushes. This is the first Redwing I've seen in the park this winter, though a small flock of them was reported a couple of weeks ago on the archery field between the Diana playground and Kensington Palace Gardens.

We were feeding the small birds in the leaf yard when suddenly they all froze. There must have been a raptor passing overhead which they saw -- or one of them saw and uttered a distinctive warning cry that the others understood -- but we couldn't see. This Nuthatch remained motionless for ten minutes, a most unusual sight with such a restless, darting bird.

At the Serpentine island a pair of Shovellers were shovelling side by side.

And a Red Crested Pochard drake gave me a roguish one-eyed stare.

Actually I don't think he could have looked at me with both eyes, as his enormous fluffy crest was in the way.

A very happy Christmas and a splendid New Year to all readers. As the Robin says, 'You have a good time. Or else!'

Monday 23 December 2013

A day of strong wind and constant rain. I was going to say 'lovely weather for ducks', but even these Shovellers had tired of being buffeted and had sheltered under the trees on the lee side of the island.

Most of the gulls had also got their feet on the ground. When they took off they found that they had to fly strongly to avoid going backwards.  However, the Moorhen family who nested under the jetty at Bluebird Boats regard this area as their property, and trot around knocking Black-Headed Gulls into the air.

For the Cormorants, fishing in the relatively calm water in the shelter of the bridge, it was business as usual. Here a perch sees the last of the light of day as the bird deftly revolves it before swallowing it head first.

The male Tawny Owl was also in his usual place on the balcony on the downwind side of the pair's nest tree, looking a little rain-spotted but perfectly content.

The picture had to be taken in a hurry before the upturned camera lens was obscured by raindrops.

The Carrion Crows were taking advantage of the puddles to dunk the biscuits I gave them.

Apologies for this short and dull post, but it was really not a day to stay out on.

Sunday 22 December 2013

The restoration of the turf around the Henry Moore arch has brought back not just the rabbits, but also the pair of Egyptian Geese who have occupied this area for years.

This is the first pair to have arrived in the park, also notorious for their complete lack of parenting skills. Every year they have bred more than once -- in one year, three times -- and have lost their young to predators within a couple of days by letting them wander off. Obviously most Egyptian Geese are not as negligent as this, or their numbers would not be increasing so fast.

The rowan trees on Buck Hill were being visited by at last six Mistle Thrushes, and I finally got the picture I had been waiting for, of a bird out at the front of the tree with a berry in its beak.

A Carrion Crow was feeding in the next tree.

And of course there were constant incursions of Starlings, which will continue till the tree is bare.

The male Tawny Owl was in his usual place, though in the early afternoon he disappeared, I hope to attend to his mate inside the tree.

The 'balcony' where he sits is like a little theatre box, formed by a branch breaking off the trunk. There is a hole at the back communicating with the hollow inside the trunk. From here the owls can climb to wherever their nest is, and also up to the broken top of the trunk. The climb may be steep, but owls are excellent climbers thanks to their long razor-sharp talons.

A Grey Heron at Peter Pan was sizing me up as a possible source of food.

People often throw them all kinds of things, which they devour without hesitation. The only thing I have ever seen a heron refuse is a whole peanut in the shell.