Friday 31 January 2014

The small but tough family of Mute Swans on the Long Water sallied out on the Serpentine, barging a fishing Cormorant out of the way as they passed under the bridge.

They went on to chase several other swans all the way to the island. Clearly they have designs on a larger territory. Only a few years ago one pair of swans controlled the whole lake and attacked all trespassers: it could happen again.

At the Lido, some other swans were exploring the edibility of some of the border plants, and three of them engaged in a competitive display.

After half a minute the male swan at the front was edged out and left on its own, and the remaining pair -- female on the left, male on the right -- went on displaying. I have seen a dominant male swan break up a couple before, but always on water rather than land.

Today the young Herring Gull's plaything was a lump of concrete covered in algae. It carried the thing around on the water, and dropped it on the edge and picked it up again.

This was was much less fun than the plastic cup it had yesterday (I think it was the same bird, and it was certainly in the same place), so after a while it abandoned its toy and swam away, and I could examine the lump and be sure what it was.

One of the people who records the ring numbers of gulls in the park told me that he had often seen Black-Headed Gulls with consecutive, or nearly consecutive, ring numbers together, and in one case he had seen six Swedish-ringed gulls with close ring numbers in St James's Park. So it seems that at least sometimes these gulls migrate in family groups. It's hard to think of these squabbling birds, for ever trying to steal each other's food, as belonging to families.

The male Tawny Owl was on his balcony ready for his daily photograph.

A Treecreeper was calling in the bushes at the northeast corner of the Serpentine bridge. I had never heard one there before. I managed to get just one reasonable shot as it climbed around in the bushes, and here it is.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Another dark drizzly day, made more interesting by a flock of Long-Tailed Tits passing through the low branches of a lime tree near the Serpentine Gallery. Here is one of them hanging upside down in the endless search for insects, an arduous hunt in January.

As usual in winter, the flock was accompanied by other small birds, including a Coal Tit that evidently knew me, because it came to my hand to be fed. It looked like the smallest one from the leaf yard and, sure enough, when I got there it was nowhere to be seen. Probably all three of them had flown off to forage with the Long-Tailed Tits.

The male Tawny Owl was in his usual place. This picture is almost the same as many previous ones, but what is a day without a sight of an owl?

Four Coots on the Serpentine were having a fight, adopting their curious threat posture that makes them look like Sydney Opera House. Presumably it is intended to make them look larger and more imposing.

Usually they fight first and threaten later, an odd reversal of the usual procedure.

A visit to the Round Pond found the blonde Egyptian Goose who was hatched at the east end of the Serpentine last year. She is much the palest of the light-coloured Egyptians in the park. Here she displays her grey-beige flight feathers; on a normal Egyptian Goose, and even on the other pale ones, these are very dark brown, almost black.

There was also a fair number of Common Gulls. This is a first-winter one, beginning to grow adult light grey feathers on its back.

Common Gulls grow up in three years, between the two for Black-Headed Gulls and the four needed for Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backs. Next winter this gull will have a full set of light grey plumage but its head and breast will have dark streaks; the following summer it will be fully adult with a white head. Adults get dark streaks on their head in winter, but not on their front.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

This beautiful picture of a Grey Heron landing on its nest on the Serpentine island was taken by Virginia Grey.

Otherwise it was a dank and cheerless day. Two bedraggled female Parakeets sat side by side on railings near the leaf yard and demanded one peanut after another. These Indian birds are far from waterproof.

The male Tawny Owl was also rain-spotted, but his plumage doesn't get wet in anything less than a hailstorm.

A pair of Great Crested Grebes were exploring a possible nest site under the willow tree on the Long Water near the bridge. But a young Mute Swan barged straight through the middle of the place and started eating algae off a submerged branch, so they had to wait till it had gone.

The spot that the grebes were eyeing was the bundle of thin twigs curving out of the water just this side of the swan. A floating nest could actually be founded on them, but it would not be a strong site. It was here that a pair built a nest last year and laid eggs, but then the nest was destroyed by the waves kicked up by a strong east wind blowing under the bridge. They would be wise to look elsewhere.

A young Herring Gull was playing with a plastic cup on the edge of the Serpentine. First it dragged it out of the water ...

... then it carried it up the sloping edge and dropped it, so that it rolled back into the lake.

The gull repeated this several times before it got bored and wandered off.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

After yesterday's visit by the adult Great Black-Backed Gull, today the second-winter one was on the Long Water. Here it is, stretching its long neck to look even larger.

It flew around the lake restlessly, as if hunting for food. So far I have not seen one of these huge gulls attack a pigeon, as they are reputed to do.

The male Tawny Owl was obligingly in his usual place, looking as superb as ever.

These visits are now attended by Jackdaws, who are prepared to let themselves be photographed in exchange for a bit of biscuit.

When they first appeared they were very camera-shy, but bribery will get you a long way.

This female Chaffinch in the leaf yard is very shy indeed, and won't even come to take food off the fence.

Her behaviour is quite unlike that of the two males in the same place, who fly confidently to my hand.

I went to the part of the Parade Ground ruined by the funfair to see if anything interesting had turned up in the fenced-off area. Apart from the usual Feral Pigeons, Carrion Crows, Starlings and Pied Wagtails, there was just a solitary Mistle Thrush.

Nearby on the grass five Grey Herons from the Serpentine island had taken a break from their nest building and were wandering around among the people.

A Treecreeper turned up in a most unexpected place on a tree next to the bicycle path where it goes by the Round Pond.

Monday 27 January 2014

The usually reliable male Tawny Owl was not visible this morning, to general consternation. Fortunately when I went back in the afternoon he had come out again in his usual place.

The adult Great Black-Backed Gull had returned, and was sitting far out in the middle of the Long Water, easy to miss among the Lesser Black-Backs until the two came near each other and you could see how huge it was.

Note the heavy bill and thick neck, and also the very dark colour of the back, darker than any of the Lesser Black-Backs (though these come in two colour morphs, Larus fuscus intermedius, which is mid grey, and L. f. graelsii, which is darker; the first type is commoner here). Less obvious in this shot is that the row of white spots on the folded wingtips are large; in the Lesser Black-Back these are quite small.

It was the day for the monthly bird census. The last time I counted, at the end of December, this bird also showed up on the lake to be included in the count.

A pair of Mute Swans was displaying behind the wire baskets around the Serpentine island, an oddly cramped space for these large birds.

At first I wondered whether they were planning to nest on the island. But, as you can see, they are both quite young and their bills have still not turned the adult orange colour. The swans' nest site on the island is the most prized of all the available places, since it is safe from foxes, and a low-ranking young bird would never be able to claim it. In fact I think they were displaying here to avoid being attacked by more senior birds.

A pair of Moorhens in the Italian Garden seemed to be looking for a nest site in one of the wire netting enclosures for water plants.

The mesh presents no obstacle to Moorhens, since these agile birds can climb it in an instant. By the time any future young Moorhens are too large to get through the mesh, they too will be able to climb over.

At the edge of the leaf yard, Charlie the Carrion Crow was having a face-off with a medium-sized rat.

They wisely decided to leave each other alone.

Overhead, an alert Jackdaw was waiting to pounce on any food offered to the crows. They are so much faster than the rather sedate crows that they often succeed.

Sunday 26 January 2014

The Grey Herons' nest building on the Serpentine island continues. There were three birds at work, and their nests are getting quite large.

But frosty weather is forecast, and if it comes they may give up as they did last year after an initial frenzy of activity.

The Tawny Owls at least seem committed to their annual schedule. There was no sign of the female, but the male was standing guard in his usual place.

He was restless and kept glancing around, though as a mere human I couldn't see what had alerted him. Tawny Owls can see slightly better than us in low light, but their key sense is their amazing hearing, which allows them to pounce accurately on a mouse in pitch darkness just by listening to the faint rustle it makes moving through the grass.

The four Jackdaws were constantly flying around the area, though they seemed more interested in food than in mobbing the owl. Here is one of them in a rare moment of rest.

There is an exotic tree near Peter Pan bearing the label Ligustrum lucidum 'Excelsum Superbum', and a note of its origin, China. It is a kind of giant privet with variegated leaves. A small branch had fallen off it and someone had thrown this into the lake, where the young Mute Swan was finding it very palatable.

No other birds seemed interested in its tough evergreen leaves. Swans also eat willow leaves, and seem to be the only species that likes them.

The lone Shoveller drake on the Serpentine, who never joins his fellows, was quietly shovelling in the rain.

Saturday 25 January 2014

It's months since there were any Gadwall on the lake, so it was good to see a pair at the Serpentine island.

The distinctive white 'sugar cube' marking on their folded wings, caused by white tertial feathers, is clearly visible. This makes it easy to tell a female Gadwall from a female Mallard, which has iridescent blue rather than white here.

A Great Crested Grebe and a Coot were having a face-off near the bridge, for no apparent reason except that these species thoroughly dislike each other.

The Coot was dislodged from the chain on which it was standing, and the grebe swam around it under water in a menacing fashion which made it very nervous, until eventually it fled.

The latest additions to the regular park birds, the four Jackdaws, were moving around briskly between the Speke obelisk and the Italian Garden.

We lost our original population of Jackdaws in 1969. They lived in the elm trees which were killed by Dutch elm disease in that year.

A Jay was looking for worms and bugs among the dead leaves near the Tawny Owls' nest tree.

And the male Tawny Owl was on his balcony, having a good scratch.

No one I spoke to had seen the female owl today, and we hope she is in the tree sitting on eggs.

This Nuthatch, in a characteristic head-down posture, is anchored securely to the twig by its very long curved claws.

Friday 24 January 2014

Apologies for the repeated disappearance of today's post, and sometimes of the whole blog. Blogger, the service which hosts it, has been having technical problems.

The female Tawny Owl came out briefly twice today. Here she is at her second appearance. Her tail is looking a bit frayed -- a consequence of nesting?

At this time the owls were being severely pestered by Carrion Crows, Jackdaws, Jays, Magpies and a couple of angrily Mistle Thrushes, while on the ground under the tree a dozen dogs and their owners were rushing around. The female owl flew to the beech tree next to the nest tree, and the male owl stayed on his balcony, simply waiting for the rumpus to die down.

It did, and a couple of minutes after I took this picture he was asleep again.

Three of the Jackdaws settled on the ground under the owls' tree. Here one of them is expecting a biscuit to be thrown to it, staring at the camera with its sharp grey eyes.

As soon as it got the biscuit it streaked off to avoid being bothered by the other corvids that were milling around.

The Little Grebe was resting in its favourite spot in the reeds near the Italian Garden.

It was not asleep and had both eyes open. This little bird -- it weighs about 5 ounces -- needs to be constantly vigilant.

There was a Dunnock in the shrubbery at the southwestern corner of the bridge, lurking under a bush as usual.

This is the probably same one that I photographed three days ago, since it was only 20 yards away from that spot.

Here are some Black-Headed Gulls coming in to be fed near Peter Pan.

Thursday 23 January 2014

A Mute Swan and a Cormorant were uneasily sharing the space over the wire basket near the bridge. The swan refused to be budged by the lunging and splashing of its neighbour, but it was clearly annoyed.

Eventually the Cormorant swam off, and the swan went back to chewing algae off the wire mesh. You would not think that this enormous bird could subsist on a diet of algae and grass (and, in the park, the pappy white sliced bread that visitors give them).

The four Jackdaws near the Speke obelisk are now waiting for people to come and give them bits of biscuit. When not swooping down to the ground they were flying rapidly from tree to tree, never pausing for more than a couple of seconds.

The male Tawny Owl was in his usual place. Woken up by some passing dog walkers, he gave me an intense stare before settling back to sleep.

There were two Carrion Crows near the small boathouses, so I gave them a couple of peanuts. Immediately a Lesser Black-Backed Gull barged in and grabbed one of them.

Having got the peanut, it didn't know what to do with it -- unlike the gulls I photographed a few days ago, which had realised that they could crush the shell with their beak. A gull is no good at holding a nut in place with its feet so it can peck it open, since its feet are smaller and weaker than the strong grasping feet of crows. Eventually it dropped the nut, which was reclaimed by the other crow.

A Moorhen struck a balletic pose on a post near the bridge.

Its modest brown feathers are quite shiny when the sun catches them at the right angle.