Friday 28 February 2014

The first brood of Egyptian Geese has appeared on the edge of the Serpentine near Bluebird Boats. Here their mother keeps them clustered close to a tree to avoid attacks by the numerous Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls on the lake.

At this time their father had flown off to drive away another pair of Egyptian Geese that had come imprudently close. He would have been better employed guarding his offspring against gulls, but instinct rules.

The pair of Mistle Thrushes nesting near the Serpentine Gallery were attacking a Carrion Crow with loud rattling cries of fury. The crow, one of the usual ones that hangs around here, had experienced this before and took refuge in a twiggy tree so that they couldn't perform their usual manoeuvre of flying low over its head and bashing it in passing. So the thrushes had to settle in adjacent trees and yell at it.

At the Tawny Owls' tree it was the corvids -- Carrion Crows, Jays and Magpies -- that were making loud protests from the branches above the nest hole. The male owl sensibly stayed inside. When I came past later at four o'clock, he still hadn't emerged.

There were plenty of Redwings chattering loudly in the trees at the south end of the Parade Ground. They didn't offer any opportunities for a good picture in the very dim light, so here is a Great Spotted Woodpecker that was in an adjacent tree.

There was a pair of Chaffinches in a tree between Peter Pan and the Italian Garden. The male was in his finest breeding plumage ...

... and the female was also looking elegant in a more subdued colour scheme.

Virginia Grey sent me a splendid picture of a singing male Greenfinch taken a few days ago in the same spot.

Thursday 27 February 2014

A pair of Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were courting on the edge of the Serpentine. Judging by their behaviour, the male is the one at the back.

I don't know whether these gulls manage to breed in central London, but the closely related Herring Gulls certainly do, on rooftops in Paddington.

A pair of Mallards were also courting, as far as Mallards do court, since their mating is brief and rough. The two bob their heads up and down rhythmically, which is more or less impossible to capture in a still photograph.

A pair of Great Crested Grebes could be seen reserving a nest site on the Long Water opposite Peter Pan.

They use their chosen spot as a place to rest when they aren't fishing, and will defend it against other grebes if they have to -- there has already been quite a lot of territorial squabbling this year. They have been displaying to each other occasionally.But it may be some time before they actually get round to building a nest.

This Little Grebe was in front of the place at the north end of the Long Water where they nested a few years ago, in the reeds behind the netting. The other Little Grebe was nearby.

But they are showing no signs of being interested in each other, at least yet. In fact they are remarkably silent, and may not be a couple. The Long Water is not a good place for Little Grebes to breed, probably because there is not enough cover to shield them from the big gulls. They have done much better in Regent's Park.

The Mute Swans on the Serpentine were doing a lot of menacing and chasing. Here a pair flee from an angry pursuer.

The male Tawny Owl was not out in the middle of the day, and I didn't have time today to wait for him to emerge.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

A day of missing birds that other people saw: a Mealy Redpoll and a Lesser Redpoll in the birch trees beside the Long Water, and three Common Terns visiting the Long Water. I missed the Tawny Owl too. He was very late coming out, and several people were still waiting for him when I gave up at 4.30.

Nevertheless there were some interesting sights. A young Herring Gull was doing the worm dance in the enclosure of the Diana memorial, pattering its little feet on the ground to imitate the sound of falling rain to bring up worms.

For more about this dance and a video, see Africa Gómez' consistently interesting blog The Rattling Crow.

There were some Redwings in a tree on the Parade Ground about 50 yards northeast of the Dell restaurant, with male singing their chattering song. They were rather hard to photograph through the twigs, and this is the best shot I could get.

While I was photographing them a Treecreeper climbed up the same tree. Here it is hanging upside down from a branch with its remarkable claws, with an insect clamped in its beak.

And while we were waiting in vain for the owl, a Stock Dove flew into an adjacent tree.

There are quite a few of these in this area. You have to look quite closely to distinguish them from Feral Pigeons; note the dark eyes. They also have shorter bars on their wings, and are all the same colour, unlike the very varied Feral Pigeons.

There were five Mandarin drakes on the Long Water. Here are two of them.

Only two females were visible, and the others may already be nesting in tree holes.

One of the Coal Tits in the Leaf Yard came out for some food and followed me closely for several minutes, taking more and more and caching it in cracks in tree bark.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Here is an unremarkable picture of a Black-Headed Gull beside the Serpentine -- but it is wearing a ring with the number ST259575, which shows that it has migrated here from Finland.

It will probably return there fairly soon, as these gulls are usually faithful to their summer and winter grounds. The Finnish gull which also had a later Dutch ring, mentioned a few weeks ago, is an exception. It also wandered between Hyde Park and Regent's Park

This young Herring Gull was eating a Feral Pigeon on the edge of the Serpentine near the Dell restaurant. However, I don't think it has started hunting pigeons. The victim was probably left by one of the two Lesser Black-Backed Gulls that hunt in this area.

On the Parade Ground a Redwing was untroubled by the presence of a squirrel. It didn't move until the squirrel almost trod on it.

The pair of Mandarin Ducks photographed yesterday were still on the Long Water near Peter Pan. For a change, here is the female, quietly elegant in grey and brown.

A familiar pair of Mistle Thrushes which nest in the lime tree avenue west of the Serpentine Gallery were hopping around amicably together. One of them picked up a feather, so maybe the nesting instinct is beginning to assert itself. But it put it down again and went on looking for worms.

A male Greenfinch was singing his peculiar wheezing song at the top of a tree near the Queen's Temple. They are more often heard than seen, and it's hard to get even a bad photograph.

The male Tawny Owl was following his usual schedule of the last few days, not emerging till the late afternoon.

If you want to see him, you should wait until half past three at the earliest.

Monday 24 February 2014

The first Great Crested Grebes' nest of the year is on the northeast corner of the Serpentine island, behind the floating baskets of water plants. It is rather hard to see from the shore.

It seems a good site, well screened against large gulls by bushes. I am not sure whether one of the Grey Herons can get to it; this depends on whether the side of the island slopes steeply enough into the water to stop them wading along.

A pair of Mandarins was visible on the Long Water near Peter Pan.

There are at least three males here, and probaby the same number of females. Since they are often seen in the bushes directly opposite Peter Pan, it's probable that they are nesting there in tree holes.

Also at Peter Pan, a mob of Mallard drakes was fighting over a solitary female, who was taking the opportunity to get away from them; you can just see her tail disappearing out of the right side of the picture.

There are still plenty of Redwings at the bottom of the Parade Ground near the bandstand. When I went to see them they had been joined by a Green Woodpecker.

This allowed me to get quite close while I had the camera in front of my face, but as soon as I put it down and looked at the bird, it fled. This strengthens my belief that these birds are particularly sensitive to the human gaze because they have light-coloured eyes, as Jackdaws do, which allow them to be easily seen in a nest hole and thus deter others of their species from entering. They see human eyes, with obvious white corneas, as particularly challenging.

The male Tawny Owl was again not visible in the morning, but had come out by the second time I visited the nest tree at 3.15.

Paul Turner suggested to me that he is coming out late because he has been catching mice for his mate and four hungry owlets as well as for himself, and he is tired in the morning. This may well be right.

Here is a Coal Tit eating a pine nut against a background of spring blossom in the Flower Walk.

Sunday 23 February 2014

The male Tawny Owl came out a bit earlier than he has in the past few days, and was on his balcony by 3.45 pm.

It is probably rather noisy inside the nest tree with owlets calling for food. I wonder whether you could hear them by sticking a microphone into the small hole about 8 ft off the ground where the Starlings nest (they haven't started yet). The tree is hollow from top to bottom, but has several holes in the side that would dissipate the sound.

This Jay in the leaf yard was singing -- a rather confused and unmelodious chattering, but no doubt female Jays find it attractive.

Two of the newly arrived Great Crested Grebes are a pair, and were exploring the reed bed for a possible nest site, pausing occasionally for a display of affection.

It would be an excellent place if they had the sense to go inside the net that protects the reeds, but even a place outside the net has produced chicks in past years, despite the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backs that patrol the area.

The fountains in the Italian Garden are out of order again -- I'm sure they never were when they were powered by the original Victorian steam pump. A Moorhen was taking advantage of this by climbing agilely around the ironwork looking for something edible.

The Wren in the Flower Walk was wandering impeturbably in the flower beds and allowed its picture to be taken from a mere 10 ft away.

And the Redwings on the Parade Ground stopped worrying about me after I had stood still for ten minutes, and one of them came over and stared at me.

Saturday 22 February 2014

No sign of the male Tawny Owl today, and he hasn't been seen since Thursday. He may be inside the nest tree, or he may have found another tree to sit in and we haven't been able to spot him. But it is always like this when it gets near the time for the owlets to emerge, which is maybe three weeks from now. The male owl becomes more erratic in his habits, and people start worrying pointlessly. And then, when the owlets are due, there is a frantic hunt until they are found by chance, in recent years several hundred yards from the nest tree.

The only activity I saw on the owls' nest tree was a pair of Ring-Necked Parakeets courting. The female was clearly enjoying the attention.

The Grey Herons really do seem to have abandoned their attempt at nesting. There was an Egyptian Goose in one of their half-finished nests, and a heron stood on the shore completely indifferent to the intruder.

The Egyptian would not have been trying to use the nest for itself. It was just indulging its habit of standing around in trees, which these birds do all winter long before they think of nesting.

The Coot nest offshore from Peter Pan is now definitely established, and has been occupied every time I have gone past it.

All four Jackdaws were flying around near the Speke obelisk. There is a lively rivalry between the Carrion Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws in this area, and at one point the Jackdaws attacked a solitary Magpie and chased it away.

Both Little Grebes came past the Italian Garden, though I only managed to see one of them on a second visit. They are constantly moving around the edge of the lake and you have to be lucky to catch one in a visible place.

Update: Elizabeth saw the Tawny Owl at 5.30 pm in his usual place. So he was just spending the day indoors.

Friday 21 February 2014

A day of sunny intervals but not much to see. The most interesting incident was a fight between two Wood Pigeons, jumping and kicking in their ungainly fashion.

There was no winner, and in the end they wandered off side by side as if nothing had happened.

The male Tawny Owl stayed inside his tree, sheltering from the chilly wind after a cold night. I went there twice to see if he had emerged, but he had not. Several people had come to see him, and were disappointed.

Two of the Jackdaws in this area were poking for food in the grass.

There are four in all, and at least two of them seem to be a couple. There is a tree near the Speke obelisk with a hole that they have been examining. If the other two are a couple, they will look for a nest at a discreet distance, as Jackdaws are territorial and fiercely defend their nest site.

The Redwings have returned to their original place at the bottom of the Parade Ground, just to the west of the bandstand. They like this area mainly because it is fenced off after the grass was wrecked by the funfair, but also because the churned-up earth and scubby patches of surviving grass are well stocked with worms, and most importantly there are trees they can fly into if disturbed. These nervous birds flee when a photographer comes within fifty yards of them, but sometimes if you stay still they will forget about you and hop back after a while.

As usual, they were accompanied by Pied Wagtails, which are slightly less shy -- just as well from a photographic point of view, because they are tiny. This one is male, as you can see from his black back -- females are grey.

The playful young Herring Gull had abandoned its toys for the time being and was preening itself on the edge of the Serpentine.

Thursday 20 February 2014

The 60,000 daffodils planted by children along the edge of the Serpentine are beginning to flower.

A pair of Robins near the bridge, temporarily united by the mating season but still wary of each other, were sitting a safe distance apart, carefully not looking at each other as that might be seen as a challenge.

The Redwings had apparently gone from the Parade Ground, but there was a pair of Mistle Thrushes, again not too close to each other. While one foraged on the ground, superbly camouflaged against the bare earth and dead leaves ...

... the other sunned itself in a tree. I hoped it was a male and would sing, but it didn't.

The Great Crested Grebes on either side of the bridge were also feeling the call of spring, which they expressed by restarting the territorial dispute which they had enjoyed so much last year. Here is one in the typical threat posture, with head held low and ready to shoot forward in a ramming run if the other bird comes too far forward.

Their territorial call sounds like 'Go back, go back', which is exactly the message they are conveying.

The male Tawny Owl was inside the nest tree after a rainy night, but when the sun came out in mid-afternoon he emerged for his daily photo opportunity.