Saturday 31 May 2014

The female Tawny Owl was sunning herself on the hornbeam tree, watching us with one eye on the shaded side of her face while she closed the other to avoid being dazzled.

The owlets were not near, and were silent at the time, so we couldn't find them. Very likely they were in the small trees 50 yards away where we saw them yesterday, and their mother had retreated to a distance so she could have a moment's peace.

The male Little Owl was in his usual place on the chestnut tree, in the shade of the leaves.

A Blackcap was singing in a dead bush in the Flower Walk.

Usually they are next to invisible among the leaves, and they also hate being stared at, so it was an unusually clear view of him -- though from too far away, as usual.

There is a family of Wrens in an isolated hawthorn tree near the Queen's Temple, and you can often hear the male singing -- in fact you can hear this tiny bird's very loud song from a hundred yards away. Today the sun had brought him out on a bare twig, with his beak wide open and singing fit to bust.

The Mute Swan family on the Long Water passed close to the Coots' nest at Peter Pan, causing the usual standoff.

These Coots, which lost their first brood, have industriously started again in the same place. A pity that it's a rotten place exposed to gulls -- they would have done much better to move to a bush on the side of the lake.

A new pair of Great Crested Grebes has taken over the territory by the bridge, next to the wire basket that is full of fish.

They were staying under the arch, away from the mad rumpus caused by the triathlon on the Serpentine.

Friday 30 May 2014

Visiting the Tawny Owls' usual area, we heard calls and fluttering noises coming from a tree near the leaf yard. It turned out to contain at least two of the owlets -- we couldn't see through the leaves if the third was there -- and we could just see their mother's wing. She had brought them a parakeet, in two halves which she had already ripped apart.

They ate this surprisingly quickly, within five minutes.

One of the owlets dropped the remains of its meal -- just the tail and feet -- under the tree and sat looking curiously at us.

Almost at once the remnants were collected and borne away by a Carrion Crow, though there was not much left for it to eat.

A young Grey Heron had got into trouble in the Flower Walk. It had been chased into the shrubbery by five crows, which were tormenting it and would not be scared off. Luckily one of the gardeners, Bernard Horowski, managed to rescue it, angry and squawking but unharmed.

He took the bird to the Long Water in his van and released it. Later we found it beside the Serpentine cheerfully wading into the middle of a family of Egyptian Geese, trying to take their food.

A male Reed Warbler was singing in the reed bed near the Diana fountain, and this time I was lucky enough to get a picture of him.

Thursday 29 May 2014

After yesterday's Carrion Crow attack, it was a relief to see all three Tawny owlets in their usual lime tree. This is the smallest one, resting as if nothing had happened.

Their mother had been seen earlier flying with something quite large in her talons, probably a rat but she vanished before it could be seen clearly.

The Little Owl was on his usual branch in the sweet chestnut tree.

I still don't have any definite news or location for the four Little owlets near the Bayswater Road, but will let you know as soon as I hear anything.

Against the odds, the three Mandarin ducklings have survived. The number of Herring Gulls on the lake has fallen over the past few days, but they are not out of danger by any means.

The Greylag pair were looking after their solitary gosling beside the Serpentine.

The three elder Canada goslings are growing fast. One of them raised its wing to show some new feathers emerging in their blue wrappings, but it will be some time before they can can make a preliminary attempt at flight.

The younger set of Canada goslings are now down to two.

A Gadwall drake was preening his wings, showing an elaborate set of feathers in black, grey, white and brown.

One of the Reed Warblers has moved to the reed bed at the east end of the Serpentine, where he was singing but, as usual, impossible to see.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Tawny owlets had moved away from their usual lime tree, and were now only a few yards from the southwest corner of the leaf yard. Here the smallest one is perched in a chestnut tree, calling for food. Its mother was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she was away hunting.

After a few minutes it flew into a birch tree. But the noise or the movement had attracted a couple of Carrion Crows which started harassing it, not daring to get within reach of those razor-sharp claws but flying past and trying to make it fall off its perch.

Despite some nasty moments the owlet stayed put. I was with Paul Turner, who threw a peanut -- the only thing he had -- at the attacking crow. It was a very near miss, and enough to frighten the crow off.

The owlet flew to a lime tree, and seemed to settle down quite soon after its unpleasant experience.

Paul stayed on guard under the tree for some time. When I left, the crow had not returned.

The male Little Owl was in his usual chestnut tree, but everything was peaceful there.

Several families of Blue Tits were dashing around in the leaf yard. The fledgelings look slightly larger than their parents because they are fluffier.

The largest number of rabbits seen so far under the Henry Moore sculpture is 26. A Magpie was taking a close interest in one of them ...

... causing it to flee in panic.

Magpies and Crows alike simply can't resist causing trouble.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

More young Great Tits have emerged in the shrubberies all round the park. Here one vibrates its wings and utters a loud scratchy call begging for food.

And here its father arrives to feed it with a carefully pre-chewed bit of pine nut.

You should't give broken peanuts or other hard nuts to fledglings, as they can choke on the sharp fragments, but pine nuts are quite soft and crumbly, and go down well.

The young Coots are also being fed, but in this case all they get is algae dredged off the bottom the the lake.

But they seem to thrive on it, as do Mute Swans. It is remarkable that a bird can grow so fast and to such a size on such a poor-seeming diet. Here the mother swan acts as in icebreaker for her offspring as they pass through a patch of tangled water weed.

There were a lot of Swifts and House Martins swooping low over the Serpentine,  catching insects just above the surface. Rainy days make the insects fly low -- or possibly make the birds choose more low-flying insects from the selection available.

Rain also spares Swifts the need to come down to drink by skimming the water surface, as they can catch raindrops.

At this time of year Tufted Ducks like to fly around in small groups. It is not a case of males chasing females -- as you can see, in this flight the drake is in front. It seems to be a display of fitness and flying skill.

All three Tawny owlets were in their usual lime tree. Here are two of them. They are already beginning to turn an adult shade of brown.

I couldn't find their mother today, though no doubt she was not far away.

Monday 26 May 2014

A pair of Greylag Geese have just one gosling, the only one on the lake so far this year.

They are looking after this precious survivor very carefully. Newly hatched Greylag goslings are less yellow than Canadas.

The two Coot chicks from the nest in the wire baskets on the edge of the island are now quite well grown, and are feeding themselves. Here one tries to eat part of a crayfish, without much success.

I couldn't find any of the owls, Tawny or Little, today. They were probably only a few yards away, but finding them in the thick foliage is now very difficult.

As a compensation there were good views of several Nuthatches in the leaf yard.

They are now almost fearless with people -- at least, if the people are offering them food. But I haven't yet managed to entice one of them down to feed from my hand.

Some of the Egyptian Geese are moulting their wing feathers. Here you can see the new feathers emerging in their blue wrappings.

They don't have a fixed a schedule for this as the large geese do. Both Greylag and Canada Geese change their wing feathers in June, and suddenly the whole population is flightless. It's a dangerous time, and they need to stay close to the lake so that they can rush into the water if someone lets a dog loose near them.

A pair of Red Crested Pochards were passing the time on a dull drizzly day by having a good preen.

This species originated in southern Europe, but is now breeding in this country and is regarded as resident. They have successfully bred in the park only once, in 2012, when they managed to bring up three young.

Sunday 25 May 2014

A fine Sunday had brought a lot of owl fans into the park, including several families with young children -- and what better way to begin a lifelong love of birds than by seeing the splendid Tawny family? All three owlets were visible on the hornbeam tree ...

... and their mother was on a plane tree a few yards to the north, just far away to avoid being pestered by them.

We didn't see the father. Evidently he is keeping well out of the way during the daytime.

Later, one of the owlets moved away from the other too. It was troubled by flies and, when one of them walked over its eye ...

... that was the last straw, and it had a good scratch to get rid of the pests.

The Little Owl in the chestnut tree hadn't come out, hardly surprising on a day when hordes of people were milling around. However, we have news of a third pair of Little Owls, and they have been heard and seen with four chicks, though I haven't seen them myself. Nor do I know exactly where they are, but it is somewhere between the Speke obelisk and the Bayswater Road, I think a bit west of the obelisk. This is where Little Owls were seen two years ago when they first arrived in the park, but they have escaped notice between then and now.

A Carrion Crow was amusing itself by harassing a Grey Heron on a post in the Long Water at the Vista, repeatedly flying low over its head and swiping it as it passed.

It had been doing this yesterday too. There is no love lost between herons and crows. Eventually the Heron gave up and flew away, uttering hoarse angry cries.

The other heron under the marble fountain at the Italian Garden was having a hard time seeing the fish it wanted to catch. It had cleared a small patch in the floating weed and was peering through it.

Here is a brief and rather noisy recording of a bird call I heard in a bush near the Italian Garden -- a short phrase repeated exactly again and again. I ought to know what it is, but shamefully I don't. I could only see the bird briefly with the sun right behind it, so it was just a black outline and I couldn't see what colour it was. It was about the size and shape of a Chiffchaff, maybe a little larger and with a slightly longer tail. I've looked up sound clips of all the birds answering that description that were likely to be there, and have come up with nothing. Can anyone help?

Saturday 24 May 2014

The Tawny owlets came back into view today. They were in the hornbeam tree next to the lime tree where they have been recently. I didn't find either of their parents. Here are two of them.

There is a new brood of Mandarins, just three ducklings. They are quite young; it seems that the previous three broods have all been eaten by gulls, and indeed this one has only three left. On the west side of the Vista they strayed dangerously close to a Grey Heron, which their mother warned off.

She also saved them from a hungry Carrion Crow. But it's the big gulls, numerous and ravenous, that do the most damage.

The water weed is thicker than ever on the Long Water. Here the Coot family from the reeds near the Italian Garden wonder how to cope with it. It makes swimming difficult for the chicks, which have to wriggle their way over the top, half swimming, half walking.

The weed will also interfere with the triathlon due to be held next weekend. Serve the organisers right for holding it on an unsuitable lake, and for intruding on a park that is supposed to be for public recreation, not commercial events. However, the family of Mute Swans with five cygnets have taken advantage of the fence along the lake shore, as it provides a refuge from dogs.

You can see the remains of a crayfish in the background. The Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls are still hauling up large numbers of these.

What has happened to the Crayfish is a mystery. At least some of them seem to be dead; at least, their inactivity can't be fully explained by the fact that they are moulting at the moment. It has been suggested that the lake is suffering from euthrophication, which would explain both the heavy growth of weed and a lack of dissolved oxygen that affects the crayfish, but I have seen the lake in a much worse state that this without causing a mass die-off.

Also, the Great Crested Grebes still seem to be catching plenty of fish in good condition.