Monday 2 February 2015

A Maned Goose has turned up at the Round Pond, and was feeding along with the Egyptian Geese. It is certainly an escape from one of the London parks, since it is an Australian bird.

It is also called the Maned Duck or Australian Wood Duck, since it is one of those waterfowl, like an Egyptian Goose, that doesn't quite fit either category. Its taxonomic name is Chenonetta jubata. It doesn't have much of a mane,  just a patch of dark feathers on the back of its neck that can be raised.

The Scaup was still on the Round Pond, but again right in the middle, and I will spare you the dull picture I took.

Today I met Jeffrey Martin, who studies owls and wrote an article in the August 2014 issue of British Wildlife featuring our own Tawnies. I took him and his wife to see the owl, and the inconsiderate creature, which had been visible earlier, had gone in. So we went to see the Little Owl, who wouldn't look out of the hole.

After they had gone, both birds reappeared.

Well, birdwatching is like that.

The Starlings on the Tawny Owls' tree are stll holding on to their nest hole, though the way this one was clinging close to the entrance seemed to show that they had been having trouble with Ring-Necked Parakeets.

The pigeon-eating Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were sharing the male's latest kill next to the Dell restaurant, despite crowds of people and Mute Swans milling around them.

In the little pool at the top of the Dell, a Wren was clinging tightly to a slippery rock to have a drink.

Several more Red-Crested Pochards have reappeared on the Serpentine as mysteriously as they left. They have probably been in Regent's Park, where there are quite a lot of these birds.

The young Grey Wagtail showed up again, after keeping out of sight for weeks. It was running along the edge of the Lido.


  1. Hi Ralph. Thanks for your reply about Little Owl directions yesterday. Very helpful. Just to make things as clear as possible, would you mind posting a zoomed out (as much as possible) photograph of the whole tree in question as viewed from the path (I know the hole is on the other side though) on your next blog? This would be very useful and save a lot of time wondering about not knowing which tree! If your not keen on posting a photo on your blog, would you mind sending me an email ? - - Thank you!

    1. P.S. What time is best for this Little Owl? Morning or afternoon?

    2. I'll have to go back and take a wide-angle picture. I only have zoomed-in shots at the moment. Don't think this Little Owl has a schedule during daylight hours when the park is open. You just have to be lucky and patient.

    3. Thanks Ralph. I look forward to seeing the wide-angle photo soon! Charlie

  2. Hi Ralph, this is a general question. Hope that's OK. What is your opinion of 'playback'. I had never heard of it before, but apparently it is an issue these days.

    1. I think it's a mean trick, but confess that I have sometimes used it to attract a bird's attention. I always felt guilty about doing so. The ideal is to be invisible and simply record what's going on, but it's unattainable.

    2. Thanks Ralph. I feel I could never do it myself - but then I travel very light, with just a small pair of binoculars and nothing much else! My friend has been on a holiday of a life-time bird watching in Malaysia and the guide used the technique a few times. Friend was a bit perturbed!

    3. No need for bulky equipment. Just a smartphone and a 3G connection, and go to xeno-canto for all the calls of every bird you could think of.

    4. Yes of course. But I am an old fashioned girl with a coal-powered phone from the Dark Ages....

    5. For anyone else interested in this topic, a science buddy of mine had these comments: "My opinion is that 'it depends'. I have done it occasionally, but under certain circumstances.

      The controversy in UK birding is mostly to do with people twitching a rarity at a known location - for especially rare birds hundreds of people may turn up, so obviously if only a small minority of people engage in a disturbing behaviour that can cumulatively have a big impact on bird welfare, especially if there are also dozens of people chasing it around an unfamiliar field all day. That gets a big no from me.

      OTOH, a lot of birding I do is surveys. For some species, like secretive ones (e.g. Grasshopper Warbler) or nocturnal ones (owls, nightjars, etc), you're very unlikely to be able to confirm presence without using a tape. But generally this is done to a sensible, repeatable protocol, with tapes used sparingly and switched off as soon as the bird responds. Similarly, in remote, rarely-visited areas such as the Kenyan highlands playing a tape of something like an owl can cause enough of a commotion that you can see a whole load of birds you wouldn't otherwise know were there. As even casual, presence-only data gets used for for conservation-relevant research, so as long as there is minimal chance of lasting damage to the bird in question, and some potential benefit beyond my own amusement, I don't have a problem with it. It's certainly a big improvement on the days when ornithologists used to just shoot everything.

      I've also used tapes to attract birds to nets for bird-banding purposes, though in the breeding season this is very strictly controlled in the UK - in addition to a govt licence for capturing wild birds, and another permit for owning and using nets, you need an extra endorsement to play tapes from April to September. That suggests the basis of a voluntary code of conduct for birdwatchers.

      I really dislike people who play tapes for ages just so they can get a better photo with their massive cameras though.

      Anyway, those are my views from a bird welfare perspective. As for 'cheating', people are welcome to make up their own rules for what 'counts' as proper birdwatching :) IMHO if birders were less insistent on seeing everything, and would be content just to identify something even by song, playback would be less of an issue."