Thursday, 5 November 2015

The yew tree between Peter Pan and the Italian Garden was the busiest place in the park on a dull wet day. There was a Wren jumping about in the shadows ...

... and a Blackbird reaching up for a berry ...

... and a Ring-Necked Parakeet sitting out on a branch, eating the leaves which are supposed to be deadly poisonous ...

... before turning to a more conventional diet of berries.

This is not the first time I have seen a parakeet eating yew leaves, though I have never seen any other bird doing this. It seems that parakeets are immune to the poison, which is an alkaloid called taxine. A mouthful of leaves would kill a horse that was incautious enough to browse on them. Several ancient Roman writers record that Britons would commit suicide by eating yew rather than submit to the invaders.

There were six adult Great Crested Grebes and the teenager from the island sitting quite close together on the Serpentine without quarrelling, a sign that they are grouping together to fly out. This was confirmed when a pair of them made a short practice run to see if they could get airborne. Here is one of them descending in a grebe's usual undignified splashdown.

Satisfied that they could remember how to fly, the pair displayed to each other. Great Crested Grebes still have a neck ruff when in their plain winter plumage, but it is white instead of chestnut and black.

If these grebes go, there are still two pairs on the Long Water, both of which bred this year.

A female Shoveller came in near the edge of the Serpentine.

Although it's often hard to be sure of the species of female ducks, there is no mistaking a Shoveller's enormous bill. But it is quite interesting to see that the iridescent secondary feathers of her wings are green, while on a Mallard they are blue-violet and on a Teal they are blue-green. In all cases both sexes have secondaries of the same colour.

Update: Africa Gómez has pointed out that this isn't a female but an immature male -- see her comment below.

Yesterday the Black Swan was some distance from its companion, and this morning when Virgina went round the lake she found the Black Swan on its own, and it looked as if the strange couple had abandoned each other. But when I saw them later they were together again, peacefully eating algae side by side.

The young Grey Wagtail was running around the edge of the Serpentine.

However, the persistent rain had driven the Little Owls to shelter inside their hollow trees, and there was no sign of them.


  1. Interesting about the yew trees- thanks for all the information!

    1. Always happy to rabbit on about irrelevant things on a wet day with little to see.

  2. Lovely post Ralph! I think your shoveler, like the Teal, is a young male moulting into full breeding plumage. Its bill is black - unlike the brown female's and its sides show a few red feathers and head/neck getting darker. Time should tell!

    1. Many thanks. Now you have pointed that out it's obvious. But I was similarly misled by the female-looking young Teal until he started sprouting ginger and green feathers.