Monday 15 February 2016

A pair of Goldcrests were flying around the yew tree near the bridge, in exactly the same place as the nest was last year. It may not be the same pair of Goldcrests, of course -- perhaps the young from last year. These tiny birds are very short-lived.

While we were rushing around trying to photograph them, the other small birds were getting impatient at not being fed. A Blue Tit was waiting on a bramble ...

... and a Robin came out and clung precariously to the spiked railings, to make sure that it was noticed.

Nuthatches came down to take food from the railings in the leaf yard.

A Starling looked very beautiful in the sunshine but was a nuisance when we were trying to feed the tits.

Tom took this good picture of a Song Thrush in the leaf yard catching a worm.

The newly found Little Owl near the Henry Moore sculpture is remarkably shy. Today it rushed back into its hole as soon as we stepped off the path towards it, so this picture is taken from a greater distance than yesterday's.

But the Little Owl in the oak tree was as bold as ever, staring curiously at the camera.

The Black Swan, at the east end of the Serpentine as usual, was chased off by the big male Mute Swan, the only one here who can dominate him. He soothed his hurt feelings by chasing some other swans off the reed raft.

The young Grey Wagtail was at the Lido restaurant again, in the place between the terrace and the Lido bathing area where bushes prevent people from getting down to the edge.

I haven't seen a full adult for some time. I hope there is still a pair, so that they can nest under the plnk bridge in the Dell.

Lesser Black-Backed Gulls come in two colours. Most of the ones in the park have mid-grey backs, the usual western European form called Larus fuscus graelsii. But this one is of the almost black northern type called L. f. fuscus. The repetition of fuscus indicates that it is the nominate subspecies, because this gull was named by Linnaeus in Sweden.


  1. Which birds have the shortest lives?

    1. They can't be much shorter than a Goldcrest, with 90 per cent mortality inside a year.

    2. Oh God, I didn't know that :-( It seems like such a horrid waste of beauty and charm.

      We forget how fragile nature's beauty is.

    3. Just had to share - Wisdom, the 65-year-old Laysan Albatross, just had a tiny chick, her 40th.
      She is miraculous.

    4. One crowded hour of glorious life
      Is worth an age without a name.

      But hurrah for Wisdom. Have been told that vultures can live to over 100. They are less charismatic than albatrosses, but extremely important to the ecology, as Indians have found to their loss after most of theirs were poisoned by diclofenac.

  2. Sometimes I amuse myself by thinking that, were Ovid to be born in our time, he would be inclined to believe that the Black Swan was a man before, who was changed into a swan. It is so human-like in its reactions.

    1. And, a century later, I'd like to see Juvenal's jaw drop when he saw the bird he said was impossible.

  3. I'm quoting that very same passage on a little something I am writing about Horace's purple swans! Talk about coincidence.

    1. I suppose that Horace's purpureis oloribus really means 'rich-coloured' in a general sense, like Vergil's description of the sky of the Elysian Fields in Aeneid 6.638-641:

      devenere locos laetos et amoena virecta
      fortunatorum nemorum sedesque beatas.
      Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
      purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.

      In Dryden's distant but wonderful version:

      Where long extended plains of pleasure lay:
      The verdant fields with those of heav'n may vie,
      With ether vested, and a purple sky;
      The blissful seats of happy souls below.

  4. Colour-words are notoriously difficult to translate, as the categories (and their boundaries) are cultural not derived via the ‘laws' of physics. I had a quick look at Lewis & Short’s Latin Dictionary for "purpureus":

    "Purple-coloured, purple; including very different shades of colour, as red, reddish, violet, brownish, blackish, etc."

    There were some extraordinary usages in the examples: “purple" is used of rose flowers in Horace, Odes III.xv, and of the dawn in his ‘Ars Poetica’ Epistle. Vergil uses it for blood in “Aeneid" IX (l. 349) – but also for the colour of human hair in the first “Georgic". Propertius uses it for the colour of poppies (I.xx), but Columella ("De Re Rustica" XI.ii) uses it for the colour of lettuce!

    Just to make this more perplexing the word can be used by transference to mean just brilliant, shining, bright, or beautiful – it is used of thoroughly non-purple things like eyes - beautiful, nor tired or bruised (by Valerius Flaccus), or the moon ("Aeneid" I), or light (Ovid, "Fasti" VI) – or, to bring things back to the avian, Horace’s swan in Odes, IV.i.

    Harry G.

    1. Thanks for this. I remember a long and tangled discussion about this on the Classics-L list a few years ago which, among other things, revealed that the man who set the ball rolling was Mr Gladstone, in his enormous _Notes on Homer_.

      The ancients were equally vague on bird species, of course. According to Liddell & Scott, στρουθός can mean a sparrow, an eagle or an ostrich.

    2. Ralph, I'm starting to believe that you read my mind. I am ALSO writing a paper on whether Aeschylus' use of στρουθός in Agamemnon can mean eagle or not.

    3. It would be a bit of an anticlimax if it turned out that he meant sparrow.

  5. The use of purpureus in Latin is fascinating, and scholars as far as I know still debate whether it can mean simply "brilliant" or "dazzling" without any notion of colour (flushed, reddish, rosy and so forth). There are only two passages in which notion of colour is impossible, purpurea nive in Elegia in Maecen. and Horace's purple swans. In the first instance corruption is assumed to have taken place, which would leave us with just Horace's swans as witnesses to the meaning of "brilliant" used without implied colour.

    My thesis regarding Horace's purple swans is I think simpler. By hypallage the epithet is transferred from its rightful owner, Venus, to the birds who carry her, being that the goddess is traditionally associated with purple.

    I'll shut up now...

    1. Very interesting, and no need to shut up -- I'm always partial to a spot of hypallage.

    2. In case anyone is interested, the Classics-L discussion about ancient perception of blue and other colours begins here. Click on 'Next in topic' near the top of the screen to go to the next message. (*Do not* click on 'Next message', which may take you off the topic.)

      A later return to the subject mentioned two possibly interesting online articles on color perception in the ancient world, here and here.

      Gladstone' s Studies on Homer, which started the matter, is available here.

      The zip file, a big one at 107 MB, contains the three volumes as PDF files. They are page facsimiles of the original, but the text is searchable. These PDFs are publicly available, but the third was originally not searchable, and I've added a search facility myself.