Friday 5 February 2016

We may have found the Tawny Owls' new tree. It is an old sweet chestnut tree 45 yards south of their original tree. This view is taken looking north, with the remains of the original tree behind the new one -- you can see the brambles around the base of the beech tree to its left.

There is a large hole in the tree, very suitable for a Tawny Owls' nest.

It has feathers stuck on the splinters around the edge, and there were some Tawny Owl pellets on the grass underneath. Of course I shall be keeping a close eye on this tree.

Both of the Little Owls near the Albert Memorial were looking out of their hole in the oak tree.

There was no sign of the other pair of Little Owls near the leaf yard, but there were two Great Spotted Woodpeckers in their tree. One flew off.

There is a second Great Crested Grebes' nest, this one on the Serpentine under the bushes at the east end of the island.

The first nest under the willow tree near the bridge is still occupied.

The grebes on this lake usually do a bit of play nesting in early spring, though they are restrained from going further by the lack of small fish to feed the chicks. But this year the false spring seems to have confused them. I really hope these nests are abandoned, because there is almost no hope of the chicks surviving. There will be plenty of time for them to nest properly in summer when there is enough food.

Another sign of the confusion of the seasons: a Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee on one of the ornamental bushes at the Lido.

The Black Swan was preening himself near the Dell restaurant when a gust of wind made him even more ruffled than he usually is.

A Goldcrest was singing loudly near Queen's Gate. It had to bellow to be heard over the noise of the workmen putting up yet another ugly marquee for some wretched commercial event.

A Mistle Thrush pulled up a worm near the Vista.

Rose-Ringed Parakeets have been in London for longer than we thought. Museum of London Archaeology, an organisation devoted to research and education (and independent from the Museum of London), were excavating the site of a new building at 13 Lime Street in the City, and they found a Roman fresco of the 1st century AD showing the familiar long-tailed green birds.

You can see their report here.

These Indian birds were imported to the west from at least the 2nd century BC -- there is a mosaic of one at Pergamon in Asia Minor, then a Greek city -- but at first the inevitable escapes in Britain never established a feral population. The Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri manillensis) is a subspecies of Ring-Necked Parakeet (P. krameri) native to southern India and the East Indies. Other subspecies are hardy enough to live in the foothills of the Himalayas.

This changed a few years ago, when a new race of Rose-Ringed Parakeet evolved that was hardy enough to stand the English winter. There are now about 20,000 of them in Kingston in southwest London, and plenty in other parts of the capital. They seem to prefer urban living, and have now spread north to Birmingham. They are also establishing themselves in towns in Holland.


  1. Great news on the Tawny Owl!
    Hopefully he makes an appearance soon enough.

    1. There will be several people prowling around the tree from now on.

    2. Hi Ralph,
      Loving your blog. I'm an irish birder that has just moved to the UK. I'm just wondering if you could help me? I've only ever seen little owl on a trip to Spain and I've never seen a tawny owl as we don't get them at home and I'm looking for a few pointers or indeed any help/info you could give me. If you can offer any advice at all I'd really appreciate it.
      Thanks. Marc.

    3. We still haven't found our Tawny Owls again after their usual tree collapsed. If and when they are found, it will of course be reported at once on this blog.

      We have two pairs of Little Owls in the park, both sporadically visible. They tend to come out on sunny calm days. They don't mind cold but they hate wind.

      Are you coming to Kensington Gardens at any time? I can give you directions to their trees, perhaps hard to follow in an unknown park, or I could meet you and show you the trees -- with no guarantee of owls being visible, of course.

      Please reply on the latest blog post, not on this old one.

      Glad you enjoy the blog.

  2. You might enjoy this article Ralph. I was very puzzled by the number of parrots that I saw when looking at Medieval English psalters (a hobby of mine, as they are so beautifully illustrated).

    This article provides the missing context.

    I didn't realise the original meaning of the word popinjay - so I have learned something today! Thank you for the information you posted, which prompted me to find out a bit more.

    1. Many thanks for this. I've put a link on today's (Saturday's) post. I hadn't known what a popinjay was either. It looks like a corruption of the German Papagei, which is still the standard word for a parrot.

  3. Just wondering whether it was a woodpecker which made the small hole in the supposed Owl hole, and what kind of woodpecker it is most likely to be.
    (or something else)

    1. It must be a woodpecker. Nothing else makes holes like that. It's quite a big hole, so evidently a Green Woodpecker. And the hole must have been made before the branch was sawn off.

  4. I remember seeing an all-year-round community of rose-ringed parakeets in Richmond Park at least 20 years ago, I think of Sawyer’s Hill.

    There are lots of stories of their origins - from escapes from containers at Heathrow, illegal imports (possibly by Jimi Hendrix…), or escapes from aviaries damaged during the great storm of 1987. My favourite is the notion that they were imported as extras for the filming of scenes from "The African Queen” in Isleworth – which fits with the parakeets’ observed preference for Thames Valley locations. I gather the dating of sightings makes this unlikely, but it is too splendid a story not to be retro-converted into “true”.

    Harry G.

    1. Interesting about the parakeets in Richmond Park. This may be one of their earliest colonies.

      I've heard all those stories. Urban myths of the classic kind.