Saturday 12 November 2016

On a dark drizzly day you could hardly see the Little Owl in the oak tree near the Albert Memorial.

A couple of Pied Wagtails were picking their way through the fallen leaves at the bottom of the Parade Ground. Leaves stop them from sprinting around in their usual manner and they have to adopt a high-stepping gait like an American trotting horse. But it's worth it for them because the leaves harbour all kinds of insects and small creatures.

A Robin was also poking in fallen leaves.

But soon the gardeners will turn up with their noisy leaf blowers and blast all the leaves away, destroying a precious resource for small insect-eating birds. Yes, they have to remove leaves from the grass and the paths. But if they didn't blow them out of the shrubberies, it would preserve the habitat for the birds; the leaves would act as a mulch to deter the growth of weeds; and they would save themselves a lot of work. I have suggested this to the park authorities several times, but they are deaf to reason. Meanwhile, the number of Blackbirds in the park has fallen by over 90 per cent (yes, ninety) in the past 50 years, largely as a result of habitat destruction.

The Great Tits around the leaf yard were very hungry, and flew out in storms to take food from my hand.

Flocks of Long-Tailed Tits were travelling all over the park.

It's difficult to know how many there are. Although the birds whizz around briskly, the flock as a whole travels at about walking speed. If you are going in the same direction, you get the impression that you are surrounded by hundreds of birds. If you go the other way you see just a few birds going by in a flash.

There was a little flock of Goldfinches in a row of plane trees between the Rose Garden and Rotten Row. I have seen them in this exact spot several times recently.

A young Moorhen was climbing around on the tops of the plants in the floating reed beds at the east end of the Serpentine. It was poking in the leaves and probably finding insects, so this was not just mountaineering for the sake of it.

Two young Herring Gulls were diving into the Serpentine to pick up things from the bottom.

One of them found a bone, of which the other was envious.

The bone might be from some bird that has met its end in the lake, but it looks to me more as if it came from that common species the Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The young Mute Swan that was adopted by the Black Swan has remembered that I used to feed her when she was little, and now comes over when she sees me.

A Mallard was enjoying a wash at the Lido.

A pair of sleeping Great Crested Grebes ignored some Shovellers going past.

Charlie the Carrion Crow posed proudly in the classical setting of the Italian Garden. He is in front of the Nymphaeum, an apse with a semicircular seat in it, which at its back turns more prosaically into a brick cottage, though it may be inhabited by nymphs.

The Italian Garden, built in 1860, started a fashion for Italianate architecture which is responsible for all those fine white stucco buildings in South Kensington and Bayswater.


  1. what a lovely name for that building. i've always thought The Italian Gardens to be alive with water nymphs. though the two attending the Tazza fountain look like they've been in a nuclear explosion. nonetheless still beautiful. always peek over the edge hoping to see a Little Grebe. speaking of which.... ahve they been spotted alately?
    Mark W2

    1. The keystone of the central arch of the loggia in the Italian Garden is the head of a river god with flowing watery beard, presumably the deity of the Westbourne. However, I have always supposed the deity of this little river to be a goddess. Also, putting it up in 1860 was a bit of cheek, because when the Italian Garden was built the Westbourne, which had previously fed the Long Water, was banished for being too smelly and routed round the park in a pipe. It now discharges into the Tyburn Brook (not the same as the Tyburn river a mile to the east) and the two buried streams flow together into the Serpentine near the Ranger's Lodge -- I suppose they thought that mixing the two would dilute the smell, though the Westbourne is quite clean today. The Long Water is now fed by a borehole.

      I last saw a Little Grebe on the Long Water on 18 October, fortuitously when I was doing the bird count. It was much too far away for a picture.

  2. Leaf blowing in California is the norm too and creates continuous noise almost everyday of the week. I asked our gardeners years ago to use only a rake and clear only the pathways of leaves. My neighbors have no idea how much fun they are missing, as birds of over 12 species are digging in our yard, enjoying the leaf litter, everyday. Some migrants especially seem to enjoy the winter benefit of leaves too.The use of leaf blowers and the removal of every leaf in parks and yards seems widespread. Any ideas of the origin of this wasteful practice?

    1. I suppose it's partly that a new toy was invented and people wanted to play with it. But mainly because park keepers have a mania for tidiness. They behave as if the whole place were a huge herbaceous border, and expect bare brown earth between the plants. The fact that this exposed earth instantly sprouts nettles and thistles seems to escape them.