Monday, 22 January 2018

More very welcome photographs from readers while I am immobilised. You can send pictures to me at

To start with pictures from the park, here's one from Virginia, who was given a severe stare by a female Tufted Duck.

A few days ago I shot this video of a female Shoveller coming in to the edge of the Serpentine and poling herself along with her feet while feeding. She didn't have a companion to circle with and stir up little water creatures, so she had to travel quite fast to slurp up enough food in her enormous bill.

David Element got a dramatic shot of two Gadwall drakes fighting. They are usually quite peaceful ducks, not like the perpetually quarrelsome Mallards.

Also by him, a Cormorant flying down the lake.

This picture by Cathy shows a Great Crested Grebe in winter plumage on the upper Thames at Sonning.

When the park lake freezes, our grebes leave and go up the Thames, probably not as far upriver as Sonning, since you can find grebes anywhere above Chiswick. But they can't build their floating nests on the tidal Thames, so they can only nest upstream from Teddington, above which the Thames is a normal river, and there are plenty of weedy backwaters with little current where nests can be built. The name Teddington is a corruption of 'tide end town'.

Ian Young went to St James's Park to check on the Black Swans, and found all eight of the new colony.

Neither of these is 'our' sadly missed swan. She is now quite hard to spot, since she is just the female in one of the couples and has become quite orderly in her behaviour. She is quite small compared to most of the others, and has the pure white flight feathers of an adult rather than the black-tipped feathers of the four teenagers. She has bright red eyes, while the younger swans still have red-brown eyes. These two differences will vanish during the coming year when the teenagers grow up. But she has the finest and most upstanding ruffles of any Black Swan in that park, and should retain them.

More swans in Krakow photographed by Justyna C., a dense crowd with a Mallard having nowhere to go, so it stood on one of them.

Although these are Mute Swans in Poland, they are not necessarily 'Polish Swans', the form of the Mute Swan that has pale pinkish-grey feet and a pink bill, and whose cygnets are white instead of grey. Some may well be, but the pale bill is not an infallible mark since young normal swans also have a pale bill. You have to be able to see their feet.

The name was given to them because the first ones to be identified as a distinct morph happened to come from Poland. But the 'Polish' form does become more frequent as you go east through Europe, reaching 20 per cent of the total. They are rare in western Europe except in the Netherlands. This is one in Hyde Park which I photographed in 2016.

Here are two pictures from Derek Polley the Belfast Birder, whose blog you can find here. They show the results of sprinkling millet on the shore to attract wading birds. Much of the time you just get a mob of Moorhens ...

... but sometimes you get Ruffs and Black-Tailed Godwits.

This is something that might work at Rainham Marshes, which has both these species but they are normally 200 yards away and hard to photograph.

A picture from Rainham by Tom: this solitary Waxwing stayed near the visitor centre for a long time and became quite tame.

Another one by him from Thursley Common, a fine view of a Redstart.

Tinúviel and her husband Emilio have just visited the Los Barruecos nature reserve near Cáceres in Extremadura. Here is a pleasing picture of some Black-Winged Stilts stalking around on their absurdly long legs.

There are artificial nest sites for White Storks on poles, which make the birds look like stylite hermits in the desert.


  1. Actually, only about 2 percent of the swans in my photo are 'Polish swans'.
    Several individuals are well-travelled birds, one of them, for example, made a journey of over 700 kilometres and visited the German island of Rugen.

    1. The figure of 'up to 20 per cent' is for countries bordering the Baltic, so there may be more farther north. It's from Birkhead M. and Perrins C. 1986, The Mute Swan, Croom Helm, London.

  2. Wow, I would love to see so many swans together in one place! Thank you for the comment on how to tell 'Polish' swans from other birds; I was quite at a loss about that.

    It makes me sad that our Black Swan appears to have outgrown its hilariously rambunctious tomboy years and has now settled to be a fine proper swan lady like all other lady swans. We will miss her.

    So many lovely pictures from all places! Thank you so very much to all.

    1. I did manage to identify 'our' swan the last time I was in St James's Park, so it's not impossible. But as you say, it's a pity she's quietened down.

    2. To see this sort of density of swans, go to Windsor! I was there recently; the number of Mute Swans near the bridge was quite something. One could observe what strong swimmers they are, going against a very strong tide (and using the waterflow in the other direction to save energy)

    3. Thanks! I've never been to Windsor, but next time we visit the UK we'll make extra sure to go there and see the swans.

      Stupid thought of the day: my brain is so mushy this time of day that I initially read Ulrike's comment as "using the waterFOWL in the other direction to save energy" and my brain was off picturing swans riding backwards on top of mallards and coots desperately paddling away ...

    4. It would be fun to have a Lohengrin swan boat drawn by a line of harnessed Coots.

    5. Only, coots would never agree.

    6. Half of them would immediately begin to decorate the boat while the other half would begin to roundkick each other. I don't think even Wagner would be able to set that to music.

  3. There’s a pair of Mute Swans who live in Barnes Ponds in London who have had a mixed brood of ‘Polish’ and ‘normal’ cygnets for at least the two years.

    Thank you for the additional information about ‘our’ Black Swan. I’ll see if I can identify her next time I’m
    in St James’s Park

    1. The 'Polish' gene is recessive and on the Z chromosome, so it's a standard sex-linked inheritance and you can get mixed broods. For the same reason, males are rare as they have to inherit two 'Polish' Zs.

  4. that is a very handsome picture of a waxwing. i wish we got more of them in the park. this year seems very waxwing lite judging by the LOndon Bird Wiki.Thanks to Tom for sharing the pic. Mark W2