Thursday 31 October 2019

Looking for a Little Owl in the oak near the Albert Memorial this morning, all I could find was a pair of Stock Doves.

But at lunchtime the male owl came out and perched on a twig ...

... in the classic position of the Little Owl on an Athenian tetradrachm coin of 450 BC.

A Starling beside the Serpentine sang loudly for no reason except that it was a sunny day.

There's an ants' nest in the grassy bank at the back of the Dell restaurant. Starlings regularly comb the grass around it looking for straying ants.

Virginia sent an elegant picture taken yesterday of a Grey Wagtail preening on a rock at the top of the Dell waterfall ...

... and this fine shot of a male Chaffinch was taken near the bridge by Ahmet Amerikali.

The Jackdaws have really moved into the area around the Henry Moore sculpture. Seven of them came to be fed this morning.

A Herring Gull beside the Serpentine ate a mysterious object. It was under an oak tree, and I think it may be a deformed acorn caused by infestation with a gall wasp.

The Moorhens in the Dell and two of their chicks were feeding enthusiastically behind some plants  in the Dell, though I couldn't see what they had found.

The mystery was solved when a hand appeared behind a bush and tossed them some mealworms. It was the female gardener who looks after the Dell so devotedly, and who also maintains a couple of feeders for the small birds. I didn't know she also feeds the Moorhens.

Two Moorhens were having a fight at the island. They fight in the same way as Coots, but less often.

One of the three teenage grebes from the island was fishing with its mother, and no doubt picking up some useful tips on technique.

The Red-Crested Pochard with the Mallard mate was in the Italian Garden as usual, along with the spare Mallard drake who has attached himself to the pair.

When the pochard first got together with his mate, he fed in the normal style for his species, by diving. But I haven't seen him diving recently, and he seems to have taken up the habit of upending like his companions. If the algae are near enough the surface, this saves effort.


  1. Fascinating that the Pochard appears to be copying the Mallards' habits. That is cultural transmission, of a sort?

    Somehow Moorhens fighting look less serious than Coots. Well, Coots straddle the fine line between the ridiculous and the deadly serious from time to time.

    Strange that the Starling should be belting its song out from low on the ground. Is that usual? I have only ever seen them sing from high perches (I'd sing for no reason also, if I were a Starling).

    The Little Owl is certainly doing a fine impersonation of that tetradrachm coin!

    1. I was also surprised to see the Starling singing on the ground.

      Amusing to see how the Athenians represented the fierce yellow stare of the Little Owl with exaggerated circular eyes.

  2. Fascinating to see that coin, Ralph. What huge eyes they've given the owl.

    Nice photo of the Grey Wagtail- always a favourite bird of mine!

    1. The larger Athenian dekadrachm coin has a front-facing owl. An image search will find some.

  3. "How hard ... cloistered scholarship ... has toiled to understand the word 'glaukopis', given to the goddess Athene. Did it mean blue-eyed, or gray-eyed, or—by the aid of Sanskrit—merely glare-eyed? And all the time [scholars] had not only the word 'glaux' staring them in the face, as the Athenian name for owl, ... but they had the owl itself cut at the foot of every statue of Athene, and stamped on every coin of Athens, to tell them that she was the owl-eyed goddess.... For what is characteristic of the owl’s eyes is not that they glare, but that they suddenly leave off glaring, like lighthouses whose light is shut off. We may see the shutter of the lightning in that mask that overhangs Athene’s brow, and hear its click in the word 'glaukos'. And the leafage of the olive, whose writhen trunk bears, as it were, the lightning’s brand, does not glare, but glitters, the pale under face of the leaves alternating with the dark upper face, and so the olive is Athene’s tree, and is called 'glaukos'." [Ezra Pound, in an essay in "The New Age" (23 April 1914)]

  4. Picturesque. But Liddell and Scott take a more conventional view, and I think a more sensible one:

    γλαυκός ... orig. without any notion of colour, gleaming ...
    ... later, of colour , bluish green or grey ...
    ... freq. of the eye, light blue, grey ...

    γλαυκῶπις ... in Hom., epith. of Athena, prob., with gleaming eyes ...

    γλαύξ ... the little owl, Athene noctua, so called from its glaring eyes ...