Saturday 2 November 2019

Rose-Ringed Parakeets were eating yew berries in a tree near the Italian Garden, or rather chewing them to squeeze out the juice and then spitting them out. There is nothing unusual in birds eating yew berries, the only part of the plant that isn't poisonous, and the hard stones which are poisonous are not touched by a bird's hasty digestive system.

But what does seem remarkable is that the parakeets bite off yew twigs and chew them to extract the sap, which is deadly at least to mammals. They seem to have a natural resistance to the toxin, taxol. There are species of yew in their native India, so they may have evolved this over time.

A Blue Tit near the bridge was looking for a healthier meal of a pine nut.

Starlings perched on the roof of the Lido restaurant, waiting in vain for people to turn up for Saturday lunch. The restaurant has been taken over and is closed for renovation before it reopens under new management.

A Jackdaw stood on a bench and scratched its ear.

The drizzle didn't reduce the blue and green iridescence of a Magpie.

A fine picture by Virginia of a very wet Carrion Crow, which had been bathing in the Serpentine.

Ducks are proverbially waterproof. This Tufted drake is newly in breeding plumage with shining white sides.

The Red-Crested Pochard drake paired with a female Mallard tends to dabble like a Mallard when he is with her, but when he goes off on his own he starts diving in the usual way of his species. They are in one of the fountains in the Italian Garden, which you can hear.

A floating carpet of autumn leaves makes a background for a pair of Coots preening on the edge of the Serpentine ...

... and Moorhens looking for something edible, which for a Moorhen means practically anything.

The three teenage Great Crested Grebes from the island are seldom seen together. Two stay together companionably ...

... while the third wanders off on its own.


  1. The parakeets have made their annual visit to trash the Catalpa tree on the Bayswater Road. In purely objective terms that is an impressive carpet of seed pods that they’ve left behind on the pavement.

    Have the feeders started spreading out again? In the last few weeks I’ve seen several groups well away from the leaf yard, including today a dozen or so individuals next to the Broadwalk holding out apples and phones to video the birds as they came to hand. More disconcertingly I saw a family near Serpentine Road in Hyde Park, relatively free until now, trying to tempt a group of parakeets down from a horse chestnut tree. Gratifyingly, the birds declined and the family threw the apples down and went. I retrieved them and found some crows that were interested.

  2. Yes, I'm afraid the feeders are spreading. There is now a group on the east side of the Long Water too, and I've seen people trying to feed parakeets in the Rose Garden. Steve the policeman wants to get parakeet feeding banned entirely. I don't think this is enforceable with the slim forces available. It's not that there aren't plenty of police in the park, but almost all of them are driving in vans to and from some unknown activity in the Old Police House and completely unconcerned with what's happening on the ground.

  3. In rural Spain even a yew's shadow is considered perilous. Shepherds even now will not rest in their shade.

    How charming, the three Grebe teenagers!

  4. Like a European version of the Upas tree. See Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tale about this.

    In England yew trees were grown in churchyards, and prized because the wood made the best longbows.

  5. Animal susceptibility to poisons is a very odd thing. Rabbits can eat Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) with complete impunity, whereas even the spores that would fall off a specimen in a collecting basket would suffice to make an adult human ill (and a piece the size of a little fingernail would prove fatal).

    1. I'm told that rabbits and pigeons can browse on deadly nightshade without ill effect, but woe betide any human who subsequently eats them.