Wednesday 6 April 2022

Tenth anniversary

The first post on this blog was published on 6 April 2012, so it's been going for ten years. I began it when Des McKenzie, who had published an occasional blog on the birds of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, gave up writing it. He still often visits the park on his way to work, and has the rare ability to spot and identify birds that I wouldn't even notice. I envy his skill.

Still, I have been doing my best to chronicle the daily lives of the birds in the park around the seasons. Rarities are few, but what I find interesting is the ordinary life of the ordinary birds in one place. 

In the first post I said that I hoped that other people would contribute to the blog. That wish took a while to be realised, but now I get pictures, information, advice and corrections from many readers. Thank you all for your contributions, without which the story would be much less interesting.

I have published at least one post every day without fail, despite a few injuries from bicycle accidents and three weeks with the Wuhan flu. I was off my feet for ten days a couple of years ago when I injured my ankle and couldn't walk, but readers rallied round and made it possible to publish daily news until I could get back to the park.

Here are some pictures from the past ten years.

It all began with a Little Owl. Three pairs of these beautiful birds, seldom seen before in the park, arrived simultaneously in the early spring of 2012. (Another had been glimpsed in Hyde Park the previous winter, but I never witnessed it myself.) This is the picture from the first episode of the blog, with the owl in an old sweet chestnut tree at the southeast corner of the leaf yard in Kensington Gardens.

It was taken with a little bridge camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ-100, but it's not a bad image. Inevitably I graduated to bigger and more expensive cameras, and am now lugging around some formidable Sony ironmongery. You get used to the weight.

Here is the owl with his mate, taken two years later. He's on the left.

The original three pairs bred, and the last offspring from a pair on Buck Hill appeared in 2020. I think it's still with us as one of a pair at the top of the hill, but the owls are still silent and I shan't find them again until they start nesting and calling. This is the owlet as a teenager.

They were not the only owls. We also had a pair of Tawny Owls in a horse chestnut tree west of the Kensington Gardens leaf yard, who were a regular sight for many years.

They bred every year for more than a decade, and have populated the garden squares of South Kensington and Bayswater, whose residents often tell me that they hear Tawnies calling at night. Here are four of their owlets.

They were tough birds ...

... but eventually the tree where they nested fell to pieces and we lost sight of them, although they were heard calling for some time afterwards. Some of their offspring are still in the park, including a male currently visible north of the Albert Memorial.

They are not the only top predators in the park. We also have two pairs of Peregrines, one regularly on the Knightsbridge barracks ...

... and another seen occasionally on the Royal Lancaster Hotel north of the Italian Garden.

A female Kestrel is often visible on the north side of the park.

Hobbies visit for the summer, and have been breeding every year.

So have a pair of Sparrowhawks in Hyde Park north of the Old Police House.

Among the smaller birds, the most glamorous are a couple of Cetti's Warblers which have now become permanent residents. They are very hard to see, let alone photograph, but persistence pays off.

A flock of Redwings visits every year to eat worms exposed on the wasteland left after the hideous annual winter funfair has been dismantled in January.

They are usually accompanied by a few Fieldfares.

It's always fun to watch the Long-Tailed Tits building their amazingly complex nests with spider webs, lichen, moss and little feathers.

Even outside nesting time they are often seen hunting insects and digging larvae out of trees.

Blue Tits would be considered amazing if they were tropical birds, but these beautiful little creatures are so common that they fall below notice.

We also have a good population of tiny Coal Tits, some of which confidently come to the hand to feed.

We had a surprise visit from two female Bearded Tits in the winter of 2012--13, the first that had ever been seen in Central London.

Blackcaps breed here every year. This is a young one. Only adult males have the black head that gives the species its name.

Although they are a migratory bird, a few stay for the winter. The same is true for Chiffchaffs. Here is one in spring carrying nesting material.

Wrens abound all over the park ...

and so do Robins. Both species sing in winter, bringing cheer to an otherwise barren soundscape. This is a very young Robin just out of the nest.

Occasionally you see a little Treecreeper climbing a trunk, usually on an oak, looking for insects in the fissures in the bark.

But the smallest bird in the park -- and in Britain, and in the entire Old World -- is the Goldcrest. Recent mild winters have allowed them to multiply, and their high-pitched song is often heard in yew trees and other evergreens where they shelter.

The park resounds with the shrieks of Rose-Ringed Parakeets, an invasive species that is driving out many small native birds especially those that nest in holes, which the parakeets steal. Here is a video I made several years ago, with my friend Johanna van de Woestijne, a skilled film editor, in which I try to explain how they arrived -- and it's a story going back two thousand years.

Wagtails are a common sight on the edge of the lake, mostly Pied Wagtails ...

but Grey Wagtails visit from their main colony at Chelsea Bridge, and a pair bred last year at the Lido.

Two offspring from this nest are still in the park. Her is one washing at the top of the waterfall in the Dell.

There are sometimes surprise visitors on the water's edge, such as the occasional Dunlin.

Grey Herons breed every year on the Serpentine island. Here are the two young that have appeared so far this year.

One of the great characters of Hyde Park is the pigeon-eating Lesser Black-Backed Gull, who has been at his grisly trade since the early years of the century. A long-lived bird, he will probably outlast me. Here is another film edited by Johanna, which has become a hit on YouTube with over 4.3 million views -- mostly due to its scenes of gory violence. You have been warned.

Here he is in a more peaceful mood with his mate on the roof of the Dell restaurant. He's on the right -- note the distinctive dark yellow of his legs.

There are occasional visits by Common Terns. Here a male feeds his mate on a post in the Long Water.

Among water birds, the undoubted stars are the Great Crested Grebes which breed here every year. Here a pair are performing their beautiful mating dance.

A grebe hunts fish under water.

Two young ones play under a willow near the bridge.

Little Grebes are occasional visitors but there is no permanent population.

There are plenty of Cormorants, which come for the abundant fish that spawn in the lake and eat most of them so that there is a thin time for grebes in late winter. Here one tackles a large pike, which after several minutes of struggle it managed to subdue and, incredibly, swallow.

A Goosander, a rare visitor, didn't do so well when it tackled a fish larger than itself.

There are foxes in every patch of scrub in the park. This cub was beside the Long Water.

The park is rich in insects. Here is an intricately shaped Comma butterfly ...

and an Emperor dragonfly hunting at the Italian Garden.

We occasionally see a wonderfully iridescent Banded Demoiselle.

The Willow Emerald damselfly first appeared in the park a couple of years ago.

There is a good variety of bees. Some of the Buff-Tailed Bumblebees manage to overwinter in the Rose Garden, where there are flowers all year round for them to browse.

Honeybees abound, and there are hives for them in the Ranger's Lodge garden.

There are a few European Hornets, mild-mannered insects who won't use their appalling sting if you treat them with respect.

To end with, a gaudy midwinter sunset over the Round Pond.

The usual daily post will appear this evening. I intend to keep this blog going till I fall off the twig.


  1. I am a recent visitor but very much appreciate what you are doing. Thanks.

  2. Many thanks for all the work you do on this site. I moved out of London some years ago but still enjoy reading the posts most days to see what is going on in the park.

    I was fortunate enough to see the Bearded Tits during their visit back in 2012. Happy times!

  3. congratulations!
    recently discovered your blog and very impressed
    I'm in north London and frequently visit Hampstead Heath and Alexandra Park, enjoying the new view of Hyde Park

  4. Thank you very much for the blog it is wonderful.

  5. A daily delight...

  6. keep it coming Ralph. i enjoy it immensely. stay on that twig. Mark W2

  7. Many thanks to all who commented.

  8. Thank you so, so much, Ralph, for these ten years of constant education, entertainment, and enjoyment. Your pictures and your blog make life better, and they are always at hand to uplift and support one's spirit when the going gets tough.

    1. Thank you. It's been fun keeping this chronicle going, and I have learnt a lot in doing it.

  9. I thought I commented yesterday but looks as if I didn't post it (in a hurry yesterday!) but belated congrats Ralph. A great blog to see every morning. Hope for many more years of your observations & wonderful photos.

  10. My ife would not be the same without your wonderful blog. Thank you very much.

  11. Thank you all for your kind words.

  12. Continue to not fall off the twig just yet , please.

  13. P.S. I tried to email on the given Gmail address, but it 'didn't recognise the address'. It also doesn't link me in , when I click on it.
    Is it the Blogspot, or is it my poor ineternet connection?
    Any ideas?

    1. Sorry you've had trouble. Very likely a Blogger problem. Several people have had trouble commenting recently. From my end, the system is plagued with constant bugs. At one time I was considering upping sticks and moving to WordPress, but that would have caused a lot of disruption and lost many readers.

  14. This blog has been a highlight of my day for several of those years, after seeing a reference to it on the London Bird Club Wiki. I also saw the 2012 Bearded Tits, plus a Little Grebe and the 4 Canada x Greylag hybrids on the same visit, which was my introduction to feral Egyptian Geese and their charm. This blog tipped me off to, and helped me find, the Scaup, Goldeneye and White-fronted Goose, and I think something else I couldn't find. Jim

    1. Thank you very much. Perhaps the bird was the Wigeon we had a few months ago. Incidentally, I haven't found the Wigeon seen by Des three days ago, and neither has anyone else. Must have stayed just one day and flown on.

  15. Crispin Poyser8 April 2022 at 18:04

    Can't tell you how much I enjoy your pictures - thank you so much. Recent favourite was definitely the Gt Crested Grebe 'weed dance'...

  16. Tremendous work and dedication Ralph! Hats off to you. Such fascinating intel to a birds everyday life, and you wouldn’t think twice about it walking past one. It really does make a great story, studying these creatures and their individual behaviour's. We need to keep this flame of curiosity burning.