Thursday 8 September 2022

A slight misfortune

Yesterday I sprained my ankle and won't be on my feet again for several days to bring you the day's pictures and videos from the park.

If any readers have some interesting recent pictures or video to keep the news up to date, I'd be very grateful for them. Please send the originals of the pictures if possible and make sure that the email program doesn't reduce the size automatically, as some programs tend to do if you don't stop them. Pictures on this blog are 1600 pixels wide and up to 1200 high (full frame pictures from modern cameras are a bit shallower at about 1067 high). The blog format only works properly with 'landscape' pictures wider than they are high; tall 'portrait' shots can only be displayed at a disappointingly small size. This is a perennial problem with pictures taken on a phone, since people instinctively hold the thing upright when shooting. But it's often possible to crop good quality phone pictures to a workable shape.

Here are three good pictures by Neil. Yesterday he found a juvenile Sparrowhawk east of the Round Pond. It had just brought down a young Wood Pigeon but had been driven off by Carrion Crows before it could kill its victim, which was being sadly mauled by the crows. Let's hope the poor creature died soon.

A Great Tit waited for Neil to stop photographing it and produce some food.

This is one of the four Robins in the Flower Walk which are now bold enough to come to the hand. It's the easternmost one that tends to perch in the corkscrew hazel bush.

While I'm stuck here I'll make some compilations of pictures from past years. I started photographing birds seriously in 2010, two years before I began the blog. At this time the stars of the park were the pair of Tawny Owls who lived in a horse chestnut tree near the path between the Physical Energy statue and the Speke obelisk. They had been there at least since 2005.

Their favourite spot was in the broken top of the trunk, from where they could climb down to their nest, which I think was in a hollow side branch though no one really knew. Here is the male, photographed in 2014 ...

... and his mate in a shot from the following year, showing her distinctive high arched eyebrows.

When there was a heavy snowfall in 2010 the male obstinately stayed in place in the middle of a small snowdrift.

The tree also had a side entrance with a sort of balcony under it, where you could sometimes see them together, as in this picture from 2013 which is one of my favourite shots.

Squirrels were repelled by an angry stare. You really do not want to tangle with a Tawny Owl, whose razor-sharp claws will rip you to shreds. This picture is from 2014, as are the next two.

They also liked to perch in an adjacent beech where some thinner branches gave them a good place to preen.

There was often trouble with Magpies, but they always stood their ground.

They bred every year, producing three, four or occasionally even five owlets. Their offspring have colonised the garden squares of Bayswater and South Kensington, and residents have often told me of hearing, and occasionally seeing, an owl there.

This is the first picture I have of an owlet, taken in 2010.

Here are four in 2012 ...

... three in 2013 ...

... and three in 2014.

The last three pictures are also from that year. You could seldom see what they were eating, as most of their hunting was done at night, but sometimes you got a glimpse of a half-chewed rodent in the claws of a parent ...

... or an owlet. 

The British Mammal Society analysed owl pellets found under their tree and found from the bones that most of their diet was ordinary House Mice, which abound in the park; some Wood Mice; and a few small young Brown Rats. There was also one bone from an unidentified large bird, probably scavenged.

Once I saw two owlets eating the upper and lower halves of a Rose-Ringed Parakeet which their parent had somehow managed to tear in half, a remarkable feat of strength.

In 2015 a large part of the hollow tree collapsed, bringing down the branch where they nested. Fortunately the owls were out hunting at the time. I heard them calling from the area a few days later but never saw them again, and indeed didn't see a Tawny Owl in the park again till earlier this year, when one of their offspring spent some time in an oak behind the Albert Memorial.

I'm also putting up some videos from earlier years, recut and edited and in 4K quality -- my old videos in HD were often terribly pixelated by YouTube and you could hardly see what was going on in the first 30 seconds while they were buffering, but 4K seems to be treated better.

Here a pair of Coots preen each other, and one is so overwhelmed by affection that it falls over.

A young Grey Heron is already proficient at fishing -- once they leave the nest they must learn fast or starve. It's remarkable how low they can reach when standing on a kerb 15 inches above the water level.


  1. So sorry to hear about your misfortune! Get well soon.A retrospective is no bad thing.

  2. Oh Ralph, a retrospective is a wonderful idea and the pictures (mostly the tawnies!) are all kinds of wonderful, but I wish it wasn't due to a sprained ankle.


  3. Hope it mends quickly. Wishing you all the best.

  4. Thank you all for your concern. I should be back on my feet in a week or so. Actually it's quite pleasant to have a rest and get on with some other work which has been hanging over me.

  5. Sorry to hear of your predicament Ralph. Hopefully back on your feet before too long.

  6. Sorry to hear about the ankle, must be very frustrating, hope it's better soon. The owl in the snowdrift is an amazing shot. Was that the year that it suddenly started snowing heavily with a clap of thunder around 5pm...bringing London to a standstill because there had been no gritting? I remember walking home with it snowing heavily, umbrella steadily getting heavier and heavier. Presumably snow accumulated around the bird as it stood there in a similar fashion. The coot video is hilarious

    1. Thanks. No, it can't have been that day, as the picture was taken well before 5pm. There had been an overnight snowfall. I think the owl had climbed out of the hole into the snowdrift.