Sunday 31 December 2023

The planning of the Dell

The female Chaffinch from the Flower Walk, who usually doesn't venture far from home, came out with her mate and followed me up to the Round Pond, demanding pine nuts all the way.

The dominant Robin from the Flower Walk also came out. This Robin, which I photographed inside the walk, is one of several others along the path.

But when I got to the Round Pond there was no Little Owl to be seen, and she hadn't come into view when I went back later. I fear the squirrel which I saw in the hole yesterday has upset her domestic arrangements. But of course I will keep checking in case she returns.

A single Redwing could be seen in a tree near the Speke obelisk ...

... and a Blackbird hauled a worm out of a bit of bare ground.

Something in this patch of weeds and dead leaves below the Triangle car park was attracting a crowd of Feral Pigeons, but although I looked carefully at the place I couldn't see what.

A Magpie checked a clump of cut reeds in the Diana fountain reed bed. It pulled out stems, probably to see if there were any larvae clinging to them.

The mate of the nesting Grey Heron was waiting on a disused nest for its turn on the eggs, and decided to lie down comfortably to get out of the wind.

The old heron at the Henry Moore sculpture was standing next to the fence. It's been seen several times catching rats that carelessly look out of the undergrowth, but I don't know if this elderly and arthritic bird is still capable of it. It is still fishing, and people come and feed it to help keep it going. 

The odd couple of a Herring Gull and a Lesser Black-Backed Gull, who have been together for several years, displayed and called on the edge of the Serpentine.

The pigeon eater had just caught a new victim when I arrived on his patch at the Dell restaurant.

The youngest Great Crested Grebe was fishing near the Serpentine outflow.

The gang of five teenage Mute Swans cruised up the edge. These privileged birds are going to have a rude shock in the spring when their parents start nesting again and throw them out.

A clump of dead irises in the Italian Garden, where on Thursday I photographed a Coot which had climbed to the top, had a pair of Mallards resting on it. They certainly flew to get there, as Mallards are useless at climbing.

The Dell, fenced off by railings, is the home of many kinds of birds. Here are a pair of Moorhens, which sometimes breed here; a Wood Pigeon; an Egyptian Goose, one of a pair that visit occasionally; some of the ubiquitous Carrion Crows; a young Grey Wagtail which was hatched in a nest under the waterfall; and a Grey Heron (the last two were filmed earlier).

The layout of the Dell as a carefully staged ideal landscape was the idea of Lord Redesdale (grandfather of the famous Mitford girls) who became Secretary of the Office of Works in 1874. The waterfall at the outflow of the Serpentine already existed, but he replanned the stream below to make it more picturesque and replaced the original scrubby undergrowth with lawns and subtropical plants. Here is a picture of the Dell around 1890, taken by an unknown photographer. 

Today these plants have been largely replaced but there are still New Zealand tree ferns and other exotics at the top of the slope, and a Wollemi pine on the lower lawn -- which Redesdale could not have envisaged as this ancient tree, thought to be no more than a fossil, was only discovered growing in Australia in 1994. In the 20th century the waterfall was made a more prominent feature by adding an extra fall at the top, fed by an electric pump.

Here is a picture of the present view, taken by Virginia in the summer of 2018.

A squirrel sharpened its teeth on a bit of wood.

Rodents' teeth grow continuously and have to be ground down to keep them from getting too long. This sharpens them, as the enamel on the front of the tooth is harder than on the back so they wear to a chisel edge. Some of the aluminium signs on trees also show signs of having been gnawed by squirrels.

The sawn-off black poplar tree at Peter Pan has this handsome bracket fungus on it. At first I thought it was a clump of Oyster Mushrooms, which appear in different colours, but the scalloped edge shows that they are something else which I can't identify.

A very happy New Year to all readers, and may it be an improvement on the dismal showing of 2023.

Saturday 30 December 2023

Around the pond

A Pied Wagtail ran around on the rain-wetted edge of the Round Pond.

A Redwing perched in a tree, the only one I saw here.

A Jay dug in the grass. Was it looking for an acorn it had buried? Something scared it off before it came up with anything.

The Little Owl looked out of her hole for a moment. She seemed agitated.

When I had walked round the pond and passed by the tree again, it was clear why. A squirrel had got into the hole.

I'm not at all sure a Little Owl, however angry and defensive, could see off a squirrel. But owls have terrible claws and use them freely.

The Black Swan was on the gravel strip in the pond picking up dead leaves and throwing them around. This is nesting behaviour but I've seen other swans, including an earlier black visitor, doing it at idle moments without any intention of nesting.

There are now twelve teenage Mute Swans here of which only one hatched in the park. The others have all flown in at different times. You can see ten of them here.

One final picture from the Round Pond. The statue of Queen Victoria, made by her daughter Princess Louise, has been repaired. She has a new nose neatly joined to her face, and a new thumb to replace the previous repair, which had been attached on a metal pin and had come loose and revolved till it was facing the wrong way. She's also got her sceptre back, a separate piece which she had been unable to hold.

For a picture of the sad state of the statue before the repair, see my blog for 18 January this year.

A Goldcrest came down to drink from a puddle on the path around the Long Water ...

... a small flock of Blue Tits passed along the edge ...

... and a Green Woodpecker called from a tree on Buck Hill.

A Wren sang from the middle of a bush.

The pigeon eater's son (I'm pretty sure this quite large bird is male) hung around while his father was feeding, hoping to get a bit.

Coots often stand on the edge of the weir where the water flows out of the Serpentine. In previous years they have even built nests here, a terrible idea because the chicks get washed away the moment they leave the nest and can't climb up again.

Mark Williams went to see the Waxwings in Corinne Road near Tufnell Park Tube station and got a good shot.

Friday 29 December 2023


A Blue Tit perched among wintersweet blossom in the Flower Walk.

A Coal Tit at Mount Gate looked down rather nervously from a twig. They are among the smallest British birds, at 8-10 grams lighter than a Wren, and have to keep their distance from larger birds.

Several mahonia bushes in the Rose Garden are in different stages of flowering, and a Wood Pigeon was taking advantage of one.

If we have a sunny day there's a good chance of seeing an overwintering Buff-Tailed Bumblebee in one, as these flowers keep them fed in December in January, followed by hellebore.

The Little Owl at the Round Pond was perched low in her hole.

A Carrion Crow bathed in the Serpentine ...

... annoying a Coot, which chased it out of the water.

A pair of crows perched side by side on the top of the holly tree beside the Long Water where the Magpies like to go.

The Magpies had been forced farther up the lake.

A Common Gull preened on the edge of the Serpentine. Despite their name they are the least numerous of the four gull species we see routinely in the park, with seldom more than 50 present.

This Grey Heron on the edge of the island is one of the pair that are nesting. It has a faint pink tinge to its bill, its breeding colours, but not bright red like the other heron that's claiming a nest.

There were still half a dozen Cormorants on the posts at Peter Pan.

The Moorhen pair at the Vista poked around by the edge.

The Great Crested Grebes that nested beside the bridge were patrolling their territory. It's a large patch including the whole of the Long Water and a stretch on the opposite side of the bridge, showing that they have a high status.

The next pair of grebes on the Serpentine, from the west end of the island, were displaying.

The youngest grebe, from the family at the east end of the island, was fishing at the outflow.

Thursday 28 December 2023

Wet morning

Morning rain kept the Little Owl at the Round Pond indoors.

A Magpie turned over wet leaves.

A flock of Long-Tailed Tits passed through the trees by the Italian Garden. They were not helpful in coming into view, and this obstructed shot was the best I could get.

Pigeons canoodled on the shore at the Triangle car park ...

... and a Pied Wagtail trotted up the edge.

A small tree near the Flower Walk was infested with Rose-Ringed Parakeets. Of course someone was feeding them. You only have to start and a shrieking mob arrives.

The Grey Herons on the island changed places on their eggs as the tree swayed in the wind.

The young heron is staying in the Diana fountain reed bed. Whoever scared it away from the Lido restaurant terrace must have done a thorough job. It's probably for the best, though. The heron at the Dell restaurant that became unbearably bold disappeared mysteriously and I fear it met a sticky end.

The lawn next to the Dell turns into a swamp when it rains heavily, and the waterlogged worms float to the surface. The Herring Gulls know this, and there was a small party working its way across looking for an easy snack.

Now that most of the Cormorants have gone away, a pair of Lesser Black-Backed Gulls have taken possession of the raft on the Long Water. They could nest there if they felt like it, which would be interesting.

The dominant Black-Headed Gull yelled at some Coots that had intruded on his patch.

Coots don't usually do much climbing, unlike Moorhens, but this one had got on top of a clump of dead iris leaves in the Italian Garden. No doubt there were insects to be had.

The Great Crested Grebes from the bridge were mooching around their nest site again. It's quite a good fishing spot as well.

The temporary plastic barriers screening the damage to the bridge have been replaced with metal mesh, and you can see how extensive the damage is. This will take a long time to repair, as massive new sandstone blocks have to be cut.