Wednesday 6 September 2023

Cooling the blood

After yesterday's parade of waders and raptors it was back to the ordinary birds in the park. But their daily lives are always of interest, at least to me.

It was another hot day. A Cormorant on a post at the island was panting and fluttering its throat to cool down on a hot day. Birds and most mammals have a system of blood vessels in the head that acts as a heat exchanger, so that when air is passed across it, it cools the blood. This is called the rete mirabile, Latin for 'wonderful net'.

We humans don't have a rete, we cool ourselves by sweating. However, the ancient Greeks, who knew quite a lot about animal physiology but would not dissect humans, believed that the brain was purely an organ for cooling the blood and that they thought with their heart. They must have felt their thoughts occurring in their chest, just as we feel them happening in our head though this has no basis in physical sensation.

It was too hot for many people to face the effort of propelling a pedalo, and a Grey Heron sunbathed undisturbed on the boat hire platform.

Female Tufted Ducks played in the spray from the waterspouts at the edge of the Italian Garden, but were harassed by a Coot who didn't want them on his territory.

The Black-Headed Gull who owns the landing stage at the Diana fountain stared challengingly at anyone who might dare to approach.

The conquering Mute Swan family were eating birdseed someone had given them at the Triangle car park -- a healthier contribution than bread.

This male swan, 4FYG, is the only one on the lake who can stand up to the bully. But even he has lost three of his four cygnets to this murderous bird. He glared at a Cormorant which was standing in his space on the Serpentine island.

The two Great Crested Grebe chicks from the nest on the island are growing fast ...

... on fish constantly supplied by their hardworking parents.

The grebes with four chicks on the Long Water are having to work even harder. For most of an adult grebe's life it only has to catch fish occasionally and can spend most of the day dozing ...

... but when the chicks are hatched it's three months of unremitting toil.

At least the young Magpies are now fully independent and no longer harassing their parents. An adult and a teenager looked for insects side by side near the Diana fountain.

The original Diana fountain from 1906 with the goddess on top is now full of water and a Magpie was drinking from the new marble bowl. It's clearly ready to be started, but I think they must be waiting for some bigwig to glorify himself by ceremonially reopening it.

A Blue Tit hopped around in the shade of the Rose Garden shrubbery.

A flock of Long-Tailed Tits coursed through the trees near the Serpentine Gallery ...

... and the male Little Owl could be seen in the usual lime tree.

The male Peregrine was preening on the tower. He is a dingy bird with very little white on his chest or the side of his head.

At the Lido restaurant a Starling gazed longingly at a plate of chips, but a human was still monopolising them.


  1. Ordinary birds are always the best kind of birds. They're like our longtime friends, and even if they are marginally less exciting than novel birds on occasion, there is much to be said for the merits of fondness and habit.
    It's a great year for Grebe chicks so far, right? They are growing up fast and there seems to be a lot of fish for them.

    1. It's a very good year for grebe chicks, not in number because we've had as many as 18 in the past, but because they all seem to be doing well. As you say, there must be a lot of fish to support all this.

  2. I went to the park for the first time in months to look for all these birds! I saw three of four grebes being fed and no owls or peregrines. I know the Peregrines are there when I am never there but it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea where the second owl nest was! I went to look for the round pond one but he seems to not trust me anymore as I did not see him on both visits

    1. Please write to me privately for details of the Serpentine Gallery owls.

    2. Of course, thank you