Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Bearded ladies

I read somewhere that a couple of female Bearded Tits showed up in Hyde Park during the snowy spell. I wondered which of the few tiny patches of Phragmites the birds had chosen to settle in, and how on earth they had managed to find it. With sunshine forecast for Sunday, and no desperately urgent work to finish, I decided to go up for the day. I had a very relaxed attitude towards the Beardies - I didn't check before I left that they were still there, and I didn't head for the reeds straight away but spent a good three hours photographing various other things first.

 I started my walk on the north side of the lake, which was silly. The light (looking towards the lake) would have been much better on the south side. This Cormorant illustrates my point, though it made up for its badly lit state by striking various exotic poses. I crossed the bridge to continue my walk on the south shore.

From the bridge - a pair of Great Crested Grebes getting frisky. I only saw one other all day, which seems a bit down on previous visits.

This young Grey Heron was on one of the same row of posts as the Cormorant, but on the other side of the lake. (You can tell it's on the other side because it's facing the other way...) See what I mean about the light?

I went over to the area where I've seen people hand-feeding assorted little birds, by a fenced-off area of woodland. This involved traversing some serious mud but it was worth it. Waiting in the trees were various songbirds, eyeing me with interest as I got my sunflower hearts out.

 Several Great Tits and Blue Tits made snatch-and-grab visits. One of the Great Tits (this one) was unusually pale and colourless (nothing wrong with her black bits though). A Starling landed on my hand, looked askance at the sunflower hearts and flew back into the tree, where it sang enthusiastically. A male Chaffinch was much keener and fed at length before being scared off by a Feral Pigeon (about fifty had gathered and were milling around my feet).

But the most eager recipient was this beauty. I was very surprised when a female Ring-necked Parakeet landed on my hand. Although all our RNPs do descend from pet (or at least aviary) birds, the feral population by and large seems very wary and flighty. But these are clever birds and it's not really a surprise that some are learning that it can pay to be friendly with the humans. The parakeet was fearless. She even fended off the pigeons with ease. She also chewed my finger rather hard when the seed ran out. Another person feeding the birds handed her a monkey nut, which she took up a tree to demolish, allowing me to get a photo.

On towards Round Pond. On the way, I stopped to kneel down for an eye-level photo of Egyptian Geese. Kneeling down actually quite hurts (which will be an issue if/when I do my next aikido grading) but it was worth it on this occasion. The park is heaving with Egyptian Geese, I saw at least 30.

There are Shovelers on Round Pond. This strikes me as odd. There are Shovelers on the Serpentine too, but that is a  proper, big lake with lots of marginal vegetation and places for the Shovelers to hide (which they do - not for them the feeding frenzies with the other ducks). Round Pond though is small, and circular, with nothing whatsoever overhanging it.

Round Pond is mainly about gulls. Lots of Black-headed, a few Herring, and my favourites, the Common Gulls. They patrol around the edges of the pond, homing in on anyone who looks like they're packing Mother's Pride. Pretty face.

Round Pond is also about Starlings. They loiter around the water's edge to drink and bathe, then head for the cropped grass nearby to look for insects. They are absurdly tame and approachable, so you can really appreciate their fantastic winter  plumage.

Back at the Serpentine, a male Pochard. The total number of Pochards here isn't huge - maybe they just about reach double figures. But no sign of their Red-crested brethren today, nor any Mandarins.

More Shovelers. A proper, grown-up pair this time, unlike the scruffy first-winter male I posted before. I wonder if they breed here.

Here's a Sparrowhawk, seen while I was having a rather half-hearted (and fruitless) search for the Tawny Owl tree. This was one of two Sprawks seen today -  my pics of the other one are even worse than this.

Better flight pic, arguably less interesting bird though. But looking at the primaries and secondaries, this Carrion Crow looks like it may have a touch of that odd dietary leucism that seems pretty common in London crows.

The park is of course stuffed with Feral Pigeons and Woodpigeons, so it was nice to find a lone Stock Dove, high up a tree and surveying the scene below.

OK, time for the Beardies. As I got near the reedbed I could see half-a-dozen birders pointing big lenses reedwards. Also, there was Jim, and Becca, who greeted me warmly and passed on the encouraging news that they had already enjoyed good views of the birds. It wasn't long before I got my first glimpse of the two little birds as they nipped along the base of the bed. I stayed there a couple of hours and eventually the girls both showed beautifully. They are sporting BTO rings, which I've learned were acquired when they were at RSPB Rye Meads in November last year. So they haven't come that far, but it's still mind-boggling that they managed to locate this tiny reedbed in the middle of the concrete sprawl of London. I suppose they saw the water (the Serpentine is pretty huge) and took it from there. Despite it being a windy day, they were climbing to the tops of the reeds, and also at one point came down to ground level to drink. They are the first Beardies ever known to have visited inner London, and their showiness has been appreciated by many a non-birder (LOADS of people stopped and asked about the birds) as well as those of us who came especially to see them. I took huge quantities of photos, here's a few that I like, plus one not so good one but it shows the two birds together.


Mike Attwood said...

I can see that you enjoyed your Sunday Marianne

Alan Pavey said...

A very interesting wander round the Serpentine and great pics too. Those Beardies must have seemed a little out of place! I used go up to London in the Summer holidays with my Dad, always enjoyed wandering round the parks :-)

ShySongbird said...

The wonderful diversity of bird life in our largest city never ceases to amaze me, lots there that I am lucky to (or never) see in this much more rural area!

You took some lovely photos and I am very envious about the Bearded Tits. Lovely to experience the birds hand feeding too. Amazing that they should be so confiding after the way we have treated them over the years.

Anonymous said...

Typical, I retire from the City and look what happens - the Wildlife moves in!
Lovely photos and report on what sounds like a great day out.
I really must have a day in the Parks sometime.
Best wishes, Graham

Phil said...

Great stuff Marianne. A really good account and pics of the surprising (to me at least) variety of bird life there.
Is it still 'tuppence' a bag for the bird food:-)