Friday, May 28, 2010

The Getty Center: A Tree?

Anyone following this blog recently might well think it should be named "birdaware" rather than "treeaware"- regardless of the fact that a lot of the birds I have been writing about have been nesting in trees, or if not nesting in or under trees at least using sticks from trees to construct their nests...

Well, I'm now going back to trees as the main subject- although my first "tree" turns out NOT to be a tree!

Just before I left Los Angeles, my daughter, granddaughter and I accompanied visiting friends on a far too brief visit to the Getty Center in Brentwood. For those who don't know it, this is a palatial Modernist/Classical complex set high above Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, with wonderful extensive 360 degrees views, including both the Pacific Ocean and the San Gabriel mountains. It was completed in 1997 for the J Paul Getty Trust, both to house artworks from the Malibu Getty Villa and to house other Getty institutes and administrative offices. Designed by Richard Meier, the buildings - including the pavings- are largely clad in 350,000 pieces of a warm, light-reflecting Travertine, transported from an Italian quarry. Different textures are used- some polished, others rough-hewn.

Even without entering the buildings to see the Art Collections and exhibitions, it is a great experience. The gardens are an integral part of this. Designed by the artist Robert Irwin, they were conceived as a work of art. So now we come to the tree-that-was-not-a tree: walking down into the gardens, my curiosity was immediately aroused by a group of unusually shaped umbrella-like magenta trees. Taking a closer look, I felt rather stupid as I realized they were not trees: they were tree-shaped metal structures supporting an abundance of Bougainvillea!

So here they are:

This image shows one aspect of the gardens relationship to the buildings and to visitors (visitors being in this case my daughter Molly, granddaughter Violet and very good friends Kathy and James):

And here is a puzzle for visitors: a water-maze, which can only be used by ducks- who, of course, could always cheat by flying if they got defeated...

Finally, I will show a TREE! a real, living tree...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Great Crested Grebes: Valentines Park

I have already written about the Great Crested Grebes nesting in Valentines Park and here is another installment- that sadly does not end well.

For the last couple of weeks I have been regularly visiting them, as I have a particular affection for these very pretty, stylish little birds (I say little, in comparison to the Swans on the lake). Last week, there was quite a drama when one of the birds (I don't know if it was the male or female) was sitting on the nest by itself and suddenly I saw it ruffling up it's feathers and making serpentine, angry movements with it's head:

I then realized there was a Coot lurking around the nest- and it was a Coot who I understand ousted the Grebes from their previous nest:

However, the partner Grebe returned and the Coot went off:

Then it was "change-over" time and the defending bird climbed out of the nest to give way to its partner:

and the newcomer checked out the four eggs before settling down...

I am now moving forward to this last Sunday- two days ago. The Grebes were still conscientiously caring for their eggs, taking it in turns to sit on them, repeating their actions of checking out the eggs:

City Park birds have very different nesting materials from birds in the wilds- in this case, generally a lot of junk blown in from the lake, if not specifically chosen. It seems unlikely that the Grebes had eaten the contents of this Mars Bar wrapper!

Yesterday- Monday- I went happily along the lakeside to visit them, only to be devastated by the sight of an empty nest- no eggs, no birds:

Possibly rats had taken the eggs. I prefer to think that than the nest been vandalized by Sunday boaters on the lake- some who I saw bating the Swan family...

The penalty of getting involved with other lives whether human or animal- is that you can't bear to see things go wrong for them. I felt heartbroken but cheered up when today I saw the pair of Grebes swimming together on the lake; life goes on...

Mute Swans: Valentines Park

Mute Swans have regularly nested on the Boating Lake in Ilford's Valentines Park (see this link), so I was pleased to see their nest on the island there- a safer place than last year when they were positioned on the lakeside bank.

Here is my first sighting of them about two weeks ago, in their nest under the Willow tree- a Mallard family are snoozing on the bank in the foreground:

and now the Pen and the Cob swap places,for sitting on the eggs:

On May 21st I was delighted to see that at least four of the eggs were hatched, while the Pen was still sitting on the remaining eggs:

Two days later, eight eggs were hatched and the whole delightful family were off for a swim (there seems to be one egg left that has not hatched):

Although only two days old, already the Cygnets are copying their parents, diving for food:

And now I'm just going to be self-indulgent as my heart completely melts when I see fluffy nestlings!:

Now their mother decides it is time to return to their island nest- one cygnet tried to cadge a lift on her back but was shaken off when she climbed out of the water! They are gathered together before following her up the bank:

Today when they returned from their swim to the island they copied their mother "preening" themselves- before dozing off in the sunshine...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Black-Crowned Night Heron US / Grey Heron UK

Last month while I was standing under the Malibu Ficus tree being obsessed with the Egret's nests, I became aware of a movement in a beautiful Coral tree. On investigation, I discovered it was a Black-Crowned Night Heron- a tiny bird compared with the Great Blue Heron that I had been photographing in the Egret's Ficus tree. The proprietor of a nearby shop told me that they regularly nested there. As Egrets are also members of the Heron family, I felt surrounded by Herons!

The Black-Crowned Night Heron, skulking in the Coral tree:

After this profusion of relations to this- to me- exotic family of birds, you can imagine my joy on discovering that a pair of Grey Herons were nesting on the Fish Pond Island in Valentines Park!

Although Herons have always been regular visitors to the park (I remember how cross I once felt that I did not have my camera with me when I saw a Heron standing on a rowing boat named "Heron"!) this is the first time they have nested there. Actually, it is the first time they have nested in the Borough of Redbridge since nesting in nearby Wanstead Park up until about 1882, when the park was opened to the public.

Fortunately for visibility, the nest is built on the very edge of the island, approximately ten feet up a dead Sycamore covered with ivy (a passing Park representative told me that he had planned to fell the tree, but luckily had not done so!). Because of this you can clearly see the three now very large chicks, the first chick having been hatched on April 25th. I read that the young remain in the nest for seven weeks, which really surprizes me as these chicks are not that much smaller than the parent birds and are constantly trying out their wings- and nearly losing their balance! The parent bird (apparently they share both incubation and feeding duties) patiently sits on the branch supporting the nest, though sometimes disappears in search of food.

I will start by showing the idyllic location- look carefully and you will spot the nest:

Here are the three chicks with their parent:

Then the chicks started making a tremendous noise, clamoring for food:

The parent bird obviously could not stand the noise and removed himself/herself down the branch...

where instead of flying off to find food he sat showing his boredom...

And here the chicks are reminiscent of Meerkats...

And now they experiment with their wings...

I can't wait to see what happens next...