Monday, September 20, 2010

More Valentines Park...

At the end of this week I will be returning to Los Angeles, so I am spending as much time as possible watching my favourite Great Crested Grebe chick- because who knows where he'll be when I return?....

In my last post I wrote about my love of the patterns made by the birds' movements in the water, so will start with some more illustrations of this. First my Grebe chick rushing through the water:

And now just some bird-less water that I liked:

And here is a Little Grebe bobbing about:

And here is one of the parent Great Crested Grebes briefly allowing the chick to be near him (or her) as they both preen themselves:

And here the chick continues preening and showing off his elegant neck!

Now a Pochard preens himself, the sunlight catching his beautiful burnished head:

I'm always attracted by the comedy and craziness in birds- here the Pochard contorts himself:

And now it's the Grebe chicks turn to shake a leg:

And now try out his wings:

Herons are always cartoon birds and this one on the island does some odd preening poses:

Lastly, I will turn to pairs of birds: I find it fascinating how often they "mirror" each other. The Egyptian Geese constantly do this. First, they are standing together on the island's shore:

then they simultaneously turn round and retreat into the bushes...

I will end with the two adult Grebes who are constantly swimming together in unison now that they have rejected their poor,lonesome, cheeping offspring!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Valentines Park: Grebe Chick Again

That Great Crested Grebe chick is a glutton for punishment. This evening he was continuing his hovering around one of his parents, cheeping piteously. When he got too close the adult finally was enraged and went for him yet again- and off he sped down the lake....

This didn't stop him trying again, but eventually he gave up:

When I arrived there were two Egyptian Geese on the Boating Lake island and two on the grass nearby. As I was leaving all four birds were on the grass. They were feeding quite peacefully until a Crow started "cawing" loudly. This alerted them and they started stretching their necks and making guttural noises and then displaying to eachother in this way:

More Great Crested Grebes!

I can't keep away from the Valentines Park Great Crested Grebes- especially the chick, who is no longer such a chick. I will start by showing them as successful fisher-birds- here is an adult negotiating a very large mouthful:

And here is the so-called chick, proudly holding his catch:

His prowess is recognized by the Gulls. Yesterday, two of them were closing in on him and rushing up to him as soon as he emerged with a catch. He then would promptly dive back into the water...

He also seems to be developing his flying skills: several times I have seen him scooting rapidly across the water's surface- once being chased off by his parents. Although he is so mature, he still seems to hanker after their company, both swimming up to them and dozing in their vicinity- always at the risk of being rejected...

I delight in the patterns made by the displaced water as he swims:

And the patterns made on the water's surface by the wind:

And also the ever-present reflections in one form or another:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Acorns and Rodents

There is something very charming about an Acorn- the fruit of an Oak tree- as it sits in its little embossed "cup". When I was looking for some to photograph in Valentines Park, I was disappointed to find most of them had been gnawed- by Grey Squirrels I guessed. Sure enough, I shortly saw the culprit sitting munching one on the branch of a lakeside Sycamore tree:

Acorns are rich in nutrients and popular with all Rodents as well as certain birds- Woodpeckers, Jays, Pigeons and even, apparently, some Ducks.

The name "Rodent" comes from the Latin word rodere, "to gnaw". This family of mammals all have two continually growing incisors in both their upper and lower jaws. The only way they can control the growth is to constantly gnaw.

Now, I was brought up with the delightful Red Squirrels in Aberdeenshire, with their wonderful red coats and bushy tails. When I first came across Grey Squirrels below the Malvern Hills I was very snooty about them, adhering to the idea that they were "rats with furry tails"- if you look at this next image of a Rat in a nearby Oak tree, you will understand what I mean!

I'm now ashamed to admit that I did not feel much sympathy for the one that had part of its tail removed by my Welsh Collie and which (the tail piece- not the squirrel!) sat as his trophy on our mantelpiece for some years...

Monday, September 6, 2010


I have written often on this blog about my passion for Conkers. The word Conker refers either to the Horse Chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) itself or to the seeds of the tree, whereas the plural- conkers- can refer to the game played using them- a game involving finding the strongest conker- the "conqueror".

The tree was first introduced to the UK from the Balkans in the late 16th Century and the first recorded game was in the Isle of Wight in 1848. This once popular game among all country children is apparently today serious business. Health and Safety have crept in and children now have to wear goggles!

As a child I never actually played the game but used to collect the beautiful, glossy seeds to make into miniature chairs. They made perfect armchairs: forming the seats they looked like some wondrous mahogany- you then stuck pins in them to form the legs and the chair backs, weaving wool through these to complete the backs- a modern design in the late 1940's and early 1950's! The only sad fact was that- like so many things- they very soon lost their bloom...

I am still always happy to find them. Walking through Valentines Park (after checking on my Grebe family!) I was glad to see this tree holding a good crop of conkers:

I proceeded to search the ground for fallen ripe conkers. At first I rather despaired (as I am inclined to do prematurely!), as they had all been eaten by grey squirrels who frequent the park. Eventually I found this one, just beginning to ripen:

and then to my delight this perfect one:

Collapse of Grey Heron's Tree:

Those of you who follow this blog will remember me writing endlessly about the first Grey Herons who nested in the Borough of Redbridge for one hundred years- on an island in Valentines Park. To jog your memories, here are the three chicks, on the branch of their lakeside, ivy covered, decaying Sycamore tree:

Well, having spent countless hours watching the birds on this tree, you can imagine how shocked I was to see it collapsed in the water, when I returned to Ilford:

You could just see the rotten base:

Ironically, a park representative had told me- at the time the birds were in the nest- that he had being thinking of felling that particular tree before they built their nest.

It is sad the nest has gone- and with it the hope that the Herons would return to that tree, but on the other hand how wonderful that it didn't fall down when the Heron family were inhabiting it....

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Valentines Park: Further Update

Having been away from Ilford for two weeks, needless to say the first thing I did on my return was to visit Valentines Park to check out the Great Crested Grebe family.

I found the two adults dozing side-by-side under an Oak tree:

After a time, one of them swam off. On his return, he approached the other bird and gave him- or her- a nudge with his beak:

Getting no response, he swam off again!

I was very happy to see the chick out and about on the lake:

It is interesting to see how he is maturing. He now has the definite beginnings of a black crest and more signs of the adults' russet-red in his plumage, although he retains some of his zebra-like neck stripes:

He may be maturing but he is still very much a chick, still trying to make contact with his parents, still making his piteous "cheep-cheeps". Today he yet again approached them:

but they raced off (a Cormorant simultaneously leaping out of the water):

He followed them. They settled under one of the Alder trees and he bravely drew closer to them- his cheeps getting more frantic:

But again he was rejected and chased off in a very unfriendly manner!

You know it's all part of growing up but you can't help empathizing with him- he looks so pathetic and "lonesome"!