My fascination with the pelicans in St James’s Park continues! I managed a short visit on Friday afternoon after an appointment at Guy’s Hospital. It’s so therapeutic after you’ve just had to hear more bad news. I was expecting it really, no big shocks but disappointing all the same. So from having to keep my own mouth wide open for the dental conservative consultant, I went to see a much more impressive wide mouth!
The bare skin on the lower mandible of the pelican is known as the gular pouch. There are other birds with gular skin but the pelican has the largest. The lower mandible expands to open the pouch allowing it to scoop it’s prey from the water. As the mandible contracts, water is expelled from the bill and the bird can then tilt its head to let the fish slide down the gullet. The gular pouch actually has a larger capacity than the pelicans stomach! You may have heard the rhyme by Dixon Merritt: “Oh, what a wondrous bird is the pelican! His bill holds more than his belican. He can take in his beak enough food for a week. But I’m darned if I know how the helican.” In fact, any surplass food is actually stored in the oesophagus!
I managed to get out of the house last Thursday to visit some of my favourite tree decorations, at RHS Wisley Gardens, fieldfares and redwings! These two birds are members of the Thrush family that fly south from Scandinavia, to overwinter in the UK and other parts of southern Europe. They won’t take long to strip the cherry trees bare of these sweet treats! It’s a spectacle I love seeing every year. They are so busy feeding that I can get just a little bit closer to them than in some other areas where they are gathered.
Another appointment in London led to another visit to St James’s Park last week. My lead image is a macro of one of the new pelicans. The three are just ten months old and have yet to develop their punk-like crests, but they have such beautiful shaping to the feathers on the back of their heads. They all still have some of their juvenile plumage on their wings, a brown colour, which easily distinguishes them from the three adults.
Of course the pelicans aren’t the only birds in the park! I had great fun watching juvenile coots munching on mushrooms around the edge of the lake. Anyone foraging for fungi in the Royal Parks should seek permission first! Not all fungi are suitable for human consumption, but many are an important source of food for hungry wildlife.
Lots of visitors to the park feed the birds and squirrels with peanuts. This is actually a great food for them at the moment as they contain plenty of calories to keep their energy reserves going in the colder weather. The parakeets love being fed! They’ll come and sit on your hand (head, arm or shoulder too!) to eat nuts or fruit. The smaller birds like the robins, tits and dunnocks will happily come to take bird seed from you too.
The sounds of nature draw me to the outdoors just as much as the sights! During the Autumn, one sound that absolutely captivates me is the red deer stags, booming out their challenges across the Royal Parks. This stag was at Bushy Park last Wednesday, just outside the Woodland Gardens. I had to answer his call and left the enclosed gardens to see him set against the golden afternoon light on the bracken. Just magnificent! It’s really important to keep a respectful distance from the deer during the rutting season and I would urge other park visitors NOT to approach, or try to feed, the deer at this time. Stand back and enjoy the show! This image was taken using the Fujinon 100-400mm with 1.4x teleconverter so that I could keep that distance.
I think this is my favourite image from last week! Firstly, it’s a butterfly, secondly it’s on a seed pod and last but not least, this was the moment the sun came out after a pretty wet and miserable day. I love this time of year, the sunlight has become golden again, the plants are all coming into their Autumn colours and structure. I’m really enjoying having a decent macro lens again, allowing me to get up really close to my favourite things. Have a great week everyone!
Dragonflies are usually quite short-lived, maybe only a week. Often an over-mature, older individual will be fading in tone and colour. This is an over-mature female black darter dragonfly found yesterday at Thursley Common NNR. It was resting on the sand, soaking up warmth for energy. Unlike many of the other dragonflies seen yesterday, this individual allowed fellow photographer Paul and I to get up really close with our macro lenses. I believe it stayed put for so long as it’s trying to conserve as much energy as possible in it’s old age. What a privilege though!
I was instantly struck by it’s fragility and faded colours. Black darters are our only truly black species and mature males are very striking, deep black with a few flashes of yellow. They’re also our smallest species of dragonfly! This individual had become parchment-like and translucent. The blacks had faded to blue-grey and brown tones while the eyes had become much lighter in tone and were strikingly beautiful. There really is a haunting beauty in the ageing of many winged insects that strikes a chord with me. It made me think of the Visage song Fade To Grey:
Feel the rain like an English summer Hear the notes from a distant song Stepping out from a back shop poster Wishing life wouldn’t be so long
Male Migrant Hawker dragonflies are on the wing, defending their territories. I love watching them! They have a flight pattern and favourite areas to hover. That’s the trick to photographing them in flight! Of course they don’t always stick to the pattern exactly so it can take a bit of patience. Of all the flight images that I’ve captured over the weekend, this shot taken from above is definitely my favourite. It’s a perspective that I haven’t managed before. Standing on the boardwalk at Heather Farm allowed be to get above this particular dragon. It was late in the day so I used a slower shutter speed than normal (1/200th) in the fading light, but it gave a really pleasing effect to the wings.
I spent a delightful bit of time watching this very vocal wren balancing on the tops of bracken at Bushy Park last week. The best way to find a wren is to listen for them chatting a territorial call in scrub, grasses and bracken. Watch for movement of the leaves and stems that can indicate where the wren is. They’ll come to perch at one of the higher points of the scrub to chat and sing. Watching them bobbing about and singing is such fun! They’re so tiny but have big characters and an even bigger voice.
My favourite wildlife sighting from last week was this dear little owl (ickle wol) in Richmond Park last Thursday! This is the first time I’ve managed to see them in the wild since I was a kid. Thank you to various members of the Surrey Bird Club for posting about the general location near Pen Ponds. A blessed if brief sighting!