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!
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.
Despite all the wet weather we’ve had this month, some days are just golden! I visited St James’s Park in London last Wednesday and discovered that the flock of pelicans has doubled in size. There are now six of these magnificent birds living in the park. They were glorious to watch in the Autumn light with the rich colours of foliage on Duck Island behind them. It was lovely to see lots of people enjoying the space, feeding birds and squirrels, warming up in the cafe, having a family outing with the kids or just sitting under a tree, getting lost in a good book.
When tawny owlets are only about five weeks old they leave the nest. They’re not fledging yet, they’re branching! The staff at St James’s Park discovered that tawny’s had returned to the park after an absence of twelve years, when they discovered one of the branched owlets in the back of a tractor. It’s not unusual for branching owlets to fall off their perch. Most of the time they will be absolutely fine and the advice is to leave them where they are unless they are lying down, showing other signs of distress or are in immediate danger. They will sit still on the ground until nightfall when they are known to use their strong talons to climb back into the tree! Even if they don’t return quickly, the parents will carry on feeding the owlet on the ground. Gardeners at the park were actually able to return this little owlet to it’s mother in the tree!
It was quite incredible to be able to watch this owlet and one of its’ parents last Friday. They were high up in the trees and it had started raining. I was captivated though! Fortunately I had my raincoat so I was able to observe them for a while despite the weather. It did make it hard to photograph them though. I was using a Fujinon 100-400mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter to watch and photograph. You really do need a long lens or powerful binoculars to see them closely! The owlet has some good adult feathers coming through on the tail and wings but still plenty of downy fluff too. It was stretching the wings a lot and jumping between branches really well. The other wonderful behaviour I was able to watch was the circling off the head as the owlet builds up a full picture of it’s surroundings.
There are also Tawny Owls in Regents Park and these sighting are brilliant news for the species! It’s also a good sign that wildlife conservation and habitat management in The Royal Parks is working well. There must be a good amount of prey species available for these wonderful owls and this owlet certainly seems to be thriving! If you do go to St James’s or anywhere else to watch tawny owls and owlets, please keep a reasonable distance from their tree so you don’t disturb them. They are a protected species and these London owlets are very precious!
I went to St James’s Park in London on Friday after a morning appointment at Guy’s Hospital. I went for the wildlife and I wasn’t disappointed! The pelicans were gathered ready for their afternoon feed, showing off for the public. It’s a lovely opportunity to study them up close. Absolutely stunning birds! When the breeze lifted this pelican’s crest, I couldn’t help but be reminded off the sad loss of Prodigy front-man, Keith Flint, last week. He would have rocked this hairdo too!
Another week, another royal park! This time it’s the smallest and oldest, St James’s Park. Set in front of Buckingham Palace, the park was originally created by Henry VIII as a hunting ground. Later, it was redesigned by Charles II and became home to the first, royal Great White (or Rosy) Pelicans. They were a gift to the King from the Russian Ambassador in 1664 and the park has been a home to pelicans ever since.
St James’s has a fascinating history that has really left it’s mark on the area. Charles II had avenues of trees planted alongside his Paile Maile (similar to croquet) lawns. Locals started calling the main road alongside these lawns Pall Mall and the nickname stuck. The King opened the park to the public and was a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects. He filled the park with animals including camels, elephants and crocodiles and built a row of aviaries for his collection of exotic birds. The adjacent roadway gained the name Birdcage Walk. People still gather here to feed the birds and a few exotics have returned, the ring-necked parakeets!
John Nash redesigned the park in the 19th Century. The original canal was transformed into a natural-looking lake and in 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented the park with a collection of birds and erected a cottage for a birdkeeper. Both the cottage and the position of birdkeeper remain to this day. Duck Island cottage is where you will find the pelicans being fed every day between 14:30 and 15:00. There are also around 15 species of waterfowl living on the lake.
Exploring this lovely little park was just the tonic I needed on Friday afternoon after another disappointing appointment at Guy’s Hospital. The day may have started out negatively but I turned it into something very positive! Another busy Monday ahead so I am putting my pelican into all three Monday challenges. Have a great week everyone!