Chiswick Gardens

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Chiswick Gardens are the largest and most wooded park close to Chiswick High Road. According to one of the information plaques, the landscape architect responsible for the current look of the gardens took the “revolutionary approach” of making them look more natural. Hence, although there is, of course, the obligatory lawn area, Chiswick Gardens also feature interesting nooks such as the “wilderness” where brambles and wildflowers are allowed to grow. The shallow lake is home to a gaggle of Canada and some Egyptian geese, a bunch of mallards and tufted ducks, this one heron you can rely on to be there every day, and moorhens, coots and a flock of street pigeons which have cottoned on to the fact that despite “don’t feed bread to ducks” warnings, visitors still readily throw bread at the waterfowl, and that the bread sometimes lands on the ground instead.

Below is a juvenile street pigeon sunning itself by the lake. Its young age can be deduced from the still dark cere and lack of iridiscent feathers around the neck.

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Unfortunately, I do not know what fish can be found in the lake, but as for amphibians, there are likely to be smooth newts there. I found one on the street just outside the park one day in late March and released it into the lake (a good distance away from the ever-watchful heron), hoping that that was where it came from.

A pair of coots constructed a nest in the most prominent location possible – just past the park’s signature bridge. Here is the bridge…

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And here is the nest, with one parent preening, and some of the brood (the rest was swimming nearby, following the other parent who was bringing food).

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There were five or six chicks. Coots are only “loving parents” as long as there is enough food to go around. As soon as things get tough, they get increasingly annoyed by their young begging to be fed, and start pecking them. The weakest give up begging and die of starvation. It’s tough being a coot chick. My bets are on the two that chose to stick with the parent foraging for food rather than stay in the nest and wait for the meal to be delivered.

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But let’s move on to a bramble patch, which, sheltered from the wind and warmed by the sun, was filled with the buzz of hoverflies, bumblebees, and other flying insects, some of them pretending to be something they are not. Here is a common wasp, just soaking up the sun…

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And here is a Myathropa florea hoverfly, whose genus is described in Britain’s Hoverflies as “a wasp mimic, but not very convincing”. Well, it tries its best.

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The distinctive pattern on the thorax is not clear in the picture, but it is commonly likened to a skull, which gave the hoverfly the common name of dead head fly. Britain’s Hoverflies authors however are committed to improving the public image of hoverflies, and call it a “Batman marking”. Perhaps one day these unsuccessful wasp mimics will come to be known as Batman hoverflies? Spread the word and it may just happen!

Several species of butterflies fluttered about by the brambles: holly blue, speckled wood, orange-tip and comma. One very drowsy comma simply couldn’t be bothered to fly away whenever someone stopped to take a close look at it.

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Among all these colourful creatures suddenly something else caught my attention – a small black ball of fuzz with two long trailing strings. Once it settled for a spot of sunbathing, it turned out to be a green longhorn moth. Now these are impressive antennae! He must be able to catch a whiff of a female from quite a distance.

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Down by the path, herb robert was in flower. The small pink flowers are so picture-perfect they look as if they had been painted by someone, or designed in some graphic editor, but for one detail which breaks this unreal symmetry. Instead of each petal being covered by another one side only, there is one which is on top of its neighbours, and next to it, one which is overlapped on both sides.

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The ornamental shrubs and trees in Chiswick Gardens are quite attractive as well, and effortlessly fit into the landscape. For a garden-type park, this one is well-balanced with areas that look more natural, space for wildlife, ornamentals to delights the eye, a grassy area for dogs to play on and people to sunbathe. A reedbed or a mini-meadow would be great as well…but now I’m being too picky! It’s great to have a place like this so close to the high road.

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