Baby Birds at Verulamium Park, St Albans

We had lunch at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans on Saturday, it was a very good lunch too, but one of the greatest pleasures of lunch at one of the oldest pubs in the UK is the walk from the car park to the pub through Verulamium Park.  This is because of the huge numbers of water fowl that live around the lake.

Cananda Goose Goslings

Canada Goose Goslings

Most of the birds have broods of young right now, including the coots,

Cootlings

Cootlings

and the Canada geese.

Canada Goose goslings having a wash and brush up

Canada Goose goslings having a wash and brush up

Some families are more grown up than others, as I was shooting the two little guys above this mob came bearing down on us like a pack of velociraptors.

Like a bunch of dinosaurs

Like a bunch of dinosaurs

I’m intrigued by water rails like moorhens

Moorhen

Moorhen

and coots, I think its their big feet.

Coot

Coot

you see both of them are good swimmers, but unlike ducks or gulls that don’t have webbed feet. Instead they have fleshy lobes on their toes that they use to propel them through the water. you can see them quite well on the photo of the coot above.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any baby herons, perhaps the strange weather we have been having this year has messed up their breeding season. We did see some swans, greylag geese, lots of mallards and some handsome tufted ducks though.

Tufted ducks - drake on the right

Tufted ducks – drake on the right

Verulamium was the name given to the town by the Romans. It was one of the first to be settled by them in the south of England following the invasion in AD43. In AD60 the British Queen Boudicca burnt it down along with London and Colchester. Us Brits like to celebrate such heroics while calmly brushing the following 350 years of Roman domination under the carpet!

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks and some Ducks

The summer came and briefly visited the UK on Sunday, so we decided it was time for a pub lunch. Not in any old pub, mind you, oh no, because according to The Guinness Book of Records,

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans  is the oldest pub in the UK. The original building close to St Albans Abbey dates back to the 11th century and owes its basic octagonal shape to its first use as a dovecote.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

In 1539, when Henry VIII fell out with the Pope over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and decided to start his own church, the Abbey was dissolved and the building moved to its present location close to the cathedral. It is rumoured that underground tunnels link the beer cellar with the cathedral, which I suppose is handy if the Bishop ever runs out of communion wine. First known as the Round House, it became Ye Olde Fighting Cocks when the Cock Pit from the Abbey was installed after the dissolution. When cock-fighting was banned in 1849 the pub was briefly called The Fisherman before reverting to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in 1872.

This is a great little boozer which fortunately still has many of its original features like the bread oven by the main fireplace.  It also has a deserved reputation for its food

The only chicken you will meet in Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

As it was Sunday there was a selection of roasts on offer. I went for the chicken which had been roasted with tarragon and lime (£11.95). It was fantastic. The chocolate brownie (£4.50) that Mab couldn’t finish was pretty good too.

So having eaten a pretty delicious bird we went to feed the birds in nearby Verulam Park.

Mallard duckling

There are a lot of baby birds around at this time of year including a host of Aylesbury/Mallard hybrids, Canada Geese and coots.

Coot and chick, ‘now you see us

The coot parents were busy teaching their chicks to dive.

Now you don’t’

I was charmed by this little moorhen chick being fed by its mother, that I photographed from a bridge.

Mother and baby moorhen

Incidentally St Albans has a lot of history having been settled by the Romans, conquered by the British Queen Boudicca and fought over by the forces of Lancaster and York in the Wars of the Roses. I did spend three years working there in the 90s, but the nearest thing to a historic event in that time was Timmy Mallett turning on the Christmas Lights. Must see stuff in the city are the Cathedral, the Roman Theatre and the Hypocaust (Roman central heating system) in Verulam Park.

Sunday in St Albans – Baby Bird Alert

On Sunday we decided to have lunch at Ye Old Fighting Cocks in St Albans, reputably one of the oldest pubs in the UK. While the meal was frankly not up to their usual standard (I really do hope Sunday’s mess was a temporary aberration) the journey through the park from the car park was a delight.

Many of the birds had new family members, one pair of ducks had at least eleven ducklings.

Mallard ducklings

The Canada geese had been busy too with a clutch of yellow green goslings

Canada geese with goslings

This coot was a bit behind with her brood and we were lucky enough to catch her on the nest turning her eggs.

Coot turning eggs

The park also has a breeding colony of herons on an island on the lake.

Heron

And we were also lucky enough to catch sight of a yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail

Seen here in the pub car park. Other birds spotted were moorhen, mute swan, feral pigeon, jackdaw and magpie