US social scientist Kenneth Boulding : ‘If you believe exponential growth can go on in a finite world, you are either a madman or an economist’.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

19/3/11: Pining for Coal Tits as Starlings vanish

Another roundabout sortie to the local shops on a sunny spring afternoon.

I have been hoping to find Coal Tits and/or Goldcrest in the large pines on the east side of Erith Cemetery for some time and, after exercising a fair bit of patience, I was rewarded with long-lasting views of a pair of Coal Tits foraging and, at one point sat still preening in close proximity to one another.

Other birds seen were Great Tit, Blue Tit, 2 Long-tailed Tits, Blackbirds, Robin, Carrion Crows and 3 Magpie. House Sparrows were heard by the gatehouse. The absence of the Starlings from the nearby Poplars was evident, but I did eventually stumble upon a rather bemused-looking lone individual which was very tolerant of my approach. Overall, species numbers were down on visits earlier in the year.

Grape Hyacinths were coming up in the gravelly tops of several memorials and I could only assume that they hadn't got wider traction on account of frequent mowing. A few moments of intensive searching found a couple of leaves of Birds-foot, mirroring its occurence on Hollyhill Open Space on the other side of the same valley.

The 'laughing' call of a Green Woodpecker and drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker were heard emanating from the nearby Erith Quarry site, and the stand of Gorse towards the north-west corner could be seen in flower through my binoculars.

The Council has lately made some improvements to the 'front' part of Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground with patches of Crocus and Daffodils in the grass, and several newly planted trees. But there is still much scope for improvement in terms of wildlife-friendly features - a strip of unmown grass round the margins would help. There were 2 Long-tailed Tits in the evergreens near the car park - where the native Gorse in the shrub bed - was flowering nicely and a Pied Wagtail and a couple of Starlings flying over, plus the usual House Sparrows and Carrion Crows. Starling numbers have suddenly declined markedly in this area too. Presumably most were winter immigrants.

I had been thinking earlier in the day that, after a long period of largely overcast weather (albeit with little rain) it felt like the sort of conditions in which one might get to see a butterfly and, lo and behold, there was a Peacock on the wing in the 'rear' section of the site - though nothing for it to feed on across the swathes of closely mown turf.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

9/3/11: Two men in a boat

Spent most of the day in a small boat with Eric, 'fishing' for rubbish in the River Cray that could not be safely reached from the bank. It was a small, very stable, but rather 'square' and hard to manouevre craft, so it took us a long time to row slowly from the Riverkeeper's Yard down to the main work site at the old Vitbe Mill Pond, then all the way back again several hours later. There is so little clearance under the Maiden Lane and Thames Road bridges that we had to lie down in the boat and propel ourselves by hand, pushing against the underside of the bridge decks - putting me in mind of the way narrowboat men 'walked' their vessels through narrow canal tunnels.

At the Mill Pond the river splits in two, one branch has a boom across it, and this is where much rubbish and woody debris had accumulated, the other drops over a high weir, with both parts merging into Crayford Creek a little further downstream. It was slow-going work and a total of nearly 20 sacks of rubbish and several large items were removed. There was the usual array of metal drinks cans, glass and plastic bottles. Also lots of small fragments of polystyrene - which were a real pain to pick out of the reeds. This stuff should be banned! The most exotic items were a couple of loo seats, which we were able to get out. Further upriver we noticed a lawnmower on the bottom, which will have to be tackled another day.

On the way down to the river 9 Redwing were seen on Perry St Farm. At Thames Road Wetland a Chiffchaff was calling from somewhere within the Reedmace stands in the morning and 6 Goldfinch were on shrubs on the Sewer Pipe Embankment. At dusk there were a couple of bursts of loudish, scratchy song, which may have been a Cetti's Warbler. A local bird-watcher reported 3 from Crayford Marshes today, and I saw a dark brown bird with a strongly-cocked tail on TRW just before dusk last week.

There was a single Grey Wagtail at the Vitbe Mill Pond. On the surrounding banks were a Pyracantha and a couple of Mahonia aquifolium, none or all of which might conceivably have been self-sown. There was also a modestly-sized Gooseberry plant hard up against the Thames Rd bridge abutment.

On the long row back to the yard a couple of Pike were seen partly out of the water, spawning up against reeds, on By-way 105, and a Song Thrush was singing on the former Samas-Roneo site behind Barnes Cray Rd.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

5/3/11: Richmond and Barnes: Fallow Deer, birds and heathland

Off to Richmond Park today for a London Natural History Society meeting about the ecology of the Fallow Deer in the park.

There were 2 Jays at Barnehurst station. From there I went to North Sheen station.

In the environs of the Sheen Gate at the park were 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Mistle Thrush, 13 Redwings, Ring-necked Parakeets and a large number of Jackdaws. On the nearby Adams Pond were- 5m + 3f Mandarin Duck, 2 Egyptian Geese, 2m + 1f Tufted Duck, Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.

The leader gave us lots of interesting facts about the Fallow Deer, which he has studied for several years, on a tour of their favourite locations, including one of the prime rutting areas, and showed examples of antlers at different ages. The Red Deer were also seen at fairly close quarters.

LNHS members watch Fallow Deer at Richmond Park

After the meeting I went off on one of my long, roundabout walks back to another railway station. Not far from Richmond Park, on Priory Lane, I found a colony of the plant Claytonia perfoliata spreading out from under a garden fence and slightly overhanging the pavement - only my second record of the species in London.

On Barnes Common (the section south-west of Barnes station) were 1 Jay, Great Tit, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tit, Robin, Wood Pigeon and Magpie. On a retaining wall by Barnes Station were several Hart's-tongue Fern and some Ivy-leaved Toadflax, and by the station approach lane were a number of Greater Celandine.

Along Rocks Lane things got more heathy, with old ant hills - often with Sheep's Sorrel and in one case a couple of Birdsfoot - and Broom plants. Further up the road, near Old Barnes Cemetery, were several Gorse in flower and lots of Silver Birch.

Old ant hill on Barnes Common, with two types of Moss

Gorse in flower on Barnes Common

At St. Mary Barnes Church there were several Greater Celandine.

On Barnes Green pond were (the now near-obligatory for certain parts of the capital) 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Greylag, 2 white domestic geese, 7 Canada Geese, c25 Tufted Duck, lots of Mallard, 4 Coot, 1 Moorhen and, on the banks, feral Pigeons.

I then made my way to Barnes Bridge station via a quick look at the Thames as it began to get dark.

Monday, 28 February 2011

28/2/11: Danson Park delights

Birds in the park today were:

2 Stock Dove amongst a group of Wood Pigeon, 2 (+?) Common Gull amongst lots of Black-headed Gulls foraging on sports pitches, 6 or so Greenfinch pecking at buds high up in Poplar trees, 1 Redwing, 5 Cormorant, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Mute Swan, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Grey Heron, 29 Canada Geese, 2 Egyptian Geese, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, c25 Starling, Carrion Crow, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tits and Ring-necked Parakeets.

There was a cold breeze in the air which made lingering a bit unpleasant, and for the first time in a couple of weeks the binocular-focussing fingers were getting a bit numb!

28/2/11: Shooting the garden Fox

Shot with a camera, of course .... Another 'apologies' for the quality job, as these pictures were taken with the mobile phone cam through a double-glazed window, and then enlarged a bit, affecting both crispness and contrast.

Anyway, here's the current 'owner' of this Barnehurst manor, always a rather well-fed looking individual. It's come very close to me when I've been out in the garden, but that's been when it was intent on taking its usual route around the place and I'd been standing there already. I think if I'd gone out of the back door on this occasion to try and get a closer view it would have run away.

Monday, 21 February 2011

21/2/2011: Northumberland (Heath ....) / Erith - golden Gorse and booming bird

There was a Common Gull on North Heath Recreation Ground.

In Erith Cemetery (east side) were circa 40 Redwing making quite a lot of noise, but being quite skittish, 5 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch, 2 Magpie, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, Blackbird and lots of Wood Pigeon. There were about 70 Starlings in Poplars between the cemetery and Carlton Rd.

I went a little further up Brook Street to Hollyhill Open Space, first because I could hear a Song Thrush there, and second, because I wanted to check whether the Gorse were wild single-flowered plants, or the double-flowered cultivar which I'd previously found the ones by Gravel Hill at Hall Place North to be.

The Song Thrush was singing from a copse at the foot of Hollyhill, but I couldn't get a visual on it. The song was echo-ing within the valley, making it sound very loud indeed, and even more difficult to get a precise fix on the bird's location. There's a good chance it was the same individual heard singing from the Brook Street allotment site recently.

The Gorse, in a stony, apparently weeded 'shrub bed' was all single-flowered, and had recovered from the burning a couple of years ago. At this time of year the way huge numbers of Common Stork's-bill carpet the ground really stands out, and I was able to spot some of the Bird's-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), which I knew was also listed as being present on the site. Both the latter species are classed as 'notable' for London.

The site as a whole is decribed as 'former heathland' in the 2004 draft 'Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation in Bexley', which raises questions and possibilities in respect of the Council's existing and re-written Heathland Biodiversity Action Plan. This talks about increasing the amount of heathland in the Borough, but in immediate practical terms, or any site-specific prescription for future action, fails to look beyond extending that within Lesnes Abbey Wood.

Edge of the Gorse bed on Hollyhill Open Space, looking south across the eastern section of Erith Cemetery. The three blocks of flats in the right distance are near the southern end of Brook Street.

Looking east-south-east over the Gorse bed at Hollyhill Open Space, across the land-filled and re-greened Erith Quarry site to the right beyond the houses. There's a glimpse of the River Thames in the distance, just left of centre, whilst the church spire in the centre of the picture is that of Christ Church, Erith.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

13-19/2/11: Barnehurst bits and pieces

13/2/11: First Common Frog active in my garden.

16/2/11: Common Frog croaking on Grasmere allotment site. 7-spot Ladybird found.

18/2/11: White-cheeked Blackbird seen in the garden again.

19/2/11: Fox after dark on Barnehurst Avenue by the electricity sub-station.