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’.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

27 + 28/3/10: Garden Gorse flowers, first Slow Worm sighting

The first of the flowers on the Gorse I planted in the front garden to fill a gap in the hedge opened on the 27th. If you haven't got up close and personal with Gorse before, do have a sniff - the bright yellow blooms smell just like coconut. Gorse is one of those shrubs that will shoot from old wood, a characteristic that makes it good for hedging (Yew will do the same), and is used as such, especially in Ireland. Being prickly it's stock proof and, in a more domestic environment yob-proof, apart from the fact it burns quite easily. It's also good for early bees.

I checked my black-plastic-bags-over-a-mound-of-dry-vegetation habitat features today for the first time in a while and, despite the weather being cool and changeable, with only a little sun, the first Slow Worm of the year, a modestly-sized adult, had its back pressed up against the underside of the plastic on the pile that was most favoured during 2009. It looked to be a different individual from at least three of the four seen in the garden last year.

I have continued to build piles of branches, dryish prunings of herbaceous plants and 'weeds' under shrubs in places too dry and dark for anything else to grow, so as to increase suitable sites for Slow Worms to take shelter in, and to provide food and cover for various invertebrates. In sunnier spots of a similar kind I have been making additional hiding places using 'neat' looking chunks of stone-studded concrete 'rubble'.

It's a fortunate accident that the black plastic Slow Worm residences of choice happen to be in a section of the garden that contains plants molluscs don't make a mess of. They're out in force again all of a sudden after mild weather and several rainy days, so as part of my torch-lit 'biological control' ops, the slugs and smaller snails are being translocated to to Slow Worm central ........

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

24/3/10: Martens Grove miscellany

Took a late afternoon detour through Martens Grove on the way home from Bexleyheath.

Plants included 2 clumps of Butcher's Broom near each other at the north east corner of the site, to add to the one previously found some distance away; Hogweed, Cow Parsley (having read recently that's it's edible and tastes like Parsley I tried some, and yes it does - but you must be sure you're not eating the poisonous Fool's Parsley or Hemlock instead ...), Lords and Ladies, Garlic Mustard, Wood Anemone and Lesser Celandine were also noted.

There were also a modest number of Daffodils scattered throughout the wooded areas, in some cases getting rather overgrown, so they have obviously been here some time. All were of this (to my mind more attractive) older kind of 'double', as opposed to the very full, symmetrical and often top-heavy 'show doubles'.

This 'old style' double Daffodil cultivar is scattered throughout the wooded parts of Martens Grove

There were also some unidentified whitish-flowered 'Squills' growing with Viola odorata, and these were probably also planted at some time in the past.

On the avian front, the following species were noted, amongst others:

Mistle or Song Thrush x 1
Nuthatch x 1
Great Tits
Blue Tits
x 11, working the tips of a largish tree
Wood Pigeon x lots
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 2 together

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

23/3/10: Flooded field birds decline, Kestrel kill

Bird numbers on the previously reported flooded field site, between the Cray and Bob Dunn Way, have tumbled since my last count on 10th March.

Today the numbers were:

Teal - circa 20 (down 12)
Gadwall - about 7 (down 8)
Lapwing - 5 (down 12)
Shoveler - 0 (down 8)
Shelduck - 0 (down 4)

There were also hardly any gulls.

But there was a solitary Little Egret making a probable three in the area, given the fact that I hadn't noticed one fly over en route since I had seen two a short while previously in the watery area south of the sewer bank on the other side of Thames Rd.

A feature of living on the edge of suburbia (apart from the rubbish frequently strewn across otherwise 'wild' greenspace), is the occurence of plants rendered incongruous for being in odd places. Here's a solitary clump of Narcissus, looking like it's got a bit of cyclamineus blood in the genome, by the confluence of the Cray (coming in from the left) and the Darent.

I walked back to Thames Road along the Cray embankment, taking the short-cut to the left of the Council depot, and spotted a Kestrel hovering over a field slated for yet more development (so much for protecting the marshes). Unsuccessful, it flew up and sat on an an electricity pylon cross-member for a while. After another abortive swoop it made a catch and took it to the top of a wooden fence post by Bob Dun Way, where it could be seen from a distance to be pulling some unfortunate food item apart.

Tonight's House Sparrow roost count by Imagination on Thames Rd gave a figure of about 43, but again it was a bit too early and there was still quite a lot of fluttering about in the hedge making accuracy problematic.

23/3/10: Dartford throws up my first local record of Danish Scurvy Grass

First noted under the crash barrier along Bob Dunn Way (just over the border from London in Dartford Borough) on 10th March, I was able to confirm the identity of Danish Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia danica), a small native member of the cabbage family that is salt-tolerant and naturally inhabits marshes and sandy areas. The leaves tend to be slightly ivy-shaped. Some plants were now in flower, with a slight lavender tinge to the petals, and there was a lot of it, all the way from the Thames Rd junction to the crossing of the Darent.

The one place I found it in Bristol was in the central reservation of a modest dual carriageway, and another local recorder there who had a particular interest in its distribution said most of his records were from along motorways in the area, so this Dartford record - my first for my 'local-ish patch' fits the same pattern for inland colonisation.

23/3/10: From 'River Grottage' to constructing Snake's nests

Another Cray Riverkeeper Volunteers bash.

Spent the morning with Gaynor bagging the bl**dy awful 'grot spot' on the downstream side of Maiden Lane bridge. The mindlessness of the morons responsible is mind-numbing. They drive all the way there to fly-tip stuff that could go to the Council dump less than two miles away. They leave piles of beer cans and plastic bottles that the Council collects from the kerbside on a weekly basis, and they chuck litter on the floor a few feet from a litter bin. Tests one's 'liberal'-mindedness and makes the idea of DNA-testing this stuff and shooting the bast**ds seem an attractive proposition ......

Found a couple of less-than-a-year-old Smooth Newts hibernating together under some plastic sacking, and there were a few clumps of frogspawn in satill water by the downstream footings of the bridge.

Stupidly failed to take a 'before' picture, but here's an illustration of the scale of the operation (a few sacks were of rubbish collected further along the path) from afterwards.

In the afternoon, three of us put on the chest-waders and went into the water at the Thames Road 'wetland' site to rake up some of the Reed and Reedmace we cut the other week and pile it up to make potential nest incubation sites for Grass Snakes (CRV Co-ordinator Ashe Hurst reported finding the remains of a dead one on the sewer bank later that evening). Three others litter-picked the surrounds.

Three of the four Grass Snake nesting sites constructed from layers of cut Reed, Reedmace and other vegetation can be made out along one of the raised banks in this rather gloomy late-afternoon shot

Another big problem along this end of the Cray is the large amount of Giant Hogweed, seen here coming back into growth below the south side embankment near Maiden Lane

These Viola odorata up on the sewer embankment are, I think, a new record for me at the 'wetland' site

Saturday, 20 March 2010

20/3/10: Three Borough trek for birds and botany

Went to a London Natural History Society meeting on Tooting Bec Common in Wandsworth, billed as an opportunity to try and see all 3 native Woodpeckers. Like several other members present, I had yet to see the Lesser Spotted species, which is uncommon in the capital .

I may as well say at the outset that despite much craning of many necks to look at the top-most branches of mature trees, we didn't see our elusive target - though a couple had reportedly been observed here several times in January and February.

We did see several Great Spotted Woodpeckers and 2 Green Woodpeckers, however. A Nuthatch was spotted. There were Ring-necked Parakeets. 2 Goldfinches were noted. A Stock Dove, Starlings and Redwings were feeding on the ground.

On or by the lake were around 16 Tufted Duck, 1 male Pochard, a Mute Swan, an Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Coot and Moorhen.

Plants included Gorse, Silver Birch, Cow Parsley, Viola odorata, Common Reed, Ribwort Plantain and some Coltsfoot coming into flower. In one area there were the winter remains of a number of Wild Carrot and Black Knapweed. A large stand of Broom occured in one spot.

Coltsfoot coming into flower by the lake on Tooting Bec Common

A progressive attitude to the sometimes maligned Gorse, here growing up against a building by a main road

2 Jay were seen in the woodland on Tooting Graveney Common, south of the athletic ground.

After the meeting ended, I decided to head east to Streatham Common in Lambeth. I took the tube from Tooting Bec to Balham, and the overground from there to Streatham Common station then walked up Greyhound Lane.

The open grass included plants such as Ox-eye Daisy, Creeping Buttercup, Lesser Celandine, Yarrow, Ribwort Plantain and Spotted Medick.

The attractive bark of a London Plane on Streatham Common, made more so by the trunk being wet on one side and still dry on the other

Fungus on an old log

Large clump of Butcher's Broom in the wooded area of Streatham Common

The increasingly wooded area to the east threw up several Beech saplings, Oak, one small Stinking Iris (probably a garden 'escape'), a large clump of Butcher's Broom, one clump of Snowdrops (well away from roads and houses) and two small non-native Mahonia aquifolium. There was Bracken and a small amount of Gorse in more open areas.

Birds included Ring-necked Parakeets, Robin, Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit and a female Chaffinch. At the bottom of the wood, near what looked like an old estate 'lodge' 2 Stock Doves were sitting in a tree.

Around the Norwood Grove 'mansion', a couple of Greenfinches and a Nuthatch were seen.

Noticing a splash of green at the far end of Christian Fields road I went to take a look Norbury Park (off Green Lane) in Croydon. Unsurprisingly this was your typical over-mown swathe of grass, though 38 Carrion Crows and some Wood Pigeons were finding it to their liking.

I decided to head for Crystal Palace Park via the next-nearest 'green target', Biggin Wood.

Biggin Wood, Croydon - a suburban survivor

This exhibited the usual features of a small, heavily-used suburban woodland, with an apparently limited flora. The ubiquitous Ring-necked Parakeet was present. A few Lords and Ladies were coming up near the eastern Covington Way exit, and there was a lot of Lesser Celandine emerging here next to a small stream. The variegated garden form of the native Yellow Archangel was beginning to take hold in this area also.

Lamium galeobdolon 'Variegatum', the commoner of the variegated 'garden forms' of the native Yellow Archangel, starting to take hold at the eastern end of Biggin Wood, by the stream

The long road Waddington Way was selected as my route north-east. The grass verges here displayed species such as Creeping Buttercup, Creeping Cinquefoil, some Spotted Medick and, at a couple of locations, Sorrel (Rumex acetosa).

The park opposite the east end of Waddington Way has a horseshoe of woodland round it.

Fungus in woodland between Spa Hill and Beulah Hill, Croydon

As as Streatham Common there were a number of self-sown Beech saplings. A couple of leggy Gorse and some Bracken was in amongst the trees. Up towards Beulah Hill there was a stretch of Lesser Celandine, this population being characterised by little greyish mottling, but a strong black stripe along the central leaf vein.

I took Church Lane towards Crystal Palace but soon turned left down Sylvan Hill to get off the main road, noting Corydalis lutea in a wall. At the end of Sylvan Rd I was tempted by a park entrance, and decided to look at the signboard. This indicated that there was a lake at the far end, which I figured I could get to in time to check out any birds before it got dark and before the park gates got locked. It was now 17.59, but still fairly light, and I was delighted to see a Pipistrelle bat species fluttering overhead, repeatedly circling a play area and coming within about 18' of me - the best view of a bat I've had in a while, and the first I've seen this year.

The Crystal Palace plan ditched, I hurried to South Norwood Lake, a fairly featureless expanse of water with an island but not much interest in terms of surrounding vegetation, much of which was rather thin 'amenity planting'. There were Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, 3 Mute Swan, about 15 Tufted Ducks, 20+ Canada Geese and, rather surprisingly, I thought, two Great Crested Grebe.

20/3/10: Crocus pocus

Approaching Bexleyheath station by train, I noticed the Crocus tommasinianus on the up embankment (by Station Rd, between Glengall Rd and Church Rd) were going over.

Here's a picture taken from Station Rd on the 6th March 2009, when I first came across the colony, which is fairly extensively naturalised here.

This clump of the same species was on the north side of Bursted Wood, near the hospital entrance - and is seen here on 1st March this year. There are also planted Daffodils along this fringe, but I hadn't noticed the Crocus before.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

14-18/3/2010: Barnehurst back garden notes - first butterfly of the year


- 2 Dunnock apparently 'scoping' the Berberis at the top corner of the garden.
- Buff-tailed Bumblebee foraging on Helleborus argutifolius flowers


- 1 x White butterfly species. Looked purish white, rather than having the yellowish underside of the Green-veined species. Probably Small White then, but I couldn't get close enough to be 100% sure.


- Unfazed adult Fox came to within 4' of me at dusk. Seemed to realise there but not bothered.


- 3rd adult Common Frog in a week found dead out in the open. 2 on the lawn. One on a path. This has happened now and again in past springs. Fox? Local Cats? No obvious signs of wounds. One seemed rather emaciated.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

11/3/10: Redwings still around

There were 46 Redwings clustered in a few neighbouring trees on the north side of the former Barnehurst Pitch and Putt course, where they were making quite a lot of noise. They flew off to the Bursted Wood margin and later, from the cover of the wood, around 53 were counted foraging on the short grass that characterises much of the site.

By and large the Redwings were spread around the margins of a group of around 60 Starlings, but the latter were far more skittish - the Redwings staying down whenever the Starlings took flight.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

4, 9 + 10/3/10: More House Sparrow roost counts

Following on from the March 1st Gravel Hill hedge count of 126 individuals, coming home up Thames Rd at dusk enabled me to get counts for previously noted House Sparrow roosts there.

On the 4th there were about 70 birds in the 'double layer' hedge outside 'Imagination', on the east side of Thames Rd, north of Kennet Rd. It was getting quite dark by now and the birds were fairly well settled. So much so that it was almost possible to reach out and touch them .... The lower portion of the hedge is quite dense, with more open outgrowths, and some modest-sized trees behind. The Sparrows were in these more open parts - all the favoured plants being deciduous.

I passed this site slightly earlier on the evenings of the 9th and 10th, when the birds were less settled, and may not all have been back. The counts were 56 and 43 respectively.

On the 9th my route to the Cray took me down Parkside Avenue, where it was noticeable that quite a few Sparrows were taking advantage of older eaves towards the Perry Street roundabout. Coming home that evening, 46 Sparrows were all in the top third of one 18' tree in the vegetated area inside the roundbout. On the 10th they were somewhere down in the low shrubs there.

4, 9 and 10/3/10: Marshes amalgam - more on flooded field birds

After each of the Riverkeeper sessions I took the opportunity to check out the flooded fields by Bob Dunn Way (they're actually just over the London border in the Borough of Dartford, which is in the county of Kent).

Flooded fields looking north to the Thames. Darent Flood Barrier in left distance. (About half of the total flooded area is pictured here).

The Duck species present were largely the same on all three days, but there were masses of gulls on the latter two dates.

The bigger counts were made on the 10th when I ventured part way up Bob Dunn Way, as well as along the Cray embankment, and was therefore able to survey the whole site.

On this last date there were:

17 Lapwing
circa 32 Teal
15 Gadwall
7 or 8 Shoveler
4 Shelduck

There were also two squat, shortish-billed waders, and a couple of longer-legged ones which had a white belly, a white tail showing in flight, and may have been some kind of Sandpiper (this is where my birding skills start to fall apart).

22 Starlings flew over Bob Dunn Way and a solitary Little Egret was foraging in the large shallow pond south of this highway, before it crosses Dartford Creek and near the end of Sandpit Rd.

4, 9 and 10/3/10: Cray and Thames Road wetland work

Out with the Cray Riverkeeper Volunteers (we had a decent splash in the hard copy and on-line News Shopper last week - )
On the 4th we were picking litter from the river and banks just downstream of Crayford Town centre.

On the 9th there were only three of us, including 'Boss' Ashe Hurst. We were cutting Common Reed and Great Reedmace in the Thames Rd wetland site.

Thames Road wetland panorama

This should have been done last year really, not least because the Reedmace seed heads were now disintegrating, and the tiny 'feathered' seed was getting in our hair, up our noses and in our mouths - even when trying to work 'upwind' of the stems! The ground, Teasel and Burdock heads up on the sewer bank have been covered in this 'grey snow' for days now.

Great Reedmace seeding - this stuff has been used in bouyancy devices .....

I also managed to lose my concentration for a fraction of a second, lost my balance and got a load of water down one side of my chest-waders. Fortunately I had fleece-lined footwear with me, so was able to walk home without the wet sock on and without my foot getting frozen.

On the 10th I was the only volunteer to turn out and Ashe had to go into central London to pick up some kit. I spent several hours carting dumped tyres and rubble from the shady side of the sewer pipe bank round to the south-facing Thames Rd side, then digging them into the slope to make reptile cover/basking sites, as pictured below. In the process I inadvertently disturbed a small (less than 1 year old) hibernating Smooth Newt, which I put into one of the tyre set-ups for safety.

Recycling for reptiles - dumped tyres and rubble used to make cover/basking sites. Common Lizards, in particular, like to bask on tyres, as they warm up quickly.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

6/3/10: Erith School to Erith Quarry

22 Starlings over Northumberland Way.

1 Goldfinch in a tall tree in the grounds of my old school - Erith School - on the Ramsden Rd. boundary.

15 House Sparrows seen (and others heard) in the hedge around the school on the Ramsden Rd. corner, and part way along Avenue Rd.

Erith Quarry:

1 Robin
27 Wood Pigeon
1 Jay
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit

2 Great Tit

Great views of a Kestrel hovering over the site.

2 Foxes.

3 patches of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) on 'dry ground', as above.

Large patch of Fennel plants found.

Some Japanese Knotweed.

Looked at north-west corner this time. Delighted to find another bit of 'heathland' (hurrah).

Several large Gorse - but some have suffered relatively recent and heavy vehicle damage, as in the lower picture.

A number of native Broom plants (above) in several locations nearby.

Also this substantial young Pine that looked self-seeded. Some Poplars. Plus 2 Cotoneaster.

Several clumps of Sedum (probably reflexum) found (pictured above) in the foreground of the following view.

Monday, 1 March 2010

1/03/10: Sparrows, Redwings abound on Gravel Hill

Had to go foraging for vegan fodder in Bexleyheath, so went down to the parkland on the east side of Gravel Hill to see what was about before heading home.

Gravel Hill parkland looking east in the evening sun - young Broom plants at the edge of one of the brambly copses, with scattered large trees in the background

Since I got my first proper view of Stock Doves in east London the other week, I've scanned gaggles of Wood Pigeons locally to see if they harbour any. No such luck. The flock of 17 Wood Pigeons feeding in the grass were clearly all just that.

A Green Woodpecker was on the on ground at the margin of the narrow long grass strip at the north west corner of the site at the top of the hill, and two were later seen feeding together on the grass at the bottom of the hill.

A number of thrushes were hopping about down here, and I eventually managed to get reasonably close, though the widely-spaced trees and shortish turf provided little cover. I counted 44 birds and all of those I could get a positive ID on (the light wasn't great by now, and my binoculars aren't very powerful) were Redwings. They'll soon be heading north again, so this may be the last big flock I see before next winter.

As the light faded a Great-spotted Woodpecker swooped into a tall tree, shortly flying off after two other passing birds, but I could only see these in distant silhouette, so don't know what they were.

Other species in evidence were Carrion Crow, Magpie, Blue Tit, Robin and Ring-necked Parakeet.

As dusk fell the House Sparrows in the dense deciduous hedge along Gravel Hill road, bounding St. Columba's School, had settled down enough to allow a reasonably accurate count. I made it 126 individuals.

1/3/10: Honeybees and Snowdrops

A sunny day, and two Honeybees, my first of the year, were seen feeding on Snowdrops in my front garden in Barnehurst. They were utilising the recently-opened Galanthus nivalis and apparently ignoring the earlier-flowering G.'Atkinsii' variety behind. The latter had first opened back on February 5th so were, perhaps, past their prime.

There was also a large, unidentified Hoverfly active in the back garden.

On my light, sandy soil, I grow Snowdrops in pots of garden compost sunk in the ground. This makes lifting them to split up while still 'in the green' (before the leaves die down after flowering, the best method), or otherwise moving them around, that much easier. It will also mean that I am not going to lose track of where my recent, fairly expensive acquisitions of a couple of choice double-flowered cultivars are! In my experience it also appears to be the case that Snowdrops flower better when slightly congested.