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’.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

30/12/10: Waxwings ten a penny in Teddington

OK, I'm not a 'Twitcher' and wouldn't travel to Shetland - or even halfway across London - in the hope of being able to pick a rare Gull out of a crowd. But Waxwings appealed, and I'd never previously seen one. So I'd been keeping my eye on the London Bird Club wiki, especially the reports of Waxwings hanging out in Balham several days running, as the given location was just up the road from where the Green Party HQ used to be.

There were none to be seen when I arrived, but it was obvious they must have been in a couple of well-berried trees in some grass outside a couple of small blocks of flats. These had now been commandeered by a couple of Blackbirds. A small flock of birds did whoosh over, catching me by surprise - they didn't sound right for Starlings. Maybe it was them, They were heading in the direction of the other local street they'd been reported from, but no luck there either.

Armed with a new report from Teddington, fresh in this morning while I was on the move, did I try there or pop down to Tooting Common in the hope of seeing my first Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, then head north to the site of some Waxwing sightings in Finchley, now possibly past its sell-by date? I opted for the former - there was a decent number of birds, they'd been seen a very short while ago and I only had to go back up to Clapham Junction, then back out again towards Shepperton.

I was in luck. Just as I approached the Teddington location (well, Fulwell actually) at a bout 13.45, a number of birds descended on a garden then, disturbed by something flew back up into a tree on the other side of the street. A couple of other binocular-toting individuals confirmed that I was in the right place. There, up in the top of a very large tree, its branches spreading out over a main road, were some 50 Waxwings, for the most part nonchalantly preening themselves and showing off their distinctive profile with that swept-back' tuft of crown feathers. It can't have been more than about 10 minutes before they all took flight after someone slammed a car door, and although I wandered around for a bit to see if I could find them again, and came back past the original location, that was that. The benefits of mobile internet access, a £7.50 travelcard (so that's 15p a Waxwing) and a stroke of luck on the timing. For the record, what had attracted them to this particular spot was a rather small pink-fruited Rowan, right by a front garden wall and the pedestrian pavement.

Of course I noted down a few plants here and there whilst I was out and about. There was a small colony of Annual Nettle by an old telephone exchange in Balham, and Lesser Celandine leaves showing by a housing estate on Balham Hill.

This Antirrhinum was in flower on a railway bridge in Fulwell, despite the two lots of snow and sub-zero temperatures recently. The brickwork also sported a number of Greater Celandines.

And next to the bridge was this stand of Euphorbia, probably E. lathyris, Caper Spurge.

Three Stinking Iris were along a footpath by Fulwell Golf Course, and didn't appear to have come from any deliberate plantings.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

25/12/10: ducking out of Christmas bags Kingfisher and Pochard

Urghhhhhh. I really can't stand the even-more-over-consumption-than-usual-fest that is 'Christmas,' nor getting bored stiff in other people's over-heated houses for hours on end. Not to mention the wall-to-wall rubbish on the telly.

I did my bit by visiting my brother and his family in the morning, counting 82 Wood Pigeon on or in the vicinity of Barnehurst Golf Course.

There was a Jay, 3 or 4 Long-tailed Tit, 2 pairs of Blackbirds and a Blue Tit in his garden on Mayplace Rd East.

A Mistle Thrush was in a tree in the grounds of Crayford Manor House.

Heading for the River Cray there were 12 Lapwing, 40 Starlings, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Long-tailed Tit and a Jay with an acorn in the St. Paulinus/Manor Rd. field.

There were 2 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Blackbirds, a small group of Chaffinch , Feral and Wood Pigeon and 3 Collared Doves along Footpath 106, where I managed to slip over on snow by now compacted to ice, bruising my elbow :-(

By the Maiden Lane bridge 2 Redwing - still few and far between around here at the moment - were in a bush, and 2 Great Tit were nearby.

3 Ring-necked Parakeets were chasing each other over the Willow Carr along By-way 105. A male Pochard - possibly the one that was around last winter - was on the river by the Thames Rd bridge in the company of a few Mallard. Then something of modest size came speeding towards me, low and straight under the bridge and upriver. It took me a moment or two to realise it was a Kingfisher, and I caught sight of a confirmatory flash of blue as it went past.

2 Goldfinch were around the Sewer Embankment. Not much was happening on Thames Road wetland which was completely frozen up. I was there long enough to see a Lapwing come down on the flat adjacent to Thames Road on two separate occasions. On the second I was close enough to see the bird actively foraging. It may or may not have been the same bird, as two had been doing some aerial 'combat' over the nearby park a short while earlier, and later on two were seen in the Council depot car park over the road. This is the first time I've seen the species actually using the site, rather than just flying over it.

A Wren and a Dunnock were observed in the bowl of the Wetland itself. A fly-over Cormorant was seen.

Three groups of Starlings were seen at the southern end of the marshes, the largest, of 37 birds, was over the Viridor site.

A couple of Teal were on Crayford Creek. I though of trying to make it to Moat Lane, but the light was fading and enough people had been along the path to ice it up under their footfall, so I took the safer option and headed back towards Thames Rd., lingering in the area where I saw the Bearded Tit last Friday. After a while 1 or 2 Bearded Tit were heard calling from the large embayed area of reed bed on the Dartford side. Although the sound appeared to be emanating from the margin of the bed near the water, it was now dusk, and try as I might, I couldn't see anything moving in the gloom.

Friday, 24 December 2010

24/12/10: Danson Park Shoveler surprise

Bursted Wood:

Checked out the tree line along the north side of the former pitch-and-putt course. 2 Blue Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tit. Plus a couple of Great Tit turning over leaves on bits of ground free of snow.
Inside the wood itself several Magpies and Carrion Crow were about. There were 3 or 4 Blue Tit in the hospital grounds. Some 40 Wood Pigeon flew overhead and 3 Ring-necked Parakeets. A Wren darted under some ivy at the base of a tree.

17 more Wood Pigeon were in a couple of trees on The Green.

8 House Sparrows were in a garden shrub on Herbert Rd., Bexleyheath, and several Starlings were seen here, then more along Church Rd.

There were a couple of Collared Doves along Upton Rd.

17 Starlings were in a tree at the junction of Lion Rd and Upton Rd, and about 30 more were in a tall Poplar some way away south of Martin Dene.

In an attempt to find out if it was possible to get onto Bexleyheath Golf Course I ended up on Iris Avenue, but there was no (legitimate) way in here. I was, however, pleased to see 16 young plants of native Broom along the bank leading up to the roadway.

I followed a footpath that continued across the A2, where a Great Tit was singing very loudly to be heard above the din of the traffic.

An alleyway leading onto Arcadian Av. harboured Hedera colchica, probably a garden throw-out, and a Japanese Honeysuckle, likely seeded from a specimen in a nearby garden.

Heading west I went through the underpass that comes out at the bottom end of Lodge Lane, on my way to Danson Park.

Danson Park:

Danson lake was pretty much completely frozen over apart from a small area around an island with trees on, by where the solar panels are sat on a floating raft. This had had the effect of concentrating most of the waterbirds in one place, though the large number of Black-headed Gulls were spread between this location and the ice up by the boating shed.

I was surprised to see 52 Shoveler - some swimming and most standing on the ice - my first record of this species here (though I've not visited in winter before). There were 40 Coot, 52 Carrion Crow (that all homed in on some duck-feeding kids), 14+ Moorhen, 14 Canada Geese, quite a few Mallard, several Ring-necked Parakeets, 5 Long-tailed Tit, a (Mistle?) Thrush, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Robin.

Friday, 17 December 2010

17/12/10: No pain, no gain - Bearded Tit on Crayford Marshes

I was perusing the London Bird Club (London Natural History Society, Ornithology Section) Wiki ('Latest news' page)

for the first time in a while yesterday evening, because I fancy seeing my first Waxwings. Sure enough, some had been seen in Old Bexley, also in Bromley.

But what caught my eye were reports of Bearded Tits on Crayford Marshes this week, both by Erith Yacht Club, and also along the Cray by the landfill mound - the latter location being a stone's throw (or three) from Thames Road Wetland ....

Never having seen one of those either, and since they're scarcer in this part of the world at any rate, I ignored the weather forecast and hot (later to become frozen-)footed it down there.

Setting off at 11.15, I took the Colyers Lane route towards Slade Green station. It was overcast, but seemed fairly mild. A couple of Blackbirds, some Starlings and a Collared Dove were seen en route. Another 18 Starlings were along Northend Rd, and 11 more in Barnett Close.

On the recreation ground west of the station 10 Feral Pigeons were feeding on the ground, and a couple of Carrion Crow were seen.

10 Starlings were on a TV aerial at the junction of Howbury Lane and Whitehall Lane, 26 were on aerials on the east side of Slade Green station, mainly on the former pub, about 36 more were on a tall Poplar nearby (some may have moved from one of these locations to the other by now), 38 were seen flying from Howbury Grange west towards the football pitch on the north side of Moat Lane and 24 more were at Howbury Grange itself.

At this end of the Moat Lane footpath were a Song Thrush, a fairly approachable Pied Wagtail, 3 Chaffinches, a Great Tit and a Blue Tit.

A count of Wood Pigeons sitting in the row of large Willows yielded a total of 97, with 8 in small trees further along. 3 male Blackbirds were hanging out together not far beyond.

Three Redwings, my first definite sightings of the year, were in the patch of Hawthorns where Moat Lane rises up to the flood defence embankment on the Darent.

By now it was getting rather colder and it started snowing. Lapwings, Redshank and a handful of Teal were along the river. The ducks seemed to be happy enough ducking under for a 'wash and brush up' in the cold water. 8 Mute Swans evidently saw things rather differently and had decided the best place to be was up on the grassy banks. The eerie calls of waders, piercing the increasingly gloomy conditions, were a potent reminder of just how wild this place once was.

I pressed on past the flood control gate, and the snow was being blown sideways. There was no quick way home from here anyway. The nearer I got to Essex across the big river, the less I could see of it through the streaming white stuff.

50 Lapwing populated the exposed mud where the Darent joins the Thames, along with a lot of Gulls. There were a few Dunlin here too. By now it was getting difficult to focus the bins on account of cold fingers, and problematic with gloves on.

Pressing on towards Erith Saltings, by the Yacht Club, one of the reported Bearded Tit sites, a largish flock of Chaffinches flew up from the rough. There were several Teal and some Wigeon on the water, with Gadwall and Mallard mostly on the mud. A Grey Heron stood sentry. A few Cormorants were in evidence. A single Curlew or maybe Whimbrel (my birding skills are somewhat deficient) was spotted.

Now my feet were really feeling the cold, despite three layers of socks. I set off down Ray Lamb Way, and was rewarded with half a dozen Redwing in trees on the rough verge between the road and houses. In addition, the sun came out. A three-quarter moon appeared, looking unusually large in a blue sky dotted with both grey and white clouds. A small white plane, caught in the sunlight, flew over the moon.

Heading towards Darent industrial estate, the icy conditions, lack of a footpath and heavy-ish traffic created potentially hazardous conditions and I nearly fell too far down the side of a drainage ditch. Just as I got to the first of the buildings, a Green Woodpecker flew over.

I took the footpath which comes back out onto the Darent, a way up stream of the floodgate, then turned right, heading back towards Moat Lane and on to the Cray. I surveyed the view, now lit up in quite the fantastic light of a low winter sun in a clear blue sky, and with the bonus of snow on the ground.

Then there was sun ..... The moon over the QE2 bridge, and Littlebrook power station, looking across Reed bed and the channel of the River Darent from London into Kent.

The view west down Moat Lane, the way I'd come earlier in the day. But now I was heading further south - to the Cray ......

Lapwing dotted the increasing areas of mud on the river bank, and a Fox was seen over on Dartford marsh.

Heading up the footpath flanking the Cray, a flock of around 36 Chaffinches was seen.

Something was noticed in the big embayment of Common Reed on the Dartford side, and after much fiddling about getting my frozen fingers to focus the binoculars, a sighting of one male Reed Bunting became two males and a female.

This was the other area, by the landfill mound, where Bearded Tit had been reported from earlier in the week. But they could have been seen anywhere along this lengthy stretch. For some reason I stayed put. There was a slightly different sort of call. Could that be it (ooops, I hadn't checked what Bearded Tits sound like .....). A heavy-ish movement was seen in the top of some Common Reed. Not, I sensed, the wind-generated sort. I got the bins on the right spot. Shortly, a rear view of something unfamiliar was seen. Two prominent white bands down the back. Again, I wasn't sure what they were supposed to look like from this angle. But it was different. I knew that much. I moved closer. In next to no time I was rewarded with a 3/4 front view of an obliging male Bearded Tit, oblivious to, or unfazed by my presence. And from less than 30 feet away. Fantastic. Moreover it was on the north side of the river, and therefore a legitimate London, and London Borough of Bexley 'tick'. A few yards distant on the other side of the water, and it would have been in Kent. Not to mention hard to see in the gathering gloom.

Reed bed (foreground) where my first ever Bearded Tit was seen this afternoon.

Mission accomplished, but I didn't feel as excited as I would have been if I'd seen one on Thames Road Wetland. But by now it was 15.50, and by the time I got to TRW it was too dingy to see anything much very clearly. There were some calls from the Reedmace/Reed bed, but not being a birder, I had no idea what all of them were .......

Worse than the cold was the walk home. These wellies had been OK on a shorter trek, but they must have a subtle, but untoward effect on leg movement, as the fronts of my thighs were now hurting rather a lot from the unusual strain I presume this had been putting them under. The problem might rule out traipsing around looking for Waxwings tomorrow if I can't find a quick vegan way of keeping my feet both dry and rather warmer! No pain, no gain, as they say .....

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

8/12/10: Charmed by Goldfinches whilst ditch digging at Thames Road Wetland

I was the only Riverkeeper volunteer out today, so went off and did some more solo ditch-digging at Thames Road Wetland, while Ashe Hurst stayed at the yard and got the equipment store tidied up. Another feet freezing day, despite three pairs of socks, though the sun came out so I did warm up properly in the end.

Snow was still on the ground on most of the site, bar the south-facing Thames Roads bank, and there was little in the way of free water - even the surface of the 'lake' was iced over.

The TRW 'lake' completely iced over

There hasn't actually been much precipitation lately and, as I'd hoped, the melting snow had had the effect of wetting the 'soil' and making it more workable. Some of the more stony ditches were therefore deepened a bit further.

A new ditch was started in an area with more 'proper' soil and less stones, and an adjoining one was deepened. These should be quicker to get to a decent depth, creating more substantial adjacent banking in the process. This will create a variety of microhabitats, and better cover for various species on this otherwise very flat and thinly-vegetated part of the site.

More soil, less toil - this new ditch in less stony substrate was much quicker to dig. As I do more work on this project, the whole lot should end up looking a lot more 'natural' and less trench-like .....

Proceedings were enlivened by a charm of some 25+ Goldfinches wheeling over the site and flitting between trees and shrubs on the eastern section of the Sewer Pipe Embankment.

Ignominious end - the River Wansunt disappears into this pipe taking it under Thames Road and sundry industrial units. Thankfully, a more enlightened attitude prevails these days, and a number of rivers are being opened up again, partly in response to the realisation that restoring natural flood alleviation capacity is the best way forward.

A glint of sunlight on a frozen ditch on TRW

As dusk started to close in and I headed back to the yard, two dumpy birds with long bills were inadvertently flushed from the west end of the site. A good side view was had of one as it flew low over the Reedmace and quickly dropped out of site. The other flew off, circled round at quite a height, and some way off over the other side of Thames Rd, before coming back. Heading towards me, so that I could see its pale underside, it must have realised I was standing there and it banked away again. I concluded from size and behaviour that these were Snipe (as opposed to Jack Snipe). I think I must have seen one or two last winter, but hadn't had such good sightings.

A London-bound train flashes over Thames Road rail bridge as the reflections of street lights stretch across the ice-covered 'lake'.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

7/12/10: Birds (and Bird's-foot) in and around Bexleyheath

First up, Martens Grove. Lots of Wood Pigeon as usual. Magpies. Ring-necked Parakeets. Great Tits. Blue Tit. Robin. Blackbirds. Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from the top of a bare tree. Possible Goldcrest in a pine tree, but I didn't get a clinching view.

On to Hall Place North. My feet were getting very cold standing around in the snow! Wood Pigeon, 4 Magpie, Carrion Crows, 2 Collared Doves near adjoining houses. Lots of Ring-necked Parakeets. 3 Great Tits

Oak trees at Hall Place North, still carrying most of their leaves

The small Legume Bird's-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), a prominent component of the turf in some parts of the site at this time of year, seen here growing with Sheep's Sorrel.

A few House Sparrows were heard in a school field hedge on Gravel Hill, opposite the Marriott Hotel.

Then Christchurch, Bexleyheath Broadway. There were several Carrion Crows in the neighbouring St. George's Field, one of which was, for some reason, repeatedly - and unsuccessfully -trying to pull a rather springy Cherry tree sucker off the base of the trunk. Perhaps it was just having fun ....

Christchurch Cemetery was more interesting. 2 or 3 Grey Squirrel. A male Chaffinch. Several Wood Pigeon. 2 Collared Dove. 3 Goldfinches feeding in an Alder species. 3 Magpies. A Robin. A male Blackbird. 2 Blue Tits. It was especially pleasing to see a flock of around 22 Greenfinches here, mostly juvelines, given the disease problems the species is currently suffering from. I haven't seen any in my garden in more than 18 months.

17 Ring-necked Parakeets were later seen flying over Long Lane into Russell Park, and 16 more west into Bursted Wood, Barnehurst.