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.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

16/2/11: First 'local' Song Thrush in years ....

There was a Dunnock and a Collared Dove in my Barnehurst garden today.

A Brown Rat was seen in Bursted Wood.

Along Streamway (Northumberland Heath/Erith), leading to Brook Street, a Song Thrush was heard, calling from trees between the allotment site and the Erith Cemetery west side, the first I've heard anywhere in this area for ages.

Birds seen along this valley, with its stream, small amount of woodland, grass, Willow and Alder were 1 Redwing, 6 Ring-necked Parakeet, 5 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, several Wood Pigeon, 7 Starlings, a Blackbird, Robin and circa 11 House Sparrows in various hedging.

There was some Viola odorata in the wooded section opposite the houses, but this was probably a garden escape. Some Lesser Celandine was noticed here also.

Monday, 14 February 2011

14/2/11: Waxwings in London Borough of Bexley

The London Bird Club wiki was listing Waxwing sightings in Russell Close, Bexleyheath, and at Bourne Mead, opposite the playing fields at Hall Place, during the past couple of days, and I couldn't resist seeing the species in my home Borough after three lots of sightings elsewhere in the capital this winter.

I therefore set off on one of my indirect sorties to Bexleyheath Broadway .......

At Bursted Woods and former the Pitch and Putt course (Barnehurst) were 2 or 3 Redwing, 2 Mistle Thrush, Ring-necked Parakeets, Wood Pigeons, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Carrion Crow.

No sign of Waxwings in Russell Close, but there was a large Cotoneaster stripped of berries, and another still laden over the road.

At Martens Grove (Bexleyheath): 2 or 3 Redwing, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Blackbird, 2 male Chaffinch, 8 Goldfinch feeding on the ground, Ring-necked Parakeets, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robin, Magpie, and Carrion Crows.

Bourne Mead (Crayford) - off Bourne Rd, opposite Hall Place playing fields: great - the Waxwings were still there, camped in a tree above a heavily berry-laden Cotneaster, with individuals intermittently coming down to feed. I counted around 30 birds resplendent in the late afternoon sun and, when they finally flew off south east, beyond railway line, there may have actually been around 40 birds in total. 150 had been reported yesterday.

A serious birder was a few yards the other side of the Cotoneaster, with a large zoon lens on a DSLR. He turned out to be a local chap, but said he hadn't managed to get any particularly good photos.

Hall Place North (Bexleyheath): 22 Redwing, 2 Mistle Thrush, Great Tit, Wood Pigeons. 28 House Sparrows in the hedge of the adjacent school. 18 Ring-necked Parakeets over the north end of Gravel Hill.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

12/2/11: Grey Squirrel prefers purple .....

A visit to Holland Park this sunny afternoon, with a couple of nature-loving friends.

Not much to report on the wildlife front, but the plethora of Crocuses in the grass were pretty battered, something I put down to the depradations of a gaggle of Peacocks. On watching a bit longer, another culprit came to light. One of the Grey Squirrels was selecting the purple-flowered Dutch Crocus blooms, pulling them off, chewing the bottom ends (presumably for the nectar) and then discarding the rest.

Since I have a modest display of Crocuses planted in my own lawn, I'm relieved that the two incumbent Greys here have yet to adopt this behaviour - and I sincerely hope they never do .... !

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

8/2/11: Chasing Waxwings round the Emirates

I was at a meeting in our new Green Party HQ off Old St/City Rd today, so I followed up reports of Waxwing outside Arsenal Football Club's Emirates stadium, and I got to see 5 in Drayton Park road before they took off for somewhere else. That's my third lot this winter. Of course this had to be the day a bunch were also reported from Bourne Rd in my home Borough of Bexley .......

The Waxwings were just over the road from Islington's Gillespie Park Nature Reserve, which I'd never been to before, so I had a look round. There was a Song Thrush singing on the other side of the railway line as the light began to fade.

Earlier in the day I'd wandered round Bunhill Fields burial ground on City Road, and found a colony of Claytonia perfoliata (called Miner's' Lettuce and various other vernacular names), a non-native species I've not seen before, though I soon discovered that its presence here has been previously recorded.

Claytonia perfoliata, Bunhill Fields burial ground, City Road, London

Friday, 4 February 2011

3+4/2/11: Perry St farm / Is horse grazing a problem at TRW?


Today I was down near Thames Road Wetland for a meeting with two fellow members of Bexley Natural Environment Focus Group to discuss our collective response to the Council's draft Biodiversity Action Plan re-write.

I checked out Perry Street farm from Gascoyne Drive on the way there. There were 5 Pied Wagtail. A minimum of 133 Starlings were in and around a Bramble thicket in the middle of a field. Most of the birds could only be seen in silhouette, and there were probably others hidden from view.

Something must have spooked the Gulls roosting on the industrial redevelopoment site on Thames Rd., down near the 'Jolly Farmers' public house, as a huge 'cloud' of something like 200 birds took to the sky.

At Thames Rd Wetland there was a male Chaffinch, male Blackbird, a Robin, 3 Mallard and a couple of Coot. 3 Blue Tits seemed to be finding something to eat amongst the Reedmace seed heads.

Very close (8-10 foot) views were had of 2 brown 'Warblers', also foraging in the reedmace. They had a light eye stripe and light grey underparts. I am advised that these would have been Chiffchaffs, a new record for the site.

Long-tailed Tit and 2 Collared Doves were along By-way 105.

On the way to the 'Bear and Ragged Staff' in Crayford for a post-meeting drink with one of my BNEFG colleagues, we spotted 2 Grey Wagtails in the town-centre Riverside Gardens.


Some management work at TRW today.

I had been concerned by the impact of horse-trampling in the 'Brookweed zone', noted on the 3rd. Horses aren't supposed to be on the site, but every now and again someone puts them out there. Said person(s) even renewed the barbed-wire fence that keeps them on the east side of the Wansunt. Except that there were also fresh droppings and hoof-marks along the Thames Rd bank of the larger part of the site, to the west of the Wansunt. This section is not completely fenced and therefore horses could potentially get onto Thames Rd and cause a serious accident .........

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that the Brookweed survived grazing activity by up to 3 horses last winter before I knew it was there, so I guess in the long run this process might conceivably be beneficial. But still, this is where I regret not having made the time to count and map Brookweed rosettes last season. If I'd done so I'd be in a position to start making a proper assessment. Taking a 'better safe than sorry' approach (given that I can hand-weed the Brookweed zone to reduce competition from more thuggish plants anyway), I wove bits of cut Bramble stem through the Rushes around which the Brookweed grow. Time will tell if this will work.

There's no indication that the feeding itself does anything other than take out the tops of the Rush clumps (see picture below), and this may give the Brookweed more early season light. But the trampling pressure is clearly pretty significant - and might be the main explanation for why most Brookweed appears to grow hard up against the bases of the Rushes where there is less of an impact.

Horse-trampling and Rush grazing in the 'Brookweed zone' at TRW

I also did some more work on extending a deepening my 'dune and ditch' system east of the Wansunt, part of a process of increasing cover and micro-habitat variations to encourage invertebrates and help Common Lizards colonise more of the site. As part of this endeavour I re-arranged the piles of Reedmace pulled out last year into a 'dead hedge', piling up bits of rubble at intervals to provide Lizard basking sites. The Reedmace will rot over time, but if we keep adding to the linear 'heap', a low banking will eventually be created.

Pulled Reedmace being used to create a 'dead hedge' to provide more cover for small creatures of various sorts in the exposed eastern end of the TRW

There had been around 20 Goldfinches along By-way 105 earlier in the day, and there was a female Pochard on the Cray here.

Around 28 Teal were on the water in the farm fields south of of Thames Rd Wetland.

On the way home, there were about 43 House Sparrows in the roost hedge on Thames Rd, by the 'Imagination' building, and a further 36 or so in the tree they use on Perry Street roundabout.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

1/2/11: Barnehurst Bird's-nest fungi

These Cyathus (family Nidulariaceae), are known as bird's nest fungi, since they resemble small bird's nests filled with 'eggs' - technically known as peridioles - which contain reproductive spores. They often grow on woody debris, as here, where there were unrotted twigs in material dug out of my compost heap and used to grow some Cabbages in a large pot.

The above picture was taken on 13th December with the 'eggs' still in place

This shot was taken on 1st February, by which time the 'eggs' had all been splashed out of the cups by raindrops.

Monday, 31 January 2011

31/1/11: Barnehurst and Bexleyheath multi-site birding

The white-cheeked male Blackbird was in my Barnehurst garden again today, the first time I'd seen it since I first spotted it early in the month - see 6/1/11 post. There were also 3 female and 2 other male Blackbirds.

Taking a long and round-about route to Bexleyheath Broadway, the ports of call and some of the species seen were as follows:

Bursted Wood (former Pitch and Putt course): 2 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 8 Wood Pigeon. Within the wood itself were 10 Grey Squirrels within a narrow segment of the eastern end of the site alone .....

Russell Park: Basically a recreational park that is pretty bleak for wildlife, but could easily be improved without compromising its main function. Blackbird, Robin, 2 Carrion Crow, 1 Wood Pigeon, 10 House Sparrow (north west corner hedging, others could be heard from other boundary hedges).

Hall Place North: 4 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, 2 Carrion Crow. Much less than usual about, probably because of the racket being made by Council contractors - 1 bloke driving a tractor and trailer, 2 inefficiently creating piles of leaves to scoop up using intrusively loud petrol blowers (a good old-fashioned rake would have been vastly quicker and quieter ....) and 3 more standing around chatting.

One of a number of roads around the Borough, the name of which alludes to a heathland past ....

Looking south from the top of Broomhill Rise, out beyond the A2 and over the valley of the Rivers Shuttle and Cray to the Joydens Wood area on the high ground beyond

Grass verge plants in Broomfield Rd included Parsley Piert, Buck's-horn Plantain and Spotted Medick.

The Warren, off Broomfield Rd. Somewhere I've never been before. A hill-top site with some open grass areas and a small amount of woodland. 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Wren, 3+ Ring-necked Parakeets, 7+ Blue Tit, Great Tit (heard), 1 Blackbird, 1 Carrion Crow, 1 Robin, 1 House Sparrow.

Woodland at The Warren

Norway Spruce at The Warren. Presumably a 'guerilla planted' Christmas throw-out ...

Plant species at the Warren included this Iris foetidissima (a native species, but probably a garden escape here), of which there were about 24 plants, most youngish and clearly self-sown off this larger clump.

There were several Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) in a front garden on Mount Road, only the third place I've found it in Bexley Borough so far.

There was a Grey Heron flying east over Sandford Rd, near Danson Park, being chased by a lone Ring-necked Parakeet. It was then joined by a second Grey Heron.

Danson Park: There was still a significant amount of ice on the lake, though somewhat thinned out. 1 Green Woodpecker - my first for the site, feeding on grassland near trees south of the lake, 2 (possibly 4) Greenfinch, 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Mistle Thrush, 8 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron (may have included the two seen earlier over a nearby road), circa 80 Wood Pigeon, 36+ Ring-necked Parakeets, 54 Canada Geese, Carrion Crows, 1 Magpie, Blue Tit, 2 Mute Swans, lots of Coot, Moorhen, Mallard and Black-headed Gulls.

A pair of Mallard stand on the still part-frozen lake at Danson Park, with the Mansion in the distance

A male Mallard hybrid (cross with a domestic duck) on Danson Park lake

The late afternoon sun is reflected off the lake at Danson Park

31/1/2011: Help stop the privatisation of our forests!

If you aren't one of the 330,000 people that have signed the anti-sell-off 38degrees petition yet, please do so here:

The petition has helped trigger a crunch vote in Parliament this Wednesday (Feb 2nd). MPs will vote on a motion demanding a rethink of plans to sell our national forests. This vote can be won if MPs come under enough pressure.

It's quick and easy to email your MP, click here to send them a message:

Here's my letter to local MP David Evenett (Conservative):

Dear Mr. Evenett,

I'm concerned about the proposed sell-off of English woodlands and understand there is a vote in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

Our woodlands should belong to, and be available for the enjoyment of the public in perpetuity, as well as being managed for biodiversity, wood products and carbon capture. I am not persuaded that privatising them or issuing long leases with certain accessibility conditions is the best way to do that. If we look at who is buying land and national debts at the moment, we see overseas investors from (unsustainably) growing economies. There is therefore a danger that those with little long-term interest in our forest heritage will take control of what belongs to the UK public.

In addition, the Forestry Commission appears set to maintain a regulatory role, but without the income it currently makes from selling timber. The net result will be a very limited saving to the public purse. Moreover, the amount of subsidy currently received by the FC per taxpayer is tiny in comparison to the national benefit of a public forest estate.

As someone actively involved in both Lesnes Abbey (Wood) Conservation Volunteers and Cray Riverkeeper Volunteers, I see how difficult it is to mobilise volunteer labour, and I think the Government is being naive and misguided if it thinks 'community groups' with little funding, and often without paid or trained organisers can take over from the FC on any significant scale. Has it really thought through the Health and Safety implications and red tape that will be associated with volunteers attempting to do serious tree work? I doubt it!

I urge you, therefore, to vote against the Public Bodies Bill as currently proposed, and any amendments that open the door to a sell off. Please can you assure me that you will vote to protect and keep **our** forests in public ownership on Wednesday and tell the government to rethink?

Best wishes,

Chris Rose

Saturday, 29 January 2011

29/1/11: Wings of Red, Wax - from Tooting Common to Finsbury Park

An unpleasantly cold LNHS meeting at Tooting Bec Common in search of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (none found). There had been a report of Waxwings on the Common so we set off to see them first, finding circa 40 Waxwings in the 'triangle' east of Balham station, near the underpass to Cavendish Rd. They were pecking away at something on their Sycamore perching place on the railway embankment, but soon took flight at the approach of a passing train. Amongst other species seen were: 8 Redwing, 1 Sparrowhawk (over), 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch and 12 Ring-necked Parakeet. Those on the lake included 4 confiding Egyptian Geese, which were presumably used to being fed, 10 Shoveler, Tufted Duck and 2 Mute Swans.

Quite a lot of Waxwings have been reported from the Islington area lately, so I made my way to the Victoria Line, baled out at Finsbury Park station and crossed the road to the ground of that name. The highlight here was circa 98 Redwings and 95 Starlings feeding together, on the north side slope. Some of the other birds seen were 4 Chaffinch and 2 or 3 Goldfinch, and on the lake - which I hadn't looked at on previous visits - 11 Shoveler, 11 Pochard, 28 Tufted Duck, 2 Cormorant + 1 over, 4 Greylag, 22(+?) Canada Geese and 2 Mute Swan.

Some Finsbury Park lake pictures follow:

2 male and 1 female Pochard (foreground) with 4 male Tufted Duck behind

3 Mallard (male and female in foreground), female Pochard and male and female Tufted Duck

Mute Swan, with a male of each of Tufted, Pochard and Mallard Duck (left to right, behind)

Friday, 28 January 2011

28/1/11: Welcome Wren sighting in the garden

Throwing food scraps on the lawn instead of the bird table is generating a lot more activity here. There were 10 Starlings and at least 3 different Blackbirds eating their fill today. A Robin and Blue Tit were about. Most pleasing was a great view of a Wren from the kitchen window, first in a Fuchsia bush, then when it briefly posed on top of some garden canes. Their small size (and thus high heat = energy loss) is a problem in harsh winters because, being insectivorous, they can't cash in on the usual bird table fare when their prey is in short supply.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

27/1/11: North Heath birds shun cold north wind

Not much showing itself in a grey afternoon, characterised by a cold northerly wind.

Northumberland Heath:

There were 2 Redwings at the school on Brook St, the closest ones I've seen to where I live so far this winter. At North Heath Recreation Ground 10 Wood Pigeons were feeding on the grass. c60 Starlings were intermittently wheeling over the western ('rear') section, and 15 House Sparrows were congregating around a feeder in adjoining garden. 50+ House Sparrows and 2 Blue Tits were in Erith School hedges, along Avenue Rd.

Erith Cemetery (east side):

Very little about. 2 male Chaffinch were seen, around 50 Wood Pigeon which were behaving rather restlessly and frequently taking flight - perhaps scaring off smaller birds in the process - a couple of Blackbirds, 2 Carrion Crows and some Magpies.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

26/1/11: Highgate Siskins steal show

Up to north London today to help the Green Party Office move from Archway down to the Old Street area, and had decided a couple of days ago to take the opportunity to have a last look (for a while anyway) around Waterlow Park in Highgate. Co-incidentally, a report appeared on the London Bird Club wiki that Siskins and Bullfinches had been seen there yesterday.

I got off the Northern Line at Tufnell Park and walked up Dartmouth Park Hill, stopping off at Dartmouth Park (Upper Holloway) part way up. A Mistle Thrush was showing well near the main road and 4 Blue Tit and a Great Tit were in trees. The view over central London from the slope on the east side of the park is as good as from Parliament Hill, and since my last visit the Shard at London Bridge has appeared on the horizon.

In Waterlow Park the first stand-out was a prominent Song Thrush singing with great gusto. A lone Long-tailed Tit was foraging nearby, and later 2 Great Tit and several Blue Tit were seen. Blackbird, Robin, Carrion Crow, Magpies, several Wood Pigeon and several Feral Pigeon were also noted. On the two larger lakes were a total of 8 Tufted Duck, 5 Moorhen, 3 Coot, 27 Mallard and 18 Black-headed Gull.

The best was pretty much last, with excellent and very close views of circa 15 Siskins feeding on Alder cones in the Upper Pond Nature Area at around 11.45 a.m.

Later a Pied Wagtail was seen on an office building in Leonard St., Shoreditch.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

23/1/11: Lesnes Abbey and Erith Marshes - why isn't the Belvedere Power Station site being returned to the marshes?

Down in Lesnes Abbey Wood today, working on the Ransoms (Wild Garlic) Glade with LACV, clearing Bramble and Ivy from the ground. Good number of Wild Narcissues coming up. There was even a stunted one already in flower, but the bud had been badly mauled by molluscs.

There was 1 Grey Heron on the Abbey Ponds, and another flew over. Also 3 Mallard. A Sparrowhawk was seen circling over the Abbey. A party of around 7 Long-tailed Tit were seen in the wood itself.

Later on, heading for the marshes, 1 Kestrel came down on a lamp post, 19 Chaffinch were in trees and 7 Magpie were at the fields, sadly now a building site, at the junction of Norman Rd and Eastern Way. 1 Pied Wagtail was on house roof the south part of Norman Way.

The old Belvedere Power Station on the northern part of Norman Rd has been demolished since I was last out here, along with the short pylons. There are signs up flagging it as land for industrial use. But the question has to be asked as to why Bexley Council have not decided to return it to grazing marsh (or at least clear most of the site and allow it to scrub over) - which is what I have suggested they do. The site is specifically listed in the draft Local Development Framework, Site Specific Allocations document which invites comments on land use in the Borough. Much is made in Council publications of the huge importance of the marshes from a Bexley and London-wide perspective, but it just keeps getting eaten away at. OK, so some new ditches have been dug, which is great, but this is simply in line with the Council's apparent view (though never quite overtly expressed as such) that wildlife/biodiversity can be crammed into an ever smaller area as long as this is 'enhanced' a bit ('mitigation') from the likes of section 106 money by allowing yet more concrete and tarmac to be poured elsewhere. So here's an opportunity to cut the rhetoric and greenwash, and show the Council means what it says and isn't going to put money first for a change. Will it be taken?

Meantime, here's what was seen out on Erith Marshes (what little is left of them): 2 Grey Heron, 2 Mute Swan. 40 Teal in a wide drainage channel. More Teal on the (flooded) field between the Sewage Works and that ghastly Incinerator plus over 200 Gadwall, 2 Shelduck and 60 Lapwing. The fact that the tide was right in on the Thames probably had something to do with this. A Fox was spotted trotting along the northern margin of the field, but the birds didn't seem bothered. 30 Canada Geese, a Great Tit, Blackbird and Song Thrush were in the Sewage Works grounds.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

22/1/11: Bittern is star of Cheshunt show again

Up at 06.45 (urghhhh) to get to Cheshunt for a Roy Woodward-led LNHS meeting around former gravel pits in the Lee Valley Regional Park.

Saw 48 species of birds. This time there was a Bittern standing in a channel through the reeds, head pointing skyward, at precisely the time we entered the hide. It remained there for a little while before moving into the reedbed. Whilst we ate our lunches we had a couple more decent views as it came out and crossed these purposefully cut narrow channels, which increase reedbed 'edge' feeding sites.

Other highlights were: a couple of female Goosander, a few Smew, a few Goldeneye, a Pink-footed Goose amongst a flock of Greylags, Wigeon, a gathering of Fieldfares in a cattle field and a very good view of a Treecreeeper towards the end of the meeting.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

19/1/11: North Heath Rec and Erith Cemetery birds include Redwing and Greenfinch

There were 15 Wood Pigeon on North Heath recreation ground, around 60 Starlings - mainly in a large tree, but also on house chimneys and TV aerials - where the gardens of houses on Brook Street form part of the park's boundary, and also at least 8 House Sparrows here.

Further along Brook Street, in the eastern part of Erith Cemetery, there were 6 (and possibly one or two more) Redwing - of which I've seen none so far this winter, except on or by Crayford Marshes and, very pleasingly a group of 12 Greenfinch. The latter most probably make use of the nearby Erith Quarry site, which is now mainly secondary scrub. 14 House Sparrows were utilising a feeder in adjoining garden. There were also 20+ Wood Pigeon, 4 Ring-necked Parakeet, 3 Magpie, 2 Carrion Crow, several Starlings, Blue Tit and a Robin.

Monday, 17 January 2011

17/1/11: Crayford birds, high water and a load of rubbish

Having had a meeting near Crayford Way to discuss Bexley Natural Environment Group's submission on the Site Specific Allocations part of the Council's draft Local Development Framework, and the future of BNEFG in the wake of the unexpected death of its Chairman, Jeremy Cotton, over Christmas, I took the opportunity to check out the river and TRW.

Following heavy rain and, no doubt, a contribution from ground saturated by previous snow-melt, the Cray was the highest I'd ever seen it ...

The dry Reedmace stems (centre in the above photo) mark the normal margin of the river

The Cray passing the Riverkeeper Volunteers yard by Footpath 106. The tufts of vegetation sticking out of the right hand side of the river mark the normal extent of the water.

Maiden Lane bridge with the water nearly touching the underside of the roadway

Negative impact: large numbers of plastic bottles and cans, presumably dislodged from places on the riverbank where they had been inaccessible to River clean-ups, or hidden in summer vegetation growth, were now strewn all along the banks by By-way 105

The water level in the Wansunt, where it crosses Thames Road Wetland, was up compared to normal levels, but not as noticeably as on the neighbouring Cray

Water levels on the TRW pools were not much higher than normal, though they had crept outwards up the shallow banks a bit, and in this photo were getting the Brookweed's feet wet in amongst the clumps of dark green rushes (just left of centre)

25 Goldfinches were seen along By-way 105 by the River Cray, and there were a couple of Coot on the river near the Thames Rd bridge, as well as 2 more on the TRW 'lake'. Looking south from the east end of the Sewer Embankment, a Little Egret was spotted in the distance, following a Grey Heron west over the farm between the Cray and the Dartford Loop railway line. There were 10+ Teal and 3 Moorhen on a watery field here.
Circa 240 Starlings were on the electricity pylon at the junction of Thames Rd and University Way. More Teal, 12 Shoveler and 2 Mute Swan were on the flooded fields on the Dartford side of Crayford Creek.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

15/1/11: Birds of eastern Bexleyheath

First up, Martens Grove:

1 Green Woodpecker - my first record of this species here, feeding in a grassy glade with Pigeons, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker - later heard drumming, 3 Goldfinch, 1 male Chaffinch, 1 Wren, 22+ Woodpigeon, several Ring-necked Parakeet, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow and Robin.

Then round the corner to Shenstone Park and the 'pinched off' north-east 'enclave' of Hall Place North just over the main road:

Here the birds included 2 Mistle Thrush, 1 Wren and Ring-necked Parakeets.

Across a short section of footpath and I was into Hall Place North 'proper':

Of note were 1 Green Woodpecker, and four separate groups Ring-necked Parakeets heading west over Gravel Hill approaching dusk - totalling circa 43 birds.

There appeared to be no House Sparrows in the school playing field hedge on Gravel Hill, but there was a lot of chirruping from evergreen shrubs by the Council multi-storey car-park on Albion Rd - perhaps they decamp here in the winter for more protection?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

9/1/11: Lesnes Abbey wood birds

Went out on the first Lesnes Abbey Conservation Volunteers event of the year, and my first for some time. We were clearing Ivy and other more robust plants from an area where Wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) had been present, but had declined. The wood is noted, for amongst other things, the fact that this is possibly now the only site in the capital where the species is found naturally. Towards the end of the task a couple of clumps of the Narcissus were found, just starting to poke their leaves above ground. There were quite a few shoots of Bush Vetch in this particular location.

For details of the group and the future events diary please see here, all are welcome to get involved. No special skills are needed.

Arriving early as usual, I'd done a bit of bird-watching by the Abbey ponds before others arrived. There was 1 Grey Heron, 1 Moorhen, circa 40 Carrion Crow, 4 Magpie, 1 male Chaffinch, 1 Robin, 3 House Sparrow and 2 Blue Tit.

Later in the wood I noted 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 4 Ring-necked Parakeet and a group of circa 43 Woodpigeon.

Friday, 7 January 2011

7/1/11: Erith Cemetery flora and avifauna

Went into Erith Cemetery on Brook Street for the first time, on this occasion the eastern side.

The flora was to some extent typical of the dry, sandy soil in this part of Bexley Borough. There was a huge amount of Common Stork's-bill (Erodium cicutarium), a small amount of Bird's-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), Sheep's Sorrel, Parsley Piert sp., quite a lot of Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Henbit Deadnettle and a lot of Sedum acre and Sedum (probably) album, the latter two presumably escaped out of the gravel on top of some of the graves.

3 Goldfinch were seen, circa 44 Starlings in Poplars between here and Carlton Rd., Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, House Sparrows, Carrion Crow and about 25 Wood Pigeons.

On leaving, House Sparrows were heard in bushes in the western section.

Towards dusk about 34 House Sparrows were counted flitting into shrubbery by the car park in Northumberland Heath recreation ground.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

6/1/11: Busy for birds in Barnehurst back garden - including Black-and-white Blackbird

Lots of birds in the garden this rainy, but mild afternoon. Up to 10 Starlings, some on the ground and others squabbling around the bird table and trying to get past the Wood Pigeon.

A Magpie. A couple of Blue Tits and a Robin.

Also, after a long period with little Blackbird activity, there were three males and a female on the lawn together. One of the males, a rather sleek and apparently a juvenile bird, has small white areas on its shoulders and a prominent pure white blotch on each cheek, and looks altogether rather handsome. Here he is .... (you'll have to excuse the very poor quality photos, taken with a mobile phone through a double-glazed window in poor light, from a distance and then enlarged a lot):

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

4/1/2011: Bursted Wood and Danson Park birding ....

Bursted Wood (Barnehurst): Very close view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker which came within about 20 feet of me, only 10 feet up a small tree, before realising I was there and finding somewhere bigger and further away. Also 1 Jay on a tree out in the open near the Primary School. Plus all the usual suspects: Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeons, Ring-necked Parakeets, Magpies.

Danson Park (Bexleyheath/Welling): Still a largish ice sheet on the lake. Three species I've not seen here before. 50+ Shoveler, 6 Pochard, 4 Tufted Duck, 18 Mallard (mainly males), 1 or 2 Great Crested Grebe, 8 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, 2 Egyptian Geese, 46 Canada Geese, lots of Coot and Moorhens, 2 Stock Doves amongst a large number of ground-foraging of Wood Pigeons, 5 Magpies, Carrion Crows, 15 Starlings, a few Ring-necked Parakeets, and lots of Black-headed Gulls.