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’.

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.