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.