Saturday, 1 February 2020

Big Birdwatch 2020: The Results

This year's big birdwatch took place on the morning of 26th January. The sky was overcast most of the time, but the weather was mild and about a dozen people came with us on the guided walk. We spent a hour walking through most areas of the park and saw 24 species which is not a record, but a  respectable tally. The highlights were a pair of nuthatches and 15 Redwing all seen in the east field.

The nuthatch has blue-grey upperparts, buff underparts, a black stripe across the side of its head and a long pointed bill which it uses to dig insects out of tree trunks. It is very agile and the only British bird that can descend a tree trunk head first. There are better photos on the web, but the one above (taken in Sydenham Hill Wood a few years ago) shows it in action. It has a distinctive call which can be listened to on the RSPB website. The fact that we saw two together is a hopeful sign that they will nest and breed in the park this coming spring.

Redwings on Hilly Fields: 2018
The Big Birdwatch is the first time we've seen Redwing in the park this winter. Redwings are thrushes which migrate here in the autumn from Scandinavia and depart in the early spring. Berries and fruits are their food of choice but when those are running out, they'll make do with worms and insects. The red under the wing which gives them their name is not always as obvious as in the above photo, but the white stripe arching over the eye is another distinctive feature.

The rest of the count as recorded on the Big Birdwatch Blackboard is as follows: 35 Black-headed Gull, 20 Starling, 12 Common Gull, 10 Goldfinch, 10 House Sparrow, 5 each of Great Tit, Robin and Woodpigeon, 4 each of Blue Tit, Crow and Ring-necked Parakeet, 3 each of Feral Pigeon and Magpie, 2 each of Blackbird and Chaffinch, 1 each of Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Song Thrush and Wren.

 Rachel and Emily did a sterling job on the Big Birdwatch Table outside the cafe and persuaded numerous children to make seedballs which hung from nearby trees at the end of the event. Thanks to the 'other bird champion' Sue and to Conrad, Lawrence and Rupert for lending their expertise, to Judith from Glendale for her support and to the cafe as always just for being there. Our Dawn Chorus Walk will be on Thursday 2nd April at 6.00 am. See you there!

Monday, 6 January 2020

Hilly Fields Big Birdwatch 2020

Our annual Big Birdwatch event on Hilly Fields will take place this year on Sunday 26 January from 10.30 - 12.30. As usual, this is timed to coincide with the RSBP Big Garden Birdwatch weekend. The Friends of Hilly Fields will have a stall outside the cafe with fun activities such as seed ball making for children and illustrated guide sheets to help you identify the birds you see in the park. Just remember the two golden rules: (i) only count the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time (to avoid duplication); (ii) don't count birds that fly over without stopping - only birds within the park. Return your findings to us and the Friends will collate the results on the Big Blackboard. If you don't want to attempt it on your own, come on the guided tour which will start at 11.00 approx.

Our last three monthly surveys of 2019 have been encouraging with the count rising steadily from 17 species in October, 19 species in November, 24 species in December including both Song and Mistle Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Greenfinch. Last year, a strong north wind meant one of the lowest counts we've had for January, so let's hope for decent weather this time round.

Mistle Thrush, Hilly Fields, 19/12/19
We've had several reports of a Tawny Owl being heard in or near the park. I heard one 'hooting' (it's actually their song) a few nights ago from the direction of Hilly Fields and my house is about 300 yards away as the owl flies. So if you live in the vicinity, keep an ear open. If you're lucky enough to see one in the park, please let us know. Nb. the Tawny Owl is smaller than you might think, averaging about the same size as a Woodpigeon.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Falcon Over the Fields

Our monthly bird survey on 27 September was almost over, when Conrad spotted a Hobby being chased by Crows over the north field. We had only a brief glimpse at first, but it reappeared having shaken off its pursuers and spent five minutes gliding and swooping over the park. The Hobby has long wings for its body size and catches most of its prey in flight, so its aerial abilities are quite special. It feeds mainly on small birds (though it does catch Swifts) and insects including dragonflies. In this case it was feeding around the plane trees that line Hilly Fields Crescent and we saw it transfer an insect from claw to beak in mid-flight. The plumage was not as dark as usual, so our bird may have been a juvenile. It was either too high or too fast to get a photograph - the image below is from the NatureSpot website.

Photo: Chris Lythall
The Hobby is one of four wild falcons which can be seen in Britain. The other three - Peregrine, Kestrel and Merlin - are resident all year round, whereas the Hobby is a spring migrant which flies here from Africa to breed in our cooler climate and returns in autumn. The hobby we saw will be away any day now. Its scientific name is Falco subbuteo and yes - the fingertip football game Subbuteo is named after it. Its inventor Peter Adolph was a bird lover and first tried to patent the game under the name of 'The Hobby'. When that was turned down as being too general, he used the species name instead which in Latin means 'near to' (sub) 'a buzzard' (buteo).

We recorded twenty other species that day which is a good record for the time of year. These were 14 Woodpigeons, 11 Feral Pigeons and 11 Magpies, 5 Robins (at least), 4 Great Tits, 3 each of Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Crows, Goldfinches, Jays and Wrens, 2 each of Black-headed Gulls, House Martins (passing over) and Song Thrushes, 1 each of  Chiffchaff, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Nuthatch, Ring-necked Parakeet and Starling. The Hobby can be celebrated as the 51st species on our list, but let me also put in a word for the Crows. They tend to get taken for granted but are vigilant birds and defenders of the realm and they do draw attention to birds of prey.

Carrion Crow on Hilly Fields, 27-9-19

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Big Five-O

After more than ten years surveying birds on Hilly Fields, we have recorded our 49th and 50th species: a Redstart and a Linnet. The Redstart (a summer migrant) was a one-off sighting on the Cliffview Road edge of the park. The Linnet (a member of the Finch family) was seen in the same area and then heard singing for 2-3 weeks afterwards from one of the long Veda Road gardens that back onto the park. It may have nested and bred there. A revised list is at the end of this post. Thanks to Rachel Mooney and her neighbour Eddy on Cliffview Road for reporting these sightings. The images below are from the website of Bob Jones, aka Bob the Birder.


The results of our monthly survey in June are as follows:

6 Blackbirds, 3 Blackcaps, 1 Blue Tit, 7 Crows, 1 Collared Dove, 6 Goldfinches, 1 Great Tit, 1 Greenfinch, 1 House Sparrow, 2 Magpies, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Ring-necked Parakeet, 3 Robins, 2 Song Thrushes, 1 Swift, 4 Woodpigeons, 8 Wrens and 2 Starlings. 

A total of 18 species which is good considering that the main breeding season has come to an end and bird life in the park is calming down. It was particularly nice to see and hear the Song Thrushes and to hear the Nuthatch. Nuthatches have been seen on at least one local bird feeder, so presumably have nested somewhere in the neighbourhood.

Song Thrush



1. Blackbird
2. Black-headed Gull
3. Blue Tit
4. Carrion Crow
5. Common Gull
6. Goldfinch
7. Great Tit
8. House Sparrow
9. Magpie
10. Ring-necked Parakeet
11. Robin
12. Woodpigeon
13. Wren


14. Blackcap
15. Chaffinch
16. Chiffchaff
17. Common Swift
18. Dunnock
19. Feral Pigeon
20. Great Spotted Woodpecker
21. Greenfinch
22. Jay
23. Long-tailed Tit
24. Mistle Thrush
25. Pied Wagtail
26. Starling


27. Coal Tit
28. Collared Dove
29. Fieldfare
30. Goldcrest
31. Green Woodpecker
32. Herring Gull
33. House Martin
34. Kestrel
35. Lesser Black-backed Gull
36. Nuthatch
37. Redwing
38. Song Thrush
39. Sparrowhawk
40. Stock Dove
41. Tawny Owl (heard, not seen)
42. Willow Warbler


43. Bullfinch
44. Cuckoo (heard not seen)
45. Linnet
46. Little Owl
47. Mallard
48. Redstart
49. Short-eared Owl
50. Spotted Flycatcher

* = rare on Hilly Fields, not nationwide

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Dawn Chorus Walk 2019

This year's dawn chorus walk will be held on Thursday 4 April, starting at 6 am. We will meet outside the Hilly Fields cafe.

One of our bird champions will lead the walk identifying birds by their calls and song. As it gradually gets lighter, we should get clear sightings of all the common birds and perhaps some of the less common.

As in previous years, the walk will continue to the Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries where a member of the Friends Group will let us in. The walk will be over before 8 am, but people can leave at any time if work calls! We look forward to seeing you there.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Big Birdwatch 2019: The Results

A cold sharp wind blowing from the North West affected this year's Big Bird Watch and although a good number of people came round on the guided tour, the weather conditions kept bird numbers down. Gulls are made of hardy stuff though and they were out in force on the north field - 36 Black-headed and 10 Common. We saw a flock of 20 Starling, another flock of 12 Goldfinch and it was also nice to see a Jay, the most colourful member of the Corvid family.

Other than that, it was the usual suspects: 11 Crows, 9 Woodpigeons, 8 Feral Pigeons, 6 Blackbirds, 6 Magpies, 4 Blue Tits, 4 Parakeets, 4 Robins, 2 Great Tits, 2 House Sparrows, 2 Long-tailed Tits and 2 Wrens - a total of 17 species, some way below the usual tally for these events. Never mind - our monthly surveys demonstrate that the birds are still around. They just don't like piercing cold winds any more than we do!

At the stall outside the cafe, around 12 children enjoyed themselves making fat balls and bird feeders during the course of the morning.  We also sold a few bird books kindly donated by Crofton Books which helped raise funds for the Friends of Hilly Fields. Thanks to Rachel from the Friends for all the work she put into this event, to Judith of Glendale who donated seeds and lard, to Richard from Brocsoc for help on the stall (and Trudy) and to ace birder Conrad who came round with us on the walk. Here's to better luck and better weather next year!

Our next bird event will be the annual Dawn Chorus Walk, currently scheduled for Thursday 4 April at 6am.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Big Birdwatch Event: 27 January 2019

Saturday 26 January to Monday 28 January is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch - an annual bird count in gardens and green spaces across Britain. And as we have done for the last ten years, the Friends of Hilly Fields will be holding our own Big Birdwatch event on Hilly Fields on Sunday 27th January from 10.30 to 12.30. During that period with your help, we will try to identify and count all the birds in the park.

We'll be based outside the cafe and will have the Big Blackboard on which to record sightings. We'll have fun activities such as seed ball making for children and guide sheets to help you identify the birds you see in the park. Just remember the two golden rules: (i) only count the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time (to avoid duplication); (ii) don't count birds that fly over without stopping - only birds within the park. And if you don't want to attempt it on your own, come on the guided tour which will start at 11.00 approx.

Who's a pretty boy then? Long-tailed Tit admiring itself on Hilly Fields
What birds might you see and hear? Great Tits, Blue Tits, possibly Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Crows, Magpies, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls, Starlings, Goldfinches, Thrushes and more. Last year, we recorded 23 species (the most common were Starlings and Black-headed Gulls). Let's see if we can match that this year - or even beat it.

Starlings on Hilly Fields
By the way, children are welcome at this event. It's all about raising awareness of the nature on our doorsteps and the need to support and protect wildlife. And inspiring the next generation to carry that on.