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.

Redstart


Linnet
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


BIRDS OF HILLY FIELDS: 2007-2019

Everyday

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

Regular

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

Occasional

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

Rare*

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.


Saturday, 17 March 2018

Dawn Chorus Walk

The next Dawn Chorus Walk will be held on Thursday 29 March. Meet outside the cafe at 6 am for a walk around Hilly Fields and the Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries. Listen to the birds greeting the dawn, see the birds and, depending on weather conditions, see the sunrise. You'll feel so much better for it.


Birds we should definitely hear include Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens. Birds we may hear include Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Goldfinches and Starlings. We'll be finished by 8 am though people can get away whenever they need to. Hope to see you there.

Blue Tit

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Redwings

Redwings have been seen twice this week on Hilly Fields, twittering in the trees and feeding on the ground near the stone circle. I counted circa 40 birds on Monday afternoon and Rachel saw a similar number this morning.


Redwings are members of the Thrush family, as are Blackbirds, Fieldfares and of course the Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush (and, further north, the Ring Ouzel). Redwings get their name from a red patch under the wing which can clearly be seen in my photos but isn't always visible. The stripes around the head are a more reliable ID feature, particularly the creamy white stripe over the eye. They have a similar spotted breast to other thrushes. Their twittering is a form of 'subsong' which the dictionary describes as 'an unstructured, often rambling vocalisation of low volume'. I couldn't have put it better myself.


Most of the Redwings seen in Southern Britain are migrants from Scandinavia. They arrive in autumn and feed on fallen fruit and berries. They get through the winter mainly on a diet of earthworms and depart in early spring. It's unusual to see so many on the ground in Hilly Fields, but they would have been frustrated by last week's snow and are making up for it now. They'll also be 'feeding up' for the flight home. The 'subsong' is usually a sign that they're thinking of departure and also of courtship when they get back. It's lovely to see and hear them. Let's hope they return in similar numbers in the autumn.