Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 Roundup

It's been an interesting year birdwatching in Hilly Fields. I've made 44 such visits and seen 21 different species as follows:

Species (no. of visits seen) Maximum seen
Black-headed Gull (6) c60
Blackbird (15) 3
Blue Tit (15) 6
Carrion Crow (26) 7
Chaffinch (5) 2
Feral Pigeon (8) 5
Goldfinch (5) 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker (1) 1
Great Tit (8) 2
House Martin (1) 2
House Sparrow (34) c24
Jay (2) 2
Kestrel (2) 1
Long-tailed Tit (12) 2
Magpie (14) 4
Mistle Thrush (2) 2
Ring-necked Parakeet (11) 4
Robin (15) 3
Sparrowhawk (1) 1
Starling (3) 7
Woodpigeon (34) 26

By far the most plentiful are Black-headed Gull, Woodpigeon and House Sparrow and the most frequently seen are Woodpigeon, House Sparrow and Carrion Crow.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas in the park

What a beautiful morning!

A nearly cloudless sky allowed the low mid-winter sun to form long shadows in its golden light and there was birdsong aplenty. I left the binoculars at home but still found black-headed gulls, blackbird, blue tits, great tits, house sparrows, jays, magpies and woodpigeon.

However, the northerly breeze didn't encourage loitering and I soon returned home for Christmas dinner.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Eleven species today

For only the second time this year, there were eleven bird species in the park when I visited between 11:30 and Noon. The last time I found that many was 26th January 2008.

There were:

Black-headed Gull
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Great Tit
House Sparrow

I must also mention that on Friday 14th December I watched a Sparrowhawk wheeling around over Hilly Fields Park.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Bird Boxes

Recently Glendale have been busy in Hilly Fields putting up bird nesting boxes. Late Autumn or early Winter is the best time of year to do this as the boxes will be nicely weathered by the time birds are looking for nest sites in the spring.

They've now installed 11 bird nest boxes in the park, but where are they? Can you spot them all?

Here are photos of three I spotted today when I went to fill the bird feeder.

If you install a bird box in your garden, try to put it where the hot afternoon sun won't find it, such as a shady wall or one that faces north-east.

Monday, 1 December 2008

November roundup

I only managed quality time in the park on two occasions this month. There were 58 birds from 10 species, namely: Blackbird, Black-headed Gull, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Feral Pigeon, House Sparrow, Jay, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie and Woodpigeon

Most of the time when I would’ve liked to wander through the park I was busily defending my four birdfeeders against a family of grey squirrels, and losing.

My table feeder is squirrel proof as is the table feeder which is the same kind as in Hilly Fields’ quiet garden. The peanut feeder and fat-ball feeder are another matter and require constant attention and frequent adjustment of whatever defences I’m able to provide.

The RSPB recommend chilli powder but the largest squirrel appears to be immune to its affects. Success came after I rigged up a large baffle. I thought that was the end of it until yesterday, because someone has found my store of fat-balls, got the lid off and taken at least two!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Long-Tailed Tits return and a Jay visits the Garden

A lovely sunny autumnal day, a rarity this year, so I decided to have lunch in the park and, just walking through the gate at the top of Vicars Hill, I spoted a pair of Long-Tailed Tits in the tree opposite the gate. They’re one of my favourite little birds and I haven’t seen them in the park since the end of May so I was beginning to think we’d lost them. It’s good to see them back. (This is a stock photo, not today's bird)

On the way to the Flower Garden I passed the usual bush full of House Sparrows on the Cliffview Road side and Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon and a Magpie in the field.

I stopped in my tracks just inside the Flower Garden when I spotted a rare Jay in the tree above the birdfeeder – rare to Hilly Fields, that is, because my bird book says they’re twice as numerous as Long-Tailed Tits. It was eating a berry then flew to a neighbouring tree before flying off in a north-easterly direction. (This is a stock photo, not today's bird)

The birdfeeder was full when I arrived today, so I must thank somebody for filling it for me. Blue Tits used the feeder while a Blackbird scrubbed around for worms in the fallen leaves and I had my lunch. Job done.

Friday, 31 October 2008

October Roundup

I only managed to get into Hilly Fields four times this month, but on those visits I did count at least 97 birds of 9 species, including today's Kestral.

On my way home today I walked across Hilly Fields. I was halfway up the meadow when a small flock of birds, mostly Magpies but two were larger and brown, landed in a tree beside Prendergast School. Moments later a solitary Kestral flew from the tree to soar and hover over the meadow. Was that really two Kestrels I saw? I stayed a few minutes but without my binoculars I couldn't see the other large bird in the tree.

The nine species this month were:

Species (no. of visits) max. count

Blue Tit (2) 2,
Carrion Crow (4) 5,
Feral Pigeon (1) 1,
House Sparrow (4) 12,
Kestrel (1) 1,
Magpie (2) 3,
Ring-necked Parakeet (1) 1,
Robin (1) 1,
Woodpigeon (3) 26

Sunday, 19 October 2008

BirdTrack and Hilly Fields Park

Great news! The Bird Track Organisation has accepted Hilly Fields Park as one of its recognised bird sites. So now you can register with BTO and declare Hilly Fields Park as your recording site. Just follow these easy steps:-

1/ To register with BirdTrack, click
here and complete the BirdTrack Registration Form

Registered users logon to BirdTrack here , then go to Data Home and click Submit Species List to report a bird count.

2/ To declare Hilly Fields Park as one of your recording sites, from Data Home click Create New Site then, on the Site Registration screen under Option B, select London Nat Hist Soc.

Another screen will pop up where you should double-click Hilly Fields Park --> TQ3775 and then the Go button which will have appeared on the Registration screen.

That’s all there is to it. Almost everything else on the BTO site is intuitive. Have a good look around it.

I asked BTO if they had a facility to permit a group to view each others records of a site, which we would like to do. Mark Grantham of BTO replied:

“…there isn't a facility to do this at the moment, but we are working on something along these lines. This will work through the 'Species by Location' feature we have developed. By entering a specific grid reference you can see a species list for the site, but only by month or year at the moment. We hope to expand this so people can see individual lists soon though, which should suit your needs.”

To try this, go to Species by grid on the Data Home page. Either navigate to Hilly Fields Park via the drop-down menu at bottom left, or enter grid reference TQ3775 at bottom right, then select no buffer and a time period and you’ll get the list of species around the park.

Interestingly, someone reported a Redwing in 2006!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

September roundup

Another month has flown by (excuse the pun) and I note that, on my 9 visits to the park, I've reported 113 birds of 9 species, the most notable being the Kestrel.

The feeder in the Flower garden only had to be filled once, partly because they don't need much extra food at this time of year and also, I suspect, because of the feeders in nearby gardens.

The BirdTrack Organisation is at this moment setting up Hilly Fields as one of its known bird sites, so very soon in this blog I'll be able to tell you how to register and then report on the birds you've seen here (and elsewhere too). Also we'll all be able to get their stats. on the birds of Hilly Fields.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Kestrel in the Meadow

Wandered over to the meadow to see the wildlife information board, and got a real treat: a Kestrel

I first spotted it sitting on a lamppost, and edged cautiosly closer to get a better photo.

Then it spotted me and flew off into a tree beside the school.

I walked slowly towards the tree, keeping to the footpath that curves up towards the playground and when I was nearly at the junction of paths it swooped down to catch something, probaby a mouse, in the undergrowth at the edge of the meadow.

I grabbed two more photos as the Kestrel ripped apart its catch

...and another as it flew away.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


In my garden, hanging below a lilac tree, is a birdfeeder. While I was filling it this afternoon several House Sparrows landed in the tree, queuing up to feed as they often do during the daily fill.

Suddenly something spooked them and they scattered in all directions. In its panic one even brushed my ear as it flew past me.

Then I saw the Sparrowhawk, perched directly in front of me about a metre away at eye-height. It had flown in from Hilly Fields and just failed to grab a meal. We both remained motionless, staring at one another for about ten seconds then the Sparrowhawk flew off.

What an experience!

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Goodbye Wendy

Neither Wendy nor Lawrie's foodstall were in the park yesterday so the birdfood was inaccessible. This was not of immediate concern as it was, I believe, only the second time I've been in the park and seen no birds at all. Mind you, it was raining fairly heavily at the time, so they were probably taking shelter.

I was particularly sorry not to see Wendy as it was her last day with Glendale and I wanted to thank her personally for being so supportive and for contacting me whenever the birdfeeder was empty. All the best, Wendy, enjoy the south coast!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Good news, bad news

The good news is that the feeder got topped up today as Wendy was back from her holiday in the west country. To avoid these access problems in the future, Wendy has moved the feed and pole to another room; one that Lawrie at the cafe has the key for.

The bad news (for us) is that Wendy is leaving at the end of next week. I'll be sorry to see her go as she's been so very supportive of the birdwatch project, even 'phoning or texting me when she discovered the feeder empty. I wish Wendy every success and happiness in her future venture down south.

Community Sports and Fair still very active. Only birds seen were about a dozen House Sparrows in the hedge behind Cliffview Road.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Access problems

Now that I've caught up with events since this project started, all blogs from here on should be reasonably current.

Yesterday I'd arranged to show Rachel the trick of recovering the feeder for refilling, but there was no park keeper available so we couldn't get into the office where the long pole and feed are kept. Wendy, we knew, was on holiday but we did expect a temporary keeper to be available. Have to try again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, only saw 4 crow and 2 woodpigeon.

Today I tried again. Lawrie, who runs the food stall on the top path, knows everyone and is a mine of information so I asked him. There's no keeper today either, but while I was there Lawrie received a text from Wendy saying she'll be back tomorrow.

We must find a better way of getting to the birdfood, or a better place to keep it.

Community Sports and the Fair are both very active today. Only 4 crow and a solitary magpie.

Year-to-date sighting summary

Whenever I'm in the park, even if it's just a short visit to the Farmers' Market, I note the birds I see for Lara's spreadsheet, results of which are posted on the park notice boards.
I also report the same sightings to BirdTrack and the stats below are from these records
(1 Nov 07 to 26 Aug 08).

Species (no. of visits) Max Count

Blackbird (12) 3
Black-headed Gull
(2) 60
Blue Tit
(10) 3
Carrion Crow
(17) 6
(5) 2
Feral Pigeon
(5) 2
(4) 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker
(1) 1
Great Tit
(5) 1
House Martin
(1) 2
House Sparrow
(23) 30
Long-tailed Tit
(11) 2
(6) 2
Mistle Thrush
(2) 2
Ring-necked Parakeet
(10) 3
(10) 2
(2) 7
(19) 5

e.g. Up to 5 Woodpigeon were seen on 19 separate visits

The 60 Black-headed Gulls were in the NE field, where the fairs are
held, on 21st January this year. Over 50 were still there a week later.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the flower garden on 21st
November last year. I haven't seen him in the park since, but often
hear him.

For the last week a Great Spotted Woodpecker has visited
the peanut feeder in our garden every morning and evening.

On 12th August a solitary House Martin was feeding on the wing in the
flower garden

The 30 House Sparrows were in the hedge on the Cliffview Road side of
the park on 28th December. This doesn't quite match the 50 seen
August last year, but a significant number all the same.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Feeder with Bling

Friday 26th October 2007: The first bird is seen on the feeder: it's a Blue Tit. A few days later, another: a Great Tit this time.

Many more birds found the feeder and became regular visitors over the next three months until, on 1st February 2008, it was stolen. This couldn't have happened at a worse time for the birds, as food is difficult to find at this time of year, and it greatly disappointed a party of local school children who'd come on a special visit that very day just to see the feeder!

So, Glendale now had to get a new feeder and some means to make it more secure. Meanwhile, Gordonbrock students drew several different bird species for the bird champion sign which was soon to be produced and another local school – Prendergast, I think - made 13 bird boxes for the park.

The beginning of April 2008 saw the hanging of the first bird-feeder with bling – a stout and shiny chain to secure it to the tree (see photo). It's a little higher than before so we now have a special extended pole to recover the feeder for refilling.

Early May Chris (RSPB) donated four nest boxes, suitable for House Sparrows or perhaps Blue Tits. He advised us that the boxes are best sited on the North-East quadrant of a tree or building (and out of vandals reach!)

While on an early morning House Sparrow survey Chris saw a Mistle Thrush with nest material in a tree quite close to Wendy's office, just a few yards along and to the right of the path towards the school. Learning this, I ventured into the park a little later and found a pair in the same tree. They were in the same tree the following day too (see photo), but I haven't seen them since. Perhaps they chose a different nesting site.

Chris visited again early June 2008 and donated a bag of seed.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Early Sightings

During the weeks before the feeders were hung, I visited the park several times to record the birds. They were mostly short visits of under half-an-hour and all on the Vicars Hill / Cliffview Road side of the park. The maximum recorded were:

Blackbird 1
Black-headed Gull 2
Blue Tit 1
Carrion Crow 3
Feral Pigeon 9
House Sparrow c50
Woodpigeon 21

This photo Taken near the top Vicars Hill gate shows where we found circa 50 House Sparrows.

Chris from the London House Sparrow Project visited the morning of 10 August 2007 and I mentioned counting in excess of 18 there the previous day, so we ambled into the park and there they were! It took a bit of counting as they're forever flitting from branch to branch.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Hanging the feeders

19 October 2007

My contact with Chris was vey useful as the RSPB kindly donated a feeder, some birdfood to get us started and advice on where to site the feeders.

We met park-keeper Wendy, Lara and her colleagues from Glendale and first identified a tree quite close to Wendy's office from which to hang the feeder donated by Chris.
This is beside a busy path which could discourage feeding, however it does have suitable places nearby where birds can perch to check the coast is clear before feeding.

The main feeder was hung in the Flower Garden, between the Bothy and the Bowling Green.

Each site had its own advantages and disadvantages.

This site is peaceful but there's no nearby perching, the closest bush being holly which is too prickly for them. Howevery, we were hopeful that they would soon be using these feeders.

Sadly, the very next morning the RSPB donated feeder was gone!

How I got involved

Late 2004

Took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch counting the maximum number of each species of bird in the garden over a one-hour period and reported a particularly large number of House Sparrows: 22.

Subsequently I received a letter from Chris Orsman (RSPB) asking for further details of how we, and our neighbours, feed the birds.

February 2005

Chris visited and invited us to be a site in the London House Sparrow Project. This is experimenting with supplementary feeding at a number of sparrow colonies, providing live mealworms for the sparrows to feed to their young. We are to be a control site (no live food). Chris makes several visits each year to survey our garden and the immediate neighbourhood.

December 2005

On one of his wildlife walks in Hilly Fields, Mike Keogh admired the green roof of my garage which can be seen from the park. I introduced myself and mentioned Chris and the London House Sparrow Project. That labelled me as a birder!

July 2007

Some eighteen months later Glendale and Lewisham Council are starting a new Bird Champion Project, which aims to survey the park for different bird species and involve the park users in the park’s biodiversity. To this end Lara Al-Jabi asked Rachel Mooney for a Bird Champion for Hilly Fields Park. The rest, as they say, is history.