Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Happy Solstice!

In view of the Xmas festivities, Sue and I brought our survey of Hilly Fields bird life forward this month and walked around the park on 19th December - a grey, chilly Monday morning which ended in rain. Despite these conditions, it was worthwhile in terms of the range of species seen.

Winter has brought more gulls inland and Hilly Fields had both Black-headed and Common Gulls in small mixed flocks. The simplest way of telling these two apart (given that the Black-headed gull has a white head at this time of year!) is by the colour of legs and bill: red = Black-headed Gull, yellow = Common Gull. If you can't make out the colours, then the Common Gull has a darker back, is slightly larger and  seems to hold itself more erect when walking on the ground. It also lacks the black mark behind the eye which is an easy winter identifier of the Black-headed Gull.

Common gull and black-headed gull together

The Starlings have grown in number since last month - there were at least fifty moving around the park today. We also saw a dozen Crows descend on a tree on the border of the Stones field - not quite enough for a "Parliament" (one of the collective names for Crows), more like a Select Committee. We also caught sight of that colourful corvid, the Jay - one at first in the wood and then two in the trees around the tennis courts and briefly on the ground hopping forward in slow deliberate fashion.

The upper part of Eastern Road was so alive with birds that it was difficult to keep track. The family of Blackbirds was there again (see 1 November post), along with Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. From time to time, the finches swooped down to drink from the gutter which is, in effect, their watering trough. Most rewarding of all was a pair of Nuthatches, heard and then seen in the trees and even perched on a lamppost. It was unusual to find them close to the centre of the park as previous sightings have been on the eastern edge and in the adjoining Cliffview back gardens (see 15 July post).

Also recorded were a Great Spotted Woodpecker (seen flying overhead by Sue), several singing Robins, Magpies, one or two Ring-necked Parakeets, four House Sparrows in the Cliffview hedge (as usual), a resurgence of Woodpigeons (19 in total) and a few Feral Pigeons. Oh - and not forgetting the Mistle Thrush perched high in a tree on the Stones field border and driven off at one point by a smaller bird - probably a Great Tit. It flew to another tree further along and was heard to emit a few feeble phrases of song, almost as if it was too much trouble.

By contrast, a Wren burst briefly into full-blooded melody near Eastern Road - "a cascade of notes...ending with a loud and distinctive trill" as my RSPB Handbook puts it. And a Great Tit gave

Great tit
a warming-up performance of it's famous two note song. It never sounds to me like "teacher teacher", but that's how the bird books describe it. And it will drive us all mad in the weeks and months to come.

But for now - Happy Solstice, Happy Xmas, Happy New Year!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

November Bird Survey

Sue and I did another bird survey on Hilly Fields yesterday. It was a fine, sunny morning and fairly calm after the heavy winds of the previous day. So calm, in fact, that we saw little at first, but patience is a necessity when bird watching and eventually our feathered friends started to reveal themselves.

 One of the best spots we found was the upper half of Eastern Road - the road which leads to  Prendergast School and the playground. During term time, this usually becomes an overflow car park for school staff, but thanks to the public sector strike, we had it to ourselves! Here - as well as Great Tits, Goldfinches and Chaffinches - we saw and/or heard:
  • Greenfinches (4) preening themselves in the sun in the hawthorn trees 
  • A "family" of four Blackbirds - mum, dad and two juveniles
  • A brief burst of song from a Wren - the first we've heard for months (although Sue heard one singing on 19th November)
  • The "chick chick chick" call of at least one Great Spotted Woodpecker, possibly two
We were also briefly distracted by a Red Admiral butterfly, flitting about and perching on the bushes. It's not uncommon to see them still flying in November, though this is quite a late appearance and possibly the last we'll see this year.

Elsewhere, we saw and/or heard:
  • Robins exchanging their warning calls and, along the back of Cliffview Road, two robins singing sweetly to each other. There were also four house sparrows in one of the hedges here
  • A number of Starlings - those that we had a clear view of were in their fresh autumn plumage (after the moulting season), though this will fade over the winter
  • Starling in fresh autumn plumage
  • A largish number of Feral Pigeons which seem to have replaced the usual Wood Pigeons for the time being
  • There was also the usual presence of Magpies and Crows, but still no sign of any Redwings
Finally, just as we were about to depart at the top gate on Vicars Hill, Sue spotted a Mistle Thrush which flew into the park and perched in a tree. A beautifully speckled bird, it sang for us after a while, albeit rather mournfully. It was a very pleasing end to our walk.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pistachios Cafe etc.

Popped into the park to see the "ice" skating on Sunday afternoon and was a little disappointed.  It was, of course, just PTFE tiles, not ice but I was expecting a whole tennis court would be covered; this "rink" wasn't much larger that a domestic living room.  Nevertheless, a good number of people were enjoying it.
Sketch of proposed Pistachios Cafe

In an adjacent corner refreshments were provided by Pistachios who were also displaying plans for their cafe in the park.  Planning permission is, hopefully, imminent so construction should start fairly soon.  I can hardly wait!

Plan of Pistachios Cafe
As I left, the sun was breaking through the mist as it set and quite a few of us attempted to capture it with 'phone or camera.  I wonder how everyone else's turned out?

Stone Circle in the evening mist

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Bird Count Highlights

Bird counts at Hilly Fields have continued on a monthly basis and details can now be found on the Lewisham Nature Conservation website:

Some of the recent highlights are as follows:
  • Two Chiffchaffs were heard calling on 29 September - a first for Hilly Fields since the Bird Champion scheme began. Probably a rest stop on their migratory journey, although an increasing number of these warblers are over-wintering in the UK
  • Five Mistle Thrushes were seen on 10 October in the line of trees leading down to Hilly Fields Crescent 
  • A Blackcap was spotted in the trees bordering Vicars Hill on 26 October. These are still uncommon on HF although one was heard singing in the wood during our dawn chorus walk back in May
    •  Long-tailed Tits - a flock of about 12 seen in the trees bordering Vicars Hill on 26 October. Lovely birds if you can get a close-up view
    • Great Spotted Woodpecker - a clear eye-level view of one on 26 October, hammering away at the trunk of a tree near the playground. The GSW has an unmistakeable combination of black, white and red colours and a bouncy flight
    • Goldfinches - a flock of about 16 is usually seen and heard in the trees around Prendergast School
     What we haven't seen yet are any Redwings, although they've been pouring into the country from Scandinavia since mid-October. Members of the thrush family, Redwings can be identified by a clear white stripe along the side of the head and, believe it or not, by a touch of red under the wing. They've turned up for the last three winters on Hilly Fields with as many as 40 counted in January 2010. If you see any, please let us know via the comments below.

    Monday, 31 October 2011

    Opening up the Blog

    I'm gradually opening up this blog to enable others to contribute.

    Friday, 15 July 2011

    A Nuthatch!

    June/July is the rainy season in the north of Scotland and this year we had to take avoiding action more often than usual by driving on to the next glen or loch whenever the rain approached. It was not a good year for birds either, the list of what we didn't see being longer than those we did.

    Nuthatch (RSPB)
    So imagine our joy and surprise when a Nuthatch landed on our feeder the day after our return home! He's now a regular visitor and we see him almost every day.
    This is the best I could do with my compact camera and Photoshop

    Our garden backs onto the park, so he's probably nesting somewhere in the park.

    Thursday, 19 May 2011

    Hilly Fields Dawn Chorus walk

    Over a dozen insomniacs joined Chris McGaw of Rivers and People Project for this dawn chorus stroll around the park, and we were well rewarded.
    Some of the 5am insomniacs

    Full moon over the Nature Reserve
    As we made our way towards the Nature Reserve we had a glorious full moon in front of us and the rising sun behind.
    Sun rising over Lewisham
    We heard Wren, Blackbird, Woodpigeon and Ring-necked Parakeet in the Nature Reserve but the most notable was the Blackcap.

    Later, on the road past the school we stopped to admire the Long-tailed Tits, Goldfinches, a Chaffinch and also heard a Dunnock.

    Chaffinch beside the school
    On the west side of the North Fields there was a flock of 10 Magpies then, beside the cricket pitch with some Woodpigeon were a pair of Stock Doves and, on the hillside behind them, three Mistle Thrush.

    We are all very grateful to Chris for this morning's wonderful walk and look forwards to another next year.  Let's hope the proposed cafe will be open in time for a welcome cuppa then!
    We saw or heard 20 species this morning, for a complete list click below:

    Tuesday, 17 May 2011

    Getting ready for the Dawn Chorus

    I had a quick recce around the park between 04:45 and 05:15 this morning in preparation for Thursday's walk.  Didn't see a lot because it was quite a dull and overcast morning, but what a chorus!
    Hilly Fields at 5am
    What I did see this morning were Blackbird, Starling, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Robin and Mistle Thrush.  I heard lots but was particularly pleased to recognise a Blackcap, because I only learnt its banging-two-stones-together call on last Tuesday's dawn chorus walk with Chris along Waterlink Way.

    Wednesday, 11 May 2011

    See the Bird Track stats for Hilly Fields

    You can peruse the stats that Bird Track has for Hilly Fields after first registering here then log-on to BirdTrack and click Species by Grid at the bottom of the Data Home page.

    This will take you to the Species by Location page where you must first Choose your area using one of the four options provided. 

    The fastest, if you can remember the code, is Option 4) where you enter TQ 3775, otherwise use Option 2) choosing England then London Nat Hist Soc then Hilly Fields Park.  Then click Next.

    Under Choose buffer size click Option 1) no buffer.

    Finally in Choose your time period and sort criteria select whatever you need (I usually leave the defaults) and click Go.

    The area covered by the stats is a 1km square with the entire park in the bottom left and Lewisham Station at top right, but the majority of the stats are ours (except, among others, the Pheasant!).  If you then click on a species name, further stats are revealed, such as that Pheasant on 8 Feb 11 in Revelon Road and these graphs of House Sparrow sightings.
    Example of stats from BirdTrack

    Please try it.

    Tuesday, 10 May 2011

    A Cuckoo!

    I've just been reminded that on my way home from the dawn chorus walk I heard a Cuckoo in Hilly Fields Park!

    Waterlink Way dawn chorus walk

    Four of us met Chris McGaw at 5am today for a dawn chorus walk. 
    Small group joined Chris (using bins) at 5am
    We were not disappointed, the final list being:

    Blackcap (*)
    Blue Tit
    Carrion Crow
    Chiffchaff (*)
    Collared Dove
    Dunnock (*)
    Feral Pigeon
    Great Spotted Woodpecker
    Great Tit (*)
    Green Woodpecker (*)
    Herring Gull
    House Sparrow (*)
    Lesser Whitethroat (*)
    Long-tailed Tit
    Mistle Thrush
    Ring-necked Parakeet
    Robin (*)
    Song Thrush (*)

    *: Heard but not seen by me.
    I do hope you'll join us on our own Dawn Chorus Walk in Hilly Fields on the 19th

    Saturday, 30 April 2011

    Big Garden Birdwatch results

    The RSPB has recently published their full results which can be found here .  The top 20 species for Greater London closely matched our own but included Collard Dove, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Coal Tit which were not seen in Hilly Fields that day.  However, we did enjoy many Redwing, Black-headed Gull, Mistle Thrush, Wren and Great Spotted Woodpecker that didn't feature on the RSPB's Greater London results.

    Thursday, 17 February 2011

    Waterlink Way winter dawn chorus walk

    Four of us met Chris McGaw at Sainsbury's, Bell Green, today for a winter dawn chorus walk of Waterlink Way. We started at 6:30am feeling surprisingly warmer than we did at 5am last May. On the other hand it was misty and not yet light enough for the binoculars.

    Some of the Fieldfare

    There were two highlights of the day, the first was the flock of Fieldfare in a tree beside the River Pool approx. 150m north of the Winsford Road/Broadmead footbridge, the second was a pair of Kingfisher in a shrub on the west bank of the river approx. 150m further north.
    I managed to snatch a couple of photos, but they're poor quality because they were taken with my compact camera with the lens at full zoom, plus digital zoom, plus another order of magnitude enhancement with Photoshop.
    Pair of Kingfisher
    I took a better photo of a Kingfisher from the Winsford Road/Broadmead footbridge on 24th January.  That photo can be seen here  
    We reached the new bridge into Lewisham Hospital around 8:30 by which time the temperature seemed to have dropped a good 5degC, so we stopped there for a very welcome hot drink.

    Saturday, 29 January 2011

    RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

    Another successful birdwatch.  The provisional results are:

    Black-headed Gull 10
    Blackbird 2
    Blue Tit 4
    Carrion Crow 6
    Common Gull 16
    Feral Pigeon 4
    Goldfinch 25
    Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
    Great Tit 3
    Greenfinch 1
    House Sparrow 16
    Jay 2
    Long-tailed Tit 2
    Magpie 3
    Mistle Thrush 3
    Redwing 13
    Ring-necked Parakeet 5
    Robin 2
    Starling circa 60
    Woodpigeon 10
    Wren 2

    That's 21 species, beating our 2009 record!

    There were activities for younger birdwatchers too, the most popular being birdbox making.
    Making birdboxes

    Friday, 28 January 2011

    The Redwing return

    Had a quick recce around the park in preparation for tomorrows Big Garden Birdwatch and found 13 species.  It would be good to double that tomorrow!

    High on the list were 7 Redwing foraging near the tennis courts, 4 Mistle Thrush in a nearby tree and a flock of around 120 Starlings.

    Wednesday, 26 January 2011

    Year-to-date birds of Hilly Fields

    Click on the image below to enlarge.

    Birds of Hilly Fields 30 Jan 2010 to 28 Jan 2010