Thursday, 26 April 2012

Dawn Chorus Walk: 26 April

It was still dark when I arrived at the Bothy at 5am, but the birds were already tweeting the good news to each other. Not only was dawn about to break, but a group of humans was gathering below to listen to their song. Chris McGaw of the Lewisham Rivers and People Project was already there (as befits a leader) and eventually another six people materialised out of the gloom. Some of them were even awake. This was not a bad total considering the lousy weather in the days leading up to the walk.

As it happened, we were lucky. Apart from a couple of brief showers, the rain held off and Chris led us around both Hilly Fields and Brockley Cemetery, using his excellent birdsong ID skills to provide a running commentary. In Hilly Fields, we saw and/or heard: Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Blackcaps, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Crows, Woodpigeons, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Magpie, a House Sparrow and a Ring-necked Parakeet.

The highlight for me was the superb views of the male Woodpecker in a tree next to the tennis courts. We could clearly see all the colours of its plumage and its vigorous movements around the tree trunk, climbing down backwards at one point. It was also good to see and hear the reappearance of Goldfinches in the trees around Prendergast School after a few weeks of absence (no doubt, due to the mating season).

After crossing Adelaide Avenue, we came across a pair of Mistle Thrushes - one quite young - on a lawn belonging to the Ivy Road flats. Again, we had really good views of them and of the young one in particular who didn't quite know what to make of all the attention.

We arrived at the gates of Brockley Cemetery at 6.25 am, well before official opening time, but our leader magicked a key out of his trouser pocket and let us in via the Lodge garden. As you might expect, it was pretty quiet - apart from the birds. During our walkabout, we saw and/or heard a very vocal Song Thrush, a Chiffchaff, a Dunnock, Long-tailed Tits, a Greenfinch, a Green Woodpecker, a Jay and a Goldcrest in addition to some of the species already seen in Hilly Fields. And a couple of members of the group caught a brief glimpse of a Sparrowhawk as it flew across the path behind us in the Wilderness Area.

We had good views in particular of the Chiffchaff and the Goldcrest, although as the latter was high in a tree, we couldn't really see its striking black and yellow crown. The Goldcrest is the UK's smallest bird, approx 9 cm long and 4.5-7.0 g. in weight.

After that, it was time to head home after thanking Chris for leading the walk and sharing his knowledge and experience. I had almost reached my street when the rain started bucketing down again. But was I downhearted? No. Just in need of strong coffee and lots of it.

Dawn Chorus Walk: 4 May
And if you missed our walk, Chris McGaw is leading another Dawn Chorus Walk on Friday 4 May - this time along the Riverview Walk which follows the Pool and Ravensbourne rivers. Meet at 5.00 am outside the Sainsbury Savacentre at Bell Green. More details in the Lewisham Rivers and People programme here:

Monday, 16 April 2012

Dawn Chorus Walk

Once again we are holding a dawn chorus walk for those who would like to learn about and enjoy the natural music of the birds while the city is still quiet. This years walk:
  • will be held on Thursday 26 April, starting at 5 am 
  • will be led by Chris McGaw of the Lewisham Rivers and People Project
  • will cover not only Hilly Fields but the nearby Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery (which is a Borough Grade 1 nature conservation site)
Please meet outside the Bothy next to the bowling green (see the map opposite). We expect to finish by 7.00/7.30 am.

If anyone wishes to join the Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery part of the walk only, please be at the gates on the corner of Brockley Road/Ivy Road (opposite the Coral bookmaker) at 6.15 am which is the estimated time of our arrival there.

Friday, 6 April 2012

March Bird Survey

Our latest bird survey of Hilly Fields took place on Friday 30 March. It was a lovely warm sunny morning but in general bird numbers were down. The Black-headed and Common Gulls which were very much in evidence in February have all departed, although this is a seasonal change to be expected. The Common Gulls will have gone up north to breed while the Black-headed Gulls are likely to have headed out towards coastal areas. The reduced number of other birds is probably linked to the onset of the breeding season.

We saw or heard Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, Carrion Crows, House Sparrows,  Wrens, Starlings, Wood Pigeons, Jays (2) and one each of Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Magpie, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Ring-necked Parakeet and Chiffchaff. It was great to hear the Chiffchaff singing in the little wood. A number of these do over-winter in the UK, but this bird - like the two which Sue heard last autumn - was probably a resting migrant as they've been arriving back in the UK since early March The song of the Chiffchaff is easy to identify once heard - a succession of between 8-14 staccato notes. If you're unfamiliar with it, try listening to this recording and then let us know if you hear the song in the park.

It wasn't surprising to hear only one Parakeet as their breeding season starts earlier than most. The count which took place at the Hither Green Cemetery roost on 1 April was well down on previous quarterly counts - a sign that the females are staying on their nests to incubate the eggs. We heard only one solitary Goldfinch (no sign of the usual flock of 16 or so which frequents upper Eastern Road and the trees around the school building), while the highest number of Starlings seen was 5 compared to 80 counted during the RSPB Big Birdwatch event on 29 January. However, if you have binoculars or can get close enough, the Starling has a fine iridescent plumage at this time of year.

The Mistle Thrush was absent altogether, surprisingly. I paid several visits to Hilly Fields in the first half of the month and saw it on each occasion, singing its beautiful dreamy song from the top of a tall tree. I also heard the Great Spotted Woodpecker drilling (and several other people have mentioned hearing it) and on one occasion tracked it to the wood where it was sitting high in a tree preening itself. Lets hope that both these birds have found suitable companions and are in the process of multiplying!