Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Hilly Fields Big Birdwatch 2013

After much rain beforehand, the sun came out just in time for our Big Birdwatch on Sunday 27 January. The event was well attended with some people taking a bird ID sheet and going round the park by themselves while others joined our guided walk. The birds were a little quieter than usual but between us we
clocked up a respectable tally of 21 species as indicated below. Particularly good views were had of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers and the Long-tailed Tits in the garden next to the Bothy, while the Common and Black-headed Gulls provided the highest numbers.

Meanwhile, back at the cafe, the Friends of Hilly Fields set up stall and provided activities for the little ones including the making of many suet balls and popcorn strings. If they eat everything that was hung from nearby trees, the birds will be too fat to fly for the next few days. Jason from Tlon Books came along too and sold copies of the appropriately themed children's book Brenda's Bottom and Her Birds by local author Clare Stanhope.

Thanks to Terry for helping to lead the guided walk, to Rachel and Andrew from the Friends and Judith from Glendale for running the stall and the childrens activities, to Phil for the work of art that was the blackboard (until we spotted more birds than he had room for), to Lee - the ever-helpful parkie from Glendale - and to Fred for letting us take over half the cafe terrace. Next event: the legendary Dawn Chorus Walk sometime this spring!

Incidentally, if you did the Birdwatch with young children this weekend, whether at Hilly Fields or at home, you can download a certificate for them from the RSPB website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/certificate_tcm9-335163.pdf  It opens in Adobe Reader which allows you to insert a name and make it look more official. You should also be able to get your printer (look under Properties) to add a touch of colour.

Finally, Colm dropped by to report that he'd seen 14 Fieldfares in the West Field the previous day - a day too early for our Birdwatch but we will add the sighting to Birdtrack, the national recording scheme that we use regularly. Fieldfares are thrushes and winter visitors from Scandinavia, usually found in flocks. They stand erect, grey heads, yellow bills, speckled breasts with a yellow-orange tint and brown backs and wings. Fieldfares are often seen at SE London locations including Ladywell Fields, but this is a first for us since we've been recording. They are a nomadic species flying to wherever they can find food, so now that they've found Hilly Fields, let's hope they return in future!

Fieldfare  [photo John Richardson, Old Man of Minsmere blog]

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Big Birdwatch Reminder: 27 January

Just a reminder that as part of the RSPB's nationwide bird survey this weekend, we will be holding our own Big Garden Birdwatch on Hilly Fields in conjunction with the Friends of Hilly Fields and Glendale.

Details are as per the poster above. There will fun activities for the little kiddies and a guided bird walk around the park. Or grab one of our bird ID sheets and do your own survey, but report back to the blackboard monitor (see below)! Please bring binoculars if you can. See you there: Sunday 27 January 10.30 - 12.30.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Black Caps and Red Wings

I mentioned the sighting of a female Blackcap on Hilly Fields in my "December Bird Survey" post. Since then, this little bird has made the national press and television (well, the Independent and BBC's Winterwatch at least) and it's all due to the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO has initiated a January Blackcap garden survey, details of which can be found on their website: http://www.bto.org/. It has also produced evidence that Blackcaps which winter in the UK are not - as I confidently asserted - staying on after the spring migratory flocks return to Spain and North Africa in autumn, but are part of a separate population from Central Europe - particularly Germany. Whereas in the past, these birds have gone south from Germany in autumn, they now prefer to spend their winter vacation here (see the yellow arrow in the diagram below).

"What?!" I hear you say. "They prefer Britain to the Med! Talk about bird-brained..." But they've discovered that it's warm enough here and, even better, their return journey is much shorter, allowing them to get back quickly to Germany in the spring and nab the best nesting sites. Not so silly after all, eh? "We have a new winter bird" is how Michael McCarthy put it in the Independent. And the upshot for us is that we will have year-round Blackcaps in Hilly Fields, albeit not in great numbers. Their use of garden feeders is on the increase and if you have one, it is worth doing the BTO survey. In my experience, the feature that stands out in the Blackcap is its pale grey breast. Once you've seen that, check if they have a black head (male) or chestnut brown (female). Here's a close-up clip of a male:

Redwings are another species which winter in the UK, arriving in their thousands from Scandinavia. Members of the Thrush family, they have speckled breasts but the main distinguishing features are red patches on their sides and a white stripe over each eye. Yesterday we did a special mid-month survey of Hilly Fields prior to our Big Birdwatch event (Sunday 27 January at 10.30) and saw four of them which is the first sighting on HF since Keith recorded a small flock of seven two years ago.

In addition, we saw 30+ Starlings, 17 Goldfinches, 15 Wood Pigeons, 11 Common Gulls, lots of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Robins, Crows, Magpies, Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Mistle Thrushes, House Sparrows and one each of Jay, Ring-necked Parakeet, Wren, Feral Pigeon and Black-headed Gull. A total of 20 species which augers well for the (stop me if I've mentioned this before) Big Birdwatch event on Sunday 27 January at 10.30. Incidentally, there seemed to be a growing awareness amongst some birds yesterday that the mating season is getting closer. Certainly, this Robin was singing very lustily in Hilly Fields Wood...

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2013 - Our 100th Post!

Firstly, please make a date in your diary or calendar for Sunday 27 January at 10.30. This is during the weekend of the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and we will once again be holding our own bird recording event - the 'garden' in this case being Hilly Fields. We will be based on top of the hill next to the cafe and will have a stall there with bird-orientated craft activities for children. The core of the event, however, will be bird surveying and you can either go round by yourselves or on a guided walk with one of us. We will provide illustrated checklists to assist. Please remember the two golden rules:

1. Only record the maximum number of species that you see at any one time (eg. if you see three Magpies in one location and three in another, that's three - not six!)
2. Don't count any birds passing overhead unless they touch down on Hilly Fields.

These are the RSPB's rules and are meant to avoid duplicate counting and distortion of data. Although some birds are territorial and don't budge much from their pitch, others zoom around all over the place. 

We will collate all the findings on our hi-tech blackboard (see below) and send the final tallies off to the RSPB. If you want to do a survey that weekend in your back garden, then it's a good idea to register beforehand. Details are here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/

Secondly, the Hilly Fields Birdwatch stats department tell me that this is our 100th post! The majority of those posts were written by Keith who started the blog back in 2008, so full credit to him. We are not experts or twitchers, but bird lovers and bird watchers. The blog is not written for "birders", but for anyone who appreciates Hilly Fields and the role that it plays as a 'green space' in supporting nature. Thank you for taking the trouble to read our humble offerings and thanks for the feedback you send in. Hopefully, we will see you on Sunday 27 January at 10.30.