Sunday, 30 November 2014

Gulls Galore

Sue and I did our monthly bird survey a tad early on 19 November, but were rewarded by variety if not overwhelmed by numbers. Following our usual route from the lower Vicars Hill entrance, we moved slowly along the Veda Rd border through the little wood to upper Eastern Road. En route, we saw and heard Robins, Great Tits and Blue Tits, heard a brief outburst of Wren song and glimpsed a Jay. On Eastern Rd, Sue heard the laugh (or 'yaffle') of a Green Woodpecker without seeing it, I saw a Wren skulking in the undergrowth and caught a brief blue and pink flash of male Chaffinch which we heard calling later. The most reliable presence on Eastern Rd, however, is the family or commune of Blackbirds which appears to be five strong and includes at least one juvenile. I have a feeling that they've nested in the thick bushes along there in past years if not this year and obviously enjoy the red hawberries in autumn.

Spot the female Blackbird...
Around the corner in the trees behind the tennis courts were at least half a dozen Goldfinches tweeting to each other, but the real hotspot was the slope east of the school where we saw Long-tailed Tits and Starlings in the trees and a Pied Wagtail down on the path that leads up from Adelaide Ave. A wander over to the Montague Ave side proved fruitless - we've seen Redwings there in past winters but no sightings so far despite thousands arriving elsewhere in recent weeks from Scandinavia.

Starling in flight
On the playing fields on the north side of the park, a flock of gulls were pecking at the ground. Close examination revealed 7 Black-headed Gulls and 3 Common Gulls - names which are somewhat misleading. During the breeding season (spring and summer), the Black-headed Gull has a dark chocolate-brown head which from a distance looks black. By autumn, this has reduced to a dark spot behind the eye. And the Common Gull is actually far less common than the Black-headed or the Herring Gull. However the Little Gull is the littlest gull and the Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed Gulls are accurately named too. I won't mention the other 5 species of gull found in the UK. No wonder people just call them sea gulls.

Left: Common Gull, yellow legs and bill, holds itself more erect, slightly larger. 
Right: Black-headed Gull, red legs and bill, black spot behind the eye, slightly smaller.
After that, we found 8 House Sparrows in their usual place the Cliffview hedge. And that was it apart from the birds I haven't mentioned: 11 Feral Pigeons, 5 Woodpigeons, 5 Magpies (more than usual), 3 Crows,  2 Ring-necked Parakeets and 1 Greenfinch. And on her way out of the park, Sue heard the call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker - bringing out total to a very healthy 22 species. Are we getting more bird species in Hilly Fields or are we just getting better at seeing and hearing them? Both I hope. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Rainy Day In Autumn

Rain was threatening from the outset on Wed 29th October when Sue, Judith and I did our monthly bird survey. It held off for about an hour and a half but by 11.15  was seriously hampering our efforts (will no-one invent 'windscreen' wipers for glasses and binoculars?) and we decamped to the cafe. Luckily, by then we had seen or heard 17 species, so not a total washout. As so often in the past, we had a quiet start along the Veda Rd border but things picked up on reaching the little wood and the upper half of Eastern Road. Here we saw a family of four Blackbirds including a juvenile male born earlier this year. A couple of Wrens were lurking in the bushes, a Long-tailed Tit was briefly glimpsed, a Great Spotted Woodpecker briefly heard and a fine flock of about ten Goldfinches seen and heard between school and tennis courts. We also had an excellent view of a Mistle Thrush in the trees behind the school.

Juvenile male Blackbird, bill just starting to turn yellow
From then on, the rain got steadily worse. Not even a solitary Black-headed Gull on the north field could lift our spirits even though it indicated that the winter gulls are on their way. The rest of the count consisted of at least 9 Robins in different territories around the park, 6 Blackbirds (including the 4 mentioned earlier), 4 each of Great Tit, House Sparrow, and Woodpigeon, 3 Crows, 2 each of Blue Tit, Feral Pigeon, Greenfinch (heard sneering but not seen) and Magpie and a solitary (hurray!) Parakeet. And on her way home from the cafe, Sue saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull on the north field making a grand total of 18. Not bad for a rainy day in autumn.

Robin singing against a grey, grey sky

First sighting this year of a lesser Black-backed Gull, seen twice in 2013
Footnote: I should also mention the impressive flock of about 50 geese that we saw flying high overheard in V-formations around 10.30 am. From enquiries with other birders, these were almost certainly Brent Geese arriving for the winter either from Arctic Canada or Siberia. Several movements of these geese were seen over London that day including a flock above Greenwich Park earlier in the morning.

Photo from