Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Do They Know It's Christmastime?

Robins were singing here, there, just about everywhere when Sue and I did the monthly bird survey on 16 December. In fact, Robins sing most of the year except for a few weeks in July/August when they skulk in the undergrowth and moult. But in December, the frequency seems to be increasing. Do they know it's Christmastime? Well, of course they don't, despite having their likeness featured on Christmas cards for the last 150 years or more. But they do seem to sense that the year has reached a turning point and that the mating season is not far off. We watched a pair chasing each other around the upper part of Eastern Road and it was hard to tell whether it was territorial defence or early courtship.

A Song Thrush was singing in the little wood as well, repeating each phrase three or four times. This bird returned to Hilly Fields last year after a long absence but we haven't seen or heard it since last April. It's good to know that it's still around. Another welcome returnee is the Great Spotted Woodpecker which we saw for the first time in six months in the little wood and then later on upper Eastern Road. You can't tell from the angle of my photo (below) but the bird we saw is a female. The male has a red cap, the female doesn't. Both have red 'backsides'.

Although numbers are still not high, we saw a much greater range of birds than in recent months - 22 species in all. It was nice to see both a male and female Chaffinch - a bird we haven't come across since summer. And another Goldcrest in the garden next to the bowling green. We seem to be getting better at spotting these tiny birds, though there has been a winter influx of migrants to boost numbers. A Collared Dove was also in the garden - not that common in the park, although I hear one often on the other side of Vicars Hill. If you hear a pigeon cooing three times ('U-ni-ted!), it's a Collared Dove. If you hear a pigeon cooing five times ('How are you to-day?'), it's a Woodpigeon.

Finally, in the mild weather we sat outside at the cafe and had a good view of two Mistle Thrushes in the trees opposite. This is another bird with a Christmas connection in that it gets its name from its fondness for mistletoe berries. I don't think we have any mistletoe on Hilly Fields, but luckily the Mistle Thrush will eat all sorts of other berries (including the red hawthorn berries) and is fond of invertebrates too. In fact, you're most likely to see it on Hilly Fields picking about in the grass for worms.

Merry Christmas to all and don't forget that our Big Birdwatch event (in conjunction with the RSPB) will be held on Sunday 31 January from 10.30-12.30. More details in the New Year.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Winter Is A-Coming In

The start of our monthly bird survey on 18 November was marked by almost simultaneous sightings of a Crow, a Jay and a Magpie - three members of the same avian family, though with very different plumages. After that, the park was fairly quiet and the counts were low despite fine weather. But by the end of the morning, we had seen a good range of species including some Starlings back from their country retreat and noisily rejoicing in trees by the tennis court. Only half a dozen so far, but the numbers will steadily increase. We've had as many as 80 in winters past.

The garden next to the bothy came up trumps again when Sue spotted a Goldcrest - Britain's smallest bird - up in one of the conifers. We have seen it before on Hilly Fields but not often. It loves conifer trees as its thin little beak is ideal for picking out insects from between pine needles. The Goldcrest gets its name from the bright orange patch on its crown, but it's very difficult to see that from below. We also saw the family flock of Long-tailed Tits again and Judith spotted a female Chaffinch - a bird we see (and hear) more often in spring and summer.

After failing to find any Sparrows in the Cliffview hedge, we thought we would have to settle for 15 species. However, after refreshments at the cafe, Sue and Judith spotted a pair of Mistle Thrushes and another Black-headed Gull (or possibly the same one as last month), raising our total to a respectable 17 species. Here is the full list of birds as recorded in our BirdTrack records.

Although the autumn remains mild on the whole, the leaves are falling fast on Hilly Fields, helped by Storm Barney, the tail-end of which was still blowing as we went round. This will help to make the smaller birds more visible in the winter months to come. And by the way, the Friends of Hilly Fields Big Birdwatch 2016 event will take place on the morning of Sunday 31 January. There will be guided walks and children's activities, as well as an RSPB stall. More info soon.

Foliage thinning in the little wood.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Did I Mention the Crows?

We seemed to be followed by Crows when we did our monthly bird survey on 30 October. Noisy Crows, mean and hungry looking Crows. Perhaps they were warming up for Halloween next day. And the weather was sombre too, even after the rain stopped which meant many of the birds kept quiet and out of view. We saw most of the regulars, though not in great numbers and heard the occasional burst of Wren song around the wood and Upper Eastern Road. The Crows were there too, waiting for us in the autumnal trees.

We were expecting to see a few gulls on the cricket pitch when we reached the north field. They have been moving into Inner London for the winter. In the event, there was one solitary Black-headed Gull on the ground and maybe three or four up in the sky. That name - and I say this every year - is misleading. In spring and summer, its head is a beautiful chocolate brown colour; in winter, its head is white albeit with a small dark patch behind the eye. Note the red legs and bill.

The best bird of the day - our reward for two hours of trudging - was waiting for us in the Cliffview hedge: a Coal Tit, seen briefly but clearly before flying away. The Coal Tit has a black head, hence its name, and is the same size as a Blue Tit. It has a prominent white patch at the back of the head. We've seen them before on Hilly Fields but not often. By the way, there were some Crows nearby too.

Photo by Ian F, BirdForum 
Actually, Crows are good to have around on the whole. They band together and mob birds of prey, driving them away, thus providing a service for the small bird community. And maybe saving a few pigeons too. Also, if you look closely, you'll see that their plumage isn't pure black but has some very subtle tinges of blue.

The full list of birds seen and/or heard comprises Wood Pigeons, Feral Pigeons, House Sparrows, Ring-necked Parakeets, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinches, a Coal Tit, a Black-headed Gull, Magpies and, er, Crows. A total of 14 species in all. And so after finishing our circuit, we trudged up the hill to the cafe. You'll never guess which bird turned up there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Quiet Quarter

Our arrival at the lower Vicars Hill Gate on 30 September was greeted by a faint seep-seep-seep sound from the trees which turned out to be a group of about six Long-tailed Tits scavenging for food. Other than that, our monthly bird survey was another low-key affair and confirmed that July-Sept is the 'quiet quarter' of the birding year on Hilly Fields.

Long-tailed Tit
The bird glimpsed most clearly in flight was a Jay which, as per last month, flew from the direction of the Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries to nab another acorn from the oak tree at the top of the south field. Luckily, this tree has enough acorns left on its branches to feed many more squirrels and birds.

Acorns on oak tree
A Wren was briefly heard singing and a Chiffchaff. The latter was probably preparing for its annual migration back to the Med or West Africa. Apart from the bold Crows and Magpies which strutted in the open spaces, most of the other birds maintained a low profile like the blackbird below, glimpsed in hawthorn foliage on Upper Eastern Road.

Blackbird playing peep-o
Hopefully, by the end of next month, the Gulls and Starlings will have returned from wherever they spend their summer to swell the numbers. Species seen or heard this month: 7 Robins, 7 Woodpigeons, 6 Long-tailed Tits, 5 Magpies, 3 Crows, 2 each of Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Ring-necked Parakeets, 1  each of Wren, House Sparrow, Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, Jay and Feral Pigeon.

After a skirmish which ruffled its feathers, this Crow was King of the Bin

Friday, 4 September 2015

Chiffchaffs, Jays and Acorns

The BBC forecast three hours of heavy rain for the morning of 26 August. Naturally, we still turned out for the monthly bird survey. Getting soaked to the skin while unable to see a thing through rain-splattered lenses is all part of the experience (it says here). Luckily the rain was intermittent and we managed to get round the 'course' with only a few raindrops hanging from our stiff upper lips. There were also a couple of highlights. One was hearing a pair of Chiffchaff calling to each other ('huit' 'huit') in the Upper Eastern Rd woodland and getting a brief glimpse of what looked like an adult. These warblers have become regular summer visitors to Hilly Fields and have almost certainly bred there. Could this have been adult and young bird keeping in contact?

Most Chiffchaffs will be preparing for migration back to the Med and Africa which usually takes place later this month. Another bird preparing for winter is the Jay and after hearing its loud screeching, we were lucky enough to see one flying out of an oak tree with something in its beak. It's not difficult to guess what that 'something' was. A new crop of acorns is growing in our oaks and can be seen hanging down on stalks. Jays are famous for storing these (often burying them in the ground), then recovering them later when needed. Occasionally, they'll forget the location and another mighty oak will start to grow...

Image: RSPB
Apart from those two sightings, it was a quiet morning, no doubt partly due to the weather. At one stage, it seemed unlikely that we'd reach double figures, but in the end we recorded 13 species. The other birds seen and/or heard were Wood Pigeons, Robins (now singing again after their moult), Wrens (occasionally singing), Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Magpies, Crows, House Sparrows and Parakeets.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Days of Rest

There was neither sight nor sound of any birds on 29 July when Sue, Judith and I met at the lower Vicars Hill entrance. This continued for a while as we walked along the Veda Road border, reflecting the fact that July and August are days of rest and moulting for many birds after their mating, breeding and chick-rearing labours during the first six months of the year.Then we heard the churr of a Blue Tit amongst the foliage and the cawing of a Crow which we came across later high in a tree.

At the orchard and little wood, things perked up. A Blackcap sang intermittently and there were occasional song bursts from a Wren. On upper Eastern Road, we had a clear view of a Greenfinch and could hear the high melodic twitterings of Goldfinches without actually seeing them. Male and female Blackbirds were seen and a Robin issued its warning call - a clicking sound like a pre-digital clock being wound up - from deep within the undergrowth. Then things grew quiet again and we took a diversion through the south meadow where butterflies could be seen and crickets heard in the long grass.

Meadow Brown on Tansy in the South Meadow
Eventually we reached the shade garden next to the bowling green and found that last month's Long-tailed Tits were still there - six altogether, flitting around the conifers, as difficult to photograph as ever (see below!). There was no sign of any Sparrows in the Cliffview Hedge - and that was it. 13 species in total - our lowest count of the year. Hopefully, things can only get better - as someone once said, or sang. The birds are still there - just keeping their heads down.

The final tally was: 3 Blackbirds, 1 Blackcap, 2 Blue Tits, 3 Crows, 2 Feral Pigeons, 3+ Goldfinches, 2 Great Tits, 1 Greenfinch, 6 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Magpies, 6 Robins, 8 Woodpigeons and 3 Wrens.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Nuthatch Saves the Day

30 June: starting as usual from the lower Vicar's Hill entrance, Sue and I worked our way along the Veda Road border, following 'the secret path' (as children call it) between tall grass and cow parsley. It was very quiet in the trees, reflecting the fact that for most birds the breeding season is drawing towards a close. Around the wood, however, and the upper Eastern Road area, a Blackcap and two Chiffchaffs were singing continuously, so for them it's not all over yet. The RSPB says of both these species that 'pairs nesting in the south of England' may have a second brood. Perhaps the singing birds were keeping in touch with each other, either from the nest or from wherever they happened to be searching for food. We also saw a Pied Wagtail looking for insects in the grass among the ancient boulders of the stone circle

But we weren't finding very much and were reconciling ourselves to a low count when we entered the 'shade garden' between the bowling green and the bothy. There, within a few minutes, we had a remarkable haul: a Nuthatch, a Jay, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Mistle Thrush and a family of 8 very lively Long-tailed Tits, most of them recently fledged little 'uns. At one point, it felt as if we'd stepped into a Disney film as the cute tweeting Tits raced around the trunk of a conifer tree. The Nuthatch is not a common visitor to Hilly Fields so it was great to see one again. It is the only British bird that can climb down a tree trunk head first in its search for insects within the bark.

This raised our total to a respectable 19. In addition to those birds already mentioned, we saw and/or heard 4 Robins and 4 Wrens, 3 Blackbirds, 2 each of Swift, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Magpie and 1 each of Blue Tit, Crow, Great Tit and House Sparrow. So the everyday birds were scarce but the less common birds made up for it. And, for once, we didn't see or hear a single parakeet. What a shame.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Spotted Flycatcher

Another new bird has been added to the Hilly Fields Bird List - a Spotted Flycatcher, seen by Rachel and Phil on 4 June in the border with Hilly Fields at the end of their garden. We were unsure what it was at first, but sent photos to our friendly expert Conrad (bird champion for Brookmill Park) and he identified it.

The Spotted Flycatcher is a sparrow-sized summer migrant which arrives here from Africa in late May. Its most distinctive features are brown streaks on the crown, lighter streaks on its grey-white breast and a longish bill. The Collins Guide says: "Numbers have declined in recent years but around 30000 pairs still nest in the UK, favouring open woodland with sunny clearings, parks and gardens.' It is a quiet bird and you are mostly likely to notice it by the distinctive feeding habit from which it gets its name. Perched upright on the branch of a tree, it shoots out to catch an insect in mid-flight, then returns to the branch.

Another 'Spot Fly' was recorded in Ladywell Fields on 19 May and a possible third bird was seen in Brookmill Park on 11 June. It has a low presence in the Greater London area with only six breeding pairs recorded in recent years, so Lewisham has been lucky. All three of the birds stayed for only a day before moving on. This is the second unusual bird Rachel and Phil have seen in their back garden, the other one being a Little Owl last year. It helps to back on to a park, of course, but any garden with trees and plants is 'wildlife-friendly' to some extent and worth keeping an eye on. You never know what might turn up.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Turning Towards Summer

The weather was warm enough to bring a few sunbathers out onto the slopes of Hilly Fields on 27th May when we did our monthly bird survey. The birds were vocal but not always visible as the growing foliage makes the 'little brown jobs' (birder talk) difficult to see. We heard plenty of Wrens and Chaffinches, for example, but they were well hidden. One bird we did catch sight of and heard repeatedly was the Blackcap, a migrant warbler which arrives every summer from Africa and the Med (there is a smaller winter migration from Germany). This bird seems to be more widespread in Lewisham than ever and is easy to recognise having a grey-white breast and a black 'cap' (male) or chestnut brown cap (female).

The Blackcap has a cheerful, insistent song which can be heard here.

The other common migrant warbler is the Chiffchaff which we heard on upper Eastern Road. Elsewhere, the clamour of chicks caught our attention in the little grove opposite the bothy. We tracked the sound down to a small number of Blue Tit fledglings who were out of the nest being fed by mum and dad in the upper branches. A Long-tailed Tit was hanging around with them as well. A few House Sparrows were lurking in the Cliffview hedge as usual, a dozen or so Starlings were pecking at the grassland (they usually disappear for a while in summer) while soaring above us in the blue sky was the welcome sight of Swifts - five together at one point. They arrive in the UK in the first half of May after a 4000 mile journey from southern Africa. We also saw or heard 5 Robins, 3 each of Blackbird and Woodpigeon, 2 each of Crow, Great Tit, Magpie and Ring-necked Parakeet and one each of Goldfinch and Greenfinch - 18 species in all.

Long-tailed Tit
Meanwhile, in other nature news, the dog and sweet briar roses are appearing in the borders just as the cow parsley and May blossom start to fade. Along with the buttercups, the vetch and plantain in the long grass, these are a sure sign that spring is turning towards summer.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Come Rain Come Shine

It looked as if our monthly bird survey on 29th April was going to be a wash-out. Heavy rain and a chilling wind made conditions very difficult for the first 45 minutes. We heard a Blackcap or two and a Wren or two singing, as well a Great Tit calling, but otherwise the birds were silent and hidden. We lingered for a while in the shelter of the little wood, admiring the wild garlic and wondering whether to go for a coffee. Then in the space of five minutes, everything changed. The rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. Emerging onto upper Eastern Road, we were greeted by a Blackbird high in a bare tree.

Before long we'd heard the first Chiffchaff of the year singing, heard and seen a Dunnock, glimpsed a Jay - our first for several months - and a pair of Mistle Thrushes. A Greenfinch sneered, a Chaffinch trilled and Robins began to pipe up too. On the south slope, Starlings searched for worms in the wake of the Glendale tractor as it mowed the grass.

On the north field, a Crow waddled past the newly painted gym equipment without being tempted to try it. And in the garden next to the bowling green, four House Sparrows chased amongst the white flowering cow parsley. But by now, ominous clouds were re-appearing and the rain soon started to fall again. This time, we made straight for the cafe, but with a respectable 19 species recorded.

The total list: 25 Starlings, 8 Wrens, 4 each of Great Tit, House Sparrow, Robin and Woodpigeon, 3 each of Blackbird and Dunnock, 2 each of Blue Tit, Ring-necked Parakeet, Blackcap, Crow, Chiffchaff and Mistle Thrush and 1 each of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Magpie, Feral Pigeon and Jay. Your spotters: Tom, Sue and Judith.

Footnote; earlier this month I heard a Song Thrush singing for three days running from the direction of the wood. Back in January, we mentioned how Phil - who does a monthly bird count in the Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries - had seen one during our Big Birdwatch event. This was the first recorded sighting of a Song Thrush on Hilly Fields since the Bird Champion scheme began in 2007. This month, Phil saw no less than 5 Song Thrushes in the cemeteries, so hopefully we'll see and hear more of them in the future.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

March Survey and Dawn Chorus Walk

Spring is here and that was evident from the birdsong on 30 March when Sue and I did our monthly survey. Great Tits were calling incessantly, Wrens and Robins burst into song with great frequency and Blackbirds and Blue Tits joined the chorus. In the little wood, the effect was almost orchestral. There was also much chasing between branches. Things were not quite so harmonious on upper Eastern Road where a very noisy battle was taking place - no doubt over territory or a nest - between two Mistle Thrushes, a Magpie and a Crow. Eventually it settled down, but the Mistle Thrushes remained on the alert.

 The gulls that have been wintering in the park are gone - another obvious sign of spring. On the bowling green, we spied a Pied Wagtail prospecting for worms while in one of the plane trees above the green, a pair of Crows were repairing last year's nest and settling into it. By this time, cloud and strong winds were building up and after checking that at least some House Sparrows were hopping about in the Cliffview hedge, we legged it to the cafe. Our final list totaled 21 species: 11 Robins, 7 Woodpigeons, at least 6 Wrens. 5 each of Blackbird, Great Tit and Starling, 3 House Sparrows, 2 each of Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Crow, Long-tailed Tit and Mistle Thrush, 1 each of Dunnock (singing), Feral Pigeon, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Jay, Magpie, Pied Wagtail and Ring-necked Parakeet.

Crows nest above the bowling green
Next day we were back again at 6am for the Dawn Chorus Walk which covered both Hilly Fields and the Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries. The attendance was good - over 20 people turned up - and the birds were singing lustily as on the previous day. However, the 42 mph winds which had been blowing all night had still not abated and this made it a little difficult at times to hear even the well-known songbirds such as Blackbird, Robin and Wren, especially for some of the enthusiastic beginners with us. However, we persevered, had very good views of a pair of Mistle Thrushes, heard the 'laugh' or 'yaffle' of a Green Woodpecker and some of us heard the song of a late rising Chaffinch. The Goldfinches disgraced themselves by staying in 'bed' - wherever that was.

Dawn on Hilly Fields [Photo: Annie Cole]
In the cemeteries, it was calmer and quieter. We heard a Song Thrush singing from some distance away, then heard a Chiffchaff singing and tracked it down so that some of the group could actually see it. Chiffchaffs are warblers named after their staccato song, migrants from Africa and the Med which come here to breed in the spring. By now it was full daylight and within a few minutes we were lucky enough to see three Jays and catch brief glimpses of a Sparrowhawk and of the elusive Goldcrest which is Britain's smallest bird.  After that, everybody went home or off to work!

Daylight in the B&L Cemeteries [Photo: Rachel Mooney]
21 species were seen or heard: Blackbird, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Crow, Dunnock, Feral Pigeon. Goldcrest, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Green Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Mistle Thrush, Ring-necked Parakeet, Robin, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Woodpigeon, Wren. Many thanks to all who made the effort to come along, to the Friends of Hilly Fields and Brockley Central for publicising the event and to Mike Guilfoyle of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries who made possible our access.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Dawn Chorus Walk 2015

This year's Dawn Chorus walk will take place on Tuesday 31 March. We will meet at 6 am outside the cafe on Hilly Fields. As in previous years, we will walk around both Hilly Fields and the Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries. If you wish to join us just for the cemeteries, then please be at the side gates on Brockley Grove just past the bus shelter at 7 am. The event will finish at 8 am.

What will we hear and see? Nature is unpredictable, but it can almost be guaranteed that we'll hear Robins, Blackbirds and Wrens singing and Great Tits and Blue Tits calling. We may hear Dunnocks, Chaffinches and a Chiffchaff too. We may hear a Song Thrush and/or a Mistle Thrush singing. We may hear Goldfinches twittering and Greenfinches 'sneering'. We should see quite a number of these birds too. We may also see a Great Woodpecker or hear it drumming. We may see a Green Woodpecker or hear its laughing call as we did last year in the cemeteries.

Whatever we see or hear, it should be a good experience. Bring binoculars if you can, but if you can't - don't worry. Be an early bird and come along.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

A Bit of Parakeet Cheek

Our monthly survey on 25 February got off to a great start when we spotted a woodpecker in trees along the Veda Road border. Yes, folks, it was a Great Spotted Woodpecker - a female as it lacked the male's red patch behind the head.

Later, we discovered that last year's woodpecker nest (see here) has been commandeered by a pair of parakeets who start breeding earlier than the other birds. If you walk due south from the front of the cafe with the tennis courts on your right, there is a traffic barrier and to the left of that an ash tree. The nest is in a hole (which the parakeets have widened a little) about 20 feet up the tree. To the best of our knowledge, we have only one pair of woodpeckers in the park and they generally choose a different site every year so war is unlikely to break out. But it's a bit of parakeet cheek. I bet they never asked...

The small birds were all very active as we would expect given it's their mating season. Great Tits were the most vocal, but Robins and Wrens were also singing loudly. While most of the tits and finches were flitting around, a Greenfinch sat still for quite some time in the top branches of a tree on upper Eastern Road, evidently enjoying the sunshine.

Counting the gulls on the cricket field was difficult as they came and went, but we estimate 50 Common Gull (yellow bill and legs) and 8 Black-headed Gull (Red bill and legs). Hilly Fields is one of the few sites in Lewisham where Common Gulls congregate in such numbers. Sue saw a pair of Collared Doves which is unusual in the park. And just when we thought it was all over and were refreshing ourselves outside the cafe, we saw a pair of Redwings in the trees next to the basketball court. These are thrushes which winter here from Scandinavia and have a patch of red under the wing, hence the name.

In addition to the birds already mentioned, we saw 12 Starlings, 9 House Sparrows, 6 Feral Pigeons, 5 Woodpigeons, 5 Crows and 5 Dunnocks, 3 Blackbirds, 2 each of Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tit and Magpie and 1 each of Mistle Thrush and Goldfinch - making an impressive 23 species in total. Incidentally, 5 Dunnocks is a new record for Hilly Fields and two of them engaged in a mid-air courtship display which involved flapping their wings at each other. All in all, a busy and rewarding morning.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


Thanks to Keith for this great shot of a male Sparrowhawk, taken in his garden which backs on to Hilly Fields. Keith has feeders in the garden which attract many small birds, so one can see why the Sparrowhawk was lurking. The birds made themselves scarce, however, on this occasion. The reddish/orange colouring at the front and around the neck are the features that identify it as a male. The female has brown chest bars at the front and  a large white stripe over the eye. The female is larger than the male as is often the case with birds of prey (eg. Kestrel and Peregrine) and has a fiercer expression!

According to the RSPB, the Sparrowhawk "is adapted to hunting birds in confined spaces like dense woodland, so gardens are ideal hunting grounds for them." And despite their name, Sparrowhawks do not just go for sparrows. Mark Cocker in Birds Britannica says: "birds form almost the entire diet of the sparrowhawk" and "more than 120 species have been recorded [as prey] from the smaller members of the tit family to the black grouse." A magnificent bird but one that can bring 'nature red in tooth and claw' right into your garden.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Record-Breaking Birdwatch

It was a fine clear morning with some winter sunshine for our 7th Big Garden Birdwatch on 25 January. Lots of people came along and either went around the park by themselves or joined one of the two guided bird walks that took place. We gave out around 70 survey sheets at the stall and as always the children had fun making fat balls and bird feeders.

Most important of all, the birds co-operated. Even before we began, a Mistle Thrush came and perched in one of the trees overlooking our stall as if to say 'Count me in!' And Lawrence pointed out a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers on a tree just beyond the tennis courts.

What was good once we got going was to see some of the 'occasional' species that we know are around somewhere in the vicinity but don't often turn up during surveys: three Redwings, for example - the first sighting this winter, a Coal Tit, a Goldcrest in the garden next to the bothy. And Phil spotted a Song Thrush, the first sighting since the Bird Champion recording scheme began in 2007. These birds helped to boost the final total but all the regulars like the Blue Tits, Magpies, Robins and Wrens were there too.

A Hilly Fields Blue Tit being birdwatched (photo Rebecca Simmons)
A Hilly Fields Robin also being birdwatched (photo Rebecca Simmons)
 The final tally of birds seen or heard was 26 species which is the highest total recorded on Hilly Fields Big Birdwatch day since the event began in 2009. The breakdown is as follows:
Black bird, 6
House Sparrow 9
Wren 3
Redwing 3
Blue Tit 6
Great Tit 3
Goldfinch 9
Carrion Crow 5
Common Gull 15
Black-headed Gull 24
Jay 1
Magpie 4
Feral Pigeon 12
Greenfinch, 5
Woodpigeon, 8
Ring-necked Parakeet, 5
Starling, 24
Robin, 3
Long-tailed Tit 8
Coal Tit, 1
Mistle Thrush, 2
Pied Wagtail, 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2
Chaffinch, 2
Song Thrush, 1
Goldcrest, 1
And don't forget me - I come under 'Other Wildlife' (Photo Rebecca Simmons)
Well done to everyone who took part and helped us in achieving this brilliant total. And thanks in particular to Rachel who organised the stall, to Sue, Phil, Judith and Lawrence for helping with the walks and to 'the other Phil' and Sandy for general hands-on assistance. And by the way, the RSPB were there too with their own stall next to ours and signed up a whole bunch of new members. I'm sure they found it worthwhile.

Next: the Dawn Chorus Walk! But not until spring has sprung. Date to be announced...