Thursday, 10 December 2009

London House Sparrow Parks Project

Just received the Autumn 2009 edition of the RSPB's London House Sparrow Parks Project (LHSPP) newsletter, as promised, so here's a summary:

"London's parks and gardens used to be full of house sparrows. These once common birds have seen a terrible fall in numbers and are now hardly seen in the centre of London at all. One reason for this seems to be a poor supply of food - insects and seeds - for them to eat."

The LHSPP has set up a trial of grass and flower mixes in 20 parks across the city and are monitoring them for insects and seeds and to see whether birds use them.

I did ask if the RSPB had considered conducting any of their trials in Hilly Fields - or Lewisham, at least - but they said they wouldn't be working in our area.

The two trials closest to Hilly Fields are Burgess Park and Peckham Rye Park, both in Southwark. Other trials south of the river are in Beddington Park, Cheam Park, Perrets Field, Rose Hill Park east and St. Hellier Open Space, all in Sutton plus Tooting Bec Common in Wandsworth.

The types of plot they are testing are:

"Long grass: the original park grass left long to give insects somewhere to live over winter, and to provide birds with grass seed.

"Wildflower meadows: a mix of native grass and flowers planted to provide seeds, give insects somewhere to live, and also to provide more nectar for insects.

"'Wildlife Seed' plots: a mix of flowers and other plants often found around edges of fields, that should provide a lot of seed and should also be good for insects."

If you'd like more information, you could try the RSPB London Office: 020 7808 1240
For advice on gardening for wildlife, visit Homes for Wildlife

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Busy, busy, bad weather, busy

I used to be able to get quality time in the park three or four times a week, but these last couple of months have been so very different. I have other interests which, just now, are taking up to three days a week. Hopefully, this will reduce soon, but every time this month when I've seen my way clear to visit the park it's either been raining, or very windy or the school's just out or it's dark: the four main conditions that are not good for birdspotting.

Now it's looking like I'll not get any time in the park this month at all, so all I can say is "better luck next month".

Meanwhile I can report that the RSPB has started a new project, the London House Sparrow Parks Project, this time working with eight Borough Councils, excluding Lewisham unfortunately, testing whether long grass, wildflower meadows, or a tailored 'wildlife seed mix' best provide foods that house sparrows need. This is a three year trial and they have agreed to keep me informed, so I'll occasionally be passing on snippets of news.

The RSPB hope the project will also raise awareness of the plight of the ‘Cockney sparra’, and that they can encourage people to consider sparrows in their own gardens too, beyond providing bird feeders, water or nestboxes. Leaving areas of longer grass and maintaining thick shrubby vegetation should help provide them with somewhere safe to feed, roost and nest.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

London House Sparrow Project ends

I received the final newsletter of the London House Sparrow Project this weekend. Here are a few extracts from the text:

“After 5 years of counting your local sparrows, the project is now coming to an end. We are very grateful to all of you for your kind help over the years, whether you helped feed the sparrows, allowed us access to your gardens, or plied us with welcome cups of tea.

“So what have we found after five years of feeding sparrows? Feeding mealworms during the summer increased nesting success of sparrows in every year. However, we only saw an impact of feeding on adult numbers when we fed year-round seed as well as mealworms. [A graph then shows that] adult numbers increased on fed sites, only after seed feeding was introduced in 2007. This suggests sparrows lack sufficient insects to feed their young, and also seed to get them through the autumn and winter.

“With a focus on a few sites over the winter we've been able to work out the “survival rates” (percentage surviving from one year to the next) of our sparrows at the fed and "unfed" sites. Analysis suggests that about 51% of our colour-ringed birds are getting through the winter months, which is pretty much the figure that is cited in other studies as the percentage annual survival for house sparrows. So it doesn't appear that our sparrows are unduly suffering over the winter. It does sound like a lot of birds perishing each year - we have to remember that such small creatures are often rather short-lived, and that maintaining the population depends on a lot of young being produced to counter this.

“For our last fieldwork we looked at a few sites this summer to check on our survey methods for fledglings” [this included the Cliffview Road site; Bird Champ].

“Meanwhile, our exciting new project has begun. The RSPB House Sparrow Parks Project. Officer, Jacqui Weir, with the help of the Royals Parks, the London boroughs and SITA Trust, is trying out large scale experiments on London's green spaces, to find out what sort of park management is best for bugs and seeds, and therefore sparrows and other birds. This is an amazing project which will hopefully produce improvements to London's grassland biodiversity! Jacqui [] is the primary contact for your enquiries about this work

“Once again thank you to everyone for your amazing support, we could not have done it without you. And please do visit for more details of how you can continue to support our work. In the meantime, please keep looking after your local sparrows!”

So that’s it. The end of the London House Sparrow Project. We’ll miss Chris Orsman’s regular visits here and thank him again for the generous donation of seed, feeder and nest boxes for Hilly Fields Park.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Four Mistle Thrush, no less!

Despite best efforts I haven't managed to get into the park for a long time. I used to think that being retired would give me lots of time to myself, but reality is the reverse: I had more free time when I was fully employed!

In recent weeks it seemed that every time I had the opportunity to get into Hilly Fields it was either very windy or raining or Prendergast School was just out. The three worst time to see the birds.

This morning was delightfully different. First I filled the birdfeeder in the Quiet Garden then took a walk across the park. That's when I spotted the first Mistle Thrush in the West field just north of the meadow; a few moments later it was joined by another and a couple of minutes later another pair showed up. They were seeking food in the grass and gradually making their way south to the meadow.

I didn't have my camera with me, which is rare, so took a few photos with the mobile phone. In my excitement I forgot that its zoom facility is purely electronic so, since I took most photos at full zoom, the resulting jpegs are only 15KB instead of the normal 3MB and appallingly bad resolution. The best of them has been put through Photoshop to enhance the three birds but you still need the arrows to see exactly where they are.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Kestrel unperturbed

Cllr Mike Keogh emailed me some photos he took a couple of days ago of the Kestrel in the meadow. Mike wrote:

"Have you seen the kestrel at the bottom of the school to bottom Montague Ave path, on lamppost just before trees. It is in and out of the meadow ... and hangs out on top of lighting column looking quite scruffy and unperturbed by passers-by."

This photo shows the Kestrel on a lamppost on the path near Prendergast School, which is in the background.
Thanks Mike.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Kestrel's back (& me too!)

After a few weeks absence on holiday in the Scottish Highlands and then essential maintenence around the house and garden I am, at last, back to the normal routine.

I must mention (because this is very rare) that the Highlands were dry and very hot: up to 30 degC. and only one rainy day. There were plenty of Osprey nearby, one even took a fish just 100m from our apartment, and no shortage of House Sparrows.

For the past few weeks Chris, from the RSPB, has been surveying Cliffview Road and this side of Hilly Fields weekly instead of monthly. When he was here on Thursday, Chris told me the weekly visits have been very successful, from the point of view of the London House Sparrow Project, but next week could be the last of the more frequent visits as breeding is almost over for this season.

I was in Hilly Fields this afternoon and met Keeper Justine who has quite an interest in the birdlife and brought me up-to-date on what was around. I filled the feeder in the Garden and then wandered over past the Playground when suddenly a Kestrel swooped down on something. Whatever it was must've got away because the two photos I managed show the Kestrel without a catch.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

RSPB weekly survey

If you see this man with binoculars looking towards the roof of your house, all is well, he's not casing the joint!

This is Chris Orsman from the RSPB on his now weekly survey of House Sparrows in the Cliffview Road area. Chris is a key member of the London House Sparrow Project team which, until recently, surveyed 66 sites across London on a roughly monthly basis. The number of sites has now been reduced to permit weekly visits to the more active sites - including ours.

Chris will be in Hilly Fields park peering into our gardens and also in one or two gardens in Cliffview Road.
Some of his visits may be quite early in the morning but most surveys in our area will be on Wednesdays.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Nests galore

I haven't found the time to get into the park for two or three weeks, so today's findings quite made up for that.

First I found, in the quiet garden, a pair of Robins feeding a young one on the ground. All three had flown before I could get my camera out.

Next, near the school, I spotted a Mistle Thrush. It flew into a tree, straight to its nest and proceeded to feed its young. There were at least two of them. While watching that, Blue Tits were frequently flying into and out of the same tree. Just the other side to the Mistle Thrush nest was a natural hole in the tree with an occupied nest.

Around the other side of the play area I found one of the nestboxes made by pupils of Prendergast School was occupied by another family of Blue Tits.

Finally I returned to the Mistle thrush nest and managed to get a quick photo there too.

Quite a successful hour.

Friday, 8 May 2009

London House Sparrow Project

I’ve just received a call from Chris Orsman from the RSPB London House Sparrow Project.

Until now, they've been monitoring 66 sites around London on a roughly monthly basis, half of them fed with live food and the other half (including ours) are control sites. They are now dropping sites with fewest House Sparrows and intend to monitor the remainder (including ours) on a weekly basis.

To this end Chris, armed with clipboard and binoculars, will be peering over garden hedges around Hilly Fields Park surveying the nesting sites, many of which are in our roofs. Before he begins this new phase next week, Chris intends to visit those houses to introduce himself and assure you he’s not up to no good!

Sunday, 5 April 2009


This afternoon, around 5:30, a Sparrowhawk flew from the park and landed right beside the birdfeeders in my garden. It must have thought a meal would eventually turn up as it stayed there for about five minutes. Anyway, I did manage to get a pretty good photo of it before it flew back into the park.

(I include it in this blog because my garden backs onto the park)

Hedge Trimming Begins

I was in the park yesterday, Saturday, to fill the birdfeeder which was completely empty. It was a joy to find almost the entire garden carpeted with flowers - see pic.

Glendale have begun to trim the hedges along the Cliffview Road side of the park. The first few metres of hedge are trimmed.

Also there's new planting and fences repaired - thanks mainly, I understand, to Keith the Park Keeper.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2009 - national results

The RSPB published their Big Garden Birdwatch 2009 results today, with more than half a million people taking part - more than ever before - and also a surprise new entrant in the Top Ten.

The top 10 for Greater London are:
House Sparrow
Blue Tit
Feral Pigeon
Great tit
Collared dove

and our own results for Hilly Fields (we had a tie for 10th place) are:
Black-headed Gull
House Sparrow
Feral Pigeon
Carrion Crow
Blue Tit, Magpie, Common Gull
Blackbird, Ring-necked Parakeet, Mistle Thrush
The full RSPB results can be found here

Thanks again to all who took part in Hilly Fields.

Friday, 20 March 2009

"Who Killed the Cockney Sparrer?"

Listening to Radio 4 last Thursday I bumped into this programme in which "Nature detective Tom Heap investigates who, or what, is killing the common sparrow."

I found it quite interesting, especially because it mentions the 66 test feeding sites around London, of which my garden is one. Also, about 20 minutes in, Chris Orsman describes how they catch and ring birds - Chris is my contact at RSPB and visits my garden and Hilly Fields Park regularly to survey the birds.

If you'd like to hear more of the mystery of the disappearing sparrow, you have until Thurdsay 25th March 2009 to Listen Again, so here is a link to the programme's website.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Goldcrests and hedge trimming

Next week Glendale aim to trim the hedge that borders the gardens on the north-east (Cliffview Road) side of the park, so I had a good look at the birdlife in the hedge today on my way to the Farmers' Market and the Ladywell Assembly.

Flitting from branch to branch today were about 16 House Sparrows, a solitary male Blackbird and a pair of restless Goldcrests. I've received a few reports of Goldcrests in the neighbourhood but this is the first time I've spotted any in Hilly Fields over the last couple of years. The BirdTrack site has none at all reported for Hilly Fields (or map reference TQ3775) since their records began in 2005.

This is a stock photo of a Goldcrest, not mine.

Often described as a snooker ball with legs, they're the smallest British bird and suprisingly common as there's probably 5M pairs around in the winter months, reducing to 1.5M pairs in the summer.

Very slightly larger and much much rarer at 400 pairs is the Firecrest, similar but with a bold white eyebrow.

The park was quite busy, so few other birds were around except 10 Woodpigeons and a pair of Magpies in the meadow.


3pm Friday 20th March

Sorry to say the hedge hasn't been trimmed yet, let's hope that late trimming doesn't disturb the all-too-rare House Sparrows.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

More Redwing

A little after 3pm today a pair of Redwing were in the Meadow area, close to Adelaide Avenue, exactly where one was spotted on Big Garden Birdwatch day.

They kept to the 10m strip closest to the road and looked as though they were feeding on grubs and worms. Close nearby were a pair of Mistle Thrush also feeding.

(This is a stock image, not one of today's birds)

New Links

I have now added a Links section in the right-hand panel. These initial links are:

Hilly Fields Park User Group - Keep up-to-date with what's happening in your park.

Bird Track - Enter your sightings in this national database (see here for info)

RSPB - For everything you want to know about birds.

C J Wildbirdfood - Bird food and feeders at reasonable prices.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Budding Ornithologists

Just been sent this pic of budding ornithologists at the Birdwatch Day

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow festival in the park

I don't think I've ever seen so many people in the park as there were today - except for organised sport, the turn of the millennium and Concord's last flight - and I've certainly never seen so many snowmen anywhere. They were all sizes and shapes; one looked sculpted and another was an elephant's head complete with tusks.

Here are photos of a few of them.

While in the park I didn't see any birds at all, although I could hear birdsong in a few places.

I made up for this shortfall in my own garden, which backs onto the park, where there were up Robin (2), Starling (4), Chaffinch (2), Woodpigeon (3), Blue Tit (3), Great Tit (1) and House Sparrow (c20).

Sunday, 25 January 2009

RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch a great success

There were birds to draw, masks to colour and wear, quizzes to solve, bird-feeders to make from flowerpot, lard and seeds then decorate and hang around the park or take home to hang in the garden.

Best of all, there were more species seen in the park today than have ever been seen since our records began.

All the more rarely seen birds were on display but the star of the day was a newcomer: a Redwing was first spotted with two Mistle Thrushes in the meadow near the road and later seen on the slope in front of the school.

The full list of birds is:-

Black-headed Gull 23
Blackbird 2
Blue Tit 10
Carrion Crow 4
Common Gull 3
Feral Pigeon 6
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Great Tit 2
Greenfinch 1
Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 14
Jay 1
Magpie 3
Mistle Thrush 2
Redwing 1
Ring-necked Parakeet 2
Robin 2
Starling 18
Woodpigeon 5
Wren 1

Everyone had a great day.

Special thanks to Lara and Rachel and, of course, the birds of Hilly Fields.