Friday, 28 December 2012

December Bird Survey

Our December bird survey took place on the 21st - a fine sunny day though the ground was still rain sodden in places. It was also the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and, according to some, the day on which the world would end - although the Mayans were saying that was baloney. And of course they were right.

The better weather brought plenty of birds out, but the highlight was a clear view of a female Blackcap in the garden between bowling green and bothy. Blackcaps are warblers with a pretty song which we heard often last spring. They are still mainly spring migrants to the UK and spend the winter in Spain, Portugal or West Africa, but as our climate has warmed, a small population overwinters here (estimated as "3000 and increasing" by the RSPB). By coincidence, Sue had seen a male Blackcap in her garden a few days earlier, so it is gratifying to know that they are hanging on in lovely Lewisham. The male has a black head (hence the name 'Blackcap') and the female a brown head; both have a light grey breast. Our female didn't stay around long enough for me to get a photo, but here's one from the Web.

Female Blackcap
Just before the Blackcap appeared, we saw a Dunnock (possibly two) scrabbling around in the undergrowth. Dunnocks seem to be permanent residents of Hilly Fields, though we've never seen more than one or two at any one time and I doubt that there are many around the park. They are small, furtive birds that tend to creep around close to cover.

In all, we saw 17 different species during our walkabout. The 'big' numbers were 22 Blackheaded Gulls, 13 Starlings, 10 Woodpigeons and 9 Common Gulls. There were 6 House Sparrows in the Cliffview hedge which is slightly more than usual. We heard the high-pitched trilling of Goldfinches quite often, but never saw more than 4 together. Similarly, we heard and saw Robins, Great Tits and Blue Tits galore but never more than 3 at any one time. We also saw small numbers of Magpies, Crows, Blackbirds and Ring-necked Parakeets as well as a solitary Chaffinch and at one point heard a Greenfinch sneering at us from somewhere out of sight. Here's a shot of one of the Starlings high up in a poplar tree -they really do have attractive glossy speckled coats though you need a close-up view to appreciate it.

In other news, the Tawny Owl was heard again earlier this month by a Cliffview resident (thanks, Keith!).  Great Tits which have been quiet since early summer can now be heard calling most days and other birds should be getting more vocal from January onwards. On which 'note', may I thank everyone who takes the time to visit and read (and occasionally comment on) Hilly Fields Birdwatch and wish you all the best for 2013.

Monday, 3 December 2012

November Bird Survey

What a difference a month can make. At the end of October, I was moaning about the "dense foliage" hiding the small birds from view. By 27th November when we did this month's bird survey, the trees were almost bare, having been helped by some strong autumn winds to shed their leaves. As a result, the small birds were much more visible, even through the drizzle that splattered our optical aids. Walking around the park, we saw and/or heard at least 8 Robins, a couple of Wrens moving around tree trunks looking for insects, Chaffinches, Blue Tits, plenty of Great Tits (with a couple calling but not yet in full voice) and a small number of Long-tailed Tits alongside them. Close up, the Long-tailed Tit is an excessively cute little bird as can be seen in this recent photograph by Dave Bushell from the Kent Wildlife Trust page on Facebook.

Winter flocks are building up as well. At one point on Eastern Road, we saw about 20 Goldfinch suddenly rise en masse from a single tree, startled by a Mistle Thrush flying nearby. And at least 20 Starlings were making a communal racket in a tree near the playground. On the lower field, the Black-headed Gulls had returned in force, having been absent for most of the month. Perhaps they'd heard that the weather was about to turn cold. We counted 40 in total with a pair of Common Gulls among them. And along the path that borders the Cliffview Rd back gardens, we found 7 House Sparrows lurking in the hedgerows - which almost does constitute a "flock" these days for what was once the commonest bird in London.

In addition, we saw Wood Pigeons, Feral Pigeons, Blackbirds, Crows, Magpies and our old friend or enemy, the Ring-necked Parakeet. A respectable tally of 18 different species in all.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

October Bird Survey

The last day of October was overcast and windy with rain showers also forecast. These are not the sort of conditions which entice birds out into the open, particularly when there's still plenty of dense foliage for them to shelter in. My expectations were low therefore as I trudged up Vicars Hill towards the park. On meeting Terry, however, who joined me for this month's survey, I discovered that he'd had already seen a flock of Long-tailed Tits, a Goldcrest and a Great Spotted Woodpecker all in the Eastern Road area! By the end of our walkabout,we'd clocked a healthy total of 18 different species. The Goldcrest, which I saw later in the garden area was hanging out with the Long-tailed Tits. It is officially Britain's smallest bird and has a quiet high-pitched call. The yellow and black striped head crest (from which it gets its name) is difficult to see from the ground and I'm not sure I would have recognised it without Terry's expert eye. This is only the second time that we Bird Champions have seen one on Hilly Fields, the last being in March 2009. Here's a cute little clip from You Tube:

The other significant feature of our survey was the return of the gulls which are moving back into the city now that the temperature is dropping. Small in number at present - 9 Black-headed Gulls and 2 Common Gulls waddling around next to the cricket pitch - but more will follow. The Starlings are also back - we counted 13 noisily convening in one of the trees on the Northern field - but again more will turn up as the autumn and winter progresses. We counted 80 during the RSPB Birdwatch event last January. Here's a pic of them dropping in to join a gull on the grass.

Also seen or heard: several Robins calling in different places, one briefly singing; 2 Jays in trees between the wood and the orchard; 3 Feral Pigeons, 8 Wood Pigeons; 2 Blackbirds, one a black-billed juvenile; 5 Crows and 1 Magpie (for sorrow); small numbers of Great Tits and Blue Tits calling in various locations; 2 Goldfinches and, in the Cliffview back gardens hedge, the usual family of 4 House Sparrows, males outnumbering female by 3:1; and a solitary Ring-necked Parakeet.

PS. Shortly after posting the above, Sue told me she had seen earlier this week "a Sparrowhawk going from HF across Vicars Hill, a Peregrine Falcon going the other way over Algiers Road and a Green Woodpecker on an ash tree near the garden/bothy on Hilly Fields". This is the first Green Woodpecker that we have spotted on Hilly Fields though they can be found quite often in Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries.

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Dead Duck and An Owl

You know it's a quiet morning when three birders - myself, Sue and Tony - end up staring through our binoculars at a Wood Pigeon sitting in a tree. Later on, we saw a flock of 26 "Woodies" on the East Field, although they were soon frightened off by a Glendale man hoovering up litter. Other than that our monthly survey on 28 September was very nearly a dead duck- as they say. The oppressively gloomy weather had a lot to do with it, I'm sure. Birds that we have little difficulty in seeing on a normal day like Great Tits, Robins and Goldfinches could not be tempted out of their cover and were heard rather than seen. We did get a good view of three Blue Tits at the top of a tree in the Vicars Hill border, though one had flown by the time I got my camera out.

Blue Tits in the Vicars Hill border
We heard a single Wren in the wood, caught a brief glimpse of a blackbird in the Veda Road garden border, saw a Mistle Thrush fly across the lower field into the tree canopy and two House Sparrows at the top end of Vicars Hill. But only those old familiars - the Crows and Magpies - were out and about as usual. At least by the end of next month, the gulls should have arrived for the winter. And the Robins which are ticking and clicking just about everywhere at the moment as they establish territorial rights should be showing themselves more clearly. And of course the trees will be shedding their leaves...

Magpie on the East Field
There has been one piece of good news during September - a Tawny Owl has been heard hooting after dark by residents along the Cliffview Road border. Tawnies are not uncommon in the parks and wooded areas of London, though this is a "first" on Hilly Fields during the time that we've been recording. When the London Wildlife Trust carried out a survey in 1985, over 400 records of Tawny Owls were submitted covering every borough except the City of London. Interestingly, the LWT has just completed another "owl prowl" survey and it will be interesting to see how it compares and whether numbers have fallen like those of many other bird species. If you hear an owl hooting on Hilly Fields, please let us know via the comments box.

Tawny Owl [stock photo]

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Goodbye Mr McGaw

Sadly, this week sees the departure of Chris McGaw who has managed the Lewisham Rivers and People project since its inception two and a half years ago. In that time, Chris has led umpteen walks all over Lewisham and shown us many features of the natural world that we never knew existed in our urban surroundings. Hilly Fields has been on the itinerary several times including two dawn chorus walks when Chris drove in from his home in Kent for a 5.00 am start. He even managed to stop the rain for a couple of hours this year and provided the magic key that let us into Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries as part of the walk.

Chris under the Hilly Fields green flag
May 2011
Ladywell Fields Sept 2012
Chris is a birder with a particular skill in recognising birdsong, but he also has a very wide knowledge of nature in general and has identified for us many flowers, plants, trees and tree galls, insects, fish and other aquatic creatures. Always helpful, his enthusiasm for nature has been inspiring. In his new job at the Kench Hill Centre near Tenterden, Chris will be helping inner city school children learn more about the natural world. He will be very much missed in Lewisham.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

August Bird Survey

The upper half of Eastern Road and the adjoining wood/nature reserve could almost be designated an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Birdwatching) within Hilly Fields. Apart from the winter Gulls (and, come to think of it, the House Sparrow), almost every bird that frequents the park can be seen there at some time or other and it's particularly favoured by the smaller birds such as Tits, Finches, Blackcaps, Robins, Wrens and by Blackbirds. Obviously the number of trees is a big attraction, as is the cover provided by the sheer density of foliage, particularly the hawthorn scrub on the western side of the road. And at this time of year, the bright red haw berries provide a food source.

Blackbird in Hilly Fields Wood
Eastern Road also contributes one of the few sources of water for birds on Hilly Fields. On this month's survey (24 August), we watched a small flock of adult and juvenile Goldfinches along with a couple of Greenfinches swoop down from the roadside trees to drink from puddles in the gutters and little potholes - a sight we've often noted before. In the wood, we heard a couple of Robins singing for the first time since late spring - a sure sign that they're emerging from the summer moult. Wrens were singing there too. And flitting among the trees on the eastern side of Eastern Road was our old friend the Great Spotted Woodpecker, not seen since early June. In this full zoom photo, you can just about make out its black, white and red colouring.

Elsewhere in the park, we saw Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Magpies, Crows, Feral Pigeons, House Sparrows, Ring-necked Parakeets and Wood Pigeons. In addition, Sue intended to listen to her birdsong CDs to determine whether the "chink" (or was it "pink"?) we heard could have been a Chaffinch calling. This makes a reasonably wide range of species, albeit in small numbers apart from the "Woodies". Still no sign of any Starlings. Earlier in the month, I saw a pair of Mistle Thrushes in the Eastern Road hawthorns and a Jay in the poplars along the Stones Field boundary, so it's good to know they're still around.

Meanwhile, in other news, something is coming to fruition along Eastern Road - yes, it's also an Area of Outstanding Natural Blackberrying. If you haven't been along there with your bowl yet, now's the time.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

July Bird Survey

Our July bird survey took place on the 31st - a cloudy day with fleeting glimpses of the sun. We began at the lower Vicars Hill entrance and immediately heard and saw some Long-tailed Tits in the trees there - probably no more than three, but a welcome sight. Sue also spotted three Swifts soaring overhead. These  incredible flyers return home earlier than Martins and Swallows and will probably be back in Africa by the time we do our end-of-August survey.

Stock photo: Common Swift
Moving on around the park, we saw and heard a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, heard a Mistle Thrush's alarm call, saw a flock of 7 Goldfinches around Eastern Road (including some juveniles which don't yet have the red heads of the adult - see photo below), a flock of 11 Woodpigeons on the Eastern field and 4 House Sparrows in their usual playground - the hedgerow bordering the back gardens of Cliffview Road.

Juvenile Goldfinch: black and yellow wings but no red face or black crown as in the adult [Photo: Tom]
In addition, we saw and/or heard 3 Blue Tits and small numbers of Great Tits, Wrens, Robins, Feral Pigeons, Crows, 1 Magpie (much sorrow!), Blackbirds and at the very end of the survey...a pair of Coal Tits, one seen and one heard by Sue in the Vicars Hill border trees. The Coal Tit is a quite uncommon bird on Hilly Fields, last recorded on our Bird Track pages in 2010. However, we may have overlooked it in the past as they can sound like Great Tits, hang upside down like Blue Tits and mix with Long-tailed Tits!

Stock photo: Coal Tit
In all, a total of 16 species were recorded which is not bad for the quiet summer months. The most noticeable absentees were Starlings, which seem to have moved elsewhere for a while, and Ring-necked Parakeets though those little darlings/birds/pests (as you prefer) still come and go on a daily basis.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch: How Do We Compare?

The RSPB has published the results of its national Bird Garden Birdwatch survey, held over the weekend of 28/29 January 2012. We held our own "big garden" survey on Hilly Fields on 29 January and a total of 23 species was identified by all who took part. It is interesting to compare the top 23 birds in the national survey with our list:

  Hilly Fields Survey                                National Survey

  1. Starling                                                    1. House Sparrow
  2. House Sparrow                                      2. Starling
  3. Black-headed Gull                                 3. Blue Tit
4. Common Gull 4. Blackbird
5. Goldfinch 5. Chaffinch
  6. Ring-necked Parakeet                          6. Woodpigeon
  7. Blackbird                                                 7. Goldfinch 
  8. Woodpigeon                                            8. Great Tit
  9. Blue Tit                                                   9. Robin
  9. Greenfinch                                             10. Collared Dove     
  9. Magpie                                                   11. Dunnock
 10. Carrion Crow                                       12. Magpie
 10. Chaffinch                                              13. Long-tailed Tit 
 10. Feral Pigeon                                        14. Greenfinch
 10. Great Tit                                              15. Feral Pigeon
 10. Jay                                                        16. Coal Tit
 10. Long-tailed Tit                                    17. Jackdaw
 10. Robin                                                    18. Carrion Crow
 11. Mistle Thrush                                      19. Wren
 11. Wren                                                     20. Common Gull
 12. Dunnock                                               21. Pheasant 
 12. Great Spotted Woodpecker               22. Song Thrush
 12. Pied Wagtail                                         23. Bullfinch 

There is a 73% match between the two lists, so - as you might expect - Hilly Fields does not differ enormously as a bird habitat from gardens and parks across the UK. Our list is skewed slightly by the winter timing of the survey when there are flocks of gulls on Hilly Fields and the Starling population is at its height. There also seems to have been a larger number of House Sparrows on HF that day than usual (16 were counted - the norm is between 4 and 8).

The six birds which are on our list but not in the national Top 23 are: Black-headed Gull (a very common winter bird in London), Great Spotted Woodpecker (no. 24 on the national list!), Jay, Mistle Thrush, Pied Wagtail and Ring-necked Parakeet. The pesky Parakeet is still predominantly a Southern England bird and, in London, most common south of the river.

The six birds which are in the national Top 23 but not on our list are: Bullfinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Jackdaw, Pheasant and Song Thrush. These can all be seen in the London area with varying degrees of frequency. Locally, Song Thrushes can be seen/heard in Brockley Cemetery and Brookmill Park, Jackdaws in Greenwich Park (when not closed for the Olympics) and I've seen a Collared Dove on top of a bus shelter in Hilly Fields Crescent but forgot to record the date!

The national RSPB survey has drawn attention to the 79% decline in Starling numbers recorded since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979. In fact, both the House Sparrow and the Starling - despite still being the two most recorded birds in our gardens and parks - have declined so much numerically that they are now on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Hopefully, both populations will at least stabilize.

Friday, 6 July 2012

June Bird Survey

Friday 29th June: a cloudy morning with spots of rain, occasional glimmers of sun and a strong wind. The wind made it difficult to hear the birds and perhaps they weren't bothering to sing much anyway. It was also hard to see the small birds as all the trees are in full leaf. In short, we saw and/or heard only 13 species during a two hour survey and that's the lowest number recorded this year, down from 23 species in Jan, 22 in Feb, 16 in March and April and 14 in May. Crap weather may have something to do with it (wettest April-June quarter since 1910 etc.), but also the moulting season is beginning which means some birds will be keeping a low profile as they shed their feathers. 

The highest number by far was a flock of 20+ Woodpigeons foraging on the East field. After that, 4 Carrion Crow, 4 Blackbirds, 4 House Sparrows, 3 Starlings, 3 Feral Pigeons, 2 Magpies, 2 Goldfinches, 2 Wrens and 1 each of Pied Wagtail, Robin, Great Tit and Chaffinch. The Pied Wagtail was hopping about the bowling green only a few feet away from two Glendale workers who were mowing the grass, though it eventually flew away. From previous observations, the green is becoming a regular haunt for this attractive bird which feeds mainly on insects including flies, midges and caterpillars.

Stock photo - not the bowling green!
No sign of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers (see recent posts), but we did see a fledgling Carrion Crow following its mum or dad around near the cricket pitch, sometimes opening its mouth in hope of food. It's plumage at this stage is mainly dark brown rather than the familiar all-black of the adult. A few of the smaller birds we saw did look rather disheveled (though not this Crow) which may be due to the strains of producing and feeding their needy broods.

In the cherry tree just to the south of the newly opened cafe, we saw four blackbirds flitting around and pecking at the cherries. Easy to see the speckled breast of the female in the pic. below even if the camera is slightly out of focus. 

After that, we treated ourselves to a much-needed coffee!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

RSPB House Sparrow Count

This week the RSPB - in partnership with the London Wildlife Trust - launched its "Cockney Sparrow" count. It is asking Londoners to spend an hour or so between now and 12 July counting sparrows and recording the highest number seen at any one time. The count can be done anywhere in London - in your garden, on the street, in the park, near your workplace, wherever you like. There is a simple form available which should be completed and sent in - see Downloads on the right hand side of the following web page: The RSPB emphasises that it does want "nil returns", ie. not seeing any sparrows is just as important to the survey as seeing them.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

'Peckers Progress

I'm sure you all noticed the deliberate mistake in my last post, calling the young woodpecker a "fledgling". As it was still being fed in the nest by its parents, it should really have been called a "nestling" - or perhaps just a "chick". A young bird is not a fledgling until it has fully grown its flight feathers and can flutter about a bit in the great outdoors. Just keeping you on your toes.

I saw a chick appear at the hole again on both 4 and 5 June, but since then no sightings of the young (I'm being positive and assuming that there is more than one) and no sound coming from the nest. At sundown on 9 June, however, Sue saw an adult Great Spotted Woodpecker fly into the hole. As the chick I saw looked very healthy, we are fairly confident that they have now fledged, but perhaps the family is still returning to the nest at dusk to roost.

Not looking too thrilled to see us (photo by Ruby)
At this stage of their lives, the fledglings will still be around the park somewhere and will still be being fed bill-to-bill by their parents. They should be easily identifiable by the red crown which will not disappear until their first moult in the autumn. Please let us know if you see them. This excellent You Tube video clip shows a fledgling being fed.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

May Bird Survey

The late May heatwave was still in progress when Sue and I did our monthly bird survey on Tuesday 29th. The park was looking good in the sunshine even though all the beautiful white blossom on the Hawthorns and Horse Chestnuts has disappeared. The birds were lying low at first, so much so that we started to count the Speckled Wood butterflies instead, except there were too many of them!

Then we had a surprise - a constant high-pitched noise heard behind Prendergast School turned out to be coming from a hole high up in some kind of ornamental oak tree. The arrival at the hole of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker and then soon after a female confirmed that we had found a nest with hungry woodpecker fledglings. They couldn't be seen from ground level, so numbers are uncertain but we will be keeping an eye on the nest. There are normally between five to seven eggs in a GSW brood, but eggs and fledglings can be taken by other birds while the parents are out hunting for food. While we were there, the female was seen at a tree some thirty yards away, presumably digging insects out of the bark.

Male and female GSWs. Female has no red patch on back of  head, but does have red under the tail like the male
Sue also found a Blue Tit nest in a dead tree near the tennis courts. One of the parents was in attendance while we watched. Apart from that excitement, we noted a slight revival in the number of Starlings, ten being spotted together at one point. Otherwise the following birds were seen and/or heard, all in small numbers: Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Magpie, House Sparrow, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Wren, Robin and Ring-necked Parakeet.

A few days earlier (25th), Sue spotted three Pied Wagtails on the bowling green and then witnessed a Sparrowhawk swoop down on them! All three appeared to evade capture.

Woodpecker Update: the picture below was taken by my daughter on Saturday afternoon (2 June) and shows one of the fledglings peeping out of the hole. The crimson crown on top of its head will disappear with its first moult. Hopefully, it's not an only child...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Lewisham Gardens

I have added a link on this website to a new local gardening site - LewishamGardens. LG has only been going for a few months but already contains a vast amount of advice and information on local gardening resources, gardening in general and associated topics.

Did you know, for example, that there are more than 60 community gardens in Lewisham and "20 bee keepers in Brockley alone" (I know, it's a hive of activity - thank you). It has forums on different subjects (including Wildlife), lots of photographs and is also a "social network" site to which anyone can contribute if registered. All that and - ahem -an article by me on Garden Birds. What more could you possibly ask for?

Lewisham Gardens is regularly updated with all the latest local gardening news. It's obviously a labour of love run by enthusiasts, so if you're a keen gardener or even a wannabe gardener, head over there and check it out. It deserves your support.

Friday, 4 May 2012

April Bird Survey

We had a rain-free but quiet morning (30 April) for our monthly bird survey, rather like last month. Most of the usual birds were seen or heard but in fewer numbers. We heard the Great Spotted Woodpecker only once, heard only one Blackcap (we had seen Blackcaps on separate occasions earlier in the month in the wood/Eastern Rd area) and saw only one Goldfinch. We also had the feeling that we were constantly just missing birds, that they had been there behind our backs but flown just before we turned around! Of course the fact that the trees and bushes are now in full bloom provides them with much more cover. It is notable also that far fewer Great Tits were heard, whereas since the New Year their calls have been coming at us in quadrophonic sound. The highest number of birds seen in one place was a flock of nine starlings, but this is well down on the numbers that we were seeing in the main winter months.

Great Tits - the male has a broader black stripe down the breast

All this can be put down mainly to the ongoing breeding season and indeed we saw both a Starling and a Blue Tit carrying insects in their bills presumably to feed the fledglings in their nests. On the plus side, quite a few Blue Tits were seen and heard in different places as we walked around and a fair number of Wrens were heard with their piercing song. It was nice also to see a Long-tailed Tit in the garden next to the Bothy - an unmistakable bird simply because its tail is indeed long in relation to its body size. On the other side of the Bothy, we witnessed a fierce skirmish between a very dark brown female blackbird and a male. Needless to say, the female won the day - they are aggressive defenders of territory, especially at this time of year. The female always provides a visual reminder that Blackbirds belong to the Thrush family, although their speckled breasts don't stand out as strongly as the Song or Mistle Thrush.

In lulls between bird sightings, we did see an Orange Tip butterfly and a probable Holly Blue, though it was fluttering so fast we can't be sure. But enough of biodiversity. We demand better weather and more birds!

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!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Project Parakeet

We've all seen and heard the pesky parakeets that swoop and screech over our green spaces and gardens. With their bright green plumage and long tails, they are an exotic and perhaps attractive sight at first, even if their squawking and squealing takes some getting used to. But they are an invasive species and not generally regarded as a welcome addition to our natural environment.

In fact, such has been the concern about the growing numbers of these birds and their potential impact on other birds and on agriculture that Imperial College has launched Project Parakeet which is now in its third year and aims to assess:
  • the size, distribution and predicted growth of the population
  • the ecological impact on UK biodiversity
  • the economic impact on UK agri-ecosystems
To estimate numbers and growth, the Project holds quarterly counts at several well-known roosts in the London area. One of the biggest roosts is at Hither Green cemetery where several thousand parakeets from all over the SE London area spend the night. By all accounts, the arrival at dusk of so many of these birds is a quite amazing spectacle. The next count is being held on the evening of 1 April and volunteers are being called for to assist with the count at Hither Green. Volunteers are asked to arrive at 7.00 pm and it is expected that the count will end at 8.15 pm approx.

If you're interested in helping, take a look at their website: You can contact the organisers at: <>

Incidentally, Project Parakeet uses the name Rose-Ringed Parakeet for these birds (as does Wikipedia). The RSPB, the BTO and most birders I know call them Ring-Necked Parakeets. But what's in a name? They're the same noisy beast

Friday, 2 March 2012

Leap Day Survey

Our February survey took place on a leap day (29th) though I'm sure to the birds it was just another morning and a mild one at that. A total of 22 species were seen or heard which is a good tally and includes a Dunnock heard singing in the trees bordering the south-east field, a fine pair of Mistle Thrushes in the wood and, for the first time this winter, a Redwing in the trees on Eastern Road. Yes - just one. For some reason, Redwings have given Hilly Fields a miss this year despite being seen in such nearby places as Brockley Cemetery, Brookmill Park, Ladywell Fields and Greenwich Park (450+ recorded there on 10 February).

What we do get on Hilly Fields are Common Gulls which are not always found in other local gull hotspots. Close examination of the flock on the north field around the cricket pitch revealed 10 Common and 28 Black-headed Gulls - a few of the latter actually sporting the "black head" (strictly speaking, dark brown) which develops in the spring and summer.

There were fewer Starlings than on Big Birdwatch day (30 compared to 80 then) and fewer Goldfinches (4 compared to the usual 16+). However, a healthy number of Chaffinches were around and a trio of Greenfinches were sitting in the Eastern Rd trees which they often frequent. Above the path that borders the east field, a Magpie was diligently building a new nest - a reminder that the main breeding season is almost upon us.

On the birds of prey front, Sue spotted a male Kestrel on 7 February perched on a ledge on the western side of Prendergast School, while Lawrence reports the following: "Today 23rd Feb 2012 we saw a pair of Sparrowhawks perch in a sycamore tree at the end of our garden between Wickham Rd and Breakspears, they sat apart for a while until a Jay attacked one and this revealed the other in the tree behind as they went for the Jay, didn't get it. Fantastic!" The Sparrowhawks may well be part of the family that nested in Brockley Cemetery last year. It's good to know that they're still around, though perhaps not so good for other birds!

Male kestrel


Monday, 30 January 2012

Big Birdwatch Report

Nearly 30 adults and 19 children attended this year's RSPB Big Birdwatch event on Hilly Fields - a good turn-out considering it was a cloudy and cold Sunday morning. Illustrated sheets of the most common birds were handed out and people set off to scour the park in search of them. Some of the children who came along stayed at base camp (outside the Bothy) to make bird feeders and lard and seed balls with heart-warming enthusiasm.

The final tally of species seen was 21 which equals last year's total. The species seen are almost identical as well, except that Chaffinches were seen this year but no Redwings. The 2012 list which will be sent to the RSPB and to BirdTrack is as follows:

Blackbird - 5
Black-headed gull - 14
Blue tit - 4
Carrion Crow - 3
Chaffinch - 5
Common gull - 10
Feral pigeon - 5
Great tit - 3
Greenfinch - 4
Goldfinch - 6
Great spotted woodpecker - 1
House sparrow - 16
Jay - 3
Long-tailed tit - 3
Magpie - 4
Mistle thrush - 2
Ring-necked parakeet - 6
Robin - 3
Starling - 80
Wood pigeon - 5
Wren - 2

Well done to the person who spotted 5 Herring Gulls flying over the park, but we've checked the RSPB website and "flyovers" cannot be counted. The birds have got to be in the garden or in the park. Sorry but rules is rules!  The trouble with birds is that they will fly around and thus double counting - which could mask a decline in bird population levels - is always a risk; hence the other rule about only recording the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time.

Many thanks to all who came along. Thanks also to Rachel of the Hilly Fields User Group who organised this event and Judith from Glendale for her assistance.

NB. After review of the lists submitted, we added 1 Dunnock and 1 Pied Wagtail to the list above making a grand total of 23 species.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Yes, it's the annual RSPB Birdwatch this weekend. We will be leading walkabouts on Hilly Fields to identify and count the birds we see. The stats will be sent to the RSPB and will also be input to BirdTrack, a database used to monitor bird population levels nationwide.

So come along on Sunday 29 January and help. Don't be shy - we are not experts, just enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in birds can join in. Please bring binoculars if you can.

If you want to do a bird count in your own garden as well, you can download a form from:  But remember the RSPB's golden rule: "We need the highest number that you see at any one time, otherwise you may be counting the same bird twice".