Saturday, March 28, 2009

RSPB garden bird report

I am in north Wales at the moment for my birthday, hence the lack of photographs from SE16, but I noticed that the results of this year's RSPB Garden Birdwatch have been released to the public, so I thought that I'd add a short gap filler before I return home next week.

The Garden Birdwatch attracted a record of 552,000 for the Birdwatch, which took place in January, and recorded 8.5 million birds of 73 species.

The Guardian has covered various aspects of the Garden Birdwatch with stories throughout the year to date, and last week, on 25th March 2009, reported that the "The long-tailed tit has emerged as the surprise success story of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, its annual garden bird-counting survey. The RSPB believes that the tiny bird's rapid growth in numbers is due to a run of mild UK winters." Goldfinches have also risen in terms of numbers observed.

Sadly there are losers as well as winners: "House sparrow numbers have fallen by 63% since the first survey, and starling numbers have dropped by 79%."

The results of the Birdwatch are tabulated here by the Guardian, in order of most numerous to least numerous, or the same results can be downloaded in PDF format from the RSPB's website (61KB) here.

The Top 10 are shown on the RSPB's website here.

One of the really conspicuous aspects of the bird life in Stave Hill Ecological Park are the sheer numbers of goldfinches and Great Tits, and the remarkably few numbers of any types of sparrow. We are doing well for robins too, and starling numbers seem to be quite healthy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Last lot from Thursday

Pair of mallards on Stave Hill pond

The former reed bed opposite Stave Hill pond

Cowslip, Stave Hill Ecological Park

Brimstone butterfly

Perennial Sow-thistle
Sonchus arvensis

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A brief visit

After the demoralizing visit to the Downtown site with other members of the DDC I wasn't really feeling like celebrating the joys of spring and I really wasn't ready for a light hearted walk. But we had a newcomer, Lisa, amongst us so we took her into the park beyond the site where the trees have now been completely smashed. It was useful to show her what the site backs on to, and the areas which the development will impact. I am glad that we went because the Downtown site may have made me thoroughly miserable but the park cheered me up no end.

Steve took the mick out of me about having a broken memory card in my camera last time and asked if everything was okay this time. I said that it was but it was a huge sin of omission - the only lens I had with me was the macro lens on the camera, which wasn't exactly great for either the Downtown fiasco or for good views of the parks. Never mind.

We walked out of the site around Downtown pond, where I was lucky enough to see a Great Tit or Blue Tit, which was busy making a nest in one of the boxes made and put up by the local school. I was particularly glad to see it because my father and I had seen one sounding out the very same nest as early as the 28th December 2008, which I photographed and posted. I got an almost identical picture today. At the base of the tree there was a big clump of Honesty coming into flower, with purple blooms and untidy green leaves. We pointed out the bat boxes to Lisa, which occupy trees on the same row.

Sue Agnew told me that she had seen a heron at the Downtown pond yesterday, and we wondered whether this was the same one that had been here all last year. We also wondered about the nesting habits of herons but we needed Mike Scott to let us know, and left none the wiser. When I got home I looked them up. Grey herons nest in trees, sometimes as solitary couples but often in colonies. I was initially surprised about the fact that they sometimes live in colonies, only ever having seen individual herons in England. But I then remembered the many times that I have seen herons in groups on the granite boulders in Aswan, all sharing each others space. Perhaps English herons, like some English people, prefer the politel formality of keeping one's own space private rather than the Egyptian custom of forming happily gregarious groups :-)

The next stop was Globe Pond. There was a lot going on. A small girl in a bright pink coat was feeding a whole host of mallards and some coots, accompanied by her father, and beyond them we spotted a lovely grey heron and two very fat Canada geese.

Proceeding through the ecological park we passed blossom and violets, many Bombulius major and bees, and two comma butterflies. Stave Hill itself was covered in daffodils which sparkled in the sun, and the view from the top over the woodland was wonderful. The woodland below was a blend of colours provided by new leaves and blossoms, a fabulous range of shades picked out in bright sunlight.

I went home directly from Stave Hill, mainly because I was beginning to get cold. I saw nothing more of specific interest other than a small white terrier who was making himself thoroughly wet and dirty in the soggy channel that runs parallel to Waterman's Walk, and which I am fairly sure belongs to Antony. But the light was fantastic, a silvery pale-gold which filtered through the trees and picked out all the bright new greens. Lovely.

There were lots of people in the woodland and ecological park today, and it was very enjoyable to see everyone having such a good time.

When I arrived home I took some work onto the terrace and went to watch the world go by on and around Greenland Dock for the next couple of hours. Unlike the parks the dock was surprisingly quiet. There were no boats and only a few birds using the water, and not many people walking along the paths which surround it. Of the birds there were the inevitable coots and some seagulls. Two Canada geese floated up, perhaps the same pair that had been at Globe Pond earlier in the day. The highlight of the birdlife was a shag which flew the length of the dock only inches above the surface, so black that it almost blended with the darkness of the waters. I love the shags and cormorants. When swimming along the surface their bodies are almost completely submerged and they look around them endlessly, constantly alert. When they sit on the buoy with their wings held out to the sunshine or breeze they seem almost eternal, like statues. Beautiful. I saw one fishing yesterday and he caught a really big fish, which he proceeded to dispatch in an awesomely efficient way.

More from Thursday

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bright sunshine but a chill breeze

I left the house at just after 1130 and it was warm at the time. There were lots of people in the park, especially dog walkers. Everyone seemed to be cheerful and it was a really good atmosphere.

I wasn't expecting to see many differences between today and earlier in the week, but there were still some new faces.

I saw several bee-like insects which I have never seen before (photo on the left) but I think is Bombulius major due to its enormous proboscis and its habit of hovering My book says that it is completely harmless. I'll post some more photos in the next few days. I also saw the first hover-fly that I've noticed this season as well as bees, butterflies and flies. Amongst the flowers I have noticed in last week or so are some bright celandines in the Woodland and cowslips in the ecological park (of which there are probably going to be 100s behind the windmill).

There were no frogs at Stave Hill pond, but there were two mallards there where I have never seen aquatic birds before. Last year it was the domain of dragonflies and damselflies, which have yet to emerge. Last year's attractive reed-bed opposite the Stave Hill pond has a reservoir of slightly orange water in it, which is hopefully a good sign for the future regrowth of the reeds later in the season.

At Globe pond there were a lot of mallards and coots. Between the stirring up of the water and the loud voices they were creating a din to rival the school next door. They were certainly doing a good job of oxygenating the pond.

I saw one fox. I rounded a corner and there it was. i don't know which one of us jumped most. It moved very quickly to hide itself in the undergrowth, but before it left its scarcoptic mange was horribly visible.

It became increasingly cold and I eventually cut my walk short an hour and a half later, returning home to find some much-needed warmer clothing.

Now, at just before 4pm it is somewhat overcast and distinctly chilly. It was good to enjoy the sunshine whilst it lasted.

Cherry Laurel
Prunus laurocerasus

Bee. No idea which one.
There are dozens and none of the markings on this one match anything in my book.

Lesser Celandine
Ranunculus ficaria

Primula veris

More from 18th March 2009

Germander speedwell
Veronica chamaedrys

A lovely, tiny flower that likes woodland, grassland and wasteland, so it
should be right at home here. This photograph was taken
in the woodland not far from the Downtown pond.

Cherry laurel

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring life, colours and shapes.

I was woken, for the umpteenth morning in a row, to the sound of coots on the dock. They make the most god-awful din.

I looked out at the bright sunshine and got up with the happy intention of going over the road to see what, if anything, had emerged since the weekend. It wasn't a particularly early start in the end, and I left the house at just gone 11am. But everything seemed to be fast asleep. There were only one or two birds crouching in trees, and I had the park to myself at first. But it soon started to wake up. My first happy sighting was a rusty coloured Wren, immediately followed by a gaggle of Blue Tits where the pigeons usually sit. I was attracted to them by the sheer volume of noise that they produced.

I went to see the Downtown ponds but there was nothing new to see. On Globe Pond there were several pairs of mallard, which was nice to see, and an inevitable bunch of coots, but no frogs or toads are spawning in their usual place.

Walking into the ecological park bird song was so loud that it filled the entire air. The most distinctive voice was that of the Great Tit, with its repetitive call, but I also saw sparrows, finches, robins, starlings and blackbirds as well as the much larger crows, pigeons and magpies.

The shapes and colours of new shoots and flowers continue to fascinate and enchant. Pink blossom has joined white, and the great clouds of gentle colour are lovely. I saw one small clump of primroses and they were super to see, an unexpected pleasure.

There was more insect life than in previous weeks. There were several flies and I saw a number of comma butterflies including one which stayed quite motionless for several minutes in the sun. I also saw a couple of white, but they were too far away for me to identify. Honey bees are taking advantage of the pollen-laden pussy willow which is all over the ecological park and the woodland, and there were a couple of bumble bees in the grass.

There were no foxes to be seen but I saw too very busy squirrels.

I walked back via the Downtown site where metal railings are now in position around the compass. There was no felling taking place. Other work being carried out between the Health Centre carpark and the road appeared to have something to do with large piles of sand or earth.

I crossed the rbidge and had the Thames Path entirely to myself, which was an eerie feeling.

Walking back along Greenland Dock the peace was only broken by the wretched coots, which were tearing the air apart with their screams. As soon as one starts the others all join in and the din is deafening. Apart from the coots the only other birds that saw were a handful of seagulls, three mallards and two swans.

The scene at the Moby was entirely different from that of the previous weekend. When I rounded Tavistock Tower at 1230 there was simply no-one there. All the benches were empty. The contrast betweeen the heaving chaos of Sunday with the over-heated people, the semll of chips and ketchup versus today's peaceful quietness was truly remarkable. Not that I have anything against chips and ketchup but it was all a bit overwhelming in the warmth of the day.

The weather forecast predicted cloud for the afternoon, but I am glad that it was wrong. It has been an idyllic day.