Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A visit to London

I got some theatre tickets for christmas from my mum and dad, so me and Michelle went down to London for a couple of days last weekend. Obviously I had thoughts of going birding while I was here, so we decided we would at least go to the WWT's London Wetland Centre.

On the friday we went to Hyde Park. Having never been, I didn't know what to expect, but it was pretty nice. Parts of it were typical London park, with massive swathes of amenity grassland scattered with London Plane and other parkland trees. However there were a few other interesting areas, including the lake, patches of scrub and woodland and areas of mature oaks and horse chestnuts amongst rough grassland.

Almost immediately on arrival I heard the unmistakeable call of the Ring-necked Parakeet. This was quite exciting at first as you don't get many up here, and London is noted for them, but by the end of the day they were almost as common as the Pigeons and Squirrels, and a bit annoying!!! Not a problem though, they are wonderful birds and it is still exciting to see them in such a strange setting. Parrots aside, there was actually a good range of birds to be seen on the park. Common garden birds were present such as blackbirds, robins and hordes of Blue and Great Tits. I even managed to get a Coal Tit while we were picnicing, only my 3rd this year. Walking towards the lake presented more birds, with flocks of Goldfinch and Starling in the trees behind the cafe, and my first Bumblebee of the year was seen flying amongst the crocuses and snowdrops. On the lake itself there were lots of tame(ish) wildfowl, with geese swans and black headed gull making up the majority but further out were several Common Gull and hidden around the island, a few Pochard, Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard.

The path on the northern bank of the lake eventually passes through rough grassland, with scrubby woodland on the lakebank side of the path. This habitat continues round the other side into Kensington Gardens. This seemed more like typical parkland I'm used to with many mature oaks and other trees attracting quite a lot of wildlife. Mistle thrush, Nuthatch and Greenfinch were soon added to the list. There were small flocks of parakeets calling loudly from every group of trees. A Blackbird provided entertainment for walkers heading towards the Albert memorial, having a bath in a puddle where paths made a crossroads, showing no regard to the passing humans whatsoever. A similar habitat existed to the north of the park, where we added Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker to the list. Its amazing to see such species in central London! On the way back, retracing our steps from earlier, we were treated to close views of a Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Redwing, one of each species, feeding close together, before being disturbed by a dog walker. grr.

I was quite impressed then, by Hyde park. For a park so close to the centre of london, its amazing how long you can go without bumping into someone else, and even at its busiest it wasn't too bad. The mix of habitats was nice and made for a nice walk, and i clocked up a respectable list of 38 bird species.

After a pleasant evening of food, theatre and beer, we woke up at our hotel and went for a massive veggie fry-up, before making the journey across the Capital to Barnes to visit the London Wetland Centre. I've wanted to visit this reserve for a long time, so was quite excited as we walked down the south bank of the Thames, even though it was beginning to rain. Parrots greeted us, welcoming us into the attractive entrance to the reserve with several ponds leading up to the front door (complete with coots, tufties and shovelers!). We had a look in the observatory, which was a little bit weird, a bit like a leisure centre, but quite impressive. The views across the reserve were magnificent and one can see the birds using the water from the comfort of a heated building. From here there were quite a lot of commoner wildfowl and several Lapwing, but everything else of interest seemed to be a bit further away.

We left the visitor centre and made our way towards the hides overlooking the rest of the reserve. Along the way there were quite a lot of interesting features, but these weren't so impressive on a cold wet winters day, a return summer visit i am sure would be much more exciting. There didn't seem to be much in terms of songbirds or anything else but parrots along the paths, making it not really seem like a nature reserve, but I suppose it is a restored reservoir, so i can't really expect too much.

This opinion differs once you enter the hides however, as there is plenty of wetland habitats to have a look at, and the amount of waterbirds is incredible when you think that you are half an hours tube ride from King's Cross! The view from the first hide revealed several small islands and a little reed fringe to the right. From here we saw several Teal, lots of Tufted Ducks and quite a few Lapwing, some at relatively close range. While scanning the fringes of the islands, I came across a Snipe, which was preening near the water's edge. This was exciting, but not as exciting as the BITTERN that flew by when I was trying to point the Snipe out to Michelle. It must have been in the reed fringe, and flew briskly across the front of the hide, before flying over the main lake towards the distant reedbeds, being mobbed by gulls as it went. This is the first Bittern I've seen since early 2011, as so many times they have eluded me in Notts, so it was a fantastic sighting. I think this speaks volumes for the efforts of WWT, that within spitting distance (maybe) of fulham FC, you can see such elusive wetland birds such as Snipe and Bittern. pretty amazing really!

We then took a soggy walk across to the Peacock Tower hide, a three floored octagonal hide, and headed straight upstairs. The sightings book said there'd been birds such as Hobby, Dodo and other such things seen, but obviously didn't see any of these. However there were loads of wildfowl, which is fitting, including near to 100 Teal, dabbling and grazing on the flooded marsh. Several small flocks of Wigeon were seen to be grazing too and there were also some shovelers and Gadwall about too. Obviously these lagoons aren't too deep as there weren't any deep divers such as Pochard or sawbills. 2 more Snipe were seen on the marsh, but despite scanning for some time, there were no other waders sadly. To top the day off however, one of the species I was hoping to see flew in to join the teal, 4 Pintail!!! These are birds which again seem to constantly elude me in Nottinghamshire, and i've only ever seen them once, asleep, at Frampton Marsh a couple of years ago. These however were awake and showed extremely well, so i was extremely happy to see them in all their glory.

Before leaving we enjoyed a very tasty bit of cake in the cafe, and then had a wander round the captive wildfowl enclosures. This was good but the light was failing and I was near-frozen. A return visit is needed i think! 33 species were seen today but on a better day i'm sure 50 would not be impossible! I think it was just over 50 species for the whole weekend. Not bad at all to say i didn't go out of transport zone 2!!!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Parkland Wildlife

I've had a bit of a soft spot for parkland wildlife for a while now. Having visited Wollaton Park as one of my local patches for about a year, I became familiar with what to expect from urban parks in terms of birds, and what habitats attract what. The wildlife one sees at these places is often quite interesting. There are common birds which you would expect from the wider countryside, although lots of birds which would normally be common elsewhere can be quite elusive or altogether absent.
Woodland birds are well represented, as there are often lots of mature native trees and often plantations of woodland which can be a few hundred years old. I see more Nuthatch and Woodpeckers in parks than anywhere else! Waterbirds are well represented as there is usually a lake at these parks, although the species can sometimes be limited due to the fact most lakes are open, shallow and lack bankside vegetation or cover. There is often open pasture too, dominated by coarse grasses which are often mowed on a less frequent basis than other amenity grassland. On these pastures, species representative of this habitat can also be easily spotted, Mistle Thrush and Green Woodpecker feed for invertebrates and corvids dominate. However due to their location, parks don't generally accommodate species such as skylarks and pipits which you may expect to see in similar environments in the countryside. Added to this is the occasional raptor and a whole swathe of commoner garden birds, and you pretty much have your make up of species for parkland.
In any season i really enjoy visiting a park, as you can get round them in a couple of hours and usually rack up a decent species list, and aside from the birds, there is always something to look at. At Wollaton there is the resident red and fallow deers, and the gardens and woodlands are simply enjoyable to walk through. Fungi are well represented too.

Why am I extolling the virtues of parks then? Have I been given a job at Notts City Council? No unfortunately not. I just happened to spend a fair bit of time at Bullwell Hall Park last week while doing some brushcutter training, and got a taste for it, so ended the week on a trip to Wollaton. At both parks I found some great birds and really enjoyed what they had to offer.

I was first at Bullwell park on tuesday, but didn't have much time to look for much. However i did note the amount of singing Nuthatch and my first singing Chaffinch of the year from the carpark. Driving around the park indicated to me that it was a very nice place, with lots of mature trees and open grassland. Where we did our training was between a football field and a area of rough grassland/meadow. The weather was terrible, but there were plenty of birds to be seen, including a Kestrel that flew into a tree to escape the weather, and lots of small birds which had been attracted to some seed that had been thrown down for them.
When I returned for my assessment on thursday I was in for a wait, as I was the last to be assessed. I decided to brave the cold and have a wander. I started off walking through the woods behind the gold club. A carving of an owl has been done on a fallen tree here and stands proudly amongst the trees, very impressive. The woods were alive with birds, with great tits and blue tits busily feeding amongst the trees and on the woodland floor. Nuthatches were everywhere too, piping up with their merry calls and some were seen feeding, tapping away against branches. A number of Goldcrest could also be heard and one was seen at close range, hovering in typical goldcrest fashion as it gleaned food from the branches of a yew.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Holme Pierrepont, 30th Jan

Started the week going for a walk on monday morning at holme pierrepont with michelle and the dogs. It was a beautiful sunny morning although it was very cold. There were plenty of wildfowl about on the ski-tow lake, although i didnt have a proper look at it. At the finger ponds there were more wildfowl including a single Goldeneye and around 45 Gadwall. This site seems to have been excellent for Gadwall this winter, i counted around 150 a few weeks back. It is generally a great site for wildfowl anyway, but the Gadwall seem to be booming this year! More on that later!

We left the finger ponds to walk down the river and on to a little wooded area i hadn't been to before to look for snowdrops. There was indeed some snowdrops out, my first of the year and a few other plants poking through. This area was rammed with birds, including a flock of redwing, some long tailed tits, and my first Song Thrush of the year.

I'd read on Notts Birders that a few Smew had been seen at Blott's pit over nearer the A52 so we popped down to see if we could connect. We pulled up next to the road near the entrance to the lake and a male Bullfinch gave probably the best views i've had of this species. It was seen hovering, not unlike a goldcrest, picking at some vegetation, obviously young shoots or buds, but it was bizarre. Between bouts of hovering, it sat on the plant it was eating, only about 5 metres away, allowing us to see it perfectly from our makeshift hide, the car!

We went down to blott's pit, and i said i'd only have a quick scan, as we needed to be off, and i wasn't expecting to see much without a scope. However, as soon as we got there another birder said there were 3 smew out amongst the other wildfowl! I raised my binoculars to my eyes and almost instantly set eyes on a drake smew, and a few metres further in the distance, another drake! I have seen females twice before but have always wanted to connect with a male in the wild and it was an awesome experience. The second drake was soon lost from view but the first one hung about, swimming amongst the other ducks for some time. I got incredible views from the very helpful man's scope, showing a perfectly formed drake. The impression one gets from a drake smew is that it is extremely smart, with its contrasting black and white plumage and compact form. I described it as 'a very dapper duck' and i think this does it justice, with its 'drawn on' black lines, dark mask, and amazing double crest. I think this duck definately makes it into my favourite birds, though the list is very long!

I haven't posted for a while.... again! Seen quite a bit already this year but won't be back tracking. I will post when i can, and hopefully will start adding photos again!!!