Monday, 1 September 2008

Guided Walk, 31th August 2008

The second guided walk for the year took place yesterday. Unfortunately, conditions were far from ideal, with a heavy mist greatly reducing visibility and it seemed bird activity too. I quickly went out before meeting up with the group to see if anything was about. I could see absolutely nothing on the reservoire because of the mist and the cricket scrub was quiet. I did however hear a Yellow Wagtail flying over.

What with the weather conditions I expected maybe a dozen people to tun up, however, on reaching the Grove car park I was confronted by a crowd of 45! We started off in the Grove and saw virtually nothing. All I could say to the group was you should have been hear a week and a half ago for the two Pied Flycatchers etc. We then wandered across the lower slopes, past the Pitch and Putt course and on to the Cricket Scrub area. The only sightings of any significance were a flock of Longtailed and Blue Tits and a fly-over Great Spotted Woodpecker. desperate times, trying to think of things to say and keep the crowd, which by this time had grown to around 50, interested and entertained.

Some good news by the time we reached the Cricket Scrub area, the mist had lift; the bad news, the rain started! As with the last walk, back in May, Gerry Rawcliffe had set up a mist net and gave a ringing demonstration (many thanks to him). He had netted Great Tit, Wren and Song Thrush for us and proceded to measure, weigh and log the birds.

Alas, the rain got worse and quite a few people started to drift off. By the time we left the scrub we were down to less than 20. As we walked across the cricket field a Pipit flew over; alas it remained silent and headed off towards the lower slopes (a while later I received a call from Bob Watts to say he had had a Tree Pipit, near to where our bird had headed to!).

Down at the reservoir a little bit of luck as a Shoveller flew in and landed not too far from us. Alas, this was the high-point, species wise, on our walk! We continued through the Conservation Area, where I told the remaining group members about Jays doing very good imitations of Tawny Owls and right on cue the Jay we were watching obliged. After this we made our way up the slope and across the road, past the Blandford Hall site and on to the Boating Pond, which is where the walk finished, with about a dozen people staying to the bitter end.

If it had taken place the day before, we would have had nice conditions, plus the chance to see Winchat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher; or even today, Monday, more nice conditions and again the chance to see Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher. Never mind. Let's hope we have better luck with the next walk! I must thank Bob Watts, Gareth Richards and Alan Gibson for helping out on the day with various bits and pieces.

Andrew Gardener

Friday, 22 August 2008

August Fall

As usual, the summer months have been quiet, wih the highlight being a Little Egret seen flying down the New River early on the morning of 13th August.

Migants began syphoning through during August, with a few warblers and the odd Spotted Flycatcher plus a Wheatear on the 19th. However, the 21st saw a fall of Flycathcers and Warblers in the Grove. The Flycatchers included 2 Pieds and at least 3 Spotted. There were at least 6 Willow Warblers, plus a Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap in the mix. Despite much searching and high hopes, no Wood Warblers were found. At least one Pied and one Spotted Flycatcher were present the next morning, with at least 4 more Spotted's spread across the Park.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Guided Walk Around Park

On 3rd May there was a guided birdwatching walk around the Park. It was requested by Mark Evison, the Park manager, who hopes that it may become a regular feature. It was the first guided walk for a few years. About ten people showed up, which was a good number. In the past I’ve led walks where only two or three people show up!

As part of the event there was a bird ringing demonstration, down in the Cricket Scrub area, kindly provided by Gerry Rawcliffe. It proved to be very popular with everyone, providing a rare chance to see small birds close up. Five birds were caught, 2 Great Tits, a Blue Tit, Wren and Common Whitethroat.

The two species of the day (for the walk) were Yellow Wagtail, found by John Murray and Hobby, which unfortunately, was a quick flyover, and was missed by most people in the group. Notwithstanding, over 40 species were observed by the group, which was a decent total.

However, the total number of species seen in the Park on the day was 56, by all observers. There was a Peregrine seen from the Park, but it was over a mile outside the border of the Park, so can’t really be considered to be a Park tick (sorry Bob!).

Overall, the day was a success and I thoroughly enjoyed leading walk and would like to thank everyone involved. Hopefully, we can do another early autumn.


Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Red-letter day

Female Ring Ouzel with Starling and (below) Rook (© Dominic Mitchell)

The third quarter of April is often the key period for spring migration in Alexandra Park, but today's tally probably exceeded that of any other day in recent memory.

Bob Watts set the ball rolling in style with a flightly female Ring Ouzel on the cricket pitches first thing, and that was followed shortly afterwards by John Murray logging the year's first Lesser Whitethroat and Common Redstart, the latter being a cracking but brief male which didn't reappear in the cricket scrub area. While JM, Andrew Gardener and I were trying to find the Ring Ouzel, AG picked up a Rook on the move among the local Carrion Crows - always a good bird in urban London.

After a fly-over Linnet and a Jackdaw, two more noteworthy birds, we moved up to near the 'Obs' on the pitch n' putt course, where JM relocated the female Ring Ouzel, and good looks and photos were had by four of us, now including Alan Gibson. Seven Swallows and one more each of Linnet and Lesser Whitethroat later, I finally left for the office - only to get a call within the hour from AG and Gareth Richards, who were watching a Common Buzzard drifting over. Happily, Ian Lycett picked it up from the Birdwatch office window high against the sky, and we got distant but confirmatory views as it moved off south-west over the park.

Then, at 12 noon and coming towards us from the latter direction, I picked up two distant corvids. As I idly watched them I realised that one was clearly larger than the other, appearing
buzzard-sized. As they came closer it became obvious that the smaller one, which was harrying the other bird, was a Carrion Crow. The larger corvid then had a go at the crow, during which its clearly bigger length and bulk, longer wings with well-fingered primaries and big, wedge-shaped tail were obvious as they sparred in the air - Raven! We saw the tail well several times, and the size and shape were striking, especially in direct comparison with the crow. The Raven also appeared a third longer, its substantial neck probably adding to this effect. IL and I watched the two birds annoy each other for perhaps two minutes in total, until the Raven lost interest and height and dropped down, the crow still in pursuit. It may have landed somewhere along the southern edge of the park, but was not seen again.

By comparison the rest of the day was quiet, but Mike the groundsman had a fly-over Red Kite at 1.55pm. Finally, in early evening, Bob Watts closed proceedings with another excellent local raptor, a Peregrine carrying prey, near the transmitter.

With a line-up including Raven, Red Kite, Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Common Redstart, the day's finds read more like a list from the Welsh valleys than the environs of Wood Green. It will take a lot of good fortune to better that haul in the park this year.

Friday, 11 April 2008

April sightings

April 16: despite the promising weather forecast, no notable migrants today, and the water level in the reservoir has risen to cover the mud which was exposed last week. A pair of Kestrels has returned to the filter beds/railway area - the female is missing her central tail feathers.
April 15: at 6.05pm a Red Kite arrived from the south-east and flew north along the east side of the park, having been spotted from the Obs (Bob Watts) and then watched from the Birdwatch office just east of the reservoir (Dominic Mitchell). An hour later, a second bird was spotted far to the south over inner London (Bob Watts, John Murray); it landed briefly at one point but then moved on.
April 14: Red Kite seen from the Obs heading south towards the O2 Arena (John Murray), plus four distant hirundines, probably House Martins (Alan Gibson).
April 13: House Martin over the Grove (Andrew Gardener).
April 11
: Shelduck pair on Wood Green Res 0703-0720, flew in from SE and flew off W (Bob Watts, Dominic Mitchell, J.Murray); Teal pair until 0830 at least at south end of reservoir, Yellow Wagtail over Scrub 0815; male White Wagtail on northern end on res & on grass bank by filter beds 15:05 -15:15 at least, shame it's only a subspecies! (John Murray). Still at 17.45 (Gareth Richards, Dominic Mitchell, Bob Watts). Also second-summer Herring Gull, 4 ad Lesser Black-backed Gulls, hirundine sp.
April 8: 2 Shelduck low south over filter beds early a.m. (John Murray); 2 Blackcap, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, all near Conservation Pond (Mike Benyon).
April 7: male Bullfinch (Bob Watts).
April 6: Redwing (Dominic Mitchell).
April 5: at least 45 species recorded, including 3+ Linnet, 2 Swallows, 2 Jackdaws, 5+ Meadow Pipits from the Obs, Willow Warbler (heard) (APOG), female Brambling & 2 male Blackcap Grove, Siskin (heard) Scrub (Dominic Mitchell).
April 4: Osprey seen at 15:00-15.10, viewed from Obs heading E towards Walthamstow Res direction being harrased by crows; Also 2 Swallows & 4 Sand Martins North (John Murray).
April 3: 1 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and 2 Willow Warblers by Conservation Pond early am, Linnet low east over Scrub & another Willow Warbler singing there, also Swallow N over Obs at 6.15pm (J.Murray & B.Watts).
April 2: Willow Warbler still on west side of Wood Green Reservoir close to the middle platform 0700 at least (Bob Watts).

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Siskin and Mealy Redpoll ringed

On 30th March local ringer Gerry Rawcliffe put up a net in his garden (just outside the park recording area) in the hope of catching a Siskin - small numbers have been visiting local feeders as well as wintering in the park.
"After some initial frustration with birds wriggling out of the net," Gerry reports, "I got lucky on ... with a female Siskin [left], and then I was just about to take down the net to go out when I noticed a Mealy Redpoll [below] come to the feeder, and after a few nerve-wracking moments it popped into the net."
This Mealy is clearly a male, and appears to be one of the two well-watched males which have commuted between the park and Dukes Avenue this winter. The species is a scarce visitor to the London Area, and must be a real rarity for ringers in southern England.

Friday, 28 March 2008

27th March

Woodcock seen flying high towards Hornsey, observed from Pitch & Putt at 17:05 by John Murray. A good sight tick, with usually only one every year or two recorded.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Migration and March sightings

Despite the cool weather and often northerly winds, spring migration has got under way relatively early this year. Sightings of Northern Wheatear and Sand Martin in the first half of March were noteworthy, but there has been plenty more of local interest. Here is a brief summary of recent reports in the park:
March 24: at least one Jackdaw flew over (three sightings of a single bird), plus two Siskins, two fly-over redpolls, singing male Blackcap in the Grove and Water Rail at the conservation pond
March 23: Rook flew north, and one Brambling still by the deer enclosures
March 22: Chiffchaff near the conservation pond
March 21: 3 Meadow Pipits and 30 Redwing
March 19: Siskin over and Jackdaw perched and calling in the conservation area
March 17: male Northern Wheatear around the sports pavilion, male Common Stonechat still near sports pitches, 1 Sand Martin high over the reservoir, singing male Blackcap at Blandford Hall birches, 2 Greylag Geese flew south
March 16: male Common Stonechat in brambles along the ditch around the sports fields
March 15: single Mealy and Lesser Redpolls, and another briefly seen redpoll, together in plane trees near the deer enclosures, and two Bramblings there later the same day, male Bullfinch briefly by conservation pond

Sunday, 17 February 2008

'Late' juvenile Common Gull

A curiously plumaged Common Gull continues to raise eyebrows on its intermittent appearances in Alexandra Park. First seen more than a week ago, it was present on the reservoir again yesterday afternoon (Saturday 16 February), and this morning was on ice on the boating pond late morning.

This immature bird is in the 'wrong' plumage for February, having not yet moulted out of the juvenile plumage it has had since last summer. Almost all other local first-winter Common Gulls are now showing the classic even, mid-grey 'saddle' on the upperparts, contrasting brownish wing coverts and whiter underparts, but this distinctive individual retains its greyish-brown, pale-fringed scapulars and brown-streaked head and breast indicative of juvenile plumage.

It is perhaps a late-hatched bird from last year from the north of the breeding range which is not yet ready to moult, though by mid-February this plumage is surely unusual. Interestingly, it also appears fairly large and long-billed, perhaps raising the possibility that it may have originated from further east, towards the range of the subspecies heinei. This larger Russian race is said to be essentially inseparable in the field from nominate canus, although first-years sometimes have heavier head and underpart markings "forming complete dark-spotted necklace", rather like the Alexandra Park bird (see Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America by Klaus Malling Olsen, Helm, 2003).

Common Gull is a regular visitor in good numbers to the reservoir and boating pond in winter, and the second most numerous gull after Black-headed Gull (for example, 429 of the latter and 78 of the former were counted on the reservoir on Saturday afternoon, 16 February).

Photos: Dominic Mitchell

Sightings update

Left: Goldcrest by Dominic Mitchell

Although a relatively quiet week in the park, proceedings have been enlivened recently by the presence of up to three Bramblings around the deer enclosures and on the slopes between there and the Rose Garden. Found by John Murray on 12 February, the birds have been reported most days since - although they are often inconspicuous, sometimes feeding singly high in overhead branches or retreating into the flowering blackthorn in the old deer enclosure. John originally discovered them loosely associating with Chaffinches, so it may be worth checking any flock of the latter in the area for this attractive northern finch.

Similarly, the mixed group of redpolls has also shown well at times this week in the vicinity of the Grove entrance to the park, along Dukes Avenue, though they were not reported today (Sunday 17 February). However, a Siskin was heard in the Grove today, while Bob Watts and others had a male Blackcap in the same area this morning - presumably the bird seen on several recent occasions in the area.

Goldcrest (pictured), Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Redwing and Great Spotted Woodpecker all continue to be seen frequently in this corner of the park, while several recent reports of the very elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here and elsewhere in the area are keeping hopes alive that there may still be a breeding pair.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Mealies are again the main attraction

Male Mealy Redpoll: note the pale ground colour (photo: Dominic Mitchell)

Female Mealy Redpoll (photo: Dominic Mitchell)

The park was bathed in a crispy white frost this morning, and largely deserted - ideal conditions for some good late winter birding. The low temperatures had not resulted in any out-of-place avian visitors on the reservoir, but there were a few highlights elsewhere.

A tour of the perimeter hedge around the playing fields resulted in Dominic Mitchell, Bob Watts and James Arquette getting Fieldfare on their park year lists. Perhaps this was the bird seen yesterday nearby on the reservoir embankment by Gareth Richards; Alan Gibson had one in the same area in early January, so it may - unusually - be an overwintering bird.

No sooner had it been remarked that conditions might suit an overflying Jackdaw than a characteristic call revealed the presence of two such corvids passing over high to the north. Shortly afterwards, a couple of finches dropped into the cricket scrub, one clearly a calling Greenfinch; the other, however, was a dapper male Siskin, watched at close range for a short time before it moved off into the hawthorn hedge at the back of the scrub.

Pride of place for the day, however, must again go to the Mealy Redpolls. At least one male and a female were seen again on Dukes Avenue, feeding in the large, seed-heavy birch on the corner with Grove Avenue, or sometimes in the birch outside number 128. Bob obtained good video footage and Dominic some better still images than yesterday, some of which are reproduced here. These cracking finches are subtly but consistently different from the Lessers which often accompany them; note the paler, rather 'frosty' ground colour, reduced buffy tones and larger bulk of the Mealies. Males of the latter look especially smart with their well-marked pink breasts on a cool white background. The calls of these birds seem very similar, if not identical (though some redpolls, presumably Mealies, occasionally sound rather 'hoarser').

First Common Buzzard of the year

A Common Buzzard was reported flying SW over the south edge of the pavilion at 1320hrs today by Pete Mantle. It was the first sighting of this very occasional visitor this year.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Redpolls and more

Mealy Redpoll: one of the two local males (Dominic Mitchell).

Six days ago Gareth Richards did well to locate a small party of redpolls in a birch tree opposite the Dukes Avenue entrance to the Grove. Lesser Redpoll is a scarce enough bird to find in the park these days, but to have one consorting with three even scarcer Mealy Redpolls - the larger Scandinavian species - was a real coup.

The birds had been looked for since, but with no success. However, at about 12.30 today Dominic Mitchell was walking along Dukes Avenue with his family and some friends when he spotted two Mealies, including a fine pink male, feeding in a birch on the pavement outside number 128. He texted the news out, after which the redpolls were seen intermittently by others during the afternoon. Not long before the birds went to roost, Gareth and Dominic ascertained that at least six individuals were involved - three smaller, darker and more buffy-brown Lessers, and three larger, essentially paler Mealies (two males with obvious pinkish breasts, and a female).

The fact that all six have not (yet) been seen together on Dukes Avenue suggests that there is another as yet undiscovered feeding site, probably somewhere in the north-west section of the park, in the direction of which the birds have been seen to commute. The light was fading as the birds came within photographic range, but a record shot of a male Mealy appears above.

It capped a good day locally for Dominic - beginning with a male Blackcap in his garden nearby at 8am, and his first-ever Great Black-backed Gull for Alexandra Park (a species barely recorded annually), seen at 11am over the ice rink car park with a flock of other large gulls.

Below: Stock Doves in the Grove today, 'phonebinned' with a Sony K810i cameraphone and Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars (Dominic Mitchell)

Saturday, 26 January 2008

All three Woodpeckers ... but I missed pass the parcel

I snuck off from a kids' birthday party at lunchtime to give the Grove my first look of the year and hopefully secure a few Ally Pally year ticks.  

The Grove is the most westerly section of the Park and in part borders onto Muswell Hill. It is a pretty reliable spot for a few species that can be tricky to see elsewhere in the Park, notably Coal Tit and Stock Dove.

I started well with Stock Dove and Goldcrest, both new for the year. A quick walk through the pine belt brought only a Green Woodpecker. However, a calling Nuthatch persuaded me to walk over to the far south-west side of the Grove. Here a small flock of 15 or so Redwing flitted about nervously before heading down the slope.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker showed well, with a further bird heard drumming.

The Nuthatch proved elusive. A bird flew from a tree in which they had bred in previous years and I raised my binoculars expecting it to be the Nuthatch. Instead, I was delighted to see it was a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The Lesser Spot showed well for c. 10 minutes, mainly feeding high up in the tall Lime trees that line the main path through the Grove. It was silent, although I thought I heard another bird calling briefly from nearby.

So a 25 minute visit produced all three Woodpeckers. Will Lesser Spot return as a breeding species to the Park? Fingers crossed.


Sunday, 20 January 2008

First Shoveler of the winter

Two male and three female Shoveler finally appeared on the boating pond today - the first of the winter. Alan Gibson also had an Egyptian Goose flying over the pond, a rare bird in the park, while in a garden backing onto the allotments south of The Grove, a Brambling was present.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Owls and nightime wildlife

Tawny Owl is the only owl that occurs in the park, but it can be very difficult to find. Midwinter is often a good time to listen out for calling birds after dark, especially on dry, clear nights. Two spot checks at 3am in the park this morning by Dominic Mitchell failed to locate any vocal owls, though good views of a Fox on the pavement in front of the Palace building provided some compensation; so did no fewer than four Robins in the area, all singing males stationed close to bright street lamps, which routinely encourage this species to sing throughout the hours of darkness.

There was, however, some eventual success with owls. Later the same day, John Murray heard a calling Tawny give two hoots at 7.25pm from woodland near the conservation pond, although the bird itself was not visible. (If you want to try listening for owls after dark in the park, the safest bet is to do so from a well-lit area such as the main road, and not within woodland itself).

Elsewhere in the park, today's sightings included the usual trio of Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Nuthatch in The Grove, along with several Redwings and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and another Fox down at the reservoir.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Redwings - lots of them

A brief visit this afternoon in what felt like the first sunshine of the year. Gull numbers were slightly up on last weekend, with Black-headed Gull numbering 129 (plus more than 50 on the Boating Lake), Common Gull 14 (1 on the Boating Lake), but just two LBB Gull. The hoped for Med Gull failed to appear. 

The whole reservoir area was quite flooded after the recent downpours, with the water level at the Conservation Pond too high to make Water Rail seem worth more than a couple of minute's search. 

Instead I headed to the the animal enclosures at the top of the Park, where Bob had seen a Siskin around lunchtime. No sign of the Siskin, but my first Redwing of the year were decent compensation, with 15 or so vocal birds in the area, at one point spooked by a Sparrowhawk. I've always loved to hear calling Redwings - a sound so redolent of Autumn days on the coast when easterly winds have worked their magic. 

I walked back down the hill via the pitch and putt, pausing for a brief chat with Alan (another year tick). Here was a much larger group of Redwing, numbering at least 60 birds, feeding on the lush fairways. I saw another solo bird later in the cricket scrub as the light faded.

My Ally Pally list has now soared to 37, doubtless leaving me firmly in 5th place.


Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Three-woodpecker day!

Alan Gibson did well this morning with a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in trees in the new animal enclosure, on the north side of the park east and down-slope from the boating pond. This is a difficult species to find in Alexandra Park these days, and the first record for some time. Birds are usually easiest to find in early spring, when drumming males (if present) can be more readily located by sound and by sight in the leafless canopy of oaks and elms. Along with Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers also recorded this morning, 8th January will be remembered as a rare three-woodpecker day.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Tuesday 1st January - Wigeon are like buses ...

Happy New Year!

A brief visit coinciding with the last hour of daylight produced a mere 28 species, but two highlights.

Whilst counting the gulls (112 Black-headed, 13 Common, 5 Lesser Black-backed - well down on the numbers this time last year), I came across a female Wigeon on Wood Green Reservoir. This is the third individual in the last fortnight and was successfully twitched by Andrew Gardener. It was still present at dusk.

Andrew and I then checked the Conservation Area Pond for Water Rail - I had seen one here yesterday at dusk. Right on cue one appeared on the edge of the reeds, viewed from the south side of the Pond. It then swam across a channel, disappeared into the reeds and (presumably) met a friend, as one or two were then heard to squeal.

One Dabchick on the bridge reservoir was also of note.

Water Rail and Wigeon had eluded me in 2007 until late December, so all in all an encouraging start to the year.