Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bird-notes from Canada

I have been spending the Christmas period in Toronto, and my initial bird-related observation from this relates to Christmas cards.

There are no Robins on the cards here. That’s partly because there are no Robins, or at least not as us Brits know them. The American Robin does exist, but in Canada it’s not a winter bird and in fact is more associated with spring and summer (it’s also not closely related to our Robin, the only similarity, and the reason for its name, being its red breast).

Here in North America, the bird of choice for Christmas cards and the like is the very impressive-looking Northern Cardinal. I can see why – it (the male at least) is red, and red is of course the festive colour. I am not sure how widespread it is as a symbol of Christmas in Canada, though, as Southern Ontario would appear to be the northern extent of its range.

As for actual viewings of birds, this has been limited as many of the species I have seen in Canada when I’ve visited in the summer have headed south. There have been sightings of crows by the side of the roads, small flocks of Starlings and occasional instances of geese heading south in a V-formation. I have seen a male Northern Cardinal at a bird-feeder in suburban Toronto, along with House Sparrows (they may be in decline back home but they’re ubiquitous over here) and their American cousins the Dark-eyed Juncos. Venturing further north to ‘cottage country’ some one-and-a-half hours north of the city, the only bird I encountered was one that gets its name from its call, a very distinctive ‘chickadee-dee-dee-dee’. I heard it before I saw it. When I did get to see it, I thought it looked like a fairly dull Great Tit, but was in fact a Black-capped Chickadee, looking for food at a time when most of the cottage owners have stopped putting out food for the birds because, like the geese, they’ve headed south for the winter.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Visitor photos!

The flat garage roof that is overlooked by my flat has a patch of standing water that attracts a few visitors from time to time. The most recent was this male Chaffinch, who was obliging enough to stick around for the time it took me to find my wife’s SLR camera and attach the zoom lens. This is in fact the first time I’ve seen a Chaffinch from my flat window! Now, if there was only a way to tell him about the unvisited suction-cup feeder a matter of yards away…

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Winter wish-list

As the so-called ‘Indian Summer’ we’ve been having has finally come to an end and winter is fast approaching, I have compiled a list of the five winter visitors that I’d love to see over the coming months.

Originally, Redwing had been on this list but as I saw two of those a couple of weeks ago they can already be ticked off. A good start!

Waxwing – last winter was a good time for seeing Waxwings in London. Last December, I had my birding experience of the year when I saw three of them outside my office during my lunch break – the first time I had ever seen these very distinctive birds. Higher numbers of these can be found in towns during harsh winters as they come in from the countryside to look for food. At present I have no idea what sort of a winter we’re in for. But seeing Waxwings again would be great.

Brambling – these winter visitors can often be seen with flocks of other finches, according to my field guide. In the vicinity of where I live, Coldfall Wood is therefore a possibility due to the numbers of Chaffinches that I have seen ground-feeding there on occasions. It’ll take a bit of skill to identify them in such circumstances, but I’m feeling confident.

Fieldfare – one to look out for in parks. Not that I’ve ever seen one of these within the M25 before as, like the Waxwings, they only really come into the towns during harsh winters. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve not been looking hard enough!

Smew – a very distinctive wintering duck in South-East England, which I might get a chance to see at Brent Reservoir or Rainham Marshes. As anything may turn up at any time (the Waxwing sighting last year was proof of that!), I’m staying optimistic.

Goldeneye – as with the Snew, a distinctive wintering duck that can be seen on lakes throughout the country during the winter months. Maybe a long shot in the South-East, but I shall be keeping an eye out for it when I’m near water!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Chance encounters in the park

A chance decision to go through Regent’s Park while walking between appointments in Central London with my wife at around lunchtime yielded some rich pickings in terms of water-based birds. The birds all seemed to be very used to human contact, with the pigeons, Black-headed Gulls, Canada Geese and Grey Herons all loitering on the path and barely moving out of the way as we walked past. I can’t say I am surprised by the first three species I mentioned there, as they do seem unafraid of people in public parks, but I couldn’t believe I was so closed to more than one Grey Heron.

The most intriguing sighting of the day had to be the Egyptian Geese. I had no idea that these could be seen in Central London, but as the entry for this species on the RSPB’s website states that it is ‘seen frequently on ornamental ponds where it was originally brought’, then I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

to a website on birding in Regent’s Park that I have found, over 200 species have been seen there, so it would appear that what we saw on our impromptu lunchtime stroll was merely the tip of the iceberg!

Birds seen in Regent’s Park, London c. 1:00-1:30pm
Weather overcast with moderate wind and a hint of drizzle

Black-headed Gull x100s
Canada Goose x50
Grey Heron x6
Greylag Goose x20
Coot x50
Moorhen x20
Feral Pigeon x100s
Tufted Duck x12
Pochard x1 (m)
Mallard x20
Mute Swan x2
Egyptian Goose x10
Herring Gull x2 (both juv)
Carrion Crow x10
Cormorant x1

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The sound of birdsong in the morning

A morning’s birdwatching in Coldfall Wood started, as walks in Coldfall Wood often do, with my hearing much but seeing little. My knowledge of birdsong is getting better as I was able to recognise the call of a Wren. Small bird, big voice. Blue Tits and Blackbirds – two calls that I have no problems recognising – could also be heard, along with a Green Woodpecker (often heard but never seen!) and lots of Carrion Crows. The Ring-necked Parakeets, meanwhile, were by far the loudest!

I was soon rewarded with some sightings, with Blackbirds flitting across the path and Ring-necked Parakeets in the trees, along with many Carrion Crows circling overhead. I found the smaller birds more rewarding though – a Robin skulking near ground level, a female Chaffinch, some Great Tits and a couple of Blue Tits. Then a quick, blink-and-you’ll miss it sighting of a Wren that I just about managed to focus on with the binoculars before it flew off. Further on, I spotted two Jays on the ground looking for acorns.

The continually circling crows were explained, I think, by the fact that the playing fields beyond the wood were being used for Sunday morning football matches. The crows can often be seen on the fields in large groups and they appeared to be waiting for the footballers to finish and leave so they could have their fields back! This did not deter a crowd of Black-headed Gulls from gathering on the ground though.

And finally – back into the wood, and to a clearing where, if you wait for a while, you’ll see the birds flying across. Along with the Ring-necked Parakeets I saw what at first glance appeared to be two more Great Tits, but on closer inspection with the bins turned out to be Nuthatches feeding in the trees. All in all, a rewarding morning.

Carrion Crow x 30
Woodpigeon x4
Blackbird x7 (2m, 5f)
Ring-necked Parakeet x10
Blue Tit x2
Great Tit x5
Jay x2
Chaffinch x1 (f)
Black-headed Gull x40
Feral Pigeon x50
Nuthatch x2

Monday, 31 October 2011

Birdwatching notes from Sunday

30/10/11 – Canons Park, Edgware, Middx. 2-4pm. RSPB Feed the Birds Day event. Weather overcast with light precipitation.

Ring-necked Parakeet x30
Magpie x8
Chaffinch x3 (2m, 1f)
Black-headed Gull x12
Carrion Crow x6
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Starling x30
Feral Pigeon x50
Woodpigeon x10
Goldfinch x20
Greenfinch x6
Redwing x2
Mistle Thrush x2
Common Gull

Parakeets in the park

As part of Feed the Birds Day, my local RPSB group set up some bird feeders and a stall in Canons Park yesterday afternoon in order to encourage members of the public to get involved. I thought I’d go along and help. This led to an enjoyable couple of hours chatting to people – mostly local group members who’d also come along – about bird identification tips, binoculars, an abortive twitch earlier in the day concerning a warbler usually found in Siberia, and how it is that Ring-necked Parakeets have come to be so common in the London area.

As may be deduced from that opening paragraph, our most obvious visitors in terms of both noise and numbers were Ring-necked Parakeets, about whom I am that little bit more knowledgeable than before. I can now tell a male from a female (males have a pink band behind the neck – hence the alternative name for this bird, the Rose-ringed Parakeet – while females do not), and I know that they nest in holes in trees (sometimes old woodpecker nests). An introduced species who are the presumed to be the descendants of escaped cage birds (personally, I like the story about the originals escaping from Shepperton Studios during the filming of The African Queen), these birds have apparently been around in the wild in South-East England since at least the 1950s, although people have only started to pay attention to them in recent years, presumably due to a population explosion. I certainly don’t remember them getting a mention in any of the field guides I had when I first got into birdwatching as a child in the late 1980s, but today they’re very common – if a little unusual – birds in the London area.

It has to be said that these birds, the sound of which is like no other bird you’re likely to see in London, aren’t the most popular. I don’t think that’s not just because they’re an invasive species. After all, no-one has anything bad to say about Little Owls which were introduced to England in the nineteenth century. And at the other end of the scale, no-one is (yet) talking about an approved cull like that to which Ruddy Ducks – another species that established itself in the wild in this country after a few of them escaped from captivity – have been subjected. As far as the Ring-necks are concerned, dislike of them is mostly due to concerns about their full impact on native species like Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and the effect they may have on fruit crops in places like Kent (they are considered to be pests in their native India). For the most part, this is one case where the jury is still out.

I must say I rather like them though. I think it’s great that in a relatively short space of time, a bird that is completely new (and potentially unsuited) to this country has managed to carve out its own ecological niche here. And yes, I think they’re fun to watch.

While the Ring-necks took centre stage by sheer numbers, special mention must also go to a couple of Mistle Thrushes seen perched in what looked like the only tree around that had already lost its leaves, fleeting visits to the feeders by a Blue Tit and a Great Tit when the Ring-necks’ attention was elsewhere, a few Magpies, flocks of Starlings and Goldfinches, and the first (for me anyway) Redwings of the winter.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Random (but very good) sighting

One of the many things that struck me about David Lindo’s excellent book, which I recently had the pleasure of reading, was the view that when you’re birdwatching (or even if you’re not), anything can turn up at any time. He’s right.

Case in point today: A female Grey Wagtail on the garage roof near our flat this afternoon. I’d not seen these in East Finchley before! A good sighting, I think.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Feeding the birds, or trying to

This Saturday is the RSPB’s Feed the Birds Day, and while I think getting the narrator from Come Dine with Me to narrate a short video to promote this was a work of near-genius, watching someone put all manner of food out for the birds has made me aware of the limitations that I face in terms of this seemingly simple act.

Put very simply, my wife and I live in a flat that doesn’t have a garden. This makes feeding the birds rather tricky.

Attempts at feeding the birds are limited to throwing off-cuts of bread onto the flat roof in front of the windows and a small clear-plastic feeder which is attached to the outside of one of the living-room windows by a suction pad. This feeder is kept stocked with breadcrumbs, birdseed, chopped-up bacon rind and small pieces of cheese. Unfortunately, visits to the feeder have been scarce to say the least. In fact, in the ten months in which I have had it, I have seen a grand total of no birds feeding from it! I can only assume that movement from within the flat is keeping them away, and accept that as the feeder is designed to stick to a window – thus making very close human proximity a given – there isn’t much I can do about this.

Birds do come and get the bread on the roof though – we have had Magpies, Feral Pigeons and most of all Starlings come and visit. The latter have been coming along in flocks of at least two dozen recently, many of them in the first-winter plumage. It would appear, though, that Starlings are a bit big for the feeder (the pictures on the box showed Blue Tits and Greenfinches as I recall), so the wait for a bird to try out the suction pad feeder – probably the least-visited bird feeder in Greater London – continues.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


Hello, and welcome to Nick’s Birding Blog, which is intended to be a journal of the birdwatching exploits of a thirty-something admin worker (who is also an amateur journalist and history enthusiast) in North London. For the most part, this will probably consists of observations made about the birds in my local area, East Finchley – particularly my two favoured local birding sites, Coldfall Wood and Cherry Tree Wood. Digressions are to be expected, though, and at the start of this enterprise I am not prepared to declare anything bird-related to be off limits.

I must declare at this point that I am by no means an expert. Although I have enjoyed birdwatching for many years I do not consider myself to be an authority on the subject! For example, I have taken to watching out for birds on lunchtime walks in the nearest park to my office, Sunny Hill Park in Hendon. I have only recently started to keep a proper record of my sightings in this park, which I try to do at least once a week. At present this is highly unscientific – I don’t even have my binoculars with me and I only have an hour – but in four walks I have clocked 16 species.

There are even times when I am shocked by my own birding naivet̩. For example, I have recently started participating in the activities of my local RSPB group. Earlier this month I went to a guided walk at the Brent Reservoir and saw 36 different species in two hours Рincluding three Swallows (evidently some stragglers who were persuaded to stay a bit longer by the Indian summer we were having), with Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Shoveler, Teal, Widgeon, Ruddy Duck and even a Lapwing on the reservoir itself. I had not previously been aware of the fact that the Welsh Harp (as this reservoir is known locally) could be such a birding hot-spot; obviously this has been a gross oversight on my part given that I grew up in nearby Edgware and it is (as I have since realised) listed in various books on the subject of good places to go to in order to watch birds. Oh well! Better late than never I suppose.