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

Introduction

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.