Wormwood Scrubs > April 2009 Scrubs Report
April 2009 Sightings at Wormwood Scrubs
Too much of a good thing…
Sometimes it is possible to become a victim of your own success. With each passing year more and more amazing birds have been added to our growing site list. Some of these species are national rarities like Honey Buzzard, whilst others are London scarcities like Dartford Warbler and yet others are just oddities like overflying Great Crested Grebes or this month's out of context Kingfisher. In short, we have been terribly spoilt. Expectation is at an all time high.
But like any drug (metaphorically speaking), if you don't achieve the expected high when you think you most need it then deep disappointment sets in. April and September are the months to be birding at Wormwood Scrubs. For the past 5 Aprils we've enjoyed such avian luminaries as Cuckoo, Ring Ouzel, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher and the occasional Common Redstart. We expected to see these migrants on a yearly basis. But this year we scored a big fat zero. Nil points. Zip. Nada.
Coupled with that disappointment was the demise of our pair of breeding Skylark. That was a massive body blow for us, even though in our hearts we knew that they wouldn't have been successful. Factor in envy of the neighbouring sites that seem to be pulling in all the good birds and coupled with the cold mornings and you have a perfect recipe for abject depression. The truth is that the very sites that we secretly admire from afar envy us for the birds that we have attracted!
But there were some moments of encouragement during April. As previously mentioned, we recorded our first ever Kingfisher, plus our first confirmed Red-legged Partridge on the same day. An escaped Bar-headed Goose provided an identification headache as it flew over on the 12th and 19th. Plus, as ever, we recorded several ‘earliest ever’ sightings and had the unexpected bonus of a Weasel been seen running across the path from Lester's Embankment towards the bramble patch.
It's at times like these where we have to remind ourselves that we must never lose site of the Urban Birder motto: Go out and expect to see everything and nothing. That way you'll never be disappointed.
Short-eared Owl (A. Cooke)
Contributors: Rob Ayers, Mathew Bournat, Oliver Bournat, Kim Dixon, David Jeffreys, David Lindo, Roy Nuttall et al.
Rather more birds than usual were recorded this month with a daily minimum of 4 birds. Around 8 birds were seen on the 5th including a flock of 6 high flying birds performing what seemed like a joyful airborne group undulation over the Channel Tunnel Depot.
Only one bird was reported on the 7th.
The only record this month was of 3 birds that headed east along the railway line on the 26th.
A lone bird flew over the western edge of the site heading north on the 7th.
With birds busily involved in rearing goslings fewer birds were seen flying over this month.
The usual groups of 2 – 3 birds were occasionally seen, although 5 were seen on the 5th. On the 15th a group of 6 very high flying drakes headed east in v-formation.
A female was watched coasting along Lester's Embankment on the 8th being escorted by around 15 Greenfinches.
A pair that have settled down near the Sparrowhawks in nearby Kensal Green Cemetery may be the birds that we see over the grassland, however, it's also suspected that another pair may have taken up residence on Hammersmith Hospital.
Interesting Kestrel sightings included a male hunting what appeared to be large grasshoppers in the grassland on the 8th. Sadly, on the 5th we were alarmed to see model aircraft ‘enthusiasts’ actively dive-bomb a pair that were hunting over the grassland.
Remarkably, on the 13th a bird was flushed from off the bare Lizard Patch in Chats Paddock. It drifted over the tops of the trees lining the Back Passage (please excuse the potential connotations) before dropping down to land somewhere between the Back Passage and the railway track. It could not be located thereafter.
Rumours and alleged sightings of partridges on The Scrubs have persisted for years, but no Scrubber (the collective for Scrubs Birders) had ever seen one. It's not quite the same story for the Pheasants that have been occasionally sighted by dog walkers. Despite only one bird actually being seen by a Scrubber, Pheasants are still deemed as an avian spectre, a phantom that is akin to sighting a Yeti.
We had the pleasure of seeing 2 individuals of this delightful wader flying high overhead on the 26th.
With most adults on their breeding grounds, most of which are miles outside London, only the odd bird was observed winging its way over our patch during April. All of these birds were non-breeding sub-adults.
After the last couple of month's large congregations, April settled down to the more usual 20 or so birds daily. The maximum count was 52 on the 14th.
A maximum of 15 birds were counted during the month.
The occasional bird was noted flying over during the month and notably 3 were seen on the 26th and a single bird was found feeding on the ploughed margin opposite Central Copse on the 10th.
A few nests were found around the park during the month and at least 40 were noticed on most days.
Our first birds of the year were a pair that flew north over Scrubs Lane Wood on the 1st. A further 4 were seen during the month.
Our 6th ever record flew over Lester's Embankment from the west at a height of around 100 feet on the 6th. It drifted the entire length of the northern edge of The Scrubs before heading south beyond Central Copse and eventually disappearing south-west. It was watched for a total of nearly 5 minutes.
A pair swilling high over Braybrook Street on the 26th was a welcome sight for this much awaited summer migrant. These first birds arrived within the historically expected dates — between April 25th and 27th.
Perhaps the unlikeliest find of the year was the bird that flashed through low on the south side of Central Copse on the 13th. Although being thought of as being tied to water, Kingfishers have been known to occur away from their usual riparian homes, although this is extremely rarely witnessed. Why this bird wasn't following the course of the relatively nearby Grand Union Canal we will never know.
Hundreds were still pouring out of their nightly roost on Braybrook Street.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
With our birds probably incubating, sightings of this common woodpecker were sparser during the month.
The month started promisingly enough with the male being seen in low song flight on the 1st. The demise of our breeding pair started on the 5th when a bird flew vertically up from the grassland — as if to start its song flight — but instead, gained height and flew steadily south over the prison. There was a lot of disturbance on the grassland that day including people walking directly through the nesting area (with and without dogs) plus ultra-low flying model aircraft.
Although the male was heard singing on a few occasions, things were definitely very wrong. The birds just didn't seem settled and indeed were only seen as a pair on the 19th. This was the last time the birds were seen.
To be fair, we were lucky that they stayed the length of time they did. But the important lesson to be learned from all this was that we have habitat that is good enough to attract Skylarks, but we need to get people to understand the importance of habitat protection and urge them to use the established paths.
Perhaps we can attract these amazing birds back next spring.
Our first returning migrant flew steadily west across the grassland on the 4th, 3 days earlier than last year but way later than in 2007 when birds were rolling in from the March 19th. By the month's end at least 21 birds were noted whilst we were out looking.
There could still be around 5 pairs settled in our grassland. Not all of the pipits have chosen to nest in the recognised ‘pipit heath' as at least one male was watched in display flight very near to the bramble patch by Lester's Embankment.
The occasional bird was seen and heard during the month.
Quite a few birds were in song during April from practically every patch of suitable habitat. At least 6 birds were sighted on the 5th.
Around 12 birds were noticed on the 5th and the first fledglings were seen on the 14th with 6 on Lester's Embankment.
This common resident becomes more difficult to see during the summer months, leading some people to believe that they only have Robins during the winter. There were at least 14 birds seen on the 13th — almost certainly an underestimate.
On the 12th was a rather touching moment was observed when a male was seen feeding his female by the fence at Chats Paddock.
Our 4th wheatear of the spring was reported by one of the groundsmen on the 6th. At least 9 more birds passed through The Scrubs during April, bringing our total this spring to an estimated 13 birds, comparable to last year's total at this point but pales into insignificance when compared to March and April 2006 when nearly 40 birds were recorded.
A cracking male graced the grassland on the 25th and was our first spring record of this upland species. It was not our earliest, as that distinction goes to a male that appeared on the grassland on April 22nd 2006. Whinchats are more frequent as autumn visitors at The Scrubs.
There were Song Thrushes aplenty during April including some highly visible vociferous songsters. At least 18 were seen on the 15th.
Our only records for the month concerned an individual watched flying in on the 6th and landing on a tree in Chats Paddock and another heading east towards Scrubs Lane Wood on the 19th.
A late bird headed east on the 10th.
This numerous thrush was one of the most frequently encountered birds during April with at least 22 birds hopping on the short grass around the site. Unfortunately, no Ring Ouzels, their far scarcer cousins, were discovered amongst them for the first time in 5 consecutive years.
An unseen singing bird was discovered in Martin Bell's Wood on the 19th. It was the earliest ever and only the second ever to be discovered during April, as most of our spring birds occur during May
There seemed to be more singing males around than in April 2008. Up to 13 were counted verses the 8 heard last year.
Our first spring bird was heard on the 15th in the northern sector of Scrubs Lane Wood next to Chats Paddock. It was 3 days later than our earliest ever arrival that touched down on April 13th 2007. By the end of the month at least 4 males were holding territory.
The bird that landed in a bush on the grassland on the 14th was our first returning migrant and our earliest ever record. However, the build up of numbers was exceptionally slow with just 5 singing birds counted by the end of the month. This was way down on previous years and indicated that there could have been a decline in returning birds. This theory was seems to have some anecdotal credence as some of our birding friends in Norfolk reporting similar decreases.
A bird was heard singing next to Chats Paddock on the 19th and constituted our first spring record. Another was heard singing from Lester's Embankment on the 26th.
A male briefly burst into song on the 10th from deep within a thicket in Martin Bell's Wood making it our first ever spring record. It was heard again on the 13th. Despite being miles from the nearest reed stalk, we still manage to find the occasion migrant here at The Scrubs. However, they are largely autumn visitors and are never usually recorded earlier than June when the singing birds found may be failed breeders.
Our first birds of the spring were 2 singing males on the 4th rising to a maximum of 4 singers by the 10th. These birds were marginally early as we normally receive these visitors during mid month. Encouragingly, a pair were seen courtship chasing on the 12th raising hopes that perhaps for once we will be able to prove that they have bred here.
An aberrant bird was singing in Martin Bell's Wood on the 7th mixing the songs of both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. A similar sounding ‘Willowchiff’ also sang from there last year.
At least 5 nest sites were discovered during the month and there were potentially more to be discovered. At least 20 birds were located on the 10th including 7 singers.
At least 10 birds were abounding on the 5th.
The best count was around 20 birds on the 12th.
Around 8 birds were counted on the 5th.
On the 5th at least 35 were counted including a group of 17 that were curiously sitting together in a huddle on a football pitch adjacent to Scrubs Lane Wood.
There is almost certainly a pair breeding within Chats Paddock.
Birds continued to be seen during the month, almost on a daily basis, further fuelling the speculation that we may have a small breeding colony somewhere nearby. The maximum count was 8 on the 5th. Interestingly, none were seen during April 2008.
Chocco, our scarcely seen, elusive resident hot chocolate coloured crow was briefly glimpsed on the 12th. Otherwise, numbers of this often-annoying corvid remained constant with over 300 seen on the 5th.
Small numbers were ever present in the grassland with over 40 birds counted on the 5th.
With breeding well underway, these once ubiquitous birds were regularly seen collecting insects for their growing chicks, based around the housing of Braybrook Street and environs. If you stood around the grassland for long enough you would notice commuting birds making a beeline predominantly for Central Copse before flying back to their nests, beaks laden with insects.
Despite being one of Britain's most common birds, they are far from common here at The Scrubs. However, they seem to be having their best breeding season ever with at least 5 territories in occupation, as reported in March. In April 2008 only 2 pairs were observed displaying breeding behaviour.
At least 20 birds were buzzing around the grassland and Lester's Embankment area during the month. We also heard for the first time that there were perhaps 6 pairs over at St Mary's Cemetery (adjoining Kensal Green Cemetery).
The maximum count was 10 birds on the 5th.
Over 30 were noted on the 5th.
A flighty female was observed initially on the bramble patch and then on Lester's Embankment on the 1st.
2009 Year List
- Grey Heron
- Mute Swan
- Canada Goose
- Red-legged Partridge
- Black-headed Gull
- Common Gull
- Herring Gull
- Lesser Black-back
- Great Black-back
- Feral Pigeon
- Stock Dove
- Wood Pigeon
- Collared Dove
- Short-eared Owl
- Rose-ringed Parakeet
- Green Woodpecker
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
- Rock Pipit
- Meadow Pipit
- Pied Wagtail
- Black Redstart
- Northern Wheatear
- Song Thrush
- Mistle Thrush
- Garden Warbler
- Lesser Whitethroat
- Common Whitethroat
- Dartford Warbler
- Sedge Warbler
- Reed Warbler
- Willow Warbler
- Great Tit
- Blue Tit
- Long-tailed Tit
- Carrion Crow
- House Sparrow
- Reed Bunting
68 species thus far (75 species in April 2008 & 70 in April 2007)