Wormwood Scrubs > August 2009 Scrubs Report
August 2009 Sightings at Wormwood Scrubs
Wormwood Scrubs Needs You!
After June and July's abysmal attendance record from the Scrubs Faithful we are calling on all birders to come down to our urban Shangri La here in west London to help scour its legendary land for the hidden treasures known to us all as unusual migrants. Yes, September is upon us and along with April, it is the month to be wielding binoculars on this inner city Fair Isle.
But more about that a little later.
August was a vast improvement with more visits being consistently made (although by fewer birders) resulting in a more complete picture of the natural history of the site. We seem to be breaking records every month and August 2009 was no exception. We recorded at least 4 Spotted Flycatchers — a remarkable movement that was second only to the exceptional passage that we received during that memorable autumn of 2006. We also scored our first autumn adult Cuckoo ever, 4 Tree Pipits, 4 Yellow Wagtails, a Northern Wheatear, 4 Whinchat, Garden Warblers, Sedge Warblers and copious quantities (by Scrubs standards) of Common Whitethroat.
We also recorded our latest Common Tern on record, regular Hobby sightings plus certainly one or maybe two Kingfisher records made August not a bad month at all. We didn't do too badly for mammals either. Aside from the usual Grey Squirrel and Red Foxes our first reported European Hedgehog was discovered shuffling in the undergrowth by Lester's Embankment on the 11th. It is surprising that this little omnivorous beast had not been picked up before now. Much less expected though was our second live Weasel ever on the 27th that scampered between cover near Scrubs Lane Wood, hotly pursued by a crow. Our first record was back in April near Lester's Embankment. It's amazing to think what other wild creatures lurk undetected at The Scrubs.
So, get yourself down to Wormwood Scrubs during September and discover for yourselves what keeps us Scrubbers coming back day after day, year after year.
Diary date: London Natural History Society walk on Sunday 27th September
Led by: The Urban Birder, David Lindo
Meet at 9.30am outside East Acton underground station (Central Line)
Mallard (D. Lindo)
Contributors: Rob Ayers, Mathew Bournat, Kim Dixon, David Jeffreys, David Lindo, Roy Nuttall et al.
Something really strange has happened to our Cormorant population. The term ‘population’ is being used very loosely here because at best it can be described as transient. Over the years there has been a discernible drop in the number of birds sighted flying over The Scrubs. If you go back to August 2006 we were getting regular counts of up to 10 birds. Nowadays we're lucky to see 3 birds and more likely to see singletons. Has there been a genuine decrease or are they simply not heading our way anymore?
A single bird was seen on several visits invariably travelling over the grassland heading north towards the Grand Union Canal. It's tempting to think that it is the same bird involved. On the 2nd another was watched soaring on the thermals above Lester's Embankment and yet another was seen being viciously mobbed by parakeets on the 23rd.
The occasional distant honking was heard several times during the month though around 50 were physically seen in two flocks over Martin Bell's Wood on the 14th.
This impressive raptor was a near daily sight with up to 2 birds present. It is thought that they may be the Kensal Green Cemetery offspring stretching their wings over The Scrubs, indeed a bird on the path near the community centre on the 2nd was aged as a juvenile.
Up to 4 birds were still frequenting the grassland and environs for the first few days of the month. Perhaps two birds persisted for the remainder of the month increasing to 3 on the 23rd.
Up to two birds were watched hunting over Wormwood Scrubs on a near daily basis in the early days of August. On the 6th, an adult swooped low along Lester's Embankment to surprise some Goldfinches and Starlings. It was unsuccessful and carried on over Chats Paddock.
It's often worth scanning the skyline for distant raptors soaring either over the city to the east or over Acton to the west. This tactic proved successful on the 17th when a distant Hobby was watched in full hunting mode over the rooftops of Ladbroke Grove. The last record for August was of a hunting bird over Scrubs Lane Wood on the 18th.
Their regularity hints that they must have nested somewhere nearby.
Low numbers were still heading over during the month although at least 130 were watched hawking flying ants over the eastern and western edges of The Scrubs on the 5th.
A couple of early returning birds headed west on the 2nd. This gull does not usually show up here until at least mid-September.
Numbers were drifting over most mornings with the vast majority being brown 1st summer birds. Up to 30 were seen overhead on the 13th and over 70 headed over from the east on the 23rd.
Despite being recognisable by their slightly deeper, gruffer voices and from beneath, their darker underwings, over flying LB-b's are not always easy to pick out. On the 6th they outnumbered the usually more numerous Herring Gull when at least 22 were counted. The peak count was around 25 birds on the 23rd.
On the drizzly morning on the 26th, a singleton flew in from the north over Chats Paddock. This South Africa-bound migrant was the latest ever recorded here as they are normally noticed occasionally between April and July.
The usual occasional sighting was had during the month.
The usual 40-50 was noticed during August including a fair amount of young birds.
This handsome colonist has a very sketchy history here at The Scrubs. We have long suspected that breeding occurs in the depths of nearby Acton which probably explains their irregular appearances.
The odd bird dashed across our airspace during the month although 3 including a pair flew through on the 5th.
The surprise of the month was an adult on the 6th watched flying south fairly high over the football pitches before dipping dramatically to land on a tree within Martin Bell's Wood.
Bearing in mind that Cuckoos normally occur here in the spring, this bird was our 2nd autumn record ever following a juvenile seen in Martin Bell's Wood in September 1992. It was also our first autumn adult ever.
At least 15 were noticed distantly drifting over Acton on the 2nd and a pair was noticed heading towards Acton the following day. Around 30 dropped in on the 5th and 8th. The last birds of the month were the two that quietly passed overhead from the north on the 19th — our latest since 2006 when 20 birds headed over on the 27th August.
After the surprising rapidly fleeting sighting of this gaudily plumaged riparian denizen streaking past Central Copse on the 13th April this year, imagine our surprise when another was seen zooming north over the grassland and Lester's Embankment on the 8th. Interestingly, a dog walker had described what sounded like a plausible Kingfisher sighting the week before.
Anything can really turn up anywhere at anytime!
Small numbers of this largely annoying parrot were present daily as per usual. At least 300 birds left their Braybrook Street roost on the 6th; that flock however was dwarfed by the 900 or so that left the roost on the 13th.
A bird was regularly heard calling from the southern end of Scrubs Lane Wood from the 14th.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
We think that 4 birds were at large during the month, although a couple were noted flying overhead at fairly high altitude for a woodpecker.
At least 5 birds headed north west along Lester's Embankment on the 2nd and two groups of 3 birds briefly lingered on their southward journey over the grassland the following day. Sand Martins tend to fly over The Scrubs at a higher altitude than the far more common Swallows and thus are more liable to pass over undetected.
Three birds headed south on the 23rd. They were the only Swallows reported for the month.
At least 2 birds were in with the Swallows on the 23rd.
Over the years we have come to realise that our tiny breeding population are indeed summer visitors. From a peak of around 8 birds on the 2nd, they seem to suddenly melt away by the end of August when hardly any are found. In September when we start to walk through the grassland again we begin to flush the first of our autumn visitors that are passing through. Our winter population seem highly transient with numbers fluctuating on a daily basis.
What we have also noticed is the drop in the number of birds found during August. In 2006 there were regularly up to 20 birds present throughout the month, but the Augusts since then have resulted in very low numbers being found. This could be to do with a general decline in the national population or that perhaps our grassland is not quite right for them.
The first bird of the autumn called and lingered over Central Copse on the 3rd before heading over the grassland. It was our first August record since 2006 as these birds are usually detected during September.
Two more birds were flushed from the grassland on the 26th calling as they headed south over Braybrook Street and another was flushed from the grassland the following day.
Walking through the grassland after the breeding season is over can be pretty productive. We have flushed all manner of things ranging from a blow-up doll (once), domestic cats, foxes and moths to Snipe, Richard's Pipit (twice) and a Short-eared Owl (once).
Although breeding has not been proven this year, 2 juveniles flew over Lester's Embankment on the 3rd and intriguingly, a couple of youngsters were seen feeding on the stadium grass on the 23rd. Single birds were also either seen or heard flying over during the month.
Our first bird of the autumn circled over the grassland three times calling on the 13th — a full 18 days earlier than last year making it the earliest autumn bird on record. We had to wait 10 days before our next one arrived calling overhead and the following day another circuited the football pitches calling. The final bird of the month flew over on the 28th.
A singleton flew over Chats Paddock calling on the 27th.
Quite a few singers continued to be noticed around the site, though only around 10 birds including some juveniles were seen on the 3rd.
It looks like a good breeding season was had by these dun-coloured accentors (the family name) and birds were seen all over. At least 12 were counted on the 3rd — probably a gross under-estimation of the true number existing at The Scrubs.
Like the Dunnock, this is a much under-counted and often overlooked bird. Also like the afore-mentioned, it looks as though this species had a very good breeding season too with perhaps more red breast-less and speckled youngsters noted than in previous years — or are we just looking harder these days?
At least 10 birds were counted on the 3rd.
Our first for the autumn was a flighty female-type discovered on the football pitches initially by the groundsman. It was our first August bird since 2007.
A solitary bird was noted on a thistle head amongst a flock of Goldfinches in the grassland on the 17th. It was our first for the autumn. Ten days later, another was flushed from the grassland and two more were discovered there on the 30th.
Quite a few birds were seen and heard during the month with at least 12 birds (including juveniles) seen on the 3rd.
A pair frequented the western end on the 11th and 12th. A large straggling flock of 20 birds were present along the southern edge on the 23rd.
At least 20 birds were counted on the 3rd.
A lone bird was briefly glimpsed near Heron Copse and in the adjacent Scrubs Lane Wood on the 2nd. On the 13th, 3 were found along Lester's Embankment with a couple still present the next day.
The 18 birds including juveniles seen on the 3rd signified our annual autumnal family party gatherings that are so symbolic of pre-migration. During the month this perky warbler was still fairly visible, going against the usual order of things. At least 10 birds were still detectable by the 12th and 15 were counted on Lester's Embankment on the 18th including fledglings being fed. Unlike recent years, we managed to still connect with birds by the month's end with 6 being seen on the 26th.
A bird materialised in Southern Copse opposite Scrubs Lane Wood on the 6th. Thereafter a spattering of sightings occurred including up to 5 on the 11th and 13th.
Daily counts of up to 25 birds (mostly juveniles) were made early on in the month and at least 30 birds were encountered on the 3rd and 13th plus 28 on the 18th. Most of these birds were along Lester's Embankment and within the grassland. Only a small handful were noted elsewhere, which is unusual as they are normally more widespread.
By the end of August the numbers being found had dropped off with around 6 on the 26th and 28th being the peak.
We had a run of returning birds that started with a singleton by the bramble patch opposite Lester's Embankment on the 3rd and another discovered on the 11th. At least 3 more were in the grassland and along the embankment on the 13th.
A small trickle of migrants continued to flow during the month with at least 4 discovered along Lester's Embankment on the 3rd, 5 on the 12th and 6 in the trees along Braybrook Street and embankment scrub on the 13th and 14th. The biggest count was of around 10 on the 17th.
Family groups were much in evidence during the early part of the month with around 10 being a good count on the 3rd. By the last days of August the autumn build up of migrants passing through was beginning to happen and around 12 were counted on the 28th.
Our first for the autumn and second for the year was reported by one of the groundsmen on the 14th, hunting from the oaks near the pony centre on the southern side. Unbeknown to our humble groundsman it was the earliest returning Spot Fly on record for The Scrubs.
Unusually, another bird was discovered in Southern Copse on the 23rd and the following day it or another was discovered 100 yards to the north hunting in Heron Copse and yet another was seen fleetingly along Lester's Embankment.
Up to 4 birds during the autumn is quite unusual and add to that the spring bird that showed up in May means that we have already surpassed last year's total birds 5:1 and we still have September to come.
After the last two months' poor reporting of all The Scrubs' tit species, this month we fared a lot better when it came to determining population levels. At least 10 were counted on the 24th and there were certainly a lot of youngsters around.
Quite low numbers were seen early on in the month although a maximum of 30 was seen on the 24th.
Interestingly, very few were noted early in the month and most were only heard. On the 14th a troop containing around 20 birds was stumbled upon in Chats Paddock. That roving group of birds was numerically surpassed by another flock, found on the 26th in the same venue, that numbered at least 25 birds.
At least 20 birds were about during the month including juveniles.
These colourful crows suddenly became active on the 12th after an absence of nearly two months. There were near daily sightings thereafter of up to two birds though 3 were noticed on 24th.
On the 3rd a bird was watched being mobbed between Chats Paddock and Central Copse by a group of 5 bored crows. A further 2 flew over Central Copse on the 24th.
There has definitely been a drop in numbers over the past year or so with the common figure of around 120 birds.
The numbers of juveniles frequenting the grassland during August fell from the heights of 400 plus birds during June and July to an average of 120 in August. There was a blip on the 3rd when over 300 were observed.
Very few strayed away from their heartland in the streets along the western edge of the site. A male was watched feeding his hungry offspring on Lester's Embankment on the 14th and on the 24th at least 50 headed out of their Central Copse roost heading towards Braybrook Street.
The peak count was of around 20 birds in the grassland and Lester's Embankment on the 2nd. This nationally decreasing finch tends to dissipate from The Scrubs during August until the early days of spring.
There were at least 250 juveniles consistently present early in the month on the main grassland and a couple of smaller areas of thistle in the southern and eastern edges of the park. By mid-month the figure had dropped to around 180, petering out to around 60 by the month's end.
Most of our Greenfinches have now left their breeding colony in Lester's Embankment leaving behind a much smaller contingent of between 20 and 30 birds.
2009 Year List
- Little Egret
- Grey Heron
- Mute Swan
- Canada Goose
- Tufted Duck
- Common Buzzard
- 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
- Sand Martin
- House Martin
- Rock Pipit
- Meadow Pipit
- Tree Pipit
- Pied Wagtail
- Yellow Wagtail
- Grey Wagtail
- Black Redstart
- Northern Wheatear
- Song Thrush
- Mistle Thrush
- Garden Warbler
- Lesser Whitethroat
- Common Whitethroat
- Dartford Warbler
- Sedge Warbler
- Reed Warbler
- Willow Warbler
- Spotted Flycatcher
- Great Tit
- Blue Tit
- Long-tailed Tit
- Carrion Crow
- House Sparrow
- Reed Bunting
79 species thus far (86 species in August 2008 & 78 in August 2007)