Tag Archives: birds

Pochard detail

Winter bird highlights on the lake

Ornithologist Dave Clark recommends keeping a record of the birds in the park and on the lake.

This gives us an indication of the natural health of our precious green urban space and allows us to understand the changes that occur seasonally within nature. The winter profile of the lake is one of gulls, cormorants and wintering ducks seeking, believe it or not, a warmer climate from their usual surrounds.

Being proximate to the Thames and easy for birds to see from the air, the wide vistas of the park provide a backdrop that allows avian incomers to assess the attractiveness of the lake, with food and safety being the prime instinctual drivers. This winter the lake has continued to provide a home, stopover and feeding station to the usual suspects alongside less common and in a Greater London context, rare species.

White-fronted goose walking
White-fronted goose. Photo: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The star of the show was a White-fronted goose which quite happily fed and swam with the resident Greylag geese population, gracing us with its rare presence for around a week. White fronts, check out the white patch above the beak in the above photo, migrate to Britain during the winter to escape the bitterness of lcelandic and Russian winters with this particular bird being one of the rarer subspecies which arrives from faraway Siberia to land habitually on our coastal and estuarine environments, a rarity indeed.

Goldeneye swimming
Goldeneye. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbern/, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Usually seen, if at all, on the large expansive London reservoirs the Goldeneye is a distinctive wintering duck from Scandinavia. A beautiful male appeared later in January for three days and was probably the same individual that appeared for the same duration on the lake before last year`s lock down.

Gadwall swimming
Gadwall. Photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Other ducks of note that have also been seen are the subtly plumaged Gadwall and a long standing male Pochard in all its orange-red headed glory.

Pochard swimming
Pochard. Photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On our playing fields, parkland and ponds there is always a winter build up of gulls, and on any one day during this winter there have been up to two hundred Black-headed gulls swooping and swimming at the lake. We commonly make the mistake of perceiving them as seabirds when in fact they are coastal birds and with the Thames so close the route to the coast is only 20 to 30 miles away. Along with Common gull, Herring gull and Lesser black-backed gull the lake has also attracted, on occasion, Britain’s largest gull the Great black-backed gull, a serious beast standing at 70 centimetres it is twice the size of the usuals and five times the weight!

Black-backed gull standing
Black-backed gull. Photo: Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Finally in our water bird list is the Mediterranean gull which pops in and out of Burgess Park. As suggested by their name they are used to a warmer environment and although still rare the general increase in abundance of this bird in Kent coastal areas is a sign of our changing climate. Very similar to the Black-headed gull the white wing tips and droopy beak help discriminate between the two species.

Mediterranean gull swimming
Mediterranean gull. Photo: Martin Olsson (mnemo on en/sv wikipedia and commons, martin@minimum.se)., CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A heartwarming effect of the lake’s success is the notable increase in the number of observers who are recording sightings on the various social media platforms. I’m sure the coming seasons will add to our birding pleasure, and whether casual or serious in our intent there is no doubt in these strange times that the lake and the park are important for our well being. Keep birding!

Where to record your bird sightings

London database = GIGL = Greenspace Information for Greater London – collects data on flora and faunahttps://www.gigl.org.uk/

BTO = British Trust for Ornithology – strictly birdshttps://www.bto.org/

ebird – U.S. app for birds which we are increasingly using for our water and songbird sightingshttps://ebird.org/home

Dave Clark
dave@mailbox.co.uk

Burgess goes wild: Gulls

Gulls in winter

by Dave Clark, Ornithologist

The abundance and species of birds change with the seasons and at Burgess Park this is as true as anywhere in the country. Take a special look at the lake during the winter where the number of gulls and cormorants increase.

We commonly call these grey/black and white birds – seagulls – but they are actually coastal and inland birds and consist of several species, look out for these four different birds during the winter:

Black headed Gull: The smallest one – look out for the red bill and legs.
Common Gull: Not as common! as the others, a bit bigger with a white head
Herring Gull: Much bigger with a large yellow beak and pink legs
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Like a Herring Gull but black rather than grey wings and yellow legs
Photo of bird with open beak

Burgess goes wild: Sparrows, Starlings, Whitethroats, Warblers

From Africa to the Old Kent Road

by Dave Clark, Ornithologist

10 years ago I did some bird surveying for the council at Burgess Park and last week I had a revisit. Wow I was impressed! Blown away by the positive changes that have occurred in the interim. 

photo of plants
Burgess Park meadow

Wildflower and meadow areas buzzing and singing with life, amenity grassland merging seamlessy into nature friendly areas. People working out with butterflies dancing around their feet.  No inaptly named so-called ‘eco-zones’, just a park working with nature.  All this in an urban area close to the centre of London.

The beloved Cockney House Sparrow which has lost 60% of its urban population since the 1970s is thriving here, not just picking up scraps from around the cafe but flitting amongst the meadowlands for live food for their hungry chicks.  

photo of bird on a branch
Whitethroat

I found at least 30 (last time just a pair) and to put this into some kind of context there are no Sparrows in Peckham Rye Park nor Dulwich Park.  Similarly the Starling population, compared to  other local urban spaces, is abundant. This lovable roguish street urchin of a bird, once so common it was deemed a pest, has suffered 66% losses since the mid-70s and is now a red-listed species, i.e. a species of highest conservation concern.

What was really exciting was finding seven different breeding territories of birds that had flown all the way from Africa. Five male Whitethroats busily displaying amongst the meadows and two Reed Warblers, guess where – in the reeds surrounding the lake. Both of these species travel from the Sahel, a region between the Sahara desert and the Savanna, to breed here in the UK. To find them so close to the centre of London is uncommon and a pleasure. The scratching sound of the Whitethroat and the gurgle of the Reed Warbler is deeply resonant of the exoticism of a faraway continent. Their joyous life affirming songs showing that nature can survive despite what obstacles we throw at it.

photo of bird on a reed
Reed Warbler

Well done, you should be proud. Burgess Park is an example of what can be achieved in an urban inner city area when ecological concerns are placed at the forefront of the agenda and not left at the bottom of the priority pile. Nature does not pick nature reserves. Nature is all around and can flourish with some care and attention. Praise should be given to Greg and his gardening team for being a large part of this environmental success despite having only limited resources and despite having to battle the conflicting interests that public parks bring.

So is this just a nature lover banging on …

Er … nope … the maintenance and improvement of the health of urban green spaces is paramount for all of us not just nature. 80% of us live in cities for a start and we also know that access and proximity to nature is beneficial to our physical and mental well being, reduces stress and reduces crime. By making nature more visible and audible the easier it becomes for people to engage with it.  Engagement with nature not only brings joy but also increases our care for our environment.

We can deny nature but we can’t get away from it, it’s the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. It’s incumbent on all of us to maintain its health.

Well done again!