Campus Wildlife | October 2018

New term, new academic year, new students. We’re all back from our summer holiday, but what of the birds? Autumn migration is an exciting time of the year for birds, but autumn begins:

  • For astronomers, at the equinox (this year 23 September)
  • For the University of Roehampton, 3 September
  • For meteorologists, 1 September

For birds autumn is mostly about migration, and this started even before our summer holiday began.

Many birds breeding in the far north will have left their breeding grounds in late June, but for some species migration continues until December.

So far very few winter visitors have reached Roehampton. Many early migrants are coastal birds, especially waders, and to date I have seen only one wader in 11 months at Roehampton, when a Lapwing flew across during a heavy snowstorm last February.

We tend not to think of Gulls when talking about migration, as they are around all year.  Most of them are short-distance migrants, and during the winter there are usually a flock of ten to twenty Black Headed Gulls around campus. They left in March and, apart from an occasional visitor from June onwards, have stayed away, even though, as short distance migrants, there have been many at Richmond Park and London Wetland Centre. They’ll be back soon, but so far only one bird has returned and has been present since the start of term.

Blackheaded Gull on Froebel Lake
Black-headed Gull on Froebel Lake

Other Gulls have also been scarce. Common Gulls have mostly been away since March and Herring Gulls since May (apart from the occasional flyby).

Swifts have been gone since mid-August. Through September there are still good numbers of Swallows and Martins in the UK. We don’t see many on campus, even though House Martins are common in Richmond Park and there is a thriving colony of Sand Martins at the Wetland Centre, but one late Swallow did fly over Froebel on 7 September.

Song and Mistle Thrushes are also present all year, but in winter many Scandinavian birds join our resident birds. On migration they often form flocks, so the thirteen birds on the playing field on were probably Northern visitors.

The Thrushes were with a flock of fifty Starlings, now sporting their smartly spotted Winter plumage.

Winter Starling
Winter Starling

Most of our breeding water birds have now grown up. The Canada Geese seem to have dispersed. They had a very successful year, with at least seven of their youngsters still here in early September. The Egyptian Geese at Digby have also done well, fledging at least seven of their eight youngsters. They’re still at large around Digby Lake. It’s sometimes hard to be sure how many have actually survived, as the older birds tend to spread out more and look very like their parents.

This is even more true of the ducks: all I can say for sure of the rather spectacular brood of fourteen Tufted Ducklings is that at least eight made it through to September, although while they are still obviously ducklings, their parents are rarely in attendance and they are usually widely scattered.

Coots and Moorhens seemed to be continuously breeding during the Spring and Summer months, with youngsters of all ages to be seen. All the remaining young birds are now nearly full-grown.

Sadly, the one remaining cygnet of our Swan family has not made it. It disappeared in mid-September. It didn’t look at all healthy. A visitor from the Swan sanctuary commented on it being underweight shortly before it vanished.

Very sad; I was there moments after the cygnets hatched.

Newly-hatched cygnets
Newly Hatched
Last photo of the cygnet
The last picture

This was a very poor breeding year for our Swans; when I joined Roehampton last November there were five healthy cygnets at Froebel.

Also at this time of year Jays are very active. I’ve been seeing one or more almost every day, though they’re usually a little camera-shy! So far this flight shot is the best I’ve managed:

Jay in flight

Birds of prey are also quite active at this time of the year. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen Sparrowhawk:


And a Kestrel over Froebel and also a Buzzard (over Roehampton). Like Mistle Thrush, UK Buzzards are resident but many Northern Buzzards migrate to and through the UK in autumn.

One more dodgy flight picture of an exciting visitor: a Kingfisher was fishing at Froebel for a few days.

Kingfisher in flight

Soon we should be expecting the arrival of our winter visitors. Hopefully there’ll be many more birds to report on in next month’s blog.

Birds aren’t the only wildlife at Roehampton. The mild weather means there are still lots of insects around, including several Red Admiral and Small White butterflies last week, and a few dragonflies around the water.

London is perhaps surprisingly one of the best areas to find Stag Beetles, and they particularly enjoy the logpiles and decaying wood that we provide for them. I found this magnificent larva last week when looking for minibeasts. Not so mini, but I do love my job!

Stag beetle larva
Stag Beetle larva

With lots of insect life still flying around there are also lots of bats to be seen around dusk.

Many thanks to Lindsey from Life Sciences for bringing along the bat detectors to Froebel last week. We didn’t positively identify many species, but we were able to listen to the calls of many Pipistrelles (electronically modified to human hearing range) and were able to see the bats as well, much easier to spot when you can hear them flying by. It was a brilliant evening and quite dramatic to realise just how many bats are flying by unseen. UK bats don’t migrate, but they too will be gone soon, to sleep for the winter (sensible animals bats!).

They’re not always the most popular beasts, but this is the time of year when spiders seem to enjoy coming indoors.

Last time we featured the rare Cave Spiders in the ice house, who always stay indoors and like to live in total darkness.

These spiders are more familiar and numerous, around Froebel College and pretty much everywhere else too. I’ve made no real attempt to identify the exact species but they are:

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider
Small male spider
Little chap with spindly legs
Garden spider
Garden Spider

The first two seem to enjoy my house more than I do, while the rather beautiful Garden Spider rarely comes indoors, mostly concentrating on spinning intricate webs and patiently waiting for unwary flies to come along.

Other mammal news: Digby has a Mole:

Mole hill

If you’re new to my campus wildlife updates you can read previous blogs here:

July 2018

June 2018

May 2018

And you can follow my daily wildlife updates on Twitter.

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