No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, –
If you want the whole poem, it’s by Thomas Hood. Basically an exhaustive list of things that are not much in evidence in the early winter.
Some of our regulars do seem to be away, but there are still birds around:
The Winter flock of up to 60 Black-headed Gulls are still regular on Froebel playing field, a few Herring Gulls join them sometimes but are often absent altogether. The ironically much less common Common Gulls are more regular, 4 or 5 are present almost every morning and occasionally take a dip on the lake.
Very similar to Herring Gull but smaller, with ‘gentler’features, the Common Gull is rare here in the Summer. It migrates further than the Black-headed Gull which only heads to nearby coasts, UK birds mostly breed around the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. The other gulls we see here don’t migrate to any great extent, Herring Gulls are more or less resident and although Black-headed Gulls move to breeding colonies near the coast, the occasional bird can be seen all Summer, (with many going no further than London Wetland Centre).
Two Egyptian Geese seem to be permanently at Digby and another pair have been at Froebel from time to time. Our pair of Swans have been away since the middle of November, but there has been a small influx of Tufted Duck, with around six on Froebel Lake most mornings. They may be some of the Digby ducklings.
Digby Lake has been very quiet, probably due to all the the construction work nearby. Most days there are only the 2 Geese and 1 or 2 Coots and Moorhens there.
A flock of Canada Geese drop in occasionally, maybe they are the birds that bred here last Summer.
The first Redwing of the winter made an appearance on the last day of November.
The Heron is nearly always at Froebel, sometimes even landing on the lawn.
We have 5 thrush species on Campus, Song and Mistle Thrush are present all year round, though usually not seen very often. Blackbird, also a thrush species, is common here all year round. Not all Blackbirds are black, this juvenile (photographed back in July) shows the spotting you’d expect to see on a thrush
On the other hand the handsome male below clearly shows how blackbirds get their name.
I’ve not seen either Song or Mistle Thrush in November, even though they’re resident and show from time on Campus all year round.
All the thrush species are great singers, the Blackbird having one of the finest of all bird songs, they usually begin to sing in late January or early February. The only bird songs that surpass the Blackbird (IMHO) are the Skylark, which is possible here, a very few still live in Richmond Park and the Nightingale whose astonishing song is highly unlikely to be heard anywhere in the London region (though perhaps a trifle more likely than angels dining at the Ritz, as there have been 3 records of Nightingale in London this century).
Unfortunately it is also rare to hear either Redwing or Fieldfare in the UK as they are mostly silent in winter, though if you’re very lucky Redwing can be heard singing usually in April or May before heading off to their breeding grounds (I’ve only found one record of this in 2002, so VERY lucky if you hear one !)
The Mistle Thrush (December) and Song Thrush (November) on the other hand both sing in the Winter, like the Blackbird, they breed here and so can get on with the business of establishing a territory.
But the champion of Winter singing birds is officially Britain’s favourite bird , never more so than at this time of year. Closely related to the Thrushes, Robins sing throughout the year and are always to be seen around the campus. One bird has a territory right by Lulham car park. Make no mistake, the persistent song of the Robin is more about vicious territorialism than about joy!
Robins will quite literally fight to the death in disputes about real estate. The only time you will ever see 2 or more Robins together is when a pair are together, or a parent is with its young. The exception to this is during extreme winter weather, when sometimes many Robins can be seen in a small area. This probably involves continental birds that have migrated to our milder climate in search of food.
Curiously, we think of the Robin as a friendly bird, as one will often follow a gardener around, hoping to find disturbed worms. Outside of Britain, Robins are much shier birds. We have a long history of treating Robins well perhaps due to folklore, so they have little fear of humans in the UK.
Vicious homicidal maniac or gardeners friend; we love them: