I’ve been very slack lately, away for Christmas hols, busy at times, a few days sick and arriving and leaving in the dark. Excuses, like fine words, butter no parsnips, so best to just get on with the fine words.
Rather late, but let’s start with a review of 2018:
Well before the end of the year, newspapers began gleefully forecasting apocalyptic weather ahead (I think they meant that it might, astonishingly, be a bit cold in the winter). Note for the press, “below average” and “above average” are not headline news, you need both to get an average.
Winter’s not all bad: it brings Snowdrops and the apocalypse didn’t materialise (at least here). Parts of the US (-39°C) and Australia (49.5°C) may disagree.
2018 was my first full year at Roehampton. Although I was away on leave for most of the Summer, I dropped by to keep an eye on our wonderful wildlife.
I recorded 53 species of birds, not a spectacular total, but pretty good for a workplace in London.
Certainly better than the School I worked in previously, 22 was my best ever year and I was there for 20 years.
So how did our birds fare in 2018?
In Winter the most numerous birds seem to be Redwings, they come and go but from time to time there are over 100 present, sitting in tall trees or feeding on the playing field.
Occasionally they’re joined by 1 or 2 of the other, bigger, strictly winter thrush, the Fieldfare.
Some of our resident thrushes are also joined by migrants too. Many Blackbirds visit the UK from Scandinavia in Winter. It’s not easy to tell the local birds from the visitors, but males feeding peacefully together are likely to be migrants, also, young males generally have a black bill much later into the winter than our local birds which usually have some yellow on their bill by Christmas.
Other thrushes also migrate to some extent, a flock of 13 Mistle Thrush on the playing field in September were almost certainly on migration, possibly from Scandinavia.
Song Thrush are also partially migratory, but I saw no evidence of this. The video below saw a Song Thrush robbed of its meal by an unladylike female Blackbird outside Grove House.
Thrushes are not our only Winter visitors. We had as many as 10 Shoveler using Froebel Lake to perform their endless circling at Froebel college early in 2018. They moved on in March, with one returning in December.
There is also an influx of Tufted Ducks, though our family of 14 ducklings at Digby gave us our peak count of 22 birds on 3rd July.
There are also many more Goldcrests in Winter, though they may well be present in Summer, too. Many other birds come and go too, in October the beautiful but somewhat secretive Jay ceases to be secretive and I saw Jays almost every day.
Not at all secretive, the Jay’s less colourful and more numerous cousin the Jackdaw is always present and easily detected as it flies around calling out its identity “jaaack!”. They too are more obvious in late autumn, with several regularly on the lawns outside Montefiore and Cedar.
For a while in late Summer there are many more Starlings, presumably birds from the big flocks breeding in Richmond Park are visiting at this time.
We also have a few Summer visitors.
Swifts are the most obvious, from late April until mid August they are usually around, though if weather conditions mean the aerial plankton they feed on is scarce, they will disappear for several days looking for food.
An occasional Swallow flew by. House and Sand Martins are numerous in both Richmond Park and at London Wetland Centre, but I saw neither species of martin on Campus, though I am sure some must have passed through.
Not a great year for warblers, just a few Chiffchaff through the year and a single Blackcap in March (both birds that until a few years ago were strictly Summer visitors and are now present in smaller numbers all year). A reported singing Wood Warbler was almost certainly a Wren, a tiny bird with a huge voice, and a prolific singer in the Old Orchard.
After successfully fledging 5 cygnets in 2017 our Swans departed in December, the parents returned on February 19th. They soon began nest building and terrorising the Canada Geese, who were constantly harassed whenever they entered the Lake.
They laid 5 eggs (I never managed to get a clear count) and on 25th of May I was lucky enough to be present immediately after the first 2 eggs hatched. Once the eggs are hatched they become much more tolerant of the Canada Geese.
Sadly only 2 eggs hatched and after many adventures, including an RSPCA rescue from the round pond neither cygnet survived. The second cygnet survived until late September and the parents departed in mid December. Although they had a disastrous breeding season, they may return this year.
Just up the road from us at London Wetland Centre, their breeding Swans also fared badly, only one of their several pairs successfully fledged a single cygnet. As at Roehampton, other wildfowl seemed to do well.
The other breeding wildfowl stories were indeed much happier.
A pair of Egyptian Geese are nearly always present at Digby and managed to rear 10 Goslings with little drama, but much cuteness. Other birds visited from time to time throughout the year, at both Froebel and Digby.
Over at Froebel, we were entertained by a pair of Canada Geese who successfully fledged at least 7 young from a brood of 9. For a while the young family appeared to be a little stressed, having to content themselves with the occasional snatched swim when the cob Swan was not too near.
Sometimes larger flocks of up to 40 flew over or landed.
A few Mallard ducklings fledged, and there was that massive family of Tufted Ducks, probably a result of one or more females sneakily depositing excess eggs in another bird’s nest.
Coots and Moorhens bred almost continuously throughout the season. They have a different strategy: while the wildfowl have one brood (sometimes 2) and care for them until they are grown, Coots and Moorhens spend very little time caring for their young, letting them fend for themselves from a very early age while they continue to lay more eggs.
Some of our small colourful birds are around all year:
Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins are the commonest of these.
Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tit and Coal Tit are also present all year, but in smaller numbers and are often less obvious.
If you see a bird walking upside down like this it’s a Nuthatch, they are our only bird that can walk down tree trunks as easily as up. Acrobatic though Blue Tits are, they don’t quite manage to walk down like this.
Of course the greatest excitement comes from those birds that only appear once or twice (and therefore often don’t get a photoshoot).
Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were seen a few times and raptors are always thrilling.
I’ve managed to see a Kingfisher twice at Froebel Lake and managed a couple of very poor shots, but a momentary glimpse of that dazzling electric blue flashing across the Lake is breathtaking.
But for me the two most exciting sightings were a Lapwing flying over Montefiore in a snowstorm in late February and a House Sparrow at Digby in June.
The same snowstorm revealed fresh badger footprints, in many years of being out in the countryside for long hours I have yet to see a live Badger! Sadly although they are still very common in Tooting (where I live) such is the decline of House Sparrows that once very common in this area they are now rare even in Richmond Park. The good news is that although not seen in Richmond Park from 2009 to 2014, they have been seen occasionally in every year from 2015 to 2018, so perhaps they are doing better now.
I’m running out of time, there is so much more to tell, and not just about birds, there were also a few mammals, butterflies and we discovered that the Cave Spiders in the Ice House are a rare species. For more frequent Campus Wildlife updates you can follow me on Twitter.
For now, I’m heading off on leave, there are 7 Smew and a Ring-billed duck in Essex I need to see and then on to the wonders of the Norfolk coast.