Campus Wildlife | December 2019

It’s cold, wet and windy and already almost Christmas.

After a highly dramatic Summer, this term has been very quiet.  A little disappointing too:  While the dramatic weather events in the Atlantic were sending exceptional numbers of very rare birds to our Western coasts I had no time to take off and look for them.

Very few notable birds have been seen in our area. There was one almost incredible exception, the astonishing sighting of an extremely rare (in the UK) Common Nighthawk at Bushy Park. Having stayed in Ireland for a few days, it was photographed flying toward Richmond Park on the 19th of October, so could easily have flown over the Uni!

Sadly it has not been definitely seen since, especially not by me.

Wild dreams apart, let’s look at the birds that have been around the Uni. 

Although there has been very little out of the ordinary this term, there have been  birds around, just an hour ago I spotted a Kingfisher at Digby pond (1st I’ve seen at Digby).  Not exactly a frequent visitor to our campus, but its always worth looking out for that dramatic flash of electric blue over either lake.

After the sudden death of our Heron, found floating in Froebel Lake, I’m happy to report that a new Heron has taken up residence:

The newly arrived Heron

This bird was already around at the start of term, so I can’t be sure when he (or she) arrived.  We will probably never know what caused the death of an apparently healthy Heron but it is possible that this younger bird had killed it in a territorial fight, Herons do sometimes fight to the death.

A few days before the dead Heron was found our Swans lost all of their new born cygnets, as the Heron was regularly to be seen near their nest, another possibility is that he was injured by a Swan whilst taking the cygnets and died from his injuries a few days later.

Swan at next ignoring Heron

The Swans were always ferocious in keeping Canada Geese away from the Lake when they were breeding, but as the picture shows they were, perhaps unwisely, much more tolerant of the Heron.

The Swans left a few days after the loss of their Cygnets, normally they stay to care for their young, but this year they had no reason to stay.  They had bred at Richmond Park before they came to us, last year they wintered in Central London having been seen in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, though I have no news of their present whereabouts.  We won’t know until next Spring whether they will return to Froebel.

Most of our breeding wildfowl (i.e. Swans, Geese and Ducks) had left by the start of term.  The exceptions were the many Mallards, who are still around Froebel Lake and the resident pair of Egyptian Geese are still at Digby, although their goslings left before September.  The young Mallards are still probably at Froebel, but are already fully adult in appearance so I can’t be sure.  Since September a number of Tufted Ducks have returned, mostly to Froebel Lake, although they only bred at Digby.

Tufted duck, Froebel

The other Egyptian Geese, at Froebel (who were rescued from the traffic on Clarence Lane with 4 goslings) also left over the Summer holiday.  Presumably, they left as soon as the youngsters were able to fly to return to their breeding site, probably Richmond Park.  It seems that having been found dodging cars, the tiny goslings were picked up by a concerned member of the public who carried them to Froebel Lake, closely attended by two very distressed parents.

The rapid spread of Egyptian Geese throughout Southern and Eastern England in the last few years has probably been helped by their remarkable parenting skills.  They keep a very close watch over their youngsters. Of all of our breeding wildfowl, the Egyptian Geese are the only ones who have never (to my knowledge) lost a single baby.  I suspect our heroic rescuer would have been heavily harassed by the frantic parents, not a job for the faint hearted!

As well as the regular Egyptian Geese at Digby, another pair occasionally visit either Lake.

Egyptian Geese visiting Froebel Lake, October

The rescued Egyptian Geese at Froebel

For a few weeks in late October and early November almost all the Mallards had transferred to Digby, last year a small number did the same in late October.  Before September 2018 I hadn’t seen a single Mallard at Digby (though I don’t visit Digby as regularly as Froebel), and they are very infrequent there (2 in June this year).It will be interesting to see if this extremely short distance migration happens again next year.

Female Mallards at Digby

Our other wildfowl have been engaged in more substantial migration, at least managing to leave the University.

The Canada Geese have been absent for most of the term, although at the start of December a few visited Froebel Lake, accompanied by a pair of Greylag Geese who don’t usually breed here or even visit very often.

Greylag, Froebel

We usually have Shovelers visiting in Winter, I’ve only seen this one Drake so far, which is about as expected, they mostly visit in January and February, when there can be about a dozen.

Drake Shoveler, reflecting

As usual there were many Jays around in September and October.  For a bird that is so big and colourful, they manage to be very unobtrusive and difficult to photograph.

Jay, Froebel playing field

In spite of seeing them almost every day this was the best picture I managed on the Froebel playing field.

Jay, London wetland Centre

Mostly they are seen in flight, look for a bird with Magpie shaped wings but with a short tail and a distinctive white rump.  Although I usually only use pictures taken on Campus, I couldn’t resist slipping this one in.

Magpie in flight, Richmond Park

Magpies are our other colourful members of the crow family but unlike Jays are easy to see and photograph (though perhaps a little harder to love).

Young Magpie, Froebel

Having ventured off campus a little, it’s worth mentioning that as well as our own beautiful home, we have some fantastic neighbours too.  As well as London Wetland Centre, just a mile and a half away which attracts many species of birds all year round, there is the nearby Lonsdale Rd Reservoir, which is now somewhat overshadowed by its higher profile neighbour.

Richmond Park, only ten minutes walk away, can at times feel more like the Serengeti than Southwest London, with soaring Kites and Buzzards.

Red Kite

and, famously roaming herds of deer.  Huge numbers of Starlings and Jackdaws in late Summer add to the effect sitting on the deer’s backs like Oxpeckers, relieving the deer of parasites and gaining a free lunch. 

The wide plains of… Southwest London (Jackdaws attending Red Deer)

A more parklike scene, Jackdaws attending Fellow Deer

We may not have quite so much wildlife as our neighbours, we are after all a much smaller site, but we do win on a few species.  Here are a few birds easier to see at Roehampton University than any of our neighbouring sites:

Goldcrests have been especially common this year. The Goldcrest is our smallest bird, even smaller than the Wren.   

Goldcrest, Digby

All year we have many Coal Tits:

Coal Tit, Froebel

And also many Nuthatches:

Nuthatch, Froebel

Easy to identify, even if it’s silhouetted in the dark, if it’s walking upside down, it’s a Nuthatch!

The last three are all very common on Campus, though surprisingly easy to overlook. 

Robins are common pretty much everywhere, and very easy to see, but, as any second now I’ll be on my Christmas Holiday:

Merry Christmas.

And of course, a Happy New Year!

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