Tag Archives: Starling

Life beginning and ending in the wood

It may not match the scale of the ocean of Bluebells in Blean Woods, but our very own Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park – with a little help from our conservation group – puts on a pretty impressive show every year as well. Even now they are past their best, it is still an arresting sight. The peculiar combination of Bluebells with Beech – the ‘Mother of Forests’ is a true source of wonder – the deep blue-purple of Bluebell combined with the fresh life of new green Beech leaves just… works.

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Chalet Wood, Wanstead Park

I have been spending a bit of time recently in a wood at the other end of Wanstead Park: Reservoir Wood (so called because the large man-made lake that used to be located here in the palatial grounds of Wanstead House). And I have witnessed the hope that comes from the beginnings of wild-life. A Nuthatch – a scarcely seen bird on the patch with a bill full of invertebrates; a sure sign that it has bred successfully and that somewhere close by a nest of gaping mouths awaits.

Much later at night in the same wood I heard the squeaks of new life as well. Two young Tawny Owls squeaking constantly and the occasional contact call of the mother. Nothing seen, but recorded here in a video I took.

I also heard the loud squeaks of a very different sort a couple of days before; or more accurately the squawks of death. A female Sparrowhawk startled me with how closely it swooped past me and, before I could even focus, it had a Starling upside down in her talons. The terrible screams continued for a about a minute after the hawk had taken its unfortunate prey off into the seclusion of branch and leaf. The remaining flock of Starlings circled, alarmed and useless but unwilling to leave the scene immediately as if in hope that their comrade would return to them. But, of course, that was never going to happen. The woodland brought life and death, and… maybe life again as it reminded me of when I watched fledging Sparrowhawks in the neighbouring wood back in 2015.

A Big British Birding Year: Part IV (Big Garden Birdwatch)

This weekend, tens of thousands of people will have spent an hour counting the birds in their gardens for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. I joined them, as indeed I did last year .

I also got to tick one more bird off my year list to take me to a grand total of 49. The 49th species I photographed is one of the most hated birds in the UK: the Feral Pigeon:

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)

Many people refer to the feral pigeon as a rat with wings. I don’t completely disagree with the comparison, as, like the rat, the feral pigeon has thrived in a world dominated by humans (let us not forget that humans do incomparably greater damage to this planet than all the so called ‘vermin’ put together). A few other things about feral pigeons that you may or may not know:

  • Feral pigeons are effectively domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild and bred.
  • Domestic pigeons were the first birds in the world to be domesticated (between 5-10,000 years ago) from the handsome wild version of the species, the Rock Dove.
  • Domestic pigeons, often bred as homing or racing pigeons, are able to navigate back to their home roost up to a 1000 miles away if they are released from a strange place.
  • Despite their reputation, and unlike humans, feral pigeons are immune to, and incapable of carrying, the deadly H5N1 ‘bird flu’ virus.
  • Feral pigeons are monogamous and mate for life. When you see a male puffing up his neck and chasing a female whilst cooing – he is courting a female that he will then stay faithful to for the rest of his life (something that many human males seem to find difficult).

Anyway, there ends my lesson, but as you can see, I don’t believe we should hate these natural survivors as much as we often do. Now, back to the listing…

I counted 3 feral pigeons together at one time in the garden – according to the RSPB rules – to count them for today’s birdwatch which I submitted online to feed into the organisation’s enormous database. This was one down on last year.

I counted two Blackbirds – a male and female – which is the same as last year:

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Two Robins (one more than last year):

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

At least two Great Tits (also one more than last year):

Great Tit (Parula major)

Great Tit (Parula major)

Two Blue Tits (same as 2013):

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

One Wood Pigeon (down from three last year):

Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

One Carrion Crow (I didn’t see any this time last year):

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)

Strangely, I only saw one of the normally highly gregarious Long-tailed Tit (two this time last year):

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

At least one Chaffinch (one less than last year):

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

One Wren (which was missing from my hour last year):

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

And, finally six Starling (which improved on the solitary one I saw last year – although the photo is significantly worse!):

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

To summarise, I saw 11 species in my garden (in zone 1 in London) which was one more than last year (two new species, but missing a Magpie from last year). Five of of the species I saw were more numerous or new compared to last year, although five were also less numerous or missing when compared to last year, and two species produced the same number as last year. So overall a pretty even picture when compared against last year, but not bad in such an urbanised area.