September sightings at Wormwood Scrubs
(From Newsletter sent by David Lindo)
The call of nature was there to be heard by all and sundry during September. Jackdaws, Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipits and several warbler species all delighted our ears as they announced their often all too brief presence. There were some particularly awesome sights to behold too. The vision of nearly 2,000 House Martins passing over during the course of 6 days was like nothing we had ever witnessed before. The 5 Common Buzzards that circled over one hazy Saturday afternoon mind-blowing as was the vision of an impressive Goshawk drifting in from the north.
September was not a bad month after all especially given the increased numbers of birders, swelled on the 27th by the 44 people that attended the London Natural History Society walk – our biggest yet.
One major disappointment however, was the non-appearance or maybe more to the point, the non-detection of the fabled Ring Ouzel. This scarce migrant thrush has been seen often fleetingly at least once a year for the past 5 years. We are running out of time.
October’s our last chance.
If you have details of any sightings or observations of unusual behaviour please sent them on no matter how trivial they may seem to: email@example.com
A couple were noticed on most days during the month.
A couple of birds were individually seen on the 15th and 21st. the low detection rate of these birds over The Scrubs probably bears no correlation to their true status in the area. A walk down the nearby Grand Union Canal or any of the parks that lay close to would yield good numbers it’s just that we never see them!
This is another waterfowl so rarely seen despite their comparative local abundance. A flock (or herd to use the proper term for a gathering of swans) of 5 headed north over the football pitches on the 4th. They were quite possibly the largest flock ever witnessed at The Scrubs, although they hardly smashed any records because the previous high count was 4. That group sighting was subsequently followed by the record of a lone bird heading over on the 8th.
Sightings of this feral goose are really increasing with our 4th record this year occurring on the 3rd when 2 flew low over the grassland.
Small numbers were seen during the month usually ranging from between 2 to 6 birds, although 10 birds flew through on the 6th.
A small flock of 3 birds headed north over the eastern end of the park on the 6th resulting in our 4th record ever and our first sighting of this increasing naturalised goose-cum-duck since December 2007.
This nationally common duck is bit of a scarce enigma here with some Septembers past resulted in zero records. On the 22nd 5 birds headed over and 2 went over on the 27th.
A high-flying bird was watched heading south through overcast skies on the 20th. Its spatula-shaped bill was easily noticeable even at that great height. Incredibly, this was only our 2nd record ever since the first, a flock of 6 drakes that flew over Scrubs Lane car park on 25th May 2005.
Following on from a distant probable bird on the 18th, unbelievably 5 birds were watched gaining height high over the grassland on the 19th. They were our first multiple record and only our 3rd accepted sighting though there has probably been many more seen over the years either not reported by visiting birders though or belatedly by dog walkers though with painfully scant details.
Our birds were part of a large movement that day over west London that may have involved up to 50 birds including 11 over Regents Park, 3 over Ladbroke Grove and at least 19 over Richmond Park. With the recent increase of this nationally common raptor in the London area it should equate to even more records of this magnificent bird over The Scrubs in the future.
Incredibly, one headed fairly low over Lester’s Embankment during the early afternoon on the 18th, drifting over the grassland before gaining height on thermals and heading west.
Its large size (Buzzard-sized – much bigger than a regular Sparrowhawk) was immediately apparent. Its shape and structure was more like squat a Hen Harrier than that of a Sparrowhawk. Despite that, it was still Sparrowhawk-like in its colouration and certain aspects of its demeanour but its wing beats were far more languid than its smaller cousin – which has a classic quick ‘flap flap glide’ flight pattern. Finally, white patches on its tail base were sometimes discernable which is a classic identification feature.
This bird was a total surprise and our first record ever for this site of this essentially woodland bird. It is indeed a rare bird in London at the best of times.
Single birds were seen regularly during the month. We feel that there could be a female and one or two juveniles at large. On the 21st as many as 3 birds were seen including a high flying bird that was heading north.
A juvenile flew in over embankment heading east over grassland on the 5th. Although it had reddish ‘thighs’ the face pattern was not as clean and distinct as it would have been on an adult. A distant bird was seen heading south over Braybrook Wood on the 8th.
The last bird of the autumn was an individual that headed over the grassland on the 22nd.
Up to 2 birds were in the area during the month.
The first record for the winter (and indeed for the year) was an individual that rose out of the grassland on the 27th.
Low numbers continued to be seen during the month echoing those of September 2008. The largest count was 40 birds on 22nd.
At least 30 were counted on the 22nd.
The usual small numbers were noticed during the month.
The occasional sighting persisted during the month with the maximum of 3 birds on the 11th and at least 5 on the 13th.
At least 50 were counted on the 11th. But from mid-month onwards local birds began to congregate on the pitches, especially on the grass north of the prison. Up to 230 birds were seen on the 14th including at least 120 in front of the prison. By the 22nd over 400 were counted.
One bird was seen on the 18th and another headed east over the grassland on the 21st.
These parakeets are still roosting at The Scrubs with over 1,000 watched leaving their roost on the 18th.
The first record for September was on the 20th when a bird was heard calling from Scrubs Lane Wood.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
At least one pair was seen several times during the month.
Some 10 birds flew through with some Swallows on the 14th. Last September we also registered just 10 birds. We have to go back to 2005 for our last September record.
We had a reasonable passage of birds that involved at least 243 birds during the month. Remember that we only see the birds migrating whilst we are out birding. This species migrates all through the day and continue to pass through long after we’ve all gone home. The largest day count was on the 19th when over 130 were counted.
There was great excitement on the 16th when over 60 headed north low over the grassland. It may not sound like many, but up until that point we hadn’t recorded more than a hundred birds in 17 years!
But then picture this subsequent sequence of events: on the 18th over 200 birds flew over though this flock was dwarfed by the 350 or so that drifted over during the morning of the 19th. However, on the 21st between 0730 and 0930 an unprecedented passage occurred when over 900 birds passed north. All records were shattered. We were witnessing an unusually high number of birds passing over west London with a peak of ‘several thousand’ birds lingering over Staines Reservoir. Curiously, they were all in seemingly single species flocks.
Following the 3 birds reported last month, a singleton was flushed from the grassland on the 4th and flew directly into a tree in the northeast corner. A further 2 were flushed on the 9th.
In the main, we didn’t receive quite the number of these upland specialists that we have grown accustomed to during recent Septembers indeed, we received our lowest numbers since 2003 the year when the routine autumnal mowing of the grassland ceased.
On average there were about 20 or so birds in and over the grassland, so over 40 birds on the 16th was exceptional, but much lower than last September when the daily average was around 50. However, the 21st was a good day for general migration as exemplified by the mighty passage of House Martins and over 100 pipits were noted mostly flying over from the north.
A couple flew over on the 9th and intriguingly one was in the grassland cavorting with Meadow Pipits on the 11th. Further birds was seen on the 14th and 22nd.
A couple birds were seen on most visits usually heading overhead.
A bird was flushed from the ground in the afternoon near the southern edge of the grassland on the 14th. Two days later, 2 singles flew over. They were the last birds to be reported and one day short of being our latest ever.
Well, that would have been the end of the story until a juvenile was watched landing amongst a party of Starlings on the 17th equalling the latest ever date in September 2005. But then a day later, 2 singletons flew over and on the 20th a singleton headed over Scrubs Lane Wood and was most definitely our latest ever!
At least 6 birds were counted on the 27th.
Around 7 birds were noted on the 27th. A gross underestimation in anybody’s book, that’s for sure.
Around 8 birds were seen on the 11th and 27th.
A female was discovered on a bench near Chats Paddock along the northern edge of Scrubs Lane Wood on the 11th. It was the first record here of this relatively scarce species for 2009 and the first prolonged view of an individual for a couple of years. On the 25th 2 female/immatures were briefly encountered along Lester’s Embankment and were the last birds to be reported.
This has been a poor autumn for this species with only 4 birds including August’s singleton thus far.
A couple of birds were seen briefly on the trees on Lester’s Embankment on the 5th and possibly the last bird of the year was flushed from the field immediately south of the grassland on the 27th and headed off over Braybrook Street.
The regular presence of this migratory chat on our grassland did not echo the happenings those of last autumn when at least 2 birds were present for most of the month. This year at least 2 birds were first noticed on the 4th rising to 5 birds on the 9th. From the 13th numbers fluctuated between 1 and 5 birds, although there was 6 which including the usual quintet on the grassland plus a sole bird near Heron Copse, on the 18th. The birds on the grassland were watched flycatching.
The 2 birds on the 21st were the last birds of the month.
Our first returning wintering bird came back on the 27th some 10 days later than last year. Two days later a pair were established on the grassland.
Our birds seemed to be pretty thin on the ground during September and we decided to put it down to late summer dispersal. Around 10 were noted on the 10th.
The first bird of the month was reported near the pony centre on the 19th. Another was seen on the 27th.
At least 10 were encountered on the 11th and 27th.
The odd one or two birds were seen throughout the month with the lion’s share of sightings emanating from Lester’s Embankment. This was a definite improvement on September 2008 when sightings were far and few between drying up by mid-month.
The maximum count was at least 6 on the 5th and 11th with the last birds of the month being the couple that were seen on the 30th.
Small numbers continued to be seen along Lester’s Embankment with around 10 on the 6th being the largest count dropping to around 7 birds on the 7th and 8th. Most if not all were juveniles, presumably meaning that the adults had already departed for their African winter quarters.
The last bird was seen on the 30th when one was frequenting the embankment.
Birds were seen intermittently during the month along Lester’s Embankment. A single bird was noted on the 6th and 4 were seen along the embankment on the 11th. The last bird of the month was seen on the 25th which when compared with last year’s latest seen on September 1st was pretty late.
The usual autumnal build up of birds continued during September with a fall of at least 25 birds noted on the 11th with a ringed individual amongst their number. A further count of around 20 was made on the 25th.
A single bird was discovered in the northwest corner of the site on the 10th and briefly on Lester’s Embankment on the 13th. On the 14th perhaps 2 birds were flitting around in the northwest corner which brought our total to maybe 7 birds for the autumn period (8 for the whole year).
There were quite a few of this large tit roaming the area during the month, but they are difficult to count because they don’t stay still. At least 10 were counted on the 11th and 27th.
Some 18 birds were seen on the 27th.
At least 20 were roving on the 11th.
Birds began to appear from mid-month with one or two seen on most visits.
At least 20 birds were counted on the 11th.
Small numbers were seen periodically during the month as usual favouring the Central Copse area. The largest number were 6 on the 18th and 22nd.
Around 100 were seen on the 11th. We are actively trying to discourage the locals from leaving scraps out for them – not least because of the unwanted attention it attracts from rats and mice.
The assembled juveniles had all begun to assume their adult winter plumage, their signs of immaturity betrayed by the areas of brown feathering especially around their heads. At least 320 were counted on the 4th.
Our local sparrows have seemingly got two roost sites at The Scrubs; the first is their traditional spot in the southwestern edge of Central Copse and the more recently discovered site within the bushes facing Braybrook Street.
At least 30 birds in small flocks trickled out of Central Copse on the 4th.
Our wintering birds were slowly beginning to build up with ones and twos seen. The maximum count was around 6 on the 27th.
The late summer gatherings were a distant memory during September when the maximum count was just 60 birds on the 7th. Anomalously however, over 120 were counted on the 11th.
On the 8th, 2 birds flew from Lester’s Embankment and a further 10 flew in and landed on the embankment on the 14th. Finally 8 birds were seen on the 21st.
This normally common finch was particularly scarce this month with the biggest count being 8 on the 27th.
Our first winter record concerned 3 birds on the 30th.
Glossary of places mentioned
Martin Bell’s Wood – formally known as the Southern Paddock is situated on the south eastern corner close to Scrubs Lane.
Scrubs Lane Wood – the strip of woodland on the eastern edge of the site running the length of Scrubs Lane to the east and along the northern edge to Chats Paddock in the west.
Chats Paddock - will also be known as the main lizard habitat.
Lester’s Embankment – marks the north western border of the Scrubs and is also referred to as ‘the embankment’. Now named after Lester Holloway who in the 80’s unsuccessfully campaigned to stop British Rail developing on the Scrubs.
North West Corner – the western edge of the Scrubs.
Braybrook Woods – the woodland strip running along the southern edge from Braybrook Street up to and including outside the prison along the southern parameter.
2009 Year List
Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Mute Swan, Greylag, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Common Buzzard, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Hobby, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Lapwing, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-back, Great Black-back, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, Swift, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Dartford Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting
84 species thus far
(92 species in September 2008 & 81 in September 2007)
Contributors: Rob Ayers, Kim Dixon, Charles Fison, David Jeffreys, David Lindo, Roy Nuttall, Anders Price et al.
October 29, 2009