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Bird watching

Various reports compiled by APOG (Alexandra Park Ornithological Group) can be downloaded at the end of this page.  

APOG  organise twice-yearly walks, in the grounds of Alexandra Park, to help identify birds and to demonstrate bird-ringing - see Bird Watching Walks for reports of our previous walks.

Spring Bird Walk and Ringing Display May 2017

Our gallant Bird Walk leader was on the injury list, but still managed to lead us around - many thanks, Gareth.

We met up in The Grove as usual and went off in search of something special....

There we saw quite a few Stock Doves which although being quite common are often overlooked - they are the size of a Feral Pigeon with dark eyes. (picture taken on another occasion)

Jay, Magpie and Crow all to be seen and we heard the thin voice of a Coal Tit. A Blackcap was heard and a Swift was seen flying overhead.

The high pitched song of the Goldcrest was noticed by the group together with the not so pleasant noise of a Ring Necked Parakeet.

Walking across Alexandra Palace Way up on the Palace was one of our big highlights of the walk, a Peregrine on the South Western Tower. (pictured) We later saw a Peregrine flying around the BBC mast which was probably the same bird.

Continuing our walk towards the Ringing Site we saw Mallards flying by and heard Chiffchaff and Green Woodpecker.

At the Ringing Point, Gerry was quite excited about catching a common bird. Two male sparrows had been caught in the mist net and we saw one of them being ringed. Sparrows are a common, but have been a big long term decline and have up until a few years ago been limited to the Southern edge of the Park. They are now starting to reconquer territory.

Other birds ringed were wren, blackbird (which had been previously caught last Spring) and most impressively a massive Carrion Crow.

After the ringing session we walked to the reservoirs where Herring Gull, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Canada Goose and others were seen together with a small flock long-tailed tits.

We then wandered around to the Wood Green Reservoir filter beds where we were pleased to see a juvenile Grey Wagtail.

Rapturous about raptors, Jan 2017

We were thoroughly entertained and informed by David Darrell-Lambert when he gave a talk about identifying raptors at the Park Information Centre on the 26th of January. He showed us straightforward ways to identify theses fascinating birds, which can be a real challenge when all you catch is the occasional glimpse far up in the sky.

Using images of pairs of similar sized birds, such as kestrel and sparrow hawk he pointed out simple distinguishing features like the black wind tips of the kestrel versus plain brown wings of the sparrow hawk, or different flight patterns: the kestrel frequently hovers with rapid wing-beats while the sparrow hawk flies with a ‘flap-flap-glide’ pattern.

As a point of interest, the word ‘raptor’ comes from the Victorian scientific name for birds of prey, which in turn derives from the Latin word meaning ‘plunderer’, or someone who seizes and carries away. That is pretty much what birds of prey or 'raptors' do - they seize, or grab their prey and carry it away.

Autumn Bird Walk and Ringing Display, September 2016

A good crowd of some 25 people including a lot younger people showed up at The Grove Car Park. Gareth took us into The Grove to listen out for Spotted Flycatchers and Nuthatches. Crows were present as well as a good view through Gareth's Scope of a Stock Dove on top of tree. This bird is the size of a Feral Pigeon, but has a different song and dark eyes. 

Plenty of Magpies swooping across the Park as we made our way towards the Pitch and Putt. The Pitch and Putt is the place to see Green Woodpeckers and Mistle Thrushes and they didn't disappoint. Starlings were, however, the most numerous residents.

Gerry, the Bird Ringer, had earlier caught and ringed a blackbird, but unfortunately for the first time ever had nothing in the mist net by the time we arrived. 
The problem was spots of rain and more importantly the wind which made the net too visible to tempt in any of feathered friends.

One side attraction interested the children, a Wasp Nest underground with many black and yellow insects going in and out.

Wandering over to the reservoir, there were Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls as well as Great Crested Grebe and a Heron (pictured).

Spring Bird Walk and Ringing Display, May 2016

The usual early morning meet-up in The Grove Car Park at 8am proved a bit of a challenge for some... Only about 7 people there, but 10 minutes later a good crowd of 20 including some keen youngsters wandered into The Grove to listen for the first birds.

Gareth led us off and soon we were listening to a Nuthatch singing stridently. This was clearly seen by all. At the place Wood Pigeon, Magpies and Blue tits were espied. 

Admiring a flowering Norway Maple as we left The Grove, the group walked towards the pitch and putt.

On the way a Sparrowhawk was seen being mobbed by some parakeets (pictured) and we were told that this had not been seen before in the Park. A kestrel was also seen flying off towards the Palace.

At the Pitch and Putt, there were plentious Starlings feeding on the grass together with the odd Mistle Thrush.

Off towards the Cricket Scrub and Gerry's Ringing demonstration

This was rudely interrupted by an intriguing wild life encounter....

A Kestrel was seen hovering over the ditch on the edge of the cricket pitch. It then dived down and caught a rodent. However, just as it was trying to make its getaway in came a Carrion Crow and harassed it causing the bird of prey to drop its prey and flee. Link to a slideshow of the encounter.

We saw a Long Tailed Tit and Dunnock up close and Gerry explained the Ringing procedure, why it is done and why how it is done to cause negligible stress to the birds.

The last few of us wandered to the reservoir where we spotted a Cormorant drying itself, a Heron on the distant bank and Herring and Lesser Black Backed gulls together with Canada Geese and a Great Crested Grebe.

Another successful morning, thanks to Gareth and Gerry.

Big Garden Birdwatch, January 2016

RSPB NW London Group set up a stall by the Boating Lake Cafe (thanks to Ahmed Yener). 

After persistent drizzle early on, the weather dried up and visitors came to find out their local birds, the RSPB and the Big Garden Birdwatch. 

RSPB members went around the lake and further afield to see what was on the wing or scrubbing around for food. Common, Black-headed and Herring gulls were seen on the Boating Lake and the Winter migrants, the redwings were seen in a nearby field. 

Back in the Boathouse, tea towels, mugs etc. were sold to happy punters and we had visit from electric bicycle rider. (pic)

Swift Talk by Edward Mayer, January 2016

Edward Mayer
of the Swift Conservation Trust gave an engaging talk on Tuesday, 26th January.

He started with explanation of how to tell the difference between 4 commonly confused rapid insect-catching fliers, Swallow, Swift, House Martin and Sand Martin, explaining the difference in colour, nest location and where they can be seen.

Edward then continued with a few facts about swifts saying.......

They are some of our oldest birds, having been around for something like 49 million years.

They are faithful to both their mates and their nests, returning to the same sites every year (more on that in a bit). They prefer older buildings, returning to the UK from Africa in April/May to their small holes in eaves, gables or upper walls and feeding on harmful flying insects.

They are famous for their ‘screaming parties’ which, once experienced, are never forgotten.

They do everything in the air except for nesting because of their short legs, including mating, feeding and drinking.

But they are now in trouble because a combination of new building techniques and materials, as well as insulation of older buildings, is excluding them from returning to their past nests. Between 1995 and 2012 there was a decline of 38% in numbers in the UK as a whole, 52% in London and 47% in southeast England.

We can help in a number of ways, such as ensuring we don’t destroy existing nests during building work, adding nest boxes to our houses, monitoring what’s happening in our areas with building works and joining local networks to support laws to protect these extraordinary birds. Find out more at www.swift-conservation.org.

Dawn Chorus Bird Song Walk led by David Darrell-Lambert - March 2015

5:30am was Rendez-vous time for the first ever Friends of Alexandra Park Dawn Chorus Walk. Too early? Not for about 25 of us inspired by the Bird Song Talk by David Darrell-Lambert the previous week.

David started the walk by explaining that the loud song of the wren in the Car Park was too early and normally they start a bit later, but that birds don't always follow the rules.... More typical for that time of the morning were the Robins and Song Thrushes pouring out their songs.

Blackbirds were also singing, but took a dislike to us and every time we approached a little closer to listen they quietened down.

Crows were the next to be heard along with Canada Geese and Magpies. David pointed out that some of the sounds that we were hearing were songs, some were "contact calls" and other alarm calls.

He suggested concentrating on the songs, but then to listen out for alarm calls especially if they were coming from more than one bird as that might indicate the presence of a predator in the area.

After an hour, some people were becoming a little disappointed by the lack of different birds. David explained that on dull days the later birds start singing later still and, just on cue, soon after that a whole new batch of different bird song and c
alls stretched our ears.

Green Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Mistle Thrush (maybe), Hering Gulls, Redwings were among the birds adding to the chorus.

We wandered towards the Nature Pond on the off-chance of spotting a Water Rail, but no just Mallards, Coots and Moorhens.

Walking back towards The Grove, after a good view of a Jay (pic) we heard and spotted Goldcrests in a Giant Redwood tree before getting great sightings of both Stock Doves and Nuthatches (pic) near the Garden Centre entrance.

After this successful walk we thanked "Birdbrain", invited him back next year and retired to the Park Information Centre for Tea and Croissant (and to warm-up).

Bird Song Talk - March, 2015

A packed Park Information Centre were treated to a brilliant talk from David Darrell-Lambert , chair of the Ornithological Section of the London Natural History Society, in February.

David demonstrated different bird songs, how they are made up, what type of songs/calls there are and where and when they are made. He played sound recordings and also used some graphics for those so inclined.

He concentrated on the more common birds - e.g. blackbird and wood pigeon, but in case we got too complacent David went on to highlight the difference between a goldcrest and a firecrest song.

He held the audience enchanted for an hour and a half. Starting young, a three month old was absorbing the sounds together with some of us of a slightly more advanced age.

His key mantra was to use whatever is best for you to remember a bird song and don't try to learn too many at once.

Rare visitor returns and a ring decoded, March 2014

A rare female smew returned on Saturday to the delight of local bird watchers.

Last month a greylag goose was seen on the Boating Lake and its ring number noted. We sent the recording off to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and have just been told “This bird was ringed by P J Belman as age at least 1 year , sex unknown on 10-Jul-2008 at Walton-on-Thames, Surrey.” Interesting to know where it came from and its age. Anyone can send off a sighting to the BTO and get the details back.

Talk by the Urban Birder, David Lindo, in March 2013

David started by relating his non-birding background, and how he
developed his interest in wildlife, starting by inventing his own names for all his common birds e.g. baby bird for a sparrow.

Later he progressed from getting his first pair of binoculars and first bird books to being asked to go on Springwatch to talk about his local patch of Wormwood Scrubs, and how got his Urbanbirder nickname.

He explained his very positive outlook, and his way of always looking up in the sky,  with hope of seeing something special, and how he felt that he often had "The Force with Him".

David gave an intriguing look into the huge owl population of Serbia (flocks of them in trees) and ended with a great picture of two beings sharing a London bench ... a man and a pelican!

David's books were available to buy, and the Friends invested in one for the Information Centre.

During tea and biscuits, a y
oung local birder, Henry, showed a couple of his great pictures of our peregrine falcon (see further down this page).

A big thank you to David Lindo for this fitting and entertaining way to christen our new HQ.

Peregrine spotted several times in the early months of 2013, on the ledges of Alexandra Palace

The first positive ID of the peregrine falcon, on 19th January, was by Andrew Gardener who leads our twice-yearly bird walks.

 Two days later: (from Bowes and Bounds website).“Late in the afternoon one of the fellow 'school dads' a keen Twitcher or bird spotter pointed out a majestic looking bird swooping across the front of Alexandra Palace and pursuing a pigeon down the hillside towards the Hornsey gasometer.”

 It was seen from the terrace when, with a great screeching, the Peregrine Falcon swept towards Ally Pally with the dead pigeon before landing and eating its prize.

On the 27th January, Bob Husband of the RSPB London North West Group set up a scope by the Palace to observe the bird and managed to read the AT on an orange band ring on the birds leg.

On the 4th February the bird was seen taking off from the Palace and doing a couple of circuits before heading for Muswell Hill.

Later that day Nathalie (FAB Peregrines) confirmed what Stuart Harrington (LPP) had earlier suspected that our Peregrine was the sole fledgeling from the peregrine pair at the Tate Modern. The tercel (male falcon) fledged on 6th June, 2012. 

By April 2013, the bird had been seen several more times, usually on the wing, and by the people attending our Spring Bird Walk (see below).

Three names for the bird have been touted, Bradley (Wiggins), Gus (Gusty Wind) and Alex (andra Palace).

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, was held at the end of January, 2013, when we were all encouraged to record the birds visiting our garden in an hour.

On Sunday, 
volunteers from the NW London group of the RSPB joined us at a stall by the boathouse to encourage visitors to join in. 

Amongst the ducks and geese on the boating pond we were able to point out to visitors were the attractively coloured Pochard, and the tiny Little Grebe in its rather plainer winter outfit.  The day’s celebrity, though, was the Peregrine which has been perching on the Palace f
or several days, feeding off the local feral pigeons. 

Several strollers on the South Terrace were excited to see the peregrine through the telescope the RSPB volunteers had set up, and to learn about the peregrine including the phenomenal speed it can reach when diving on to its prey (up to 200mph!).

Unfortunately the peregrine decide to stretch its wings and disappeared all too soon.

Kestrels breeding, June 2012

Kestrels have been spotted with their chicks in a bird box, by the reservoirs,  which was originally put up for owls.

Redwings and Waxwings
, January 2011

There has been an influx of flocks of redwing birds in Alexandra Park, on the racecourse and pitch & putt course.  They have been roosting on site from January, 2011.

 A flock of 40 waxwings were spotted in The Grove part of Alexandra Park, in the middle of January, 2011.  Waxwings breed in Russia and northern Scandinavia and in some winters they arrive in Britain in large numbers when their food supplies on the continent run out.

Reports which can be downloaded here:

APBirdReport2011 is a report of birds in Alexandra Park, produced in 2011.
APOG Systematic Apr13 is the Systematic Report produced in 2013.

Migrant birds in Alexandra Park details which birds can be spotted in which parts of Alexandra Park at certain times of the year.
Bird Report 2006 is a longer document which is packed with detail about birds in Alexandra Park.