Birds 2014 and earlier

The following are notes of bird-watching before 2015. See here for the most recent walks and sightings.

Bird watching walks take place in the grounds of Alexandra Park in the Spring and Autumn.

These are usually organised and led by the Alexandra Park Ornithological Group (APOG).

Dates for future walks can be found under What's On, and full details will appear on the Home page nearer the time.

Spring 2014 bird walk

All the birds that are caught are released quickly afterwards and suffer no harm while contributing to the scientific knowledge of the birds and helping preserve them and their habitats.

The weather was not encouraging on the morning of the bird walk, but a dozen hardy individuals braved the rain to look for, and listen to, a few of the Park’s many birds. It was only a few as the weather seemed to have the same effect on birds as on humans – not keen to venture out.

However we saw a mistle thrush busy building a rather precarious nest, and a nuthatch popping in and out of a much safer nest in a hole in a tree. The demonstration of bird ringing had to be replaced with a quick talk on the subject, as no birds had been caught. Bird ringing has revealed the longevity of birds: over 50 years is the longest lived of all species in Europe and Alan Gibson, who spends a lot of time birdwatching in the Park, told us that he had identified the oldest ringed black-headed gull - 29 years old!The boating lake always has something to interest the birdwatchers and this time we had an excellent view of the beautifully coloured teal. (the same teal pictured on another occasion above)

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.

Autumn bird-walk and ringing session, 2013

Around 20 people enjoyed our autumn bird walk, led as usual by Andrew Gardener. We spotted over 30 different birds, including tantalising glimpses of Britain’s smallest bird, the goldcrest, in its usual territory in the Grove, and a whinchat, a migrant on its way south.

Gerry Rawcliffe set up his bird-ringing demonstration and was inundated with birds caught in the mist net – 23 in all. Usually there are just one or two. Gerry duly ringed them all, while explaining the techniques and benefits of ringing.

Autumn bird-walk and ringing session, 2013

Around 20 people enjoyed our autumn bird walk, led as usual by Andrew Gardener. We spotted over 30 different birds, including tantalising glimpses of Britain’s smallest bird, the goldcrest, in its usual territory in the Grove, and a whinchat, a migrant on its way south.

Gerry Rawcliffe set up his bird-ringing demonstration and was inundated with birds caught in the mist net – 23 in all. Usually there are just one or two. Gerry duly ringed them all, while explaining the techniques and benefits of ringing.

Spring bird-walk and ringing session, April 2013(1)

A cool, but lovely sunny morning for our bird walk as we assembled in The Grove Car Park. Andrew Gardener of the Alexandra Park Ornithological Group (APOG) said that waxwings had been seen at the Boating Pond so we made a quick dash there to see if we could spot them. Unfortunately the birds had flown. So a huge turnout of just under 50 of us made our way around the park towards the ringing display as news came that birds had been caught in the mist net.

Gerry Rawcliffe of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) gave a talk on the whys and wherefores of bird ringing. He explained that the rings are just like carrying a watch for us and they provide valuable conservation and scientific information. At the time of ringing the birds also measured and weighed. The birds caught were a male and female blackcap and two chiffchaffs. One of the chiffchaffs was remarkable in being the first bird caught on these bird walks already ringed by someone else. We wait to find out where and when. A great moment for the kids was to be able to set the birds free again from their own hands.

The birds seen so far had been notable for the absence of birds of prey then a sparrow hawk was spotted. We moved over to the reservoir and heard a willow warbler singing to its heart’s content. Then with one look up to the sky a hobby, a peregrine falcon (probably our “Gus”) and a kestrel were spotted – wow!

Walking back to The Grove, we had excellent close views of a colourful green woodpecker and a jay.

The walk had notched up at least 40 different species of birds on the walk – a good total.

It has been quite a year so far for birds in Alexandra Park with 3 new firsts to the park added – slavonian grebe, great white egret and arctic tern.

Spring bird-walk and ringing session, April 2013(2)

The weather was perfect for the Bird Walk and Ringing Display on the 28th April. First Andrew Gardener took the 47-strong group around the Park to see if we could catch a glimpse of some of the numerous birds flitting among the trees.

Forty different species were identified. Highlights included a hobby and our peregrine (see above). Also, we heard and/or saw: male wrens singing to each other to establish territory (did you know there are 72 different notes in a wren’s call?), blue and great tits, blackcaps, a pied wagtail, a nuthatch and a chiffchaff letting the world know he was there.

Afterwards we watched an absorbing ringing display by licensed ringer Gerry Rawcliffe, whose introduction explained just what ringing was, why it was important, who was allowed to do it and how it helped further knowledge of bird migratory patterns. We saw him ringing a male and a female blackcap, a chiffchaff.

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 young 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 for 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.

Autumn bird-walk and ringing session, September 2012

Due to the regular walk leader Andrew Gardner unfortunately out of commission, we were very lucky that Gareth Richard and Dominic Mitchell volunteered to step into the breech.

Starting in the Grove Car Park, we did not see too many birds in The Grove itself, so we swiftly moved off to more promising area.

Approaching the Pitch and Putt area, we were lucky have a quick close view of a juvenile (dull coloured) green woodpecker feeding on the grassy slopes. In the Pitch and Putt area itself there was plenty to see with starlings, wood pigeons, a juvenile herring gull and a flock of mistle thrushes. For the quick of seeing, a yellow wagtail flashed by overhead.

At the bird ringing session, run by Gerry Rawcliffe with Bob Watts helping, we missed the ringing of a wood pigeon (which must have been quite a handful), but we were lucky to be in time to see young male and young female blackcaps being rung. Next a wren flew in and after ringing was most reluctant to leave the appreciative on-lookers.

All this while there was a male kestrel, perhaps one of this year’s fledglings from the reservoir nest box, perching nearby. (pictured here)

On the reservoir there were cormorants and tufted ducks and a little grebe and heron were spotted when we finished up by the Boating Lake.

All in all a good morning’s bird watching for the score of people who came along.

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.

Spring Bird Walk, April 2012

Wet April day in 2012 - five of us at 5 minutes to 8 were thinking of calling off the Bird Walk... rain and more rain. Then we were up to fifteen people so we went ahead.

Not much to be seen to start with, but a little bird song from robins. The park was wet and there was quite a bit of jumping and stepping over streams and new lakes.

Then the rain eased and we started to have more luck. Black caps were calling and we caught a glimpse of one and later a pair of them. Then chiffchaffs were starting to make themselves heard.

Andrew Gardner pointed out a longtailed tit nest to us made out of lichen and moss.

On the reservoir we had good views of 2 cormorants, one of them a juvenile from an earlier year and a great crested grebe diving for food.

By the conservation pond one male blackcap sat singing away giving us all a brilliant view.

Then to confuse the uninitiated, we were treated to the song and sight of a willow warbler that sounded half like a chiffchaff and may be a hybrid bird.

Heard both green and great spotted woodpeckers without getting a good view of them as we passed by the Blandford Hall area.

Up at the Boating Lake the cafe was deserted and the dragons were resting, but a grey heron was sitting on an island by a willow tree in the rain.

On the lake were the usual mallards, coots, moorhens, tufted ducks and pochards, but the gulls were not around.

Next to the pond, we spotted a mistle thrush taking bark from a birch tree to line her nest in a nearby horsechestnut. She was working quite hard while her mate just sat and admired from a nearby perch.

Our final excitement was a bird coming towards us as we walked along the Palace terrace. Ducking and diving the sparrowhawk flew just over our heads.

So after a slow start, it was really quite a sucessful Bird Walk thanks to Andrew Gardner who led us and Gerry Rawcliffe who provided further expert input.

Bird Walk, September 2011

Just as Andrew Gardener's start to lead the walk, drops of rain tried to dampen our enthusiasm, but soon it dried up. By the pitch putt we spotted mistle thrushes, starlings, blue, great and long-tailed tits as well as a Green Woodpecker.

This was just the start....

Moving to the cricket shrub area we arrived and the onlbird caught, a robin, had been rung and released.

A further check in the mist net by Gerry Rawlings produced two juvenile blackcaps, a male and female together with a young wren. Two children enjoyed setting them free.

One onlooker was particularly curious about bird ringing – a young robin who watched from a bush nearly a metre away.

While this demonstration was going on the sun was seen and a pair of hobbys were spotted flying overhead. These birds of prey often feed on dragonflies.

Sparrow hawks and a kestrel also seen.

By the reservoir great crested grebe and teenagers were spotted together with cormorants and a heron.

On the boating lake pochard duck was seen, but the highlight was a dabchick chick foraging along the edge of the lake oblivious to all the attention he was given.

Bird Walk, April 2011

A large group (about 47) of interested people met up for the guided bird walk, on Sunday 10 April, led by members of the Alexandra Park Ornithology Group.

We started in The Grove listening out for goldcrests which were silent and progressed to great sightings of nuthatches fluttering around The Grove veteran oak tree.

After passing the pitch and putt and unfortunately missing the wheatears that had been around recently, we ended up at the scrub by the cricket pitch where a local bird ringer had set up a mist net.

An interesting talk on how and why birds are ringed before he ventured back stage to see what had been caught.

First up was a real cutie the long-tailed tit. A seven gram bundle of fluff which we got to see at close hand.

Secondly we saw two great tits. The first was a tranquil female who, when released by a boy in the group, then waited in a bush for her mate. The second was a male and tried as hard as possible to draw blood from the ringer and showed that all birds are individuals. After weighing and ringing he was released to join his mate.

Chiffchaffs were calling around this time (and seen) and a pair of sparrowhawks were spotted circling high above us.

By the reservoirs, there were greater crested grebe and a greylag goose.

The boating lake provided more waterfowl with several pairs of pochard (ducks) and one shoveller duck.

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.

See here for the most recent walks and sightings.