Winter Bird Walk - 10th February

This was our first winter bird walk led by Gareth. We started by the boating lake and the many participants (22) managed to get great view of the birds in around the lake and we were particularly pleased to see our winter visitors - the redwings - flitting in and out of the ivy on trees near the boating lake (pictured). Among the birds seen there were tufted ducks, pochards, mallards, Canada, Egyptian and greylag geese, feral pigeons, coots, moorhens and black-headed gulls. Gareth also set up his scope and enabled people to see a peregrine perched on the BBC Tower. 

We then wandered off in the direction of the reservoir where gadwall and great crested grebe were seen with robins and dunnocks singing nearby. Just a selection of the birds that we saw on a very successful first outing for this walk.

More pictures from the walk here.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch by the Boating Lake - 28th January

On a sunny Sunday, the RSPB NW London Group set up a stall by the Boating Lake to promote the Big Garden Birdwatch and encouraging members of the public to take part.

They also counted the birds of different species that they saw around the Boating and on their guided walk. 

Birds seen included redwings and peregrine falcons as well as the usual birds on and around the boating lake. The full list is yet to be compiled, but here is selection of the birds seen: mallard, tufted duck, shoveler, pochard, moorhen, coot, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, black-headed gull, common gull, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, long-tailed tit, goldfinch, carrion crow, jaw, magpie, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, great spotted woodpecker.

We did hope to see a firecrest on the walk, but no luck this although we were treated to views of a pair of sparrowhawks.

Some pictures from the day here.

Bird Walk: 17th September

With Gerry’s move to the Lake District, this was the first bird walk without a ringing demonstration for many years; thankfully, there were still plenty of birds to see. Meeting at 8 am in the Grove car park, we were soon enjoying good views of two vocal nuthatches and a great spotted woodpecker. We then headed across the slopes below the palace, where a green woodpecker fed inconspicuously on the grass and there was a mixed flock with at least two chiffchaffs alongside four species of tit and another nuthatch. Moving down to the cricket pitches, Markus alerted us to a common buzzard overhead. Our enjoyment of this infrequent visitor to the park was not shared by the local peregrines, who thrillingly swooped on the larger bird and quickly moved it out of their airspace (photo by Greg Smith). Although it lasted no more than 30 seconds, this was perhaps the most spectacular sighting we have ever had on a Friends’ bird walk.

Spring Bird Walk and Ringing Display: 7th May 

Our Spring Bird Walk started at the usual meet up in The Grove Car Park. Gareth led us around the area looking and listening. Blue tits, great tits, wood pigeon and stock dove all around and our youngest participant spotted a great spotted woodpecker on a dead stump prospecting for insects.

A jay put in a good appearance before we left The Grove and walked towards the South Slope. There we saw starlings and goldfinches near the fenced off oaks.

Further walking took us towards the cricket scrub and Gerry's ringing display. He explained the reasons and technique of ringing and how it causes no harm to the birds. He ringed two whitethroats (one pictured left), a sparrow and a great tit.

A shout of surprise from Gareth as he pointed out a cuckoo flying over our heads - a rare delight for the park.

The last of the group looked through a scope at a peregrine on the BBC Tower before before moving to the reservoir where we saw kestrel, herring and lesser black-backed gulls, cormorant, great crested grebe, grey heron, coot, moorhen, grey heron as well Canada and Egyptian geese. The highlight was a distant view of an aerial "battle" between a jackdaw and some magpies - this illustrative picture taken just after the end of the walk. Jackdaws are not very common in the park. 

Some pictures from the walk

A list of birds heard or seen.

Brilliant Birds: 12th February

‘Brilliant birds’ indeed – the walk lived up to its name. Tom Bauss led the walk he had devised for children between the ages of four and ten. Seventeen children and their parents gathered to hear Tom chat about, and identify, birds on the Boating Lake. He gave out sheets with pictures of birds likely to be seen. A variety of water fowl were tempted to come close when offered a mix of seeds, peas and lettuce that Tom and family had prepared – far better food for birds than bread, as Tom explained. The ducks, tufted ducks and pochards could be seen swimming underwater to catch the sinking seeds. The very distant view of a peregrine on the BBC mast didn’t impress the children much until Tom told them that it could fly at 300 km/hr. 

Members' Nature Walk: 5th February 

We met on a very sunny afternoon to walk round the Boating Lake, looking at birds on one side of us and plants on the other. There was the swan from Rickmansworth happily eating seed provided by a very excited little boy, along with Canada and greylag geese. Plenty of mallards and three larger versions of them, which turned out to be mallards crossed with farm ducks. A black-headed gull in its winter plumage (black dot behind eye) helpfully sat on top of the pedalo next to a black-headed gull in its breeding plumage (black head). In terms of plants, we teased out the differences between deceptively similar berberis and cotoneaster, took pleasure in smelling the sweetly scented viburnum and enjoyed the reddish glow of the bark of the Scots pine.  

Big Garden Birdwatch: 29th January

A cold, but successful day for the Big Garden Birdwatch including a walk led by Bob Husband of the RSPB London NW Group.

The group from RSPB were very pleased to see 2 peregrines on the BBC mast, but probably their highlight as well for other locals was to see two firecrests in the Blandford Hall Area - we were led there by local bird expert Marcus. We also had excellent views of a kestrel flying just over our heads below the Rose Garden. Nothing rare on the Boating Lake; we had tufted ducks together with shovelers, mallards and pochards. Greylag and Canada geese, moorhens and coots and a highlight for the locals was to see a mute swan. The swan had been ringed follow this link for some details.

Some of the other notable spots included redwings and jays. We also heard nuthatch, stock dove and great spotted woodpeckers.

Some more pictures from the day.

Fuller report (with numbers!) from RSPB NW London Group can be read here.

Autumn 2022 Bird Walk and Ringing Display 

A small group joined Gerry to see him demonstrate bird ringing. He had set up a couple of nets in the Cricket Scrub and over the session ringed a total of 26 small birds: blue tits, great tits, robins, blackcaps, wrens and chiffchaffs. The process is very skilled, with great care taken over the handling, identification and then ringing of the birds. The birds were all released unharmed after being measured and weighed. Gerry was able to name the species, determine their age and, in most cases, sex them. The information was meticulously recorded and will form part of a huge dataset collated by more than 2,000 UK volunteer certified bird ringers. The data helps us to understand the movement patterns of various species and generates insights into matters such as breeding success and overwinter survival rates. So conservationists can focus on where things are going wrong with bird populations and, hopefully, start to put them right. (Photo of a female chiffchaff by Patricia Pearl.) 

Spring Bird Walk and Ringing Display 

Around 20 people (many of whom were first-timers) joined Gareth Richards to explore the park’s birdlife. The star of the morning was undoubtedly the singing garden warbler in the Cricket Scrub. Normally an uncommon and rather fleeting visitor to the park, this male has noisily held a territory for several weeks. This is hopefully an early indication of the success of the habitat work that was done in the Cricket Scrub over the winter.

The ringing demonstration by Gerry Rawcliffe also took place in the Cricket Scrub. We were lucky to see an interesting range of birds being ringed, including a greenfinch, several blackcaps and a group of juvenile long-tailed tits. This gave Gerry the opportunity not only to explain the scientific and conservation benefits of bird ringing, but also to show how a close examination of the birds could determine both their age and their sex.

Big Garden Birdwatch 2022

The local branch of RSPB set up a stall by the Boating Lake to help promote the Big Garden Birdwatch. They also aimed to introduce people to the RSPB and to point out local birds. 

There was a guided walk to see some of the birding highlights - a slightly distant view of the peregine and a single redwing were among the highlights. The picture left shows a dispute between coots and egyptian geese. The weather stayed fair and a good day was had by all.

More pictures from the day here. 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

A report on the RSPB NW London Group's presence by the Boating Lake for the Big Garden Birdwatch can be found here. The total number of different bird species seen was 24 with the highlights definitely being Peregrines by the BBC Tower and, for some of our regulars who often see those birds, the appearance of a female wigeon on the Boating Lake (picture left). Also of noted was that some of the black headed gulls were getting their "black" heads ready for the breeding season.

Autumn 2019 Bird Walk and Ringing Display 

A beautiful, but cool September morning... Gareth took us into The Grove where we saw a Jay, Magpies, Crows, Blue tits and a Nuthatch up a big old Oak Tree.

We moved up to the South Slope (picture left) and looked for a Peregrine on the tower and Green Woodpecker on the grass - no luck with either.

Moving to below the Pitch and Putt, we did see a juvenile Green Woodpecker

We continued to the Bird Ringing Site where Gerry explained that the banding is vital in understanding bird migration and population growth/decline. Only registered and trained Ringers are allowed to carry out this function. We watched him put a ring on a female blackcap. (picture left) The ring is the equivalent of a human wearing a wrist watch.

Meanwhile Gareth had set up his "Scope" to enable people to see the Peregrine perching on the distant BBC Tower. This picture shows how far away it was (and an owl?) flying across.

Gareth had to leave us, but we finished our walk with a look at the birds on the reservoir and New River. These included Cormorants, Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gulls and a Grey Heron perched high on one of the buildings.

More pictures from the walk here.

A list of birds seen or heard here.

Spring Bird Walk

Cool morning in April for our APOG (Alexandra Ornithological Park Group) led Bird Walk with Gareth at the lead.

Starting in The Grove as usual we listened and watched. Good sightings and hearings of Blackcap and Stock Dove while on the ground a Magpie and Green Woodpecker were the entertainment.

We were quite a large group with more than a couple of dozen. 

Moving away from The Grove, we checked the South Slope before passing to the Butterfly Meadow spotting a Speckled Wood butterfly on the way.

Arriving for the Bird Ringing Demonstration, we had a good view of a Peregrine Falcon chasing a gull towards the reservoir before returning v. quickly over us.

Found in the mist net was a Dunnock which was weighed, measured and ringed before flying off.

Other birds seen/heard included Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Long-tailed Tit, Blackbird, Parakeet, Wren, Grey Heron, Dunnock, Greenfinch and Starling.

All the pictures here. 

Swift Conservation Trust Talk 

It was a great pleasure to welcome back Edward Mayer to give us a further talk on all things swifts....
These are the birds you can help.

Edward of the Swift Conservation Trust started off by pointing out that there are lots of species we can’t help directly because, individually, we don’t own enough land. But each of us can help swifts by putting up nest boxes. In County Mayo, for example, extra nest boxes have helped to increase the population of swifts by 8%. With that inspiring thought in mind, Edward carried on to tell us about these aerial acrobats that drink, eat (up to 20,000 insects a day), mate and sleep on the wing.

We heard about how their wings are so perfectly designed that they haven’t changed for at least 49 million years (judging by fossils). We also heard how, with climate change, tropical insect-borne diseases are spreading, and how far-sighted Italian municipalities are encouraging people to put up nest boxes to bring in the swifts that will keep insect numbers down.

Unfortunately swift numbers are declining, and this is mainly due to modern buildings, which don’t have enough holes and crevices. So, if you are having work done to your house, makes sure the builders go in carefully, add nest boxes while scaffolding is up, and check out the Swift Conservation Trust website for many more ideas. 

Autumn 2018 Bird Walk and Ringing Display 

Not a huge turn out this year for the walk and unfortunately no rare birds!

We saw plenty of the usual magpies, crows, robins and the noisy parakeets....

Highlights this year were a greater spotted woodpecker in the Grove, starlings and goldfinches near the pitch and putt hut, a great crested grebe on the reservoir and house martins over the reservoir.

Bird ringing was also slow with only a robin being ringed (and the group missed that!).

Spring 2018 Bird Walk and Ringing Display 

With dry weather, a pleasant surprise, between a dozen and a score of us met up in The Grove Car Park led by Gareth Richards.

We could pick out a few birds singing nearby including Robin, Blue Tit and Blackbird. Moving deeper into The Grove and saw a Stock Dove and a Mistle Thrush on the grass.

Looking around, we heard/saw Blue tits, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Long-tailed tits and even saw Swifts overhead.
Great tits were seen exiting a nest hole on old dead oak tree. (picture)

Walking out of The Grove across the road, we espied a Mistle Thrush and male Blackbird.

After hearing the Goldcrest in The Grove, we were treated to closer sightings of this titchy bird in one of Giant Redwoods.

Walking across the South Slope there was Mallard on the grass and high in a tree a Greenfinch. Approaching the Pitch and Putt, a Blackcap was singing strongly.

We moved on to the Cricket Pitch area where Blue Tit was seen in a willow. A recent good news story is the spread of Sparrows (male pictured) from their stronghold by the  junction of North View Road, Newland Road and Nightingale Lane to the Cricket Scrub area.

We had a good explanation of the technique, purpose and legal requirement of Bird Ringing from licenced practitioner, Gerry. 

During this time, a Wood Pigeon perched on nearby hawthorn and the quick eyed saw a Wheatear. Walking off, a Whitethroat was singing in a willow.

By the reservoir, we spotted Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, Grey Heron and disputing Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Moving outside to the Filter Beds, a Little Egret flew over and a Grey Wagtail perched on the edge of one of the beds.

Back in the park, a woodpecker high up in a tree.

Final list of Birds seen on the Walk.

Some pictures from the walk.

Dawn Chorus Bird Walk 

On a mild early morning, @Birdbrainuk met up with us at the Park Information Centre. David Darrell-Lambert led about two dozen of us on an exploratory walk to discovery the soundscape of the early morning.

David, referring back to his talk, pointed out the sounds of the birds to be heard at this early hour.

We were treated to the sight of Jays chasing through the trees at the start of the walk. As to the sounds, the loudest sounds came from almost the smallest birds, the Wrens, with their high decibel songs .

The deepest voice came from the Stock Doves and Wood Pigeon as they don't open their mouths so the sound comes from deep down. The highest pitch songs came from the Goldcrests which many of our group could make out. (We gradually lose high frequencies with age.)

Throughout the walk we kept hearing the jaffles of the Green Woodpeckers tracking our movements. 

Jays again came to the fore when they where seen building a nest near the Lower Path (pictured left). We also saw a Crow in a nest. Our walk had taken us down to the Lower Road and back along the Middle Path eventually pigging out on croissants and coffee.

Some of the many birds seen and heard on our walk - Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Nuthatch, Grey Heron, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jay, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dunnock, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldcrest, Wren, Parakeet.

More pictures from the Walk and Talk here.

Talk: Birds and Their Song 

On a beautiful warm evening it was a pleasure to welcome back David Darrell-Lambert, Birdbrain (link to his website), to give a talk on our birds, their song and why they sing.

The talk was fully booked with not spare seat in the house...

We were told of the different types of sound that birds make:

Songs are to attract mates and declare territories to other males. It is normally only the males that "sing" - exceptions include the robin and the dunnock.

Alarm calls warn of predators or other unwelcome intrusions.

Contact calls help the birds to keep in touch with other members of a group or a mate.

In his usual lively style, David, gave us a top ten of bird songs to listen out for which included Robin, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow and revealed that even if we think that we don't know any bird sounds - we all recognise some of them and have a basis to start learning more..... 

October Members' Walk, 2017 

look at the birds on it and a few around it.

Brian accompanied us for the walk (Lesley Ramm's recording). 

What did we see?

Four species of duck, our resident Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Pochards together with - newly arrived for Winter - Shoveler duck (below).

This was perhaps the highlight as they had only been reported for the first time yesterday by one of the avid birders Bob Watts.

We looked at probably the hardest ID question - the difference between the female Pochards and female Tufted ducks. The males of these birds are much easier to identify.

We also contrasted the Moorhens and Coots.

There were Herring Gulls and Cormorants near the middle island, but all around the lake were Black Headed Gulls - not so black headed in their Winter plumage.

Canada Geese tracked us around and both Feral and Wood Pigeons were clearing up around the lake.

Autumn Bird Walk and Ringing Display September 2017 

On Sunday 10th September, approximately 20 (relatively) early risers gathered in the Grove car park and set off in the cool morning air in search of bird life. There we saw many coal tits, a single nuthatch and a stock dove – a beautiful bird with an iridescent, bottle-green band on the back of the neck.

We headed up the corridor of trees towards the old oak tree, where our excellent leader, Gareth, with some cunning “pishing” (mimicking of calls) certainly had the attention of the birds in the vicinity, and they descended the trees out of curiosity.

Walking across the Park towards the football field, we stopped to look for the peregrine falcon which usually perches on the television tower, but unfortunately was not there.

We made our way to the ringing point. Gerry has been ringing birds in Alexandra Park for 10 years, and only one year has he not managed to net a bird for us. This year Gerry netted a robin, a young blackbird (still moulting with a yellow gape) and a wren (which had been ringed earlier in the year). Gerry explained how a robin can be aged by the colour on the inside of its upper mandible, and also that, for their size, juvenile blue tits are the most aggressive of birds.

We walked back towards the pitch and put course, and Gareth spotted, very high in the air, what he thought was might have been the peregrine, but in fact was more likely to have been a hobby. The suspense of it all.

As we rounded the pitch and put, Gareth spotted some familiar visitors – green woodpeckers – three of them, settled near the 2nd tee. These are lovely birds for us to routinely have in the Park.

Finally, we made our way to the Boating Pond where Gareth needed to carry out a count of the birds on the Pond. Gareth was delighted because we spotted three large pink swans and a red dragon, floating serenely on the water, just returned after a long migratory flight from the Sunshine Garden Centre. 

A very enjoyable and informative event. Many thanks to Gareth and to Gerry.

Report by Theo Gatward

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.

An (incomplete) list of birds seen or heard on the walk.

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 

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

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.