Ring-necked Parakeets flying in to roost at Wormwood Scrubs park. A total of over 1000 birds roost communally in trees here each night. The parakeets first gather in a pre-roost sites, where they arrive gradually in one and twos. This is a sociable time for the birds, and lots of chattering and squawking can be heard. Once a good number of birds have gathered they then fly in large groups to the main roost site and settle in for the night. Quite a spectacle; both the sight and the sound.
Today I felt very privileged to witness a Small White butterfly laying an egg. The tiny yellow package of life in this picture had been in existence for less than a minute. What a powerful tribute to all the weeds which grow in the forgotten cracks and corners of London. We all need nature in our lives, look harder and you’ll find it.
During yesterday’s Wild Capital nature walk in Richmond Park we came across all kinds of natural wonders…
Richmond Park is the largest of all the Royal Parks; it is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Conservation Area. We were lucky to be exploring the park in lovely sunshine today, with a cool wind reminding us that winter had not long passed. We began our activities at Pen Ponds car park with a coffee and a chat about our plan for the day. Soon after we were making our way down a path running through the centre of the park towards Isabella Plantation. A herd of Red Deer were not far away and we stopped to view them and discuss the 700 approx deer in the park, both red and fallow. Heading on we talked about the history of the park from the time of Charles I, and how a put-out brewer got the park reopened to the public in the 19th century.
Before us stretched the lowland acidic grassland which makes this park such an important site. The number of deer are carefully managed to keep the scrub and woodland and bay but not over graze this habitat. Everywhere we looked we could see ant hills belonging to Yellow Meadow Ants. These animals are aphid farmers and carry out most of their lives within the mounds, with queens and drones emerging on the wing to breed in July. The ants provide a continuous food supply for the green woodpecker, and we were fortunate enough to have some great views of these birds today, including a pair enthusiastically pecking into the ant hills. We could make out the male with his red moustache.
Inside Isabella plantation is a different world of small ponds and exotic flowering plants including magnolias and camellias. Inside the pond we discovered a three-spined stickleback, mayfly nymphs, ramshorn snails, tubifex worms and some very early tadpoles! The water birds were all looking their finest for breeding, including a coot with neck feathers like velvet. Further into the gardens we came across a pair of glamorous mandarin ducks, several different bee species and a treecreeper, nicely described as a “tree mouse”.
On our return walk and drive round the park we spotted stock doves, more deer of both species and a huge number of jackdaws all paired up for breeding. We noticed how some of the red deer stags still retained last years antlers, whilst others had shed them and were already in velvet with this years antlers beginning to develop.
Red deer stag in velvet
We finished the day with our packed lunches and then coffee and cake at Pembroke Lodge. A lovely end to a great day.
Last nights talk for the Chiswick Pier Trust; “From Hills to High Water; The Thames as a Wildlife Corridor”. Eels, flounder, otters, seals, shrimp and countless birds all starred during the evening, as did the charming water vole (pictured here). Some of the highest population densities of water vole in the UK occur along the Thames (such as at RSPB Rainham Marshes).
There was a great turn out for the talk and some brilliant comments and questions from the audience. I was particularly pleased to hear how many people have seen kingfisher along the Thames.
Keep an eye on the Wild Capital website and our social media sites for more upcoming talks and events, or contact us to arrange your own.
Spring is here and the race is on to breed. Ringed-necked Parakeets are early breeders and they are normally well on their way before many of our native species begin thinking about where to build a nest. Parakeets are hole nesting birds and they do have the unpopular tendency to claim nest holes before our native birds have the chance to do so. This female, photographed last week, found this tree hole in Kensington Gardens to her liking. The female Parakeets lack the red collar of the males, which gives this species it’s common name. You may also have the heard the alternative common name of Rose-ringed Parakeet.
What a glorious day! The bees are buzzing and the buds are bursting. This willow in East London already has young furry catkins, and at this stage of development is known as pussy willow. Before the male catkins fully develop flowers they are covered in a downy layer of pale fur; the pussies. At all other times of year willow trees are referred to by their normal common name. The pussies appear ahead of the leaves and are an early indication of spring.
Beech pollards in Epping Forest
Recently we went on a lovely wild wander through Epping Forest; London’s largest stretch of ancient woodland. The excitement started before we entered the forest, in fact we had barely left the tube station when we saw a pair of buzzards soaring together on the thermals. These sizable birds of prey have made a comeback after years of persecution took a severe toll on the population. How wonderful that they can now be seen on the edge of London! The trees of Epping Forest provide them with nest and roost sites and the surrounding fields provide ample supplies of rodents and worms.
As we headed on towards the forest a handsome dog fox nipped out in front of us, ran across the road and disappeared into a hedge.
Epping Forest itself is dominated by beech, a species which makes an impression at any time of year, with its smooth silvery bark, thick canopy of leaves in summer and dense layer of leaf litter in the winter. Among the leaf litter we discovered some delicate bracket fungi growing on a fallen branch.
Many of the older trees here have been traditionally pollarded; the large upper branches were cut back to provide a renewable source of wood. As a result the trees here have some unusual forms, quite unlike a beech tree growing without the influence of man. The practice of pollarding was sympathetic to the forest; creating structural diversity, allowing more light to reach the forest floor and actually prolonging the life of the tree.
A little further into the forest, we came across some evidence of a woodland specialist; a hole made by a great-spotted woodpecker.
This species thrives in areas with lots of deadwood, which are the bird equivalent of a buffet; full of beetle larvae and other tasty beasties. A tree hole is constructed by a woodpecker by repeated pecking with its strong bill. The purpose of the hole is to safely house the eggs and later the chicks. Woodpecker chicks can make quite a racket as they beg for food from their parents, so listen out in the coming months for the sounds of hidden hungry mouths!
All in all, a great day out in the sunshine!
Eastern edge of Epping Forest, and the surrounding farmland
From Hills to High-Water: The Thames as a Wildlife Corridor
Chiswick Pier Trust welcomes Wild Capital’s Brenna Boyle as a guest speaker on Tuesday March 18th.
Brenna was lured away from the mountains and glens of Scotland to London, inspired by the wildlife of the Thames. On Tuesday 18th March at 7.30pm hear her story, and discover how the Thames attracts, supports and spreads wildlife along its diverse and ever changing banks. Prepare to be excited by eels, tickled by terns and seduced by seals.
£3 per person.
To book a place call 020 8742 2713 or email email@example.com
Click here for more details
When gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion. So goes the old saying. Thankfully for romantic types, there is usually some gorse in flower somewhere whatever the season. This gorse plant is flowering on Wandsworth Common right now. However, it is in the summer when gorse flowers, and perhaps also kissing, are really at their finest. In summer gorse bushes virtually glow with bright yellow flowers and the sweet coconut aroma drifts through the warm air. This scent is to attract the bees which pollinate the gorse, but it is enjoyed by us humans too!
Some of you may have also heard the old saying “when gorse is in flower, Britain will never will be conquered”.
The timid seeming Moorhen is actual a highly territorial bird. Keep an eye out for their battles at this time of year, as they establish breeding territories and fight over mates. The Moorhen attack position is with the legs out front ready to grasp their opponent. One Moorhen can force another under the water by pushing down on their opponents’ chest with those large powerful feet.