Trip reports

Bexley Bird Report July - December 2011

Friday, 24 January 2014

Bexley Bird Report - July - December 2011
(Key - Cx = Crossness, CM = Crayford Marshes, DP = Danson Park, FCM = Foots Cray Meadows, TRW (Thames Road Wetland - Barnes Cray), UCF = Upper College Farm)
Writing this at the end of December I am recalling how different this recent autumn and winter has been to last year. Two very long periods of snow and freezing conditions compared to possibly 3 or 4 frosts this winter. I suspect this might be reflected in the bird sightings of recent weeks and particularly the lack of garden birds noted by a number of Bexley residents, including myself, and also repeated by friends around the country. Brenda and I have recently joined 30 other London residents participating in the Ring-necked parakeet feeding control project being undertaken by a Phd. student at Imperial College ( This will inevitably impact on other birds using our garden but will hopefully help produce some data that can be put to good use in future. We also helped out with the London wide co-ordinated October roost count of Parakeets, visiting Hither Green Cemetery on 16th October when 8,291 birds came into roost.
Onto the six monthly report which is once again dominated by sightings from the Thames Marshes and Danson Park along with sadly very few from the Bexley RSPB web-site, and the London Birders web-site (, Chris Rose (see separate newsletter item from Thames Road Wetland) moves around the Borough mostly on foot and posts his sightings here and has added greatly to the knowledge of some lesser known or watched sites. Stephen Gatley, who regularly watches Foots Cray Meadows sent me some updates for the first half of the year, most relevant for inclusion here is of a female common redstart on the unusually late date of 29th June.

Great crested grebes bred in DP, Southmere Lake and the Glade.
Little egrets were seen regularly on Rivers Cray and Shuttle, 1 over Lewis Road on 18th October and 9 were seen on 28th September on CM. A great white egret was seen on 13th December - CM.
The escape red-breasted goose was last reported with the Canada geese at Hall Place on 19th August.
Egyptian Goose was seen with 4 young on Sidcup golf course and was likely to have bred in the Borough for the first time, highest count was of 13 in Danson Park on 28th July, five were joined by a bar-headed goose at FCM on 23rd November. The only wintering geese have been dark-bellied brents, first on 14th October (3 at CX, 2 at CM): there were further sightings on seven dates in November all along the Thames Marshes with maximum of 16 on the 6th. Two flying over Bexley Woods on 14th December was an unusual inland sighting.
The last Garganey of the year was a juvenile at CX on 25th September. Shelduck peaked at 113 at CX 21st October, wigeon 45 at CM on 5th & 7th December and teal 515 CX on 18th December. Pintail remained an uncommon visitor and all six records came from CM with peak of 7 on 10th November. FCM produced some interesting duck records in November - a drake wigeon 14th/18th, a shoveler from the 11th with 2 on the 18th and 3 gadwall arrived on the 28th - there were 4 pairs of the latter on 27th December.
Two common scoter 27th July on river at CX was most unusual, first goldeneye (female) at CX on 24th August was also very early, a female on 15th November and male 6th December both CM were not unusual. Two sightings of smew, both CM on 16th November and 6th December. A red-breasted merganser seen at CM and CX on 8th November.
A single manx shearwater flew up the Thames on 7th September. A juvenile gannet on the 29th December passing Erith Yacht Club was a surprise.
An immature marsh harrier was seen on 2 dates each in August and October (CM - one in CX also October) and one in November. Just one sighting of a ring-tail hen harrier CM 27th October. The only buzzard records were 1 over Veroan Road and Horsham Road on 2nd and 13th September respectively, one CX 16th September and one over Joydens Wood 15th October. Honey buzzard was seen over CX 16th and another over Welling on 30th September. Often a contentious record, a Goshawk was reported by Graham Nichols (a very experienced birdwatcher) over Bexley woods, being mobbed by sparrowhawks, on 20th October. Only two red kite records, from DP on 29th June and York Road Sidcup 10th September.
Throughout the summer up to 3 hobby continued to be seen mostly on the marshes but one also occasionally over Lewis Road Sidcup and North Cray meadows, with last record from CM on 3rd October. A female red-footed falcon was seen at both CX and CM on 26th July. Kestrels bred at CX and DP. Peregrine continued to be seen each month, like the hobby, mostly over the marshes but also quite often inland with Lewis Road and Marlowe House Sidcup being most likely places. A pair with two young were seen in July at a site in the Borough which suggests probable breeding, perhaps for the first time.
A quail was heard on 20th July (CM). First winter water rails seen FCM (2 on 3rd October) CM 14th, one returned to DP on 23rd November in/around bog garden and was still there on 27th December.
Significant wader sightings, almost exclusively from the low tide Thames or Marshes included exceptional numbers of avocet at CM - 14 on 23rd/24th August, 5 25th September and 6 on 21st November - single figure numbers seen on 16 other dates. The last and only little ringed plover dates were in July CM 1st and CX 30th. Regular ringed plover records every month with 29 on 30th August being highest count. First golden plover (1) occurred CM 24th August followed 2 days later by a flock of 140 with few further records until December when between 72 (8th) and 10 (22nd) were seen. Grey plover occur throughout the winter in much smaller numbers with first (2) at CM on 19th October and peaking 8 on 6th December. One or two sanderling showed up on 4 dates at CM between 23rd July - 25th October. Curlew Sandpiper is an autumn migrant and a single turned up CM 21st July, next was on 2nd September and was recorded on 14 more dates until 7th October, maximum of 3 on 21st September. One little stint CM 28th October. First dunlin (10) occurred CM 22nd July and continued to be seen on odd dates throughout the autumn peaking at 16 on 12th October - later that month wintering birds arrived with c150 CM on 26th October, rising to c400 2 days later and eventually some 1200 were being recorded during December from both CX and CM. Only one single ruff record, 27th September CM. No jack snipe. Maximum 4 common snipe at both CM and CX (southern marsh) and 2 individual records of woodcock in November (8th CM and 25th CX). Black tailed godwit maintained an almost constant presence, 3 at CM on July 10th then single or teen numbers throughout the summer/early autumn but peaking at 300 CM 6th and 315 CX 17th November. Bar-tailed godwit was much scarcer with 4 sightings of 1 or 2 in September (all CX) and 1 of 1 bird CM on 14th November. Two or 3 passage whimbrel occurred most days during July and August with a final flourish of 22 on the 26th at CM.
Two or three curlew present most days CM from early October and a single spotted redshank (very scarce) on 14th and 19th December CM and 6 at CX on 18th. Redshank, like dunlin, built up from small numbers in September (12 CM 24th), to between 100-200 in October, 380 November and dropping down in December to 199 (CX 17th December) and 36 (CM 22nd). Single figure greenshank began passing through from 5th July (2 CM), peaking at 7 (CM 25th August) with last seen on 11th October (2 CX).
A few years ago I would have been surprised to hear that green sandpiper was the most commonly seen sandpiper in the borough. I was aware one or two over wintered along the river Cray, often seen in FCM but it is seen on and around the marshes almost all year long being absent in only May and June this year. Up to 4 have been recorded at CM (22nd December). Common Sandpiper was next most numerous and now also seemingly a winter visitor with maximum 3 at CX 24th October and between 7 and 9 on nine dates in August at CM with just a single bird seen on 3 dates in November and 5 dates in December. There was just one record of wood sandpiper at CM on 3rd August.
Three Arctic skua over CX 16th September (were also seen over York Road) and 5 at CM on 13th October and a juvenile long-tailed skua west along Thames from CM on 7th October.
Most of the commoner gulls were recorded around the Borough, with black-headed being the most numerous. The passage of little gulls this autumn didn't materialise with just five seen at CM on 23rd August. Up to 25 Common gulls were on Hall Place playing fields in December and c40 on Danson Park lake at the end of the month. Of the larger gulls, usually found along the Thames and specifically the Crayford landfill site, most are not recorded with the exception being the yellow-legged gull which was recorded most days with peak number at CM being 18 on 5th October and 7 at CX 6th November. Mediterranean gull seen on just 4 dates each at CM and CX with 2 also over York Road on 12th July. Caspian gull on just one day in each of November and December at CM.
Common terns were present through July, August and September with the last (12 at CM) seen on the 29th. Sandwich tern were noted on two days of July, August and September, but Arctic tern really only peaked during the latter part of August with 12 at CM on the 26th. Little tern showed on only one date, 5 CM 23rd August. Black tern did much better with 1, 7 and 5 dates in July/August/September peaking with 14 CM 26th August and 7 CX 16th September. A juvenile white-winged black tern at CM on 26th August and an adult and 1st year Roseate tern by the outfall at CX on 25th September. A razorbill on the Thames from CM on 23rd was a rare record.
No turtle doves were recorded this year. I spent a number of evenings at Joydens Wood listening for them along with nightjar, nightingale and tawny owl all without any success.
Great news though, the Barn Owls at CX produced 3 young to fledgling stage and the little owls are still showing at CM though patience is required. This has been a good winter for short-eared owls in the southeast so a single at CM 4 dates in November/December was perhaps not surprising. Chris Rose has been attempting a tawny owl survey during November and early December and has found them calling/hunting in the following sites Martens Grove 18th November/10th December, Lesnes Abbey (near the Abbey ruins) 2nd November and Franks Park 25th November. Other sites checked with negative results included Bursted Wood, Hall Place, Hollyoak Wood, Parish Wood, Sidcup Golf Course and The Warren. We are sure there are more sites for tawny owl but would welcome further visits to suitable sites throughout the year to establish populations.
The last swift was recorded on the 12th August with 12 over CM - are there later records?
After a disappointing start to the year probably due to the harsh winter, kingfishers are making something of a return with individuals being regularly seen along the River Shuttle between Bexley Woods and Haddon Grove. Two regularly at FCM. Occasional sightings the Glade (16th October), DP, Hall Place and also CM/CX. Hopefully with this mild winter numbers will continue to increase.
Lesser spotted woodpecker is very rare in the borough with any records usually coming from FCM so an isolated record from CM on 14th November might have been a migrating bird. Skylark still hold on, just, a flock of 14 at CX on 21st October was most welcome. There was a large movement of swallows and sand martins through Bexley over 16th and 17th September with the last recorded dates being Sand Martin (9) CX 17th September, Swallow (5) CM 11th October and House Martin (2) CM 21st October. Five house martin nests found on a building in Shearwood Crescent was only known breeding site - can there be more? An adult red-rumped swallow on 8th September at CM.
Surprisingly, meadow pipit is another species under recorded so occasional sightings from York Road and a single record of 52 at CX on 21st October suggested a migratory flock - or were they resident? After an absence during the summer months rock pipit made a return on 7th October with 1 at CM (gradually increasing to 7 mid November but usually 3 or 4), water pipit arrived soon after with 1 at CX on 21st October and rarely going above this single figure.
The last of the passage yellow wagtails went through in October (1 CM 7th October) having peaked at 10 on 16th August. A black redstart was at CM from 26th-28th October and another at CX 13th-16th November. Whinchats began passing through on 23rd September with 3 at CX and last on 27th at CM one at FCM on 12th September was a first for this site. Stonechats had been noticeable by their absence during much of the year so a single at CM on 25th September was welcome, further occasional records from CM and CX continued and a pair was still present CM 27th December. Wheatear passage at CM and CX picked up towards the end of August, peaking at 7 at CM on 7th September and last seen there on 26th October, one was found in a Little Heath Road garden on 3rd October.
The first 3 redwing were seen at CM October 12th followed by 3 fieldfares (also CM) on the 21st. Cetti's warbler bred this year and were heard/seen each month except July at both CM and CX -interestingly one was heard singing on at least 5 dates near Five Arches FCM between 25th July-9th September (a first for this site). A treecreeper was also seen near same site on 5th August, another under recorded species with Bursted Woods being only other recorded site. The last of the summer warblers were seen - sedge warbler 9th September (FCM), reed warbler 12th August (CX), lesser whitethroat 25th September (CM), whitethroat 11th September (CX), garden warbler and willow warbler 11th September (CX), spotted flycatcher 9th September (The Glade). A single yellow-browed warbler was at CM on 20th October. Crests are very under recorded so a Firecrest in St.Paulinas Churchyard (Crayford) on 10th July was of note.
A female bearded tit returned to CM on 1st November with 2 seen on the 17th - 2 further records in December. A single rook on 12th August (CM) and 3 records of 2, 4 and 3 in September reminds us how uncommon this species is in the borough. The first siskins appeared York Road (9th September) and CM on 5th October with 20 at CX on 14th, FCM from 2nd November with further records from Haddon Grove and Danson Park into December. Redpolls came through CM in October with up to 4 by the end of the month, a maximum of 30 on 1st November but only occasional records since, also present FCM from 14th October. A crossbill was seen over Chalk Walk on 5th July and another Joydens Wood 15th October. Up to 3 corn buntings were heard during July and August at CM but have since gone quiet and yellowhammer seen on only the 19th October (2 at CM). A single snow bunting on 8th November was only record this winter.
House Sparrows seem to be making something of a comeback though very local - I regularly have 12 in the garden (from none 4-5 years ago) with a peak of 32 however this figure pales when compared to 105 seen at Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground on 20th December.
As can be seen from the above report, FCM and DP feature a lot but most records come from the Thames Marshes however tucked away are some fabulous records from some much lesser known/watched sites and proves the worth of checking out any garden or piece of open space. Please have a go and let me have the results - it would be much appreciated. Thanks to all those who do submit records, this report wouldn't be possible without you.

Ralph Todd
December 2011