Trip reports

Bexley Bird Report - July - December 2013

Friday, 24 January 2014

Bexley Bird Report - July - December 2013

(Key to some of most frequently mentioned sites - CW = Chalk Wood, CX = Crossness, CM = Crayford Marshes, DP = Danson Park, EWOS = East Wickham Open Space, FCM = Foots Cray Meadows, GL = The Glade/Lamorbey Park, SL = Southmere Lake, TRW = Thames Road Wetland - Barnes Cray, UCF = Upper College Farm, YA = York Avenue)

Summer is often a difficult and quiet time for recording - birds have usually stopped singing, observers have holidays and perhaps those warm summer months just don't hold the excitement of migration times or brisk winter walks. However, once again Bexley has thrown up a remarkable variety of species. If proof were needed one of the most enthusiastic of observers in Bexley, Ian Stewart (author of the article on The Glade), recorded a staggering 142 species during 2013, 103 in Sidcup alone, with 72 from his garden and also within The Glade. I myself managed, by comparison, a modest 103 for the Borough.

I want to begin this report with a brief review of roosts. I was alerted by Steve Carter that whilst waiting for the coach for the group's trip to Blashford Lakes he observed 20 pied wagtails leaving a tree in Bexleyheath Market Square. I followed this up late afternoon of 22nd November and counted a staggering 292 birds arriving - first alighting onto the adjacent roofs (Carpetright/Barclays), then as darkness began to fall they moved into the Scarlet Oak, next to the brightly illuminated Christmas Tree and despite all the activity of the adjacent bus queues, shoppers and100's of students just feet away. On the 25th November there were 245 arriving at the roost. On 1st December another observer counted 166. On 9th December I made a return visit and noted small flocks of birds in the air, approaching the tree but not landing - I moved for a different angle only to find a sparrowhawk perched at the top centre of the tree and acting aggressively to any approaching wagtail. Not surprisingly I saw only 36 brave birds enter, mostly in twilight: perhaps the raptor had left unnoticed by me. On 11th December only 21 birds entered - the roost had clearly moved, but to where? I checked the area on a few subsequent evenings to no avail.

Whilst I'd been watching this roost, Ian Stewart had noted at Tesco Supermarket, Ruxley Corner, pied wagtails were leaving a prominent silver birch in the morning. On 31st December I braved the cold and rain and the 100's of shoppers to see how many wagtails might enter the roost adjacent to the car park entrance. As darkness fell, birds began to settle on the supermarket roof - I recorded 161 moving from the roof to the tree - it was too dark to see if any remained on the roof. So, at least two pied wagtail roosts in the Borough.

A small house sparrow roost had been reported building up in the bushes adjacent to the Family Proceedings Court/Sainsbury Car Park Bexleyheath Broadway - 35 on 1st October. However, it wasn't until walking to Bexleyheath Broadway to view the wagtails I noted the fabulous chirruping of house sparrows in those bushes. I also noted these birds had arrived at their roost earlier than the wagtails so I took up a position with my trusty clicker and began counting. On 22nd November, 186 birds entered the roost but only 72 on the 25th. At the same time scaffolding was being erected around the building but on 19th December there were still 72 birds present. Other probable house sparrow roosts include one in Perry Street of around 45 birds and also by Gravel Hill School though it is possible this could be a pre-roost to the Broadway roost. Ian Stewart has had up to 50 in his garden hedges and also noted c200 birds flying west over York Avenue on 7th October.

Starlings are famous for their roosts but we don't seem to have located a specific site yet though 580 gathered at TRW on 1st December and over a 160 at Perry Street farm on 14th November but where the final roost was we have yet to establish.

The Hither Green Cemetery roost of ring-necked parakeets is well known and can number anything between 2,500 and 5,500 depending on season but these birds also form pre-roosts, 216 were seen leaving Bursted Woods on 2nd October, in DP 290 (10th), 495 (30th October) and 292 on 18th November; 278 GL on 31st. In addition around 1000 were seen flying over YA on 17th September and 182 over Hall Place on 1st October. Were these all heading to Hither Green?

These roosting sites, particularly those for house sparrows are important habitats in themselves and sparrowhawks apart, should be treasured and nurtured like any other special habitat. Any information would be very much appreciated and followed up.

Main report:

Wildfowl/Wetland Birds:

Little grebe found on most areas of open water but little evidence of breeding apart from one juvenile at CM 26th July. Highest winter count being 10 FCM 28th November. Great crested grebe prefer larger/deeper bodies of water and the Thames - one pair successfully produced 3 young and seemingly only 1 survives at DP. Successful breeding also occurred SL and GL. 11 were noted off-shore from CX on 24th November. Cormorants now frequent all inland and riverside bodies of water (including Hall Place on 10th December) but no signs of breeding: 46 and 42 at CX 30th August/13th November respectively. Little egrets are now seen in each month throughout the Borough, up to 2 were along the Shuttle/Willersley Park, along the River Cray and GL, exceptionally - 5 FCM 4th November and 8 CM 17th July and, 7th August and 11 on 4th September. A great white egret flew south west over YA on 16th October. 5 grey heron GL 2nd August was the highest count, possible breeding at Templar Drive Thamesmead - confirmation required.

Mute swan bred SL, FCM, Barnes Cray/Maiden Lane river, CX and DP though the male of the original pair here was killed a second male arrived and the pair raised 1 young. Egyptian geese continue their march onto inland waters with young seen at GL (1), DP (2) and pairs at SL and Hall Place. The only winter goose record was of a single dark-bellied brent on the Thames off CX 12th October. However, a lone barnacle goose was at Hall place on 17th November, seen on 1st and 28th December at CX where it stayed for just a few days on each occasion - in each location it seemed shy of people and other geese and was later recorded at Rainham Marshes on 4th January, its origins of course remain unknown.

A female garganey at GL on 16th August was a most unusual record and apart from a juvenile CX 29th September was the only one for the period under review. Very few records of duck breeding numbers though it can be assumed that the common resident species did breed (e.g. mallard at GL, FCM, CM, CX, SL and DP). Highest count for mallard was 96 adult/15 juveniles 27th July DP. Shelduck did breed CX 48+10 goslings, 5th July. Highest winter count was 45 at CX on 20th December. Return dates for wintering duck were wigeon: 33 over CX 7th September, singles CX 21st and CX 25th September, peaking 30 CX 18th and 40 CM 14th December. 2 were on DP Lake 5th and 9th October and a lone female was at FCM on 3 dates in November. Gadwall, 21 4th November peaking at 130 on 20th December CX, the first were recorded at FCM 12th November (7) with 28 on 28th being the peak count; 6 DP 3rd/10th December. A single teal DP 17th November with 3 on 17th/26th December and 6 TRW 14th November otherwise all other records were from the Thames marshes - present

all year but numbers picking up CX 31st July (42), 250 24th August, 750 27th September, 1070 6th October dropping to between 200-700 to the end of the year. 2 shoveler at CX 22nd August next peak there being 17 4th and 32 27th November; 2 noted FCM on 24th November with the female being seen on a further 4 dates into next month and joined by a male on 20th December. None recorded DP. An unusual record was 33 pintail flying high over Horsham Road 26th September. Pochard remains a most elusive duck in the Borough with 3 male/4female DP on 16th September then a gap until 12 on 27th November; tufted duck however are more widespread, at least 1 pair bred FCM. The first water rail was seen FCM 21st with 2 TRW on 27th September where at least 1 was seen/heard regularly; a species that in winter, used to number into double figures at FCM is now reduced to mostly single observations though 3or 4 were heard on 27th November, the DP bird was first seen on 14th. Highest coot count was 122 DP on 26th December


2 red kite over YA 25th July only records, marsh harrier occurred CX 11th July, all other records were from CM (21st/28th August then none until December when a male was seen on 5 dates joined by another on 17th), a male hen harrier was seen drifting over YA at 10.35 on 16th November. Buzzards are seen occasionally, with 3 CM 25th September; sightings are generally of fly-overs (Chalk Wood 25th July and 14th December, YA 23rd August and 20th November, Barnehurst 27th September, Horsham Road 21st October, Hall Place 28th November). A single buzzard, near the Rock Garden in DP on 27th November was, as far as I know the first record of a perched bird in the Borough. Hobby continued to be seen regularly with 3 at CX 12th September and the last for the Borough at CX 29th. Kestrel is a species reported nationally as being in decline. I'm uncertain of the status in Bexley - regularly recorded from the Marshes, the Warren, FCM. The only breeding record is from Bourne Road, Bexley and CX. I wonder, is this under recorded or scarce? Peregrine bred with 3 young at one site and possibly at a second site, as a consequence are being reported regularly from various locations around the Borough - most frequently the marshes and Sidcup.

Peregrine pair Crayford Marsh Brenda Todd Lapwing - west paddock Crossness - Ralph Todd


Oystercatcher appears to be seen mostly on migration with 4 CX on 7th July (1 reported sitting possibly on nest), there were then occasional records (CM and CX) of up to 5 birds

(28th July CX) with the last 2 recorded there on 31st. A single avocet CM 12th December only record. Little ringed plover probably bred Thames Marshes as young were seen, otherwise the last observation was of 2 CX 5th July. Ringed plover bred CX with juvenile seen during July otherwise numbers began to increase along the Thames with 7 CM 7th, 8 CX 25th August, peak numbers 35 CM 5th October, 15 CX 24th November and 12 Belvedere 12th December. 2 golden plover CM 21st August first of autumn passage with numbers building up to an unprecedented 213 on 13th November. A lone grey plover at CM 9th-13th December. Lapwing numbers peaked at 350 CX 8th December and c1,000 CM 31st December.

A single little stint at CM 4th/5th October was only autumn record, curlew sandpiper was only recorded on 4 dates including a juvenile CX 29th September, adult CM 5th and 18th October. With occasional small flock sightings each month it wasn't until 429 CM 13th and 810 CM 27th November that numbers of dunlin saw a significant increase, thereafter highest roost count was 1,400 CM 24th December, a smaller flock gathers along the Erith foreshore (Corinthian Manorway) with 50+ 27th November. Snipe is known as a secretive, elusive species and so it is here, rarely more than 2 being seen at either CX or CM with maximum 6 CM 11th and 7 CX 12th September. Single at TRW on 7th November and 12th December.

Black-tailed godwit peaked at 300+ CM on 30th November though up to 50-60 was the norm during December, 150 on Erith foreshore 27th November was a good count, 12 seen flying over YA on 5th August. As usual bar-tailed godwit is much rarer - just a couple of records, 1 CX 24th and 3 CM 26th August. Only whimbrel records - 2 CX 15th and 25th July and 1 CX 20th July and 4 on 3rd August. Curlew is another uncommon visitor, first seen CM 24th September with occasional records until December when between 1 and 3 were seem most days.

Once again the spotted redshank seems to have decided to spend the winter with us with the first sighting being the 25th September at CM and still present at the end of the year. Common redshank regular along the Thames from early September peaking 57 CM 25th and CX 120 27th September, 100+ CM 5th and CX 17th October, 164 CM 13th 250 CX 7th November and 48 CM 24th and120 CX 26th December. Greenshank passage began in July but peaked with 4 CX 21st and 10 CM 11th and 18th September. A single bird has been seen at CX on a few dates since, the latest being 27th December. Green Sandpiper is both passage migrant and increasingly a winter visitor, 3 at CX 11th July with peak of 7 3rd September but remaining throughout until at least 27th November - at CM where the peak was 4 on 30th November, 1or 2 remained until end of December. 3 common sandpiper seen CX 11th and 5 CM 15th July were first for these sites and were regular, peaking 10 CM 28th August and 6 CX 1st September; last seen CX 27th November but still present CM until 21st December - another species over-wintering perhaps? Of interest might be that no knot, sanderling, jack snipe, woodcock or wood sandpiper were recorded over the six months.

Skuas, Gulls, Terns and Auks

No skuas during autumn migration. One of the highlights of this period was the adult Bonaparte's Gull found by the CX outfall and enjoyed for a couple of days in July (6th/7th). Mediterranean gull is mostly an autumn passage bird with most records in July, 4 records from CX with peak of 2 on 6th. The only little gull was CX 3rd July. Black-headed gulls gathered along the length of the foreshore but peaked around the CX outfall where c1,500 seen in Autumn/winter - upto 250 around Crayfordness. Numbers at DP build up from July peaking around 250 end of November (27th) and early December (3rd). 144 seen Chistlehurst and Sidcup school 27th October. The flooding at Christmas saw high numbers of black-headed gull at inland sites with 146 at FCM on 24th and 692 on Hall Place football pitches

26th December. Common gull numbers build up from September, 45 Chis/Sid School 24th being a particularly high count. School playing fields are a favoured habitat and more counts could give a better indication of passage/wintering numbers. Black-backed and herring gulls were probably under recorded but yellow-legged gull was noted in good numbers in early autumn, 20 at CM 15th and 5 CX 20th July, 20+ CM 28th August and 12 20th September - numbers then declined to no more than half a dozen into December with occasional records also from CX; the only inland record was a 3rd year bird seen DP 21st October. Only 1 record of Caspian gull, 1 CX 10th November. A fulmar was on the Bexley side of the Thames on the evening of 29th September and remained into the 30th.

Just 4 records of Sandwich tern, all from CX with peak of 6 on 19th August and last 2 on 5th October which was also last date for common tern (2 CX). August was peak month for this species with c80 CX 4th and 100+ 24th, 20+ 26th and 29th CM were only records from this site. No little tern but black tern were seen on 3 consecutive dates in August, 1 and 5 CX 24th/25th August with 4 at CM on the 26th. Just 1 record of a single guillemot off the golf course CX on 5th October.

Doves to Wagtails

10 stock dove at GL on 11th July and 25 collared doves CM on 21st August were notable numbers of these fairly widespread species. There was a sizeable woodpigeon roost somewhere in the Bexley/Bexleyheath border with c200 often seen leaving the Warren and over 2,500 being counted over YA 16th November - to date the actual roost hasn't been located. Sadly no turtle dove recorded. Ring-necked parakeet numbers have been noted earlier but undoubtedly numbers continue to increase and spread. Only 1 record of cuckoo - CM on 15th July. An unusual record (via Richard Jones -Rare Bird Alert) was of a nightjar over Bexley Car Park at 9.20 pm on 25th July flying towards Bexleyheath - if anyone knows more about the record please get in touch.

The little owls remain present at CM though have seemingly moved location as their favoured trees were seriously damaged during the October storm, there were no other records. Tawny owl was heard near Ruxley Tesco 24th September and 27th November, Hillview Cemetery 19th October and YA 16th November. Barn owl was seen hunting CM end of December. Also heard YA 22nd and GL 24th September.

30 swifts passed over CX 26th July the last was seen from DP, 4 on 6th and YA (8) on 23rd August.

The only confirmed breeding of kingfisher was from the River Cray though individuals were seen from FCM, GL, Bexley Woods, CM and CX throughout the period.

DP seems to be the only site to regularly record green woodpecker otherwise a family of 3 in my Horsham Road garden 16th July, one sighting of 2 from GL 2nd August and occasional records from YA 29th September/28th December, Hollyhill Open Space on 4th October and CM 22nd December. The marshes remain the stronghold for skylark with a November peak of 5 CX and 7 CM both on 13th and 15 CX 11th December. A small passage was noted over YA on 8th and 18th October and 1st November. The last sand martins were moving on 14th (10 CX) and 19th (YA) September. Swallow movement was mostly over by late September, 30 CX 18th and 52 CX 21st with the last (6) CX on 3rd October. Main movement of house martins was mid-September c200 CX 14th and c200 GL 15th, 50 CM 17th, 100's, possibly into 1000's over YA late afternoon of 21st (which coincided with a huge movement along the south coast) with last seen on 25th (4 at CM). A Bexley resident with 3 martin boxes had two successfully used, there was an active nest on two houses Hazel Drive, Slade Green- it would be interesting to know of any other nest locations and the success or otherwise of

them. As with skylark, the marshes are the prime location for meadow pipit, 40+ on 18th October at CM was an exceptional count otherwise 10 Chalk Wood 21st September, 1 FCM 30th October, 2 GL 3rd November were only inland records, though some flyovers were noted throughout the period. The first rock pipit noted CM 9th October and CX 3rd November. Pied wagtail roosts noted earlier. Only 2 yellow wagtail records of a single bird CX 31st August and 14th September but grey wagtail continued to do well in suitable habitats with up to 3 being seen CX, FCM, Bexley Woods though no records of young birds, 1 adult was seen by the Thames near Belvedere Industrial estate 29th December.

Waxwings to Treecreepers

No waxwing records to report this winter, so far! Wren, dunnock and robin all seem to be doing well across the Borough with the latter showing a noticeable increase in late November/December though much of this is anecdotal evidence with few submitted records apart from 15 DP 27th August and 11 26th December, 14 FCM 24th and 7 GL 27th November. We shouldn't take these species for granted and it is worth recording numbers/locations as with all species - who would have predicted the decline of house sparrow and starling but where is the historical data for individual sites to support this?

Just 1 record of migrating redstart from Chalk Wood 21st September and only 2 for black redstart - the first on 19th October in the paddock by Chalk Wood and a female along the Thames footpath Erith on 20th December. Whinchat returned from 28th August (1 CM, 3 CX) with the last seen at CX on 5th October. Stonechat was predominantly a winter visitor with first 2 seen at CM on18th, one at CX 21st September, a pair took up residence at CX from 13th November with up to 3 being seen at CM until end of the year. Wheatear autumn passage was noted from CM 18th and CX 21st September with last seen from CX on 9th October.

8 mistle thrushes at FCM on 18th July was a fairly typical post-breeding figure for this and presumably other similar habitats. Winter thrushes have been noticeably lower in numbers this winter, the first fieldfares were noted GL 16th, CM on 19th and first redwing YA 7th, CX 12th October - since then there have been only occasional records of generally single figure numbers with peak of 32 fieldfare FCM 16th November, 82 CX on 15th December, redwing 500+ over YA October, 30 Chalk Wood 17th and 60+ FCM 24th November. To illustrate lack of these birds no fieldfare records for DP and only 1 for redwings, 3 birds on 28th December.

Cetti's Warbler are now a regular feature of the marshes with up to 4 CX and 5 CM heard on numerous occasions, also present TRW/Barnes Cray river. Other reed bed warblers were thin on the ground with a couple of records for sedge warbler, 1 bird CX 14th July and 1st September and 1 TRW 29th August. Only reed warbler sightings for July or August came from TRW 3 or 4 on 25th July with only other notable sightings in September from CX (8 on 1st last one 29th) and CM (4 on 4th and last also 4 on 25th)

The last dates for other warblers: lesser whitethroat 2 CM 30th August, common whitethroat 2 CM 18th September, willow warbler 3 CX 22nd September. Both blackcap and chiffchaff are now established as over wintering with regular reports of both from gardens and sites with suitable habitat. Treecreeper remained most elusive species (indeed, I didn't see one in 2013 in the Borough or elsewhere) but 1 was seen in FCM on two dates in July (13th and 25th) - these are the only records. Does this reflect almost total collapse or just under recording?

Fieldfare - Foots Cray Meadows Ralph Todd Robin - Foots Cray Meadows Ralph Todd Ring-necked Parakeet Brenda Todd

Jay - Corn Bunting

Highest count for jay was 9 Bexley Woods 29th October and for magpie - 32 Bursted Wood 23rd September, Jackdaw - 74 FCM 18th July, Carrion Crow - 132 Bursted Wood 4th October and 62 DP 28th December. By contrast only 6 records for rook, all CM except 1 north over Riverdale Road Sidcup, 27th November and 1 for raven of 2 birds flying low over YA 7th November. The largest starling numbers come from CM near the landfill site where up to 600 birds were seen (7th August and 400 10th September).

As can be noted from this report most sightings are from Bexley open spaces, hardly any from gardens, this might (hopefully) explain what must be an under recording of house sparrow and finches- so I have little to report, only to say that if records are to be believed, there are hardly any chaffinches or greenfinches in the Borough. A single brambling in YA garden 30th October is only ground record, 2 flew over same site 9th November. Goldfinches seem to be doing really well on the marshes with CM having between 20 (17th July) and 80 (3rd October). The first siskins of winter were noted 5th October FCM - this being the only reported location for this species though 44 flew west over YA 24th October. Linnet has been confined to the marshes with peak numbers 45 CM 17th July and 20 CX 20th December. FCM was also the only site for more than 1 lesser redpoll record with 12+ 24th November and 5 24th December, 2 Chalk Wood on 17th November and 8 Hall Place north 10th December. Crossbill is a bird that could probably be found in Joydens Wood but this site seems almost totally under watched so we have to be satisfied with the occasional fly-over, 2 over Bexleyheath 13th and 1 over Harland Avenue on 20th July and another over YA 24th October are only records. No bullfinch or yellowhammer records. 1 or 2 reed buntings were occasionally seen on CM and CX but 8 at CM on 11th December was the best record, CM proves to be the only site for corn bunting with 3 or 4 recorded throughout this period.

Other wildlife of interest: Butterflies: Clouded yellows CM 21st and 25th August, 2 5th September and 13th November, CX 25th August, Horsham Road garden 4th September.

Speckled wood CX 24th September; Peacock butterfly CM 13th November

Wasp spiders CM 5th September

Grey seal CM 25th and CX 29th September.

Seal sp. 2 CM 19th October

And for all the hours spent in the field Ian Stewart was rewarded with possibly the most unusual/unexpected bird record - a Yellow Bishop 15th July CM,

There are almost 2000 RSPB members in the Borough which is fantastic and I am once again indebted and grateful to just 12 stalwart contributors to these records along with the

occasional adhoc posting on London Birders and direct email. I am particularly delighted to report that records are once again being received from Crayford Marsh on a regular basis as will be seen with increased records from early December. I am also pleased to welcome Mike Robinson to the group of regulars, again his records add to our knowledge of the Thames particularly as he watches the hitherto under watched length between Erith Pier and Crossness where roosts for ringed plover, redshank, dunlin and most interestingly black-tailed godwit have been reported. I wonder if it would be possible to gain regular records from other sites away from the Thames. You might say you've seen a species where I've stated none seen, but this report is only as good as the records I receive. As you will have read elsewhere in this newsletter, with imminent budget cuts within the Council, the publication for consultation of the Sites of Interest for Nature Conservations (SINCS) the future of habitats, wildlife and particularly birds is likely to rely even more on us, the public, community and volunteers. I hope that the apparent reluctance to observe, record and report sightings (to GiGL, BTO BirdTrack or London Birders) doesn't reflect a lack of interest in the wonderful diversity of birds, wildlife and habitats to be found in Bexley - I'm sure it doesn't! Ralph Todd January 2014