Monday 19 March 2018

Sunday 18 March 2018

The second Beast from the East has put Spring on hold for a few days.  It has been a mainly mild winter but the two very cold snaps in February and March have had a big impact on local wildlife.

The mild December persuaded the Egyptian Geese on Surrey Water to raise a very early brood.  it was an unwise move and the goslings all perished.  The geese tried again in early March and the brood of 9 young all appeared to be doing well until a pair of Great Black Backed Gulls appeared on the scene.  They stalked the family ominously for a day or so and then ate all 9 young.  The adult pair look to be trying to raise a third brood.  Hopefully by the time these hatch the Gulls will be on their breeding grounds so the young will have a greater chance of survival

Egyptian Geese
Great Black-backed Gull

Southwark council have recently installed Tern Rafts on Surrey Water.These have been built locally and paid for by Cleaner, Greener, Safer funding.  Common Terns have bred on Surrey Water in the past but not for the last three years.  Lets hope these rafts prove attractive when the birds return from Africa in late April, and that Rotherhithe once again becomes London's most central breeding place for these beautiful birds.

Tern raft on Surrey Water

On Surrey Water, the Peregrine Falcon has made occasional visits to the top of the gas holder before heading back over the river

Male Peregrine Falcon

Male Peregrine Falcon

On Canada Water, the pair of Great Crested Grebe have been displaying around the nesting site.  They have had a few run-ins with the Swans and local Herring Gull, but it looks likely they will occupy the same nesting site as in previous years, at the library end.  Not too concerned it seems by all the building noise and the clatter of skateboards.

Great Crested grebe
Great Crested Grebe

Its been a mixed year in Stave Hill and Russia Dock woodlands.  The cold weather brought in some unusual birds; a Dunlin which was seen struggling in the snow in February and a Woodcock was occasionally seen in the woods near the Stave Hill entrance.  The Firecrest was present in December, then absent in January and February but popped up again in mid March.  A female Kingfisher was regularly seen in January and February, but disappeared with the snow and probably has headed off to its breeding grounds now.


Kingfisher on favourite perch on Downtown Pond

Kingfisher on Downtown Pond 

The Sparrowhawk has been soaring overhead; a good sign that it may bred again in Russia Dock Woodland this year.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker has been drumming very loudly, using nestboxes and streetlights to amplify the call.

Sparrowhawk soaring over Stave Hill
Drumming Woodpecker

In February largish groups of Redwing and Fieldfare passed through Stave Hill.  These are birds that over-winter here and return to Scandinavia in the Spring to breed.  The Redwing are quite difficult to see in the woodland; the Fieldfare tend to perch out more and make a very obvious clattering call.  However, both were very easy to see on the Bacon's College sport field, digging for worms in the damp soil.  A pair of Mistle Thrush are busy nest building in the conifers by the stream and above the picnic tables in Russia Dock woodlands and a beautiful Song Thrush is regular present by the Stave Hill entrance.  On one day all four types of Thrush were all in view in this area.


Mistle Thrush

Song Thrush

On 10 March, the frogs and toads returned to Spawn in the small chalk pond in Stave Hill.  At one stage there were at least 10 frogs contributing the large amount of spawn at the edge of the pond.

Frogs in the Chalk Pond at Stave Hill

As the weather warms up in the next few weeks Rotherhithe wildlife will come into its own.  The winter visitors will all have departed, breeding will be in full swing for the the resident birds and the summer visitors such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap will fill the woods with song.  The Snake's-head Fritillary, Primrose and Cowslips will be in blossom and butterfly and other insects will emerge from hibernation.  The varied and rich habitats of the the Rotherhithe peninsula support a truly amazing diversity of urban wildlife.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Autumn has brought beautiful colours to the trees in local woodland. The migrants birds have passed through on passage and some very special overwintering birds have returned back to Rotherhithe.

The winds have been mostly Westerly so it has limited the number of passage migrants.  Small groups of Chiffchaff have passed through Stave Hill with a few Blackcap, but sadly no Spotted Flycatcher this year.  Small number of both of theses birds will overwinter, with Blackcap moving into gardens in search of food.

Male Blackcap

Our most colourful and popular winter visitor is the Kingfisher.  Three different birds have been seen on the ponds in Russia Dock Woodland, but they have been elusive and seem to be moving through rather than staying.  Perhaps the low level of the water has affected their food supply.  Hopefully the new pump will soon fix that.  The easiest place to see the Kingfisher is on the dead stick on the left side of Downtown Pond.  But approach very carefully; the Kingfishers are surprisingly tolerant of noise but very wary of movement

Female Kingfisher
Male Kingfisher

The other important winter visitors are Europe's smallest birds, the tiny Goldcrest and its rarer relative the Firecrest.  Both are really difficult to see particularly when the trees are still in leaf, and are normally detected by the high pitched zee call.  If you do see them the Firecrest has a distinctive dark eyestripe.  This year's Firecrest is favouring the bushes around the ponds near the main entrance from Stave Hill.  Its Stave Hill's rarest bird and its wonderful to have this special bird one our doorstep in Rotherhithe.




Two raptors have also returned to the area in the Autumn.  A Peregrine Falcon has been seen perching on the gasholder at Surrey Water and a Sparrowhawk has returned to Stave Hill where it is now often seen storing overhead, or if you are lucky perched in a tree by the ponds looking for prey.

Peregrine Falcon on gas holder

Sparrowhawk in aeriel combat with Crow

And in October the winter Thrushes arrived from Scandinavia. Look out for them swooping down on Rowan trees and Cotoneaster.  The Redwing is quite a shy bird.  It looks a bit like a Song Thrush but has a very distinct creamy eyestripe.  The Fieldfare is more distinctive with a grey head and ochre front. As the winter sets in and the weather gets colder more of these birds will be pushed into Southern England in search of berries.  And perhaps joined in Rotherhithe by Waxwings.



One other winter visitor has need seen on Stave Hill and in gardens on bird feeders this Autumn.  The Coal Tit.  It looks a bit like a Great Tit but is smaller, duller and has a white nape.  A rare visitor to Rotherhithe so nice to see them on Stave Hill

Coal Tit

Monday 7 August 2017

As we move into August the breeding season for birds is drawing to a close.  The Blackheaded Gulls have returned from their breeding grounds, the Peregrine has returned to Surrey Water and the autumn passage is already underway. The Swifts have already moved on.  They are the last migrants to arrive and the first to go.

There is one intriguing late breeding bird.  The Sand Martin.  Normally they breed in colonies in holes in sandbanks and by August they have fledged their young and are gathering to feed up ready for the return journey to Africa.  But a single pair has again reared a late brood in the pipe in the river bank near the Old Salt Quay.  Its a remarkable example of urban adaptation.

Sand Martin leaving nest
Sand Martin leaving nest

Just along the river, the House Martins have done well on riverside buildings and the Youth Hostel; about 20 nests in total.

House Martin collecting mud for nests

House Martin nest building

On Canada Water, the Great Crested Grebe has had a difficult year.  The first brood were all lost, and of the second clutch of 5 eggs only one young has survived.  Early in the year there may have been a shortage of suitable food, and later, territorial fights with the Mute Swans may have taken its toll. On average Grebes raise between 1 and 2 young per clutch so its not very abnormal and the juvenile is looking very healthy.

Grebe feeding single chick

Juvenile grebe

But no problems on Canada Water for the Reed Warbler.  One pair has raised four young at the shopping centre end.  The loud singing early in the year has given way to more subtle contact calls.  The birds are surprisingly tolerant of people and will come close to the edge of the reeds and hunt for insects in the bushes.  They will be heading off to Africa at the end of September.  Its a real privilege to have these migrant warblers traveling huge distances to breed in the heart of the Peninsula

Reed Warbler eyeing up a meal

And successfully picking up a tasty treat

Another successful and late breeding bird is the Tufted Duck.  Its a diving duck and a true wild resident.  It breeds in reedy fringes or islands.  They have been successful in Surrey Dock, Globe Pond and Southwark Park.  The ducklings can dive and collect their own food when they are very young, so the female parent just has to keep them safe from predators.  The male has nothing to do with rearing the young and loafs around moulting; what a contrast to the grebes who share parenting responsibilities very festidiously.

Female Tufted Duck with young on Globe Pond

Monday 8 May 2017

Rotherhithe has a wonderfully diverse collection of wildlife for an inner city area.  The woods, parks, gardens, docks and river hold a fantastic range of resident and visiting wildlife.  And what better time to see and hear it than in the Springtime.

One area the commuters and shoppers pass through in large numbers is particularly interesting.  Canada Water.  A large open stretch of fresh water with an inviting stretch of trees, shrubs and reeds down one side.  Its main attraction in spring is the Great Crested Grebe that has nested for the last two years near the Library and Plaza, unfazed by the noise of building work and skateboarders.  Its as close to genuine wildlife as we could hope to get.  Last year they raised two broods of two chicks, but this year has not started well.  They hatched five eggs but it looks like all the young have been lost.  One was seen dead in the water - a really sad sight.  The failure may have been due to a shortage of small fish to feed the young, although there are large numbers of bigger fish such as `Perch and also Crayfish.  Maybe the alien terrapins and turtles are having an impact on the food supply.  The two adults are still around, mainly skulking in the reeds.  Lets hope they succeed with a second brood.

Grebe feeding feather to young 

Grebe on nest with young on back

The reed fringe hold nests of Mute Swan, Coot and Moorhen.  They also hold the other star visitor - the noisy Reed Warbler.  These birds are summer migrants returning from Africa each year.  All that way to nest in Canada Water.  They can be tricky to see but very easy to hear with their loud scratchy song.  There are at least three singing males this year.

Reed Warbler

Singing Reed Warbler

Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Blackcap have also been seen this year.  These too are migrants; the Blackcaps will probably breed, but the Chiffchaff and Whitethroat look like they have just been passing through.  Over the last year, Sedge Warbler and Kingfisher have also dropped in to join the large number of very common birds such as Dunnock, Wren, Robin and Goldfinch.  Plenty of Blue Tit Great Tit too and the odd Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay.  House Martins have arrived and we should soon see them hawking over the water for insects maybe joined by the odd Sand Martin.



On the water there are also Lesser Black Backed Gull, Cormorant, and Grey Heron.  None of these will breed here.  There are also ducks: Mallard and Tufted Duck, and both of these probably will.  So too will the Pied Wagtail, easily seen and nesting on the Decathlon side of the dock. In the winter Canada Water holds large numbers of Black Headed Gull but these have now gone to their breeding grounds and will return in the late summer.

The water level has fallen slowly over the last few years, probably because of natural evaporation and transpiration and lack or replenishment.  It is also possible that there is a leak.  One advantage of this has been to create a shoreline appreciated by birds and insects and also shallow water for grebe nests. The viewing platform half way down is a good place to watch the Dragon Flies on the stony shore.  But the dry edges harbour many rats.  Its difficult to judge their impact but they are probably causing a problem for other wildlife, for example by taking the eggs of nesting birds.

Its good to see that from their plans British Land is looking to enhance the opportunities for wildlife and give better access to the wooded and reedy side.  It will mean more people seeing and appreciating at close hand the truly amazing diversity of wildlife in the heart of our city.

Friday 24 February 2017

February 2017.  As the month draws to an end, spring is in the air.  Buds are breaking, flowers are opening and insects are emerging.  The birds are getting ready for the breeding season and some have begun nest building.

On the river, the large gull population has been joined by some interesting visitors from afar.  A Caspian Gull that was ringed in Germany joined the many Black Headed and Black Backed Gulls on the foreshore by the Hilton.

Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull showing ring

A young Great Black Backed Gull pulled a large eel from the river and managed to swallow it whole. Its good to see evidence of Eels.  They declined rapidly between 2005 and 2010, but there is recent evidence that they are increasing again.

Great Black Backed Gull with Eel

Swallowing Eel whole

On Surrey Water the Swan drove off a pair of Egyptian Geese from its breeding territory, the Coots have began nest building and the Black Headed Gulls are gaining their black heads.  A little later in the year, they and the Tufted ducks will head to their breeding grounds and the docks will become very quiet.

Swan driving off Egyptian Goose

Coot building nest 


On Stave Hill, Snowdrops have opened and the catkins have glinted in the spring sunshine.



The Firecrest has continued to show well and attracted birdwatchers from across London.  The great Spotted Woodpecker has begun drumming and the Long Tailed Tit flocks are breaking up into breeding pairs.  A Snipe dropped into one of the ponds briefly early in the month and flocks of Redwing gathered in preparation for the flight back North.  A Woodcock was found dead on Stave Hill; apparently killed by a raptor, probably a Sparrowhawk.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Long Tailed Tit

An important habitat for wildlife is our own back gardens.  Even small gardens near busy roads can attract a wide range of attractive wildlife if planted with flowering and fruiting trees and bushes.  Goldfinches are now very numerous, joining the Robins, Wrens, Dunnock, Blue Tit and Great Tit.  The Blackcap below has been a regular visitor, picking small insects from the rotting Crab Apples. And colourful but not altogether welcome visitors have also been raiding the tree.  Our gardens also have plenty of House Sparrows.  These have declined sharply in some parts of the country, but not in Rotherhithe.

Blackcap in garden

Parakeet raiding Malus tree

This is the twelfth monthly instalment of Rotherhithe Wildlife.  And what a wonderful range of wildlife there is in this small area near the centre of a great city. Over the course of a year this has included: Snakes Head Fritillary; Oxlips; Bush Cricket; Common Newt; Bats; Seal; Peregrine Falcon; Buzzard; Firecrest, Redstart; Spotted Flycatcher; Caspian Gull; Flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing.  There has been beautiful Kingfisher catching Stickleback, Gulls with Eels, and Grebes with Crawfish.  Our wildlife needs breeding sites, relative freedom from predators and a good food supply.  The river, docks, parks, and our backgardens in Rotherhithe provide wonderful habitats for sustaining this great diversity.