Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Season's Greetings!

I'm off to France tomorrow, leaving the house in the cat's capable paws, and wish you all a very nice Christmas!


(This little chap posed for me last year in Margravine Cemetery in mid-afternoon winter sunshine, a magical moment)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

It's happened again!

2 mornings in a row I was by the Thames early morning to see if the cold weather snap had brought up anything interesting, and to put it bluntly it had been pretty boring. Yesterday there was even a total lack of big gulls, apart from Great Black Backed. Not even the regular Lesser Black-Backed.
This morning I didn't go because I was due at 11 by Barnes Bridge for another Thames 21 cleanup. Guess what? 2 Red-breasted Mergansers were reported on the river this morning, seen from the Wetland Centre. Just like the day they reported the Egret, can't remember where I was that day but it wasn't around. One day...

Still, when I came back from Barnes Bridge, I had a very quick look in Margravine Cemetery, and spotted the Redwings again, about 35 of them. Most (at least 23) were going through the leaf litter, as thankfully the staff haven't taken all those away, but some were also eating berries on the shrubs. And as a bonus I had a Mistle Thrush, pretty much in the exact same spot as Monday morning :)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Redwings again

8 days on and the redwings are still in Margravine Cemetery. I estimated at least 25 of them yesterday afternoon, but I had a definite 19 on the ground in my bins at one point. And having watched them fly around the cemetery for a few days, I am now pretty convinced that I had caught a glimpse of some of them on the Saturday on my way to the shops before they'd disappear behind buildings.
A combination of the fact that there are not quite as many berries at the top now, them maybe getting a little bit more used to passers by, some sunshine, and I finally managed some much nicer photos of 1 of them:

For more photos of this bird, click on the photo above, or here.

I have also tried to take photos of them amongst the graves, as I try with any bird in the cemetery as much as possible, as this makes it more location-specific. Unfortunately, more often than not, this is all I get, if I get anything:

I did manage however to get a few with graves in the background.

Redwing trying to blend in by doing a robin impersonation...

To finish, one of our near-obese squirrels, but even with their extra fat they appear to be feeling the cold too, I spotted one taking bark off branches to add to its nest:

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


It may not be that big a deal elsewhere, but I've seen Redwings in Margravine Cemetery for 4 days now. Considering I'd never seen more than 1 individual at a time before, and that I'd never found them again the next day, it is a big deal to me.
I was busy on Sunday with cooking and baking and didn't intend to go out check the birds. But I needed more baking supplies and a quick trip to Chiswick had to be done. On my way to the tube, I thought I'd check the shrubs I'd been keeping an eye on the past few weeks as it was totally covered with berries. So far all I'd seen there were woodpigeons, blackbirds and chaffinches but this time there were this shapes in the foliage at the top, too big for chaffinch, too small for blackbird, so I got my small bins out: redwings, 2, maybe 3 of them! And they were still there when I came back an hour or so later, but by then the light was pretty bad and the cemetery was going to close.
So, bright and early on Monday morning, I was out in the cemetery. It wasn't too bright yet, hence the photos below are not the best quality, especially as they're flighty little buggers and I couldn't get too close. I initially spotted 1 or 2 on the shrub and then turned left: there were at least a dozen on the ground by the memorial wall!

Yum, juicy earthworm! If there is one thing Margravine Cemetery is rich of, it is earthworms, which is probably why there are always lots of blackbirds around, but also why there is a lot of this pretty much every where:

I wish the redwings were a bit less shy, more like this individual, which, even though it wouldn't let me get too close, at least it is in the middle outer reaches, which give much nicer photos

than this, high up in the canopy against a white sky...

But beggars can't be choosers I guess...
On Tuesday, I didn't have much time, but managed to spot 7 of them around the shrub. Today, however, I took a bit more time at the beginning of the afternoon, in the 'snowstorm'. No sooner had I spotted a few on the ground that they took off, leaf-blowing was starting and the guy was getting close. I followed them from tree to tree and counted up to 19 in 1 and 2 in another at one end of the cemetery. Got my camera out of my bag, but by the time I had it out, a small tractor was entering the cemetery and they took flight, back to where we came. So I followed, spotting 22 Goldfinch in a birch (I think) on the way. Relocated a few in the shrub, but then the leaf-blower arrived under there and they took off again... This time, I went back home.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Love Birds

It is not often that I get to take photos of the Peregrines at that angle, but with this morning's strong North Easterlies they had elected to perch on the South facing face. I had actually been rather surprised to see the female plucking a prey around 8 this morning as I don't often get to see them in these conditions, but pleasantly so. After a while, the male also came to eat and then joined her on the next perch.

I took this photo on my way to the shop as they were gazing at each other, the male on the left, the female on the right. He then did a bit of preening. I find it amazing how far back he sits and how much of a finely tuned equilibrium exercise it looks like.

And to finish, a fine example of what I call her double-D breast, makes me think of a Victorian matron, especially with that peregrine haughty air ;)

Breakfast was good!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Cormorant update

Yesterday, I spotted the cormorant entangled in netting for the first time since my post about it on 18 October. I was starting to wonder if something had happened to it, but it appeared in excellent shape, preening at Crabtree Wharf.

Charlie, part 2

The following photos I took on Sunday morning show better what I mean about her colouring.
All neat and majestic, before she started preening:


and after, getting all fluffed up:

I just love these headless shots, but, also, look at those claws...

For more photos, click on any of the above photos (which will also give you a slightly bigger version) or here to go my photo album.

Watching her yesterday, I was thinking that honey would be a good way to describe her chest and throat colouring. Maybe because I had just used honey for cooking, who knows...

Note also, how she sits sort of sideways on her perch, the male prefers to sit right back with its back to the wall. Talking of the male, I haven't yet figured out a name for him. I call him Mr Charlie or Charlie's mate, but he surely deserves a name of his own (I know my other half has taken my surname, but that is not for everybody). I have been thinking lately of William or Morris because of the local William Morris connection, but it somehow doesn't fit. If you have any suggestion, please feel free...

Finally, while I am here talking about peregrines, let me plug the London Peregrine Partnership' website. Their objective is to ensure the protection and breeding success of Peregrine Falcons nesting within the London area. Well worth a visit if you want to learn more about peregrines.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


With the gale force winds and torrential rain predicted for this morning, I wasn't actually really expecting to see the peregrines on the hospital this morning. But at 8:30 there they were. I knew that someone who moved a few months ago to the area was very keen to see them, but so far it had been like a curse: if they were around, he wasn't... Finally though there were chances he'd be around this morning so I texted him and we arranged to meet in the cemetery. As I was getting there the male flew off... Then, as I was waiting, the female had a stretch, had a poo, and I thought the curse would still be as this is often the precursor to her leaving, but she repositioned herself, did some preening, and was still there when he arrived. Just as I was taking this photo:

She's gorgeous, isn't she?...

The curse had been lifted :) We had wonderful views of her perched, then she left for about 10 minutes and we had good views of her flying. The cherry on the cake: just as we were leaving, I turned round one last time and the male had just arrived.

Charlie is the name I have given her, it's a lot shorter in every day life to say than the peregrine on the hospital. Why Charlie? Well, at first I wasn't entirely sure she was a female, though that was my first impression, so I needed a name that could be used for both sexes. Then I tried to find a name that reflected the building she was on, Charing Cross Hospital, and based her name on the first 4 letters. As it happens, I am not the only one, if I remember correctly the rescued injured youngster from Derby was named Cathy after Cathedral this summer. As it also happens, Charlie appears to be a popular name for peregrines, I know of another 2, a male in France and a female in Worcester. Lastly, another reason why I like that name is Charlie Brown, since she was a youngster at the time and looked very brown, and still does in a way. Brown is not quite the right word anymore, but someone described her as tawny last week which I find very fitting. It is not that obvious on the photo but her chest is very rosy whereas the male's is almost pure white. This makes them easy to identify at a distance.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Gulls shenanigans and variations

About 2 weeks ago (it was 10 days when I started this post), as we were arriving in Whitby, North Yorkshire (I shall hopefully post a few photos of that weekend one day soon), someone posted on the Londonbirders wiki that there had been a Caspian Gull just south of my patch. I'll pass on the fact that it was reported in Hammersmith, it's a weird thing that even though we are in Fulham around here our postcode is Hammersmith, and that the pub's name was slightly wrong. As a matter of fact, Hammersmith has a fair few river-side pubs, I think Fulham has only one (though it has a restaurant with the River Café). The problem is that so many Caspian Gulls were reported there at some point that all reports are viewed with much incredulity. Still, I'll give the person the benefit of the doubt, not least because I'd love to have one on my patch, and if it means I work harder at it, all the better for it. In fact it gave me a patch tick on Saturday when I saw a Little Grebe on the Thames, when, feeling slightly under the weather with sinusitis, I may not have gone out that morning. Considering only a few years ago a gull was either 'une mouette' or 'un goéland', and the need to avoid tripping on false friends such as a French Laughing Gull (Mouette Rieuse) is not an English Laughing Gull (I think people might look at me funny if I said I've seen 200 Laughing Gulls on the Thames...), I am on a steep learning curve. One of the things I have learned so far is that they're very variable even within a species, which sure doesn't help.

I went to check on the river on Wednesday afternoon on my way back from running errands, tide was very high and I don't think I saw any big gulls that day, just lots of Black-headed. I went to check again on Friday morning and the situation was fairly different as the tide was going down and had already uncovered part of the foreshore.

Just south of Crabtree Wharf, up to about 30 Cormorants were fishing in a line, until one of those rowing coach motor boats passed a bit too close too quickly. But in the meantime they looked quite comical in a lots of mini-Nessies kind of way:

Light wasn't too good, so the following photos are not the best.

At first comparing the bird on the left to the one on the right, it appeared to have a much paler head:

On closer inspection though, the bird appears paler overall and I don't think its beak could be called parallel...:

Still, from a distance, it does look rather different.

Then there is this other one at the bottom of the photo. Its most striking feature is its very black-looking eye, like it's got make-up (very goth looking), which makes me wonder about Yellow-Legged Gull.

Quite pretty at a distance in a Common Gull kind of way

In the end, probably just a question of variations.

For example: 3 Herring Gulls, 3 different levels of streaking:

Finally, on a lighter note:
Take one pair of Herring Gulls:

Take a fairly standard looking Lesser Black-Backed Gull:

Add one of the Herring Gulls from the above pair::

"Can we make some sweet music?"

"Hey you! I've seen you!"

Not something I remember witnessing on my patch before. By and large these 2 species tend to keep to themselves. But what chance do I have if even they can't make out who's who...?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

my patch

My apologies for the silence of late. It's not that I haven't been out and about, but that I have been too otherwise busy to write about it. Not helped by the fact that the laptop I use sometimes to do that while relaxing on the sofa in the evening won't boot up at the moment...


As I was doing another one of those foreshore cleanups with Thames21 this morning, right at the south edge of the Thames part of my patch, I thought I'd take some photos from that angle.

Crabtree Wharf

That the whole length of it starting from Crabtree Wharf, where Cormorants and Gulls like to stay at high tide, but also where Starlings and Ringed-Neck Parakeets are roosting/nesting in the pillars(?). The River Café is after that first tall building with the semi-circular roof.

boat pier

Then you have the boat pier where Black-Headed Gulls like to stand on the ramp, and Mallards like to have a nap at high tide.

Hammersmith Bridge

Up to Hammersmith Bridge, and, as you can see, on a Sunday morning, the river can get rather busy... and as if there had not been enough disturbance with us cleaning up, there was also a whole flotilla of these brightly coloured canoes and kayaks on the river.

On my way back, I noticed this Cormorant which I had seen previously (7th October). It is unfortunately recognisable because it has caught its neck in some kind of wide mesh plastic netting:


I don't think it is finding it too comfortable:


I'll see how it develops if I can. Yesterday, via @stuhar on twitter, I saw this set of photos of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll, dead with bellies full of plastic trash. These are very disturbing photos, and if they are not an eye opener for some, I don't know what will... As I tweeted then: "This is one of the reasons I volunteer with @thames21 to remove some of it from the foreshore." These and the photos above.

I'll finish on a much lighter note. I doubt these 2 young Swans are siblings given the moulting difference. No adult were in sight. Can they pair up this young? Once again, I'll see how this develop if it does.