Our banner image is a slightly blurry, but extremely delightful snapshot of a tiny fire crest taken by Penny Smallshire on 20th February. This was extremely exciting because at that time, sightings of this little bird were far more scarce.
It is certainly hard to be sure of which season it is at the moment with many flowering plants already putting in an appearance although coltsfoot seen near the swamp pond is perhaps slightly more in keeping, being a very well known early flowerer. This plant has been a classic ingredient of cough remedies over the centuries.
As for birdlife, the pair of Egyptian geese at Barnes Pond were already parading their twelve goslings while the ringing and persistent calls of the local great tits are already much in evidence. Mid- month saw a build-up of redwings with at least 30 around FGY on the 14th. On the 17th several black headed gulls were on Stepping Stone meadow presumably feeding on earthworms – while easily overlooked it is quite likely that these gulls are also travellers like the redwings, many coming from Eastern Europe and the Baltic each year to take advantage of the UK’s milder winters. On the 28th a Buzzard flew over Vine Road heading south.
The highlight of the month was undoubtedly the sighting of two fire crests near the station at Barnes on the 14th. Over the following weeks, the birds have been quiet an attraction for visiting birders with possibly three at one stage and at least one still present on the 5th March. There has been a noticeable influx of these birds in the London area where cemeteries and woods with overgrown hollies and yew provide favourite haunts. Fire crests are usually winter visitors from Scandinavia but there does appear to be growing evidence of them increasing their breeding population in the UK, especially in the southeast so we will have to see whether any stay. They are even more energetic than Goldcrests in their never ending hunt for small insects and spiders.
There was an unusual sighting of a kingfisher flying low over the cricket pitch on the 16th while a male blackcap was seen feeding on suet in a Barnes garden on the 18th. Whether this is a departing bird heading back to continental Europe after its winter stay in the UK or a summer migrant returning back from its wintering grounds in Africa is impossible to know but by the middle of March, the strident musical warbles of the these birds will be adding to the calls of the song thrushes and great tits.
Most exciting was the appearance of frog spawn on the 10th. While only two to three adults may survive from every 1,000 eggs, the recent rains and new ponds should provide a constant water and food source for the tadpoles once they hatch. Frog spawn was also spotted again in the reedbed pond later in the month
A male Mandarin duck was present at the ponds on the 16th along with a Moorhen there on the same day.
In the next few weeks, the Common will be ringing with the song of returning blackcaps and chiffchaffs along with the first butterflies on the wing. We have just started running a weekly butterfly transect across the Common where results go to Butterfly Conservation, so if anyone is interested in taking part please contact us.
By the 12th April, chiffchaffs and and blackcaps had returned and were in full song along with at least two pairs of vociferous nuthatches on the Common as well. A pair of grey wagtails flew over the pavilion on the 13th so presumably they are breeding close by in the vicinity of the Beverley Brook while several people have reported sightings of a kingfisher.
The first brimstone was out on the 10th April followed by speckled wood, peacock, holly blue, comma and orange tip all on the wing in the following days with a small tortoiseshell also seen on the 21st at half and half meadow. One of the orange-tips larval plants is cuckoo flower or lady’s smock and with a seeming profusion of this plant this year especially at the ponds, this butterfly should do well.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the month was the sighting of two tawny owl youngsters in the woods near Van Buren meadow. Although still partially covered in down they were well grown and clambering through the upper branches in their characteristic clumsy style.
The weather at the end of April was distinctly wintery with the winds straight down from the north. A lone swallow heading north on the 28th must have been having second thoughts.
A bird survey conducted in the first week of May, returned totals of territories for 26 blackcap, 8 chiffchaff, 7 song thrush and 4 mistle thrush – clearly the mix of bramble and scrub undergrowth on the Common is to these birds liking.
While probably a regular fly-over, a lesser black-backed gull has been frequently seen at Stepping Stone meadow, feeding alongside the black headed gulls, most likely on worms and emerging insect prey. The UK is home to 40% of the European population while the gull is increasingly seen in urban habitats.
There were also some good butterfly sightings this month including green hairstreak which probably does quite well on the Common where gorse and broom provide its main larval plants. Small copper, comma, red admiral, orange tip and holly blue were also about in seemingly good numbers.
On our bat and newt walk on the 26th, we were not able to see any newts but we did record five species of bat including serotine, noctule and leislers. As the preceding days weather had been very inclement preventing the bats from feeding, some welcome calm and warm weather meant that the bats were out very early indeed, hence we were able to get some excellent views of noctule and pipistrelles while it was still relatively light.
The lesser black-backed gull was in evidence again, still feeding on Stepping Stone meadow while a herring gull also touched down on there on the 16th.
A family of blackcaps were at VB meadow on the 8th, including three brown capped juveniles, while a cuckoo was reported calling on the 10th near the Putney border. A pied wagtail was at the cricket pitch on the 16th actively hunting for insects and taking them away in the direction of the station. Why this bird is such a rarity on the Common is a mystery as the number of mown areas should easily provide enough insect food. On the 22nd a pair of grey wagtails was seen actively taking food to a nest in the concrete bank of the Beverley Brook.
June generally sees the emergence of various dragonflies including the first of the black tailed skimmers. Initially, the juvenile males and females have a wasp like appearance with their black and yellow colouring but then the males eventually sport a pale powder blue body with black tip. Metallic blue and green banded demoiselles are usually in abundance dancing along the Brook while a new species for the Common in the form of an azure damselfly was seen at the Swamp pond, identified by the U shaped black marking on its last segment.
A very surprising sighting was a shoal of half a dozen fish which varied between ten and twelve inches long. We have yet to identify what they were but suspect these could be stock released as part of the river project in Richmond Park.
Butterflies included the first common blue, meadow brown and painted lady while a small tortoiseshell was at Vine Road on 28th. Peak season for butterflies will be upon us next month with the appearance of all the skippers, browns and blues.
Butterflies provided the main sightings for July 2016 with several records of both white letter hairstreak and purple hairstreak. While the adults of the latter generally feed on honeydew, the larvae feed exclusively on oak, so sightings of this butterfly are very encouraging in light of the spraying for OPM. There were also a couple of sightings of marbled white, a very striking butterfly that will hopefully increase in numbers with our management of the meadows.
Not such good news for the moorhens – at one stage the parents had one juvenile from an earlier breeding attempt in the Spring plus an additional half a dozen small black chicks from the most recent nesting in June – however by the end of July, only the juvenile appeared to be left – the fox may well be the most likely culprit having been seen at least twice at the ponds during the day, although the heron or local crows may also have played a part.
There was a good gathering of swifts at Vine Road on the 20th and 21st July with at least 30 in the vicinity, flying low over the bowling green presumably feeding on a recent hatch of insects, probably flying ants. Hopefully, they have had a good breeding season but as one of the earliest migrants returning back to Africa, within a month, the majority will have already departed our shores.
Monthly Management News: At the beginning of the month, Red Rover meadow was baled and cleared and by the last week of October, we had cut, raked and baled the final meadow at Half and Half – considering we started at the end of August, the mowing season can be quite long but always a good feeling to get the last bale off to the dump.
We also started work on re-establishing the boundary line between ourselves and Wimbledon / Lower Putney – in addition, Wimbledon have also carried out some extensive clearance work on their side which will be apparent if you take a walk behind Van Buren meadow or behind the cemeteries – however, it should all help to improve light levels, visibility and safety.
Radnor House came out for their annual day on the 5th and helped dig a new flower bed for Sharon.
Wildlife Sightings: While the heather plugs planted at Mill Hill all seem to be surviving, encouragingly a few tiny shoots are also appearing elsewhere. These will have grown from seed that came with the heather brash we received from Wimbledon Common and that was put down after the area was cleared a couple of years ago– It will be an ongoing battle to keep the gorse down but hopefully the heather will prosper.
There were a couple of reports of hedgehogs seen around the Common while the only bird sightings of note were two skylarks heading SW over Half & Half meadow on the 26th Oct. Passage of these birds at this time of year is not unusual, but they are also prospecting for future nesting sites.
With regard to butterflies, a few small coppers were still in evidence with four on the 7th making the most of the remaining ragwort at Mill Hill.
Depending on the weather, October can be a great time for fungi and the goods yard has been very productive with shaggy ink cap, weeping widow, spring field cap and sulphur tuft all putting in appearances. Pick of the crop by a distance though was a blue / green gill mushroom called roundhead or verdigris agaric that Sharon found by the raised beds.
Monthly Management News: We continued the clearance of the snowberry at the Ups and Downs – while we are treating all the stumps there, we will just have to see how much snowberry regenerates, but it has opened up a very sizeable area that could have potential for a number of improvements including a hazel coppice or even a pond.
We have continued work on the bug hotel, further filling it up with various materials and putting a roof on to keep it relatively dry. The meadow at Vine Road has been strimmed while we have a smart new FoBC sign above the noticeboard.
In the final Sunday session of the year, we continued improving the rides in Paddock Wood. This allows substantial improvement in light levels and visibility without the need for wholesale clearance of trees. Younger hollies and yews were also removed further along the path to the station, providing a new glade and improving the general openness and views.
Monthly Wildlife Sightings: December usually sees roving flocks of long-tailed tits and goldcrests moving through the woodlands in search of food – it is always worth looking closely at these flocks just in case there is a firecrest with them. This species is on the increase and the areas on the Common with dense stands of holly and ivy are ideal for them.
At the end of the month, redwing numbers were just starting to build with a few flocks of a dozen birds or so feeding on holly trees berries at Paddock Wood.