Last Tuesday of the month – grand finale

Day 26 of #30DaysWild – another Tuesday, another walk on Hampstead Heath with the Marylebone Birdwatching Society. Different again…

The hot sun had us all in short sleeves (and some in short trousers) and brought out some newcomers and people we’d not seen for a while. One commented on how we so often have to dress for cold and/or wet on these walks. The featured image is of the delightfully shady woodland Meg led us through today.

I left home early enough to walk and get to the meeting point early – so I had time to stop to check out the Cricket Pitch where I saw a Green Woodpecker. We saw a young Great Crested Grebe on the Men’s bathing Pond and the nesting pair on the Model Boating Pond. Heard Wren, Nuthatch, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch. Saw Magpies, Crows, Coots and one Moorhen, Mallard, Mandarin and Tufted Duck, one Mute Swan, one Heron, one Cormorant. In one clump of trees we had Blue, Great, Long-tailed and Coal Tits. I also saw a Treecreeper just after I parted from the group 11.20am along the Lime Avenue.

Having had a look at the Bird Sanctuary Pond Meg led most of the party up to the Kestrel tree. Unsurprisingly the three youngsters were not there this week. The bird I saw fly in was a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a second … turned out to be a Ring-necked Parakeet. But a group of people had stayed looking at the Pond and we were called to hurry back for a KINGFISHER! This was no flash of blue across the water. It remained visibly perched on branches close by. We always hope to see Kingfisher on this pond as our founding president, Kate Springett, persuaded the authorities to create a bank for them to nest in. We’ve had some excellent sightings from here and seen Kingfishers elsewhere too but not this year. They’d not even been seen from the Women’s Pond which is closer to the Kingfisher Bank. We’d just been saying to newcomers and people who’d not been for a while that we’d not seen them. It was indeed someone who can only rarely join us on a Tuesday who spotted this Kingfisher “just sitting there” when 20 of us had failed to see it arrive! Definitely today’s highlight.

I know there are a few June days left and I don’t intend to stop appreciating the “wild” in my life but systematically taking pictures and writing blogs takes time and I must turn my attention to preparing the Marylebone Birdwatching Society programme and other documents for print and digital publication. Last year my blogs petered out Day 11! I just didn’t get round to record several other wild outings that June. This year it’s a deliberate last blog with a Kingfisher providing the grand finale.

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Day 23 Birdwatching in Ashdown Forest

Marylebone Birdwatching Society doesn’t have any more coach trips until October but Saturday I was able to go on a sunny day’s birdwatching in Ashdown Forest with RSPB Central London Local Group. 35 of us on the coach which set off from Embankment at 8am.

This was one of our wilder excursions – no clear trails to follow within the confines of the site, no hides, no public toilets til we reached the Visitor Centre at 2pm, no afternoon cuppa and cake before we started the return journey – indeed, after the services stop 9.30am, no refreshments of any sort other than what we’d brought with us.

On most of our coach trips, a significant group of people will stick with our expert leader but others will go round in smaller groups or individually at their own pace. I wrote previously about an MBS trip to Thursley Common when we all stuck together for fear of getting lost! On this occasion we stayed together as a group for a circular walk from the Old Lodge car park. The featured image shows where we stopped for lunch.

Highlights on this walk were Common Redstart – we eventually got good views of male, female and youngsters; Spotted Flycatchers – not so easy to see; Tree pipit and Wood Lark; Buzzard and Red Kite; and we were all delighted to hear the whispery downward scale of the Willow Warbler.

We got back to the coach 20 minutes to meet up time but as we were all there together we set off and, despite awkwardly parked cars making a narrow lane and sharp turn even more difficult for the coach, reached Broadstone 2pm. After a brief stop at the Visitor Centre – loos and information – we set off all together (left-hand picture) but, having learned this was a “there and back” walk several of us “rebelled” when Andrew led the party down a steep slope (right-hand picture though it doesn’t show how steep the slope was). Some found a pleasant place to rest. I continued on a level, drawn by the shady woodland ahead. I came to a viewpoint and then turned back joining up with a fellow birder for our walk back to the centre where I saw my first Robin and Nuthatch of the day as well as a Pied Wagtail.

4pm back on the coach and 6pm we reached Waterloo where those of us who hadn’t got off at the extra Brixton stop agreed to disembark as traffic was at a standstill! I felt hot and tired by the time I got home but was pleased with my day out in the wild.

Days 20-22 Bits of wild despite other priorities

As noted on Facebook Day 20 #30DaysWild: Auditory wild today on various trips up and down the road to shops etc. A Dunnock’s song guided me to where it was perched high in a tree; Wood Pigeon clapping; raucous Herring Gulls; rustling leaves.

Thursday 21 June was #MakeMusicDay and so music was my focus for the day. I chose two events out of the wide selection available, both “concerts” rather than “workshops” but we were expected to join in with the Gospel singing (and dancing)! It seems I managed to hide behind the loudspeaker in the photo I found on Twitter.

 

This lunchtime event in the Piazza Pavilion at the British Library for Make Music Day had been organised to tie in with their Windrush exhibition. They tweeted the picture with the comment: Amazing vibes at British Library hosting John Fisher and IDMC Gospel Soul Choir, the Gospel Music Industry Alliance (GMIA), Juliet Fletcher and the Nostalgia Steel Band.

The second event I attended was a fascinating lecture-recital on recorder music in Handel’s time. This was at the Foundling Museum in Holborn. Having worked for Camden Libraries for just short of 35 years with additional church/music/Fairtrade reasons to be in the area then and since, I have done a lot of walking between Euston and Holborn using a variety of routes. On this occasion, I turned into Judd Street from Euston Road and I realised I more usually take that road in the other direction. Was it that little change of perspective, or something that made me look up at the right time…? or perhaps it just hadn’t been there when I was last in the area… a CAMEL!

I gradually remembered seeing a similar camel before … are there several or is this one travelling around London? – it certainly looks identical to the one in the picture on the right. In 2015 I wrote in my 20BigC Challenge blog: I left the station (Waterloo) at the far end. It wasn’t the exit I’d envisaged but there was a sign to turn right for Imperial War Museum – opposite which I knew was the RC Cathedral of Southwark. And so it was that I came across a Camel! What a golden camel was doing on the flat roof at the back of a house, I do not know!

With my heightened #30DaysWild awareness, I decided to walk through the Judd Street Open Space described on Google maps as a Children’s Play Area but showing more greenery than the map or my old A-Z would suggest. The featured image shows a sculpture/play area (?) in one corner as well as the housing estate in which the Open Space lies. There was also a lovely flower bed but my camera battery needed recharging!

Not sure I’d ever walked through the Judd Street Open Space despite its being right behind Holy Cross Church which I visited often in the past. It also led me to Regent Square and I decided to stop at Lumen Church and Community Centre for a coffee – but the cafe was closed. So, again unusually, I went down Wakefield Street and noticed St George’s Gardens. I walked in through the gate I’d so often walked past coming in the other direction from Handel Street but exploring that green space would have taken me too far out of my way. I recalled I’d come across a Euston Parks Walk on Twitter recently and promised myself I would follow that one day – though may not be able to fit it in before the end of June.          IMG_4788
This week has been Traidcraft Week and I’d identified Friday as a possible “Open Day” in my flat. Another distraction from #30DaysWild unless you can count the “monkeys.” Altogether 6 people came (+2 Thursday morning) for a Fairtrade cuppa and bite to eat + have a good look round my Traidcraft Fair Trader’s “shop.”

But even as I answered my guests’ questions, I was noticing outside my window the damaged leaves of my Horse Chestnut tree and the family of Great Tits feasting on insects.

 

 

 

Day 19 Another Tuesday – Another Heath Adventure

Another Tuesday seems to have come round amazingly quickly. Although Yodel didn’t subject me to another day stuck indoors like Friday, my Day 18 was only virtually wild – browsing and engaging with the wonderful #30DaysWild posts on Facebook, updating the Marylebone Birdwatching Society website and making a start on preparing the new Sept18-June19 MBS programme for print and publication. Plus being the fierce storm and watching for daybreak in choir rehearsal.

But today I enjoyed another of our Tuesday MBS Heath Walks. Having seen a bus sail past the end of my road, I crossed over to the tube station and took the nearby Woodland Path. Stopped to look for the Blackcap I heard singing but it flew off just as I’d identified the tree it was in leaving me looking at a Great Tit. It had been cloudy when I set off but I was soon roasting in the sunshine and stopped at the first bench I came to on the Heath to extricate myself from bag, binocular and camera straps to take off my jacket.

Reached the starting point just after time and took the featured image while catching up with the group which had set off promptly at 10am. Several people commented we had a particularly large group of people today – 23 of us by the time we got to the Bird Sanctuary Pond. On one popular perch by a junction of paths we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker. We checked on the Great Crested Grebes on the Model Boating Pond – one still on the nest and one swimming around.

In this 1st Swift Awareness Week we were aware of  high – and low – flying Swifts especially over one area of grassland. Trying to count them was a different matter. One person said he’d seen 2, another 4, another “more than that” – I just said “lots”. Later I had another go at counting them and twice reached at least 15.

When we’d taken a look at the Bird Sanctuary pond, Meg said she was taking us somewhere special – into the enclosed area behind the Bird Sanctuary Pond. It turned out her key didn’t work so we went to look at the Kestrel box instead. There was one baby still in the box and one of our excellent spotters found the other two in the branches. Meanwhile, Meg had phoned her former colleagues and, after a bit more lingering between the Model Boating and Bird Sanctuary Ponds, debating the ID of some Mandarin ducks (female or male in eclipse?), someone drove up with a key.

I’d been into this area a couple of times before. On this occasion we could only walk in single file through the thick vegetation. We did hear a Chiffchaff but didn’t see it til it flew off. And one person noticed Shield Bugs on a tree. We were sadly not able to check for Grass Snakes as on a previous occasion because they’re being monitored. Eventually we had to about-turn to retrace our steps.

It was already 11.25 by the time we emerged. Meg took the group on the path behind the ponds “for a change” while I went my usual way homewards via the Hampstead Ponds.

Day 17 NGS Open Gardens

Despite cloud and wind and a hint of drizzle in the air, with the prospect of another day stuck indoors waiting for a delayed delivery, I decided to go out this Sunday afternoon. #30DaysWild was an added incentive. I checked which gardens would be open today under the National Garden Scheme, identified 3 in N7 and set off for Camden Town with my old A-Z and the NGS booklet.

On several occasions some years ago, my parents would come for lunch on Fathers’ Day and, in the afternoon, we would visit a local garden which was open under this scheme. The moment I mentioned on the phone having visited an Open Garden today, my mother started and my father completed a particular memory I’d already had of hearing Lady Barbirolli talk of “the boy” who tended her garden.

I’m not actually that interested in plants or gardens. I just enjoy their colours and structures and, as with Open House for architecture, like looking behind normally closed doors. It’s all in a good cause and it can also be a bit of an adventure to follow directions to an unknown address. Today I took a bus up the road from Camden Town into the neighbouring Borough of Islington alighting near the new Cat and Mouse Library (opened December 2017) – on or by the site of Holloway Prison. The intriguing name is explained in this article though I was surprised they refer to it as “Archway’s” library. Coincidentally I’d just watched a documentary about Suffragettes in and out of prison.

I crossed the road and went down Hillmarton Road turning right into Hungerford Road. 1A was close to the junction and I soon realised I had visited that garden before. Rather than continue down the road to numbers 60/62, I turned back and crossed Hillmarton Road to find Penn Road opposite.

St Luke's corner Penn Rd 17.6.18 with roses and magpies
St Luke’s, West Holloway was established on the corner of Penn Road and Hillmarton Road in 1860. Parts of the building were bombed in World War II and have been rebuilt. I admired the garden with its colourful roses and noted the 2 Magpies on the lawn.

As I paid my entry to the garden at 23 Penn Road, I was told there were refreshments available. “That’s why I’m here” I replied! I had read in the booklet: “A selection of refreshments will be served inside the Garden Studio alongside a wide range of delicious homemade Bundt cakes in a variety of interesting flavours, now integral to the NGS experience at 23 Penn Road.” I chose strawberry and rhubarb from the amazing array of flavours which included Beetroot, Carrot, Green Tea and Courgette as well as Coffee & Walnut. I did also note the old-fashioned roses, the Red Barked Arbutus, the water feature and the “trellis” and bench made by the owner’s welder brother.

After my garden visit, I continued down Penn Road and discovered an enclosed – but open – garden which doesn’t show in my A-Z or on Google maps as a green space. I did, however, find a description online:
Penn Road Gardens, (also known as Penn Road Open Space)
“The lawn that takes up most of the garden is retained by low stone edging, and has a triangular bed within it with some planting. A perimeter path surrounds the lawn, with niches for benches surrounded by privet hedging, shrub beds to the boundary railings and trees along the boundary. The garden now has community maintained flower and shrub beds and in 2010/11 was a Green Flag Community Award Winning Park.”
My featured image is of the triangular bed looking delightfully wild. There were also several insect hotels scattered around the little park.

Pied Wagtail nearly out of the picture on triangle between Caledonian & Camden Rds
I was making my way round to Camden Road, noting the number of pigeons on a triangular patch of grass, when I realised I could cut the corner from Caledonian Road and get straight to a bus stop. And so, by chance, I came across this Pied Wagtail which kept crossing the path right in front of me. Judging by all the wonderful photos people take with their smart phones, I have yet to learn how to use my Canon camera properly. I was so close to this bird, it should have been a better picture. I dithered about whether it was best to take it on the path or on the grass but eventually didn’t have the option. As it was, he or she nearly succeeded in running out of the frame. It wasn’t even a particularly smart Pied Wagtail but it was a delightful surprise to (almost literally) stumble on it on this patch of urban green.

 

Day 16 Rainham Marshes with the MBS

After a day stuck indoors waiting in vain for a delivery, I was pleased to get out into a wild RSPB reserve for the last Local Outing of the current Marylebone Birdwatching Society season. We were meeting 10.30am at the Rainham Marshes Visitor Centre but 6 of us gathered at Fenchurch St Station for the recommended 9.40 train to Purfleet. Another birder got off the same train having got on at Barking. And we were soon walking along the river wall path to the reserve noticing Crows, House Sparrows, Goldfinches, Magpies, Gulls, a Cormorant flying over … and was that a seal? At the Visitor Centre we met up with 5 more people who’d come by car and one who’d come on an earlier train. By 10.45 we’d set off on our anti-clockwise tour of the reserve and we were later joined by another MBS person who amazingly found us on one of our detours off the main path.

Our leader on this occasion was an MBS member who volunteers at Rainham and so was able to take us into the Discovery Area normally reserved for school visits.

And she was able to tell or remind us of the history and management of the Site. The Cordite Store was, during the war, covered in glass so that bombers would think it was water – it even appeared on maps as a reservoir. The thick walls of the old store create a micro climate distinctly warmer than the rest of the reserve. It was here we saw most butterflies as well as a Dock Leatherbug. Vegetation everywhere on the reserve was thick and tall. Here we learned that this wasn’t the dangerous non-native Giant Hogweed. Volunteers in goggles and gloves had been stopped just in time from cutting down this native Hogweed much of which we noticed had Bindweed spiraling up the stems.

We looked for the Barn Owl but couldn’t even see its box hidden by the overgrown undergrowth. Instead we found a much closer Whitethroat and, back on the main path, we had some excellent views of Reed Bunting. We popped into the Ken Barrett Hide, stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the Aveley Pools – Coots, Moorhen, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Pochard, Shoveler, Cormorants, Greylag and Canada Geese, Little Egrets, Herons, Little and Great Crested Grebes and 2 Common Terns. We checked pylons in vain for Peregrine and 1pm reached the “lunch hide”! From here we at last saw a couple of Marsh Harriers as well as a pair of Swans with 5 cygnets, Lapwings, 7 or more Shelduck, Swifts, Swallows and Sand Martins. A bit further along I was surprised to see, on a path in a fenced off conservation area apparently nowhere near water, a Redshank. It seems I’d missed our leader’s guidance on this being their breeding ground.

The left-hand picture is near the “find the owl box” path with a lovely patch of Tufted Vetch in the foreground and the right-hand picture is taken from the position of the advance party a hairpin bend further along the path. Was it worth going back to see why the others had stopped? We realised too late that they’d seen a Cuckoo!

When we reached the point where we might have been able to see Bearded Tits the wind was so strong there was no way we’d hear their pinging song or find them in the swaying reeds. But, as we went round the reserve, we did hear – and see or at least glimpse –  Cetti’s, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaff, Wren and Blackcap, Chaffinch and Greenfinch, Robin and Dunnock, Blackbird and Song Thrush and lots of Starlings. We also saw surprising numbers of Collared Doves – more than Wood Pigeons.

Although primarily birders, we were also interested in some of the flowers and insects we saw. Our leader pointed out Hemlock and Deadly Nightshade which were possibly too close to the public path. There was also Salsify and Woody Nightshade and the non-native but attractive Goat’s Rue alongside the native Tufted Vetch. Red Admiral was the only butterfly I saw well enough to identify and we just guessed the huge dragonfly we saw from one of the hides on the way back to the Centre might be an Emperor. But one of the group was confident about pointing out several Blue-tailed Damselflies one of which posed for us all to see.

We got back to the Visitor Centre about 3pm glad of a cuppa and cake before going our various ways home. 4 of us walked briskly back to the station in plenty of time for the 15.56 back to London.

 

Day 13 Sidcup Birds

Beautifully sunny day for my latest visit to Sidcup. Pleased to be able to spend 1/2 hour in the local park. I followed the route round which I developed on my visits Dec16 and Jan17 in my hunts for the elusive Firecrest which I’d seen tantalizingly reported on London Birders wiki before and between my visits that winter. I did see it eventually near a gate to Rose Bruford Drama School but all subsequent visits I’ve included the path opposite the old toilet block where it had been seen initially. The hedgerow there and the playing fields beyond are always good for Robins, Dunnocks, Tits, Blackbirds, Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons.

Some birds were heard but not seen, notably Song Thrush, Wren, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch. A Starling flew over as did a few Ring-necked Parakeets. 17 Mallards were sunning themselves on the grass at the head of the lake. On the lake there were more Mallard, Canada Geese with goslings, Coot with young, Tufted Duck and Moorhen. And there was a solitary Heron in the river by the Golf Course beyond the park. Blue Tits and a Jay brought my park list up to 21.

On arrival in Sidcup the day before I’d welcomed the sound of House Sparrows – deprived as I am of them in Central London. A pair of them came to the feeders in my parents’ garden while I was there as did a pair of Dunnock and a baby Robin. The male Dunnock was often seen and heard perched on top of the fir tree which also serves as a singing post for the resident Blackbird. Sadly no sign of the Sidcup Peregrines on this occasion.

Day 12 Another Tuesday Heath Walk

Another Tuesday – another Hampstead Heath walk with Marylebone Birdwatching Society. I didn’t take any pictures this week. It was just as well I’d taken flowery pictures like this one of the island last week. The banks between the Men’s Bathing pond and the Model Boating Pond, with their Ragged Robin and other flowers, had been mown for a visit from the dam inspectors.

The Great Crested Grebes I reported on last week had now built a nest – not on the edge of the island where they’d started building last week but, like many Coots, on top of one of the blue aerators now dotted about on all the ponds. One of the grebes was still adding twigs to the nest which also contained a lot of colourful plastic and other rubbish.

The other excitement of this week’s walk was what we found in the Kestrel box where we’d been seeing hopeful but inconclusive signs of occupancy. This box was put up some years ago in a tree which had lost a branch where Kestrels used to nest. This week there was no doubt: 3 young Kestrels were looking out at us – photographed that day by a member of the Heath and Hampstead Society and posted in a Tweet.

Day 11 – Interior Decor

Monday was mostly a catch-up-on-chores day so I thought I’d feature part of my interior decor. I have so many objects and cards I could display that for some time I’ve had a different theme each year. Last year it was elephants but it so happens that this year it’s birds. Several of these items come from Traidcraft though only the triangular dish – produced in India by Noah’s Arc – is currently in their catalogue.

Monday was also the day I completed a piece of “mindful colouring”. As I do my colouring while listening to the Daily Service on BBC Radio4, I’m probably not being as mindful as I should be in either colouring or listening but the combination is a trigger to pause from scattered thoughts and busyness for 15 minutes. Nothing like some of the amazingly creative works of art we’ve been seeing through #30DaysWild but “the fruits of the spirit” seemed a relevant image for my Day 11. My attempt at giving some the apples a reddish tinge was perhaps not too successful! I think the all-green fruit look better.  fruits of Spirit
In the evening I went to choir rehearsal where we were reminded that in “The Song of the Sou’wester” (Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet) we were the storm, the “hurricane rollicking up the sea” and the overwhelming swooshing waves!

Days 8-10 not so wild?

The featured image is of the visitor centre at Lakenheath RSPB Reserve where I would have been on Saturday with Marylebone Birdwatching Society but for a not-to-be-missed offer of a Traidcraft Stall at the first spring/summer Primrose Hill Designer Sale.

IMG_4750

I’ve been involved with the annual Designer Sale in December for some years, initially helping the resident Traidcraft Fair Trader but more recently running the stall with Ruth’s help. It was a gamble taking a stall at this “Spring Edition” – would people be as keen to buy as they are a couple of weeks before Christmas? (my stall is ideal for stocking fillers) + lots of summer fairs happening on the same day + not yet an established “annual”. In the last few years I’d set up on the Friday evening on my own – making 2 or 3 trips to the church with my bags and cases – but I’d been able to rely on getting a lift home at the end of the event. This time all potential helpers were otherwise engaged but, familiar with the church and the Designer Sale set up, I was confident stall-holders would help one another and the Tea Room people would come round regularly taking and delivering orders. And the Church Administrator had said I’d be able to leave luggage to collect another day if necessary though they’d be clearing up for a couple of hours after the event which gave me time to take everything home in 3 x 1/2hr round trips. My sales were less than 1/2 those of last December but I heard today that the event overall was a success. Probably not “cost-effective” for me in terms of effort and given I’d sacrificed a pre-paid coach trip, but an enjoyable event and I’d have regretted not being a part of this new venture.

So my “wild” for Day 8 #30DaysWild was to contribute to other people’s trip to Weeting Heath and Lakenheath – dealing with late bookings and cancellations and emailing the list to the coach leader for “ticking off”.

I also enjoyed breakfast with entertainment from Blue Tits and Blackbirds at 1st floor level of the tree outside and close encounters with the resident Robins when I went out. And there are currently some very noisy Blue Tits outside my bedroom window!

Over the course of the weekend I walked up and down Belsize Park Gardens twice to go to the Laundrette, 6 times to go to St Mary’s Primrose Hill for the Designer Sale and another twice this evening to go to the same church for a concert. Each time I noticed this colourful garden though it was only today, on my 19th walk past, that I was able to take a picture.
IMG_4754

So not much wild this weekend but even as I trudged up the road (doesn’t look it but definitely UP) at the end of a long day and with heavy case and bag on the 1st of 3 trips home… even then the song of a Blackbird made me pause to look up to where it was perched on an aerial.