The Park's birds in spring

In complete contrast to last year this spring was warm and sunny. Winter visitors departed on time and were replaced by summer visitors arriving on schedule. Resident birds started breeding without delay. One of the Park’s special birds, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, which is otherwise very elusive, became marginally less so. Sadly a male was found dead in what appeared to be a new breeding territory. There was the annual flock of Skylarks on the rugby pitches in March; this year numbering 33 but only nine males began to establish territory- a number similar to last year. Despite the new protection measures in place there was still only one pair on Lawn Field. By the end of May, however, there was an unprecedented influx to Crown Field so that eleven singing males were present. There were joined by a couple of singing Meadow Pipits which last bred in the Park in 2009. Another surprise was a breeding pair of Stonechats which fledged three young, an otherwise sporadic breeding species in recent years.

Raptors were very evident with a further increase in sightings of Peregrine, Red Kite and Buzzard, the latter even being represented by a displaying pair. Hopes were high that they might breed which would be a first for the Park since at least 1900.

Of the water birds the resident pair of Grey Herons hatched three young by early March and they were joined by three other nesting pairs so re-establishing a Heronry in the Park. A pair of Shelduck lingered and were even seen inspecting rabbit burrows as potential nest-sites which would have been another first for the Park if they had stayed. There was the usual trickle of Common Sandpipers which are normally the sole representatives of passage waders, but they were joined by an Oystercatcher, probably the same bird on two occasions, which were only the second and third records for the Park. Slightly less rare were a Little Ringed Plover and a Whimbrel which both flew through and were the fourth and fifth records for the Park respectively. Snipe, unusually unrecorded last winter, appeared as passage migrants and a Lapwing flying over Isabella Plantation was a surprise. Two Water Rail heard in the reed bed indicated at least a pair might be present. Three pairs of Common Terns were a further increase in breeding numbers but one pair chose rather riskily to nest on an old fish raft instead of the purpose-built version. A juvenile Kingfisher indicated successful breeding either in or just outside the Park.

Of the scarcer migrants a male Pheasant risked becoming road kill at Ham Cross and a Crossbill flew south in March. In mid-April a male Redstart spent a couple of days in the paddocks with an overflying Rook a rare sight. Then another scarce gamebird, a Red-legged Partridge, was also found in the privacy of the paddocks. A couple of Cuckoos sang unseen in May, a Lesser Whitethroat was only just glimpsed but a Spotted Flycatcher was rather more obliging. A Honey Buzzard topped the run of raptor sightings.

Five male Wheatears were the first of these regular migrants in the Park but also the largest group. Skylarks, however, were represented by thirty-three on the rugby pitches, some of these undoubtedly breeding birds. This occurrence is an annual feature in March. At least four Whinchats were recorded and presumably last year’s Willow Warbler returned to hold territory. Pied Wagtails again seemed to be breeding at White Lodge and a couple of pairs of Grey Wagtails frequented Beverley Brook. Four hundred Swifts massed over the Roehampton side of the Park.

The two pairs of Pen Pond Mute Swans each hatched five cygnets but the Upper Pond brood were soon reduced to three. The Upper Pen Pond pair of Egyptian Goose, which was so successful last year, raised five goslings and a pair quickly moved into the new pond near Robin Hood gate and hatched a brood of seven. A brood of seven at Isabella Plantation were route-marched all the way to Upper Pen Pond. A pair of Gadwall on the seasonal pool by Roehampton gate was a surprise, the brood of Mandarin also there was not quite so unexpected and another brood was found on Beverley Brook.

Jan Wilczur, June 2014