Naturelog: 17th May

Posted: May 18, 2015 in Birds, Butterflies and Moths, Natural History
Tags: , , ,

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A bright sunny morning and a rare chance to visit Beddington Farmlands in the Wandle Valley near Merton.

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Beddington is a private site and only open to a few individuals for the recording of wildlife. Sewage disposal began on the site in 1860 as a form of fertilisation of the farmlands and the site consisted of a patchwork of fields and marshland. After the second world war it became a well known birding hot spot in London. But from the mid-1960s, the increase in sewage disposal on the land, the building of a sewage treatment works and the replacement of cattle grazing by horses all altered the environment to the detriment of wildlife. By the late 1970’s over half the site was occupied by sludge beds for sewage disposal. In an attempt to restore some wild habitat to the site 2 lakes were created in the 1990s. In 1998 a license was granted for use of the land for gravel extraction and land-fill and most of it was enclosed (on grounds of safety). The owners have continued to allow the monitoring of wildlife and habitat management but the site is not open to the public.

So a rare occasion for me to spy out this famous site. A group of 8 of us met our guide at the local train station and proceeded to the entrance to the site. Our first target was the lakes and here we had distant views of Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plovers.

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Also present were families of Shelduck and Canada Geese.

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From the observation point we made our way around the mound, which occupies the centre of the accessible area (the result of land-fill operations in the past). We saw Little Grebes and one Great Crested Grebe on the second lake along with a family of Mute Swans.

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It was great to see Common Swifts whirling around the sky as these seem to be becoming rarer in London. Suddenly another bird appeared, similar in shape but bigger and we watched for 5 minutes or so as a Eurasian Hobby chased the swifts around the sky. Both expert flyers and very maneuverable it had all the appearance of an arial dog-fight between fighter planes as they jinked one way and then the over. Eventually the Hobby swooped low and was lost to sight. Had it caught its prey and gone off to enjoy the fruit of its actions?

Avion común - Common Swift - Apus apus
Common Swift
Photo by Ferran Pestana (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ferranp/)

Eurasian Hobby/Falco subbuteo
Eurasian Hobby
Photo by Tong Mu (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mu_tong/)

Derek, our guide, called our attention to a butterfly which turned out to be a Painted Lady. This is a fascinating species which hatches in Africa and then migrates north to Europe. They can then breed in this country although it is unclear whether these migrate south again or are killed by the approach of winter.

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One of the great things about this site was that it was famous for it’s population of Tree Sparrow, which is found almost nowhere else in the London area. It was partly in hope of seeing this rare bird that I had come. Sadly Derek told us that from over 250 nests and almost a thousand hatched young in 2006 the population has crashed to 1 brood last year with 10 or so young and 3 nests this year none of which have produced young. It may be this is the end for this iconic species on this site since it is likely that all birds left are from last years broods and thus closely related and there are no nearby populations from which the population can be replenished. No-one is really sure why this has happened in such a short period of time. We didnt see any during our visit. It shows that even when healthy populations of a species are present, we cannot be complacent about conserving them and their habitat.

An interesting morning’s walk and thanks to London Natural History Society for organising and to Derek for showing us around.

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Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Eurasian Hobby [sp] (Falco subbuteo)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Little Ringed Plover [sp] (Charadrius dubius)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Common Swift [sp] (Apus apus)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
Sand Martin [sp] (Riparia riparia)
Barn Swallow [sp] (Hirundo rustica)
Common House Martin [sp] (Delichon urbicum)
Eurasian Reed Warbler [sp] (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
Eurasian Blackcap [sp] (Sylvia atricapilla)
Common Whitethroat [sp] (Sylvia communis)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)

Small White (Artogeia rapae)
Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Speckled Wood [sp] (Pararge aegeria)

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