Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Stacks of Stock Doves

Stock Dove (Tommy Holden)
About 17 years ago I realised that Stock Doves, a bird that I had always considered as a country bird, were secret inhabitants of inner London. It was whilst I was researching birding spots in western London for A&C Black's 'Where to Watch Birds in the London Area' that I discovered just how prevalent they were.

The first place that I noticed them was in Osterley Park in the shadow of Heathrow Airport. There seemed to be tons of them there almost to the point that they outnumbered their more familiar Woodie cousins. Closer to home I found a small breeding colony in Kensal Green Cemetery, literally a stones throw from Ladbroke Grove. There were perhaps around 6-8 pairs nesting in the holes of the old dead trees of this picturesque burial site. I found more birds in Kensington Gardens, just around the corner from the very heart of town.

It took a couple years before I noticed my first birds flying over Wormwood Scrubs. For many years Stock Doves were a regular sight at The Scrubs with up to 5 birds seen on occasional days, though more usually a few birds were seen every month. The secret was to decipher them from similar looking Feral Pigeons. To my eye, they are like small Wood Pigeons or stocky, fuller necked Feral Pigeons when seen whizzing by distantly when no plumage details could be seen.

I've had a couple of surprise encounters with this endearing pigeon. In the autumn of 2007, whilst counting high flying migrating Wood Pigeons streaming in over The Scrubs from the north, I noticed a few Stock Doves in their number. I never knew that Stock Doves moved with Woodies for a start, but most surprising was the day that I estimated around 300 had passed overhead with c15,000 Woodies during a 90 minute morning watch!

My latest notable Stock Dove moment is happening now. For the past week and for the first time ever, up to 40 birds have taken to feeding on grass seeds on the football pitches outnumbering the sprinkling of Feral and Wood Pigeons. It may not sound like much but for me it's nothing short of an ornithological wonder. Where have they all come from?

Maybe I have been overlooking these birds after all these years, but either way, I won't be overlooking them in the future.

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