Wednesday, 30 September 2015

August at Wormwood Scrubs Local Nature Reserve

August 2105 –Wormwood Scrubs Sightings
The Scrubs - looking east
 This month was a bit of a weird one this year. During some of the previous Augusts, we have been spoilt by larger numbers of a bigger diversity of migrant species. For example, we recorded no Northern Wheatears or Yellow Wagtails this month whilst Willow Warbler and Hobby sightings were thin on the ground. That said, September has always been the month that sees the floodgates breached with a slew of common migrants making appearances sometimes with a speckling of scarcer of even rare visitors.

This year we were blessed with the chance sighting of a Wryneck, a bird whose appearance although not wholly unexpected, is still enough to set even an experienced birder’s heart racing. Let’s hope that seeing this beautiful bird will be a precursor of what is to come in September.

A few were noted during the month and they were certainly not recorded on every visit. Indeed, they seemed to be more numerous in the past with a minimum of two birds seen per visit. The peak count was three on the 8th.

Little Egret
A singleton winged its way north over the embankment on the 8th constituting our 10th record and the first outside of May and June, their usual window for occurring over The Scrubs.

Grey Heron
A couple of birds were reported this month involving an individual seen flying west along the embankment on the 3rd and another north of the embankment on the 7th.

Seven headed west over Central Copse on the 11th.

Common Buzzard
Incredibly, one was discovered sitting partially obscured in a tiny patch of woodland near the bund on the 11th. It was being scolded by a pair of Magpies causing it to frequently shift position from branch to branch and to mew occasionally. This was the first official record of a Buzzard in a tree on The Scrubs although anecdotal evidence suggests that this is a far more common occurrence than what it appears. Over the years various dog walkers have been describing raptors sitting in trees that sounded like good Buzzards. 

Singletons, usually female-types, were seen on a near daily basis hunting the grassland or along the embankment in search of small passerines. A male was seen land on a tree in Braybrook Wood opposite the prison briefly on the 8th before being hotly pursued by Carrion Crows. Meanwhile, on the 25th an immature male briefly alighted on a willow in the northwest corner whilst being chased by Magpies.


This iconic falcon is a bit local scarcity these days so it was pleasing to record two individuals that were seen on a near daily basis equally hunting the grassland or being furiously mobbed by the corvids.

Uncommon migrant
Our first record for the year involved an adult patrolling the edge of Braybrook Woods opposite the prison on the 8th. It was last seen diving at an impossible rate south of the prison. A second bird was watched spectacularly hunting along the embankment on the 19th.

Black-headed Gull
Small numbers were encountered throughout the month. Over 200 were hawking flying ants over the grassland on the 2nd. This gathering increased to c300 on the 7th this time hunting the ants over the playing fields.

Herring Gull
The peak count of 40 was made on the 7th.

Lesser Black-back
This larid was seen on daily basis with the maximum counts of 10 birds made on the 7th and the 16th.

Stock Dove
 Stock Dove

A few, usually no more than three, were seen either within the grassland or heading over during the month.

Wood Pigeon
Up to 60 birds were encountered on most visits.

Common summer visitor
Our peak count was an astounding 200+ hawking flying ants over the mown grass north of the prison on the afternoon of the 2nd. This flock was feeding separately 200 metres to the north of a bunch of  adjacent gulls that were feeding over the grassland. This collection of Swifts was our largest August flock ever with the next biggest count occurring in 2007 on the 15th when c100 swooped low over the grassland at 6.30am before promptly disappearing.

Ordinarily, we only record daily maximum totals of no more than 40 of these supreme flyers, a number that was not equaled this year. On the 5th 20 were counted swilling overhead.

Very rare
Incredibly, on the 15th one flew at rooftop level over Braybrook Wood and over the rooftops of Braybrook Street. It was our 5th record for the site.

Rose-ringed Parakeet
No real counts were made of this invasive species this month. Over 300 were casually noted on the 16th.

Green Woodpecker
This species obviously nested within the area as a juvenile was continually seen throughout the month. We can’t rule it out as one of the offspring that emanated from nearby Kensal Green Cemetery, to the east of The Scrubs. To date, we have never found a Green Woodpecker nest on site.

Other records included a female found in the playpen adjacent to Martin Bell’s Wood on the 16th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
This ‘pecker was not as frequently seen or even heard this year as they normally. There were sporadic records of single birds throughout the month.

Very rare
Incredibly, one was seen well but very briefly in a blackthorn bush in the grassland on the 30th whilst the observer was counting the gathering Common Whitethroats. It flew into vision in loose association with the Whitethroats, posed for a couple of seconds before melting away. It could not be found thereafter despite being searched for.

It’s our third record of this gorgeous woodpecker easily making it the bird of the month and one of the highlights of the year.

Common passage migrant
Our first passing autumn migrants were recorded on the 17th when two headed north separately. Another lingered over the grassland on the 30th before drifting north.

House Martin
Uncommon passage migrant
Four drifted south over Braybrook Woods on the 15th and were our first for the year. This hirundine is a scarcity at The Scrubs.

Meadow Pipit
Our paltry breeding population of some three or four pairs usually largely vacates The Scrubs during August whilst the far more numerous winter visiting transients start to arrive in force during September. So, as a consequence records of the odd bird were far and few between. Three were noted from the grassland on the 15th and 16th.

Bad record shot of a Tree Pipit!
 Tree Pipit

Regular passage migrant
Four birds including one obliging individual were seen and heard on the 25th. A lone bird remained on the 27th.

Pied Wagtail
This familiar bird was barely reported this month. Two were seen on the 1st

This diminutive bird with a loud voice was a fairly commonly encountered resident during August with at least six seen per visit.

Juvenile Dunnock

Frequently encountered, a maximum of eight on the 25th was almost certainly a conservative guess.

The National Bird was commonly seen with plenty of fledglings noted early on in the month. At least seven were counted on the 16th.

Common Redstart
Uncommon passage migrant
A female was glimpsed very briefly as it dived into cover in Central Copse on the 30th. It was seen well in the same area the following day.


Regular passage migrant
The first bird of the autumn, and indeed of the year, was found in the grassland on the 15th. An immature bird was then found the following day. By the 19th there were two birds present and they were seen intermittently until the 27th when six were discovered. The sextet were still haunting the grassland on the 30th

Immature Song Thrush
 Song Thrush

Common resident and migrant
This common thrush is mostly seen along the embankment with lesser numbers noted in Scrubs Lane Wood on the eastern border of the site. During August sightings are thin on the ground so a peak count of three on the 16th was a treat.

Common resident and migrant
Although a common bird, like the Song Thrush the Blackbird tends to put on a bit of a disappearing act during late summer as birds keep their heads down whilst they moult. The birds that are seen tend to be immature ones. The usual count was usually no more that five birds, however at least 22 were seen on the 16th.

Garden Warbler
Uncommon passage migrant
Our first record for the year was discovered along the embankment on the 5th. Solitary Garden Warblers are occasionally discovered singing in the spring but they have never bred. August is typically the month that this inconspicuous warbler is discovered at The Scrubs.

Female Blackcap

Common summer breeding migrant
One of our most common warblers and August is the month that they start to proliferate as their numbers are buoyed up by the plentiful presence of juveniles. Their chosen area to fattened up on berries is the embankment although they can be encountered in lower densities almost anywhere on the patch. Up to 22 were counted during the month although at least 25 were counted on the 18th.

Lesser Whitethroat
Uncommon summer breeding migrant
Fewer numbers were seen this year than in previous ones with lone birds occasionally encountered predominantly along the embankment. Two were found along the embankment on the 18th.

Common Whitethroat
Common summer breeding migrant
Most of our Whitethroats nest in the grassland and along the embankment. A couple pairs persist along the southern edge of the site around Martin Bells Wood where in previous years they were more prevalent. Most of the youngsters converge on the grassland with the adults, excitedly chasing each other around between bouts of gorging on the blackberries as a precursor to migration. There was a consistent group sometimes in excess of 30 in the relatively small area of scrub within the grassland from the 8th through until the end of the month.

Grasshopper Warbler
Rare passage migrant
A probable was briefly flushed twice on the 18th from tall vegetation near the northwest corner. It’s slight build, rounded tail and weak fluttery flight were noted but the bird was not seen clearly enough nor for long enough to clinch its identity. Interestingly, it was flushed from the same area the following day by a birder who was unaware of its presence the previous day.

These sightings preceded the two individuals found in the London on the 20th. Grasshopper Warblers are usually very skulking birds that would rather creep in the grass like a mouse than to expose themselves in flight. They are probably regular migrants to The Scrubs but to date have only been reliably identified on three separate occasions and all until now have been found during September.

Sedge Warbler
Uncommon passage migrant
A migrant was found on the 15th amongst the scrub on the grassland with the Common Whitethroats.

Reed Warbler
Scarce passage migrant
A bird was discovered quietly foraging in an apple tree on the embankment on the 25th. It or another was seen again in the same general area on the 30th.

Willow Warbler
Regular passage migrant
August is the month that this migrant tends to pass through our patch. Singles were occasionally noted from the 16th until the 25th.

Common summer breeding migrant
No amazing counts were made during the month indicating that they may not have had a good breeding season. We could not muster more than single figure counts for the month.

Spotted Flycatcher
 Spotted Flycatcher

Uncommon passage migrant
An obliging bird was discovered in the northwest corner of the grassland on the 17th. It or others were present until the 30th along the embankment.

Great Tit
Common resident
The count of five birds on the 16th was probably a gross underestimate of the true numbers present.

Blue Tit
Common resident
A peak count of 30 was made on the 8th.

Long-tailed Tit
Common resident
Troops of these endearing birds were a little thin on the ground this month with flocks containing six being the average.

Common resident
An average count of 20 birds was made for the month.

Carrion Crow
Common resident
Numbers were fairly consistent during the month with around 100 noted. At least 120 were counted on the 16th.

Common resident
Worryingly, low numbers were seen during the month. When we should have been counting garrulous groups in excess of 100 first-winter birds, instead we were lucky to find 10 birds and often it was fewer than that. The peak count was of around 40 birds that frequented the hospital area on the 30th.

Our biggest August murmuration involved over 500 immature birds in 2006 that attracted daily attacks from the local Sparrowhawk population. On August 18th 2005, over 300 birds were hawking ants high in the clear blue sky in 2005. Some of them were so high in the sky that they were initially mistaken for Swifts!

There has been a gradual decline since 2007. Where have all our Starlings gone?

House Sparrow
Uncommon resident
This is yet another scarce species whose stronghold are around the gardens backing onto the western wing of the prison and the streets of Acton directly adjacent to the western edge of The Scrubs. Very few birds were actually seen with most records simply referring to birds heard chirping.

During August 2006 upwards of 100 birds were roosting in the trees of Braybrook Wood. Those heady numbers do not seem to exist anymore.

Uncommon summer breeding migrant
Although our small breeding colony tends to move off site during August there are usually up to 10 birds to be found during the month. This year the peak count was of three birds seen on the 16th

Common resident

A reasonable sized flock of around 120 gathered on the grassland to feed on the seeding thistles and other plants. Goldfinches were more numerous in the past. For example, during August 2004 we had upwards of 400 birds in the grassland.

Common resident
Very few were noticed during the month apart from the 16th when at least 40 were present, mostly in and around the embankment.

Common Buzzard being mobbed by two Magpies

 Year list as at September 12th 2015

  1. Cormorant

  1. Mute Swan

  1. Greylag

  1. Canada Goose

  1. Egyptian Goose

  1. Mallard

  1. Pintail

  1. Red Kite

  1. Common Buzzard

  1. Sparrowhawk

  1. Kestrel

  1. Hobby

  1. Peregrine

  1. Woodcock

  1. Snipe

  1. Black-headed Gull

  1. Common Gull

  1. Mediterranean Gull

  1. Herring Gull

  1. Lesser Black-back

  1. Great Black-back

  1. Feral Pigeon

  1. Stock Dove

  1. Wood Pigeon

  1. Collared Dove

  1. Swift

  1. Kingfisher

  1. Rose-ringed Parakeet

  1. Green Woodpecker

  1. Great Spotted Woodpecker

  1. Wryneck

  1. Skylark

  1. Swallow

  1. House Martin

  1. Meadow Pipit

  1. Tree Pipit

  1. Pied Wagtail

  1. Yellow Wagtail

  1. Wren

  1. Dunnock

  1. Robin

  1. Nightingale

  1. Common Redstart

  1. Northern Wheatear

  1. Whinchat

  1. Stonechat

  1. Song Thrush

  1. Redwing

  1. Mistle Thrush

  1. Fieldfare

  1. Blackbird

  1. Ring Ouzel

  1. Garden Warbler

  1. Blackcap

  1. Lesser Whitethroat

  1. Common Whitethroat

  1. Sedge Warbler

  1. Reed Warbler

  1. Willow Warbler

  1. Chiffchaff

  1. Spotted Flycatcher

  1. Great Tit

  1. Blue Tit

  1. Long-tailed Tit

  1. Magpie

  1. Jay

  1. Jackdaw

  1. Carrion Crow

  1. Starling

  1. House Sparrow

  1. Chaffinch

  1. Linnet

  1. Goldfinch

  1. Greenfinch

  1. Siskin

  1. Reed Bunting

  1. Yellowhammer