Plus unexpected Sighting of Grey Plovers for Scrubs Birders
August 2010 Sightings at Wormwood Scrubs
Historically, August has been viewed as the proper start of the autumn
passage in Wormwood Scrubs. Us Scrubbers eagerly await the returning
migrants in the vain hope of finding something interesting in their midst.
Previous August’s have not disappointed with avian delights like a Honey
Buzzard in 2004, Turtle Dove and an unexpected Greenshanks in 2006 and
You would be forgiven for thinking that we were due another
Greenshank given the two-year intervals in the records. Instead, we had a
mighty flock of c185 Grey Plover - a phenomenal sight.
Also of keen interest was the unidentified harrier that sailed over with crows
in hot pursuit early in the month. More expected were the long staying Pied
Flycatcher, an unprecedented number of migrant Yellow Wagtails that are likely
to break all previous records plus two Common Redstarts.
The real stars were not even birds! The Wasp Spider discovered in Chats Paddock was the first ever to be found here. This large and foreboding arachnid is a recent colonist to the UK.
Many Scrubbers finally caught up with
our elusive Common Lizards that were particularly showy on the log piles
within Chats Paddock. Up to 6 were seen throughout most of the month,
proving that this species is doing well.
Finally, a Common Waxbill an escaped cage bird was discovered in Chats Paddock on the 28th. An African species with a feral population in Portugal, we feel that this bird probably flew from an open cage somewhere in the near vicinity!
Contributors: Rob Ayers, Charlie Farrell, David Fettes, David Jeffreys,
David Lindo, Roy Nuttall, Anders Price, Neville Smith, Robert Stills et al.
The usual small numbers were noted throughout the month. The only blip was
the 5 seen on the 11th, 6 on the 16th and the 11 seen on the 31st that included
a flock of 7 (6 immatures and an adult) thermaling high overhead and then
Over 30 birds were on the Linford Christie stadium grass and adjacent school
playing fields on the 13th and the 31st. Smaller flocks were encountered during
A female flying over was an unusual distraction on the 26th for Scrubbers
busily eking out migrants. She was the first to be recorded in August since
On the afternoon of the 8th a local couple engaged in blackberry picking along
Lester’s Embankment noticed a bird of prey heading north from the prison
being furiously mobbed by crows. They recognised it as a species of harrier
and watched it for nearly a minute.
They described the bird as being an immature male Hen Harrier with ‘black
wingtips extending up a quarter of the wing’, ‘grey upper wing with buffy
underwing’. Research revealed that immature males do not attain any grey in
their plumage until their moult during their first winter.
Intriguingly, the more
likely candidate would have been the far rarer Montagu’s Harrier. Males of this
species have greyish upper parts mixed with brown (perhaps giving the
impression of being a juvenile male Hen Harrier), buffy underwings and
crucially, ‘black wingtips extending up a quarter of the wing’.
Perhaps we will never know the true identity of this fascinating bird.
This stealthy raptor was apparent on practically every visit. Most birds seen
are female-types i.e., large and brown and occasionally two were seen
simultaneously. The smaller males are more rarely seen at The Scrubs,
perhaps because they are more closely tied to woodlands, so it was nice to
report birds on the 9th and the 31st.
After a sporadic summer of sightings this familiar falcon began to be seen
more regularity from the 6th. On the 16th at least 3 birds were seen consisting
of an immature male and 2 unsexed birds.
The first bird (or perhaps birds) of the year was seen on the 13th briefly
heading north over the northern edge of Scrubs Lane Wood. It or another was
later seen unsuccessfully hunting the spooked Goldfinches over Central
Copse and the grassland before heading north again.
Ten days later, a bird drifted in high from the east against a backdrop of dark
threatening clouds. The final birds of the month flew in from the north on the
30th that circuited the site for 5 minutes whilst the following day another swept
west over Braybrook Wood with Swifts in hot pursuit.
Perhaps the most incredible sights of the year was the huge flock of waders
that flew in a dense formation from the north on the 23rd before spreading out
into a wavering line as they headed southwest. We estimated that the flock
contained nearly 200 birds with around 185 of them thought to be Grey
Plovers. There were around 15 smaller waders in the group that we
considered to be probable Dunlins. A quick phone call to alert our birding
colleagues in Southwest London followed and at least 40 were picked up
moments later over the Staines area and identified as Grey Plovers.
This was our 2nd ever record of this northern plover at The Scrubs and
perhaps one of the largest flocks of this species ever seen over central
London. A truly amazing London record.
Our first winter record for 2010 flew north over the grassland on the 16th.
As in August 2009 numbers began to build during the month starting with a
humble moulting singleton flying over on the 5th. The most seen was around
40 on the 13th and 30th and 50 plus on the 31st.
An adult was watched flying west along the southern edge on the 12th whilst
two near adults headed northwest on the 15th.
Reasonable numbers were noticed usually overhead with the vast majority
being young birds. At least 15 were counted on the 14th and over 30 on the
15th and 31st.
The usual trickle drifted over during the month although at least 12 were
noticed on the 15th.
We have never had mid summer records of this huge maritime gull in the past
so it was quite a shock when two flew over on the 17th and 31st. This species
until now was strictly a rare winter visitor.
Over 20 birds were present on the 4th and it almost felt like a throwback to the
heady days in June when large numbers gathered. It turned out to be a oneoff
occasion as every other day in August resulted in the usual singleton being
sighted heading over aside from the 5th when 5 were seen.
An average of 60 birds were seen on a daily basis that was on a par with this
time last year.
Most of our birds had dissipated south so to see any birds during August was
a treat. We had several records of one or two birds during the period with
some of the larger counts included 7 over the grassland on the 22nd and 5 on
the 25th. The biggest count was reserved for the last day of the month when
over 80 passed through.
At least 2000 birds were roosting along Lester’s Embankment nightly leaving
noisily every morning at dawn in flocks hundreds strong. Interestingly, a blue
morphed bird was noticed on the 19th.
At least one bird was seen or more usually heard on a near daily basis mostly
from within Scrubs Lane Wood. On the 28th though, 3 birds were located.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Birds were seen and heard on practically every visit.
Following two early returning birds in July, autumn migration began in earnest
on the 9th with the appearance of a single bird heading north over Lester’s
Embankment. We had to wait until the 25th for another single bird to pass
through. On the 28th 8 birds were counted including 4 that stayed to feed and
the final birds of the month was a loner on the 30th and around 8 heading
northward on the 31st.
There has been a grand total of around 21 birds since July - a paltry figure but
they are the best July/August numbers since 2006.
A pair headed north on the 15th and were surprisingly our first record for the
year. Another pair replicated the path of the previous birds on the 23rd.
As usual for this time of year numbers of this little brown job dropped of the
chart with some days registering absolutely no birds. The biggest counts
included at least 6 on the 9th increasing to around 16 birds on the 14th.
After a barren spring (apart from a possible that headed north in late May) our
first bird of the year was seen on the 30th as it flew from a bush on the
grassland area to the trees in Chats Paddock.
An unprecedented run of autumn records proceeded from the 16th with a
singleton that flew in from the east and landed in the western side of the
grassland. In total at least 18 were recorded including an individual that
landed in the grassland north of the prison at last light on the 24th.
At least 6 were around on the 5th including at least 3 juveniles, one of which
remained on the Linford Christie stadium grass on the 9th. A late flying bird
was watched heading over the grassland at 7.30pm on the 23rd.
At least 6 were sighted on the 9th and 13th. Up to 8 were noticed on the 16th.
Low numbers were recorded during August.
At least 6 were seen on the 6th including a juvenile and a minimum of 12 on
A female was briefly seen on Lester’s Embankment on the 25th and a male
was seen, again briefly, in the grassland before disappearing off into Central
On the 13th a pair flew out of the grassland towards the prison to land in the
short grass and were our first returning birds. Hot on their heels was the one
seen briefly on the grassland on 26th before heading north over the
An evening birding stint on the 16th produced 3 of these archetypal autumn
Scrubs migrants in the grassland, their classic haunt here. They and others
sometimes brought the total to between one and 5 birds and were still to be
found at the month’s end.
These birds were the first of the autumn, a day earlier than last year but not
our earliest. That accolade went to a seemingly fresh juvenile that was
glimpsed in the pouring rain on a treetop in Heron Copse on the 5th August
Small numbers were noted during the month with 4 being the prized total on
Decidedly scarce this year, this large bold thrush is normally seen at The
Scrubs during late summer. True to form 5 were discovered in and around the
Linford Christie Stadium on the 17th. However, they didn’t stick around
although a single bird was found there on the 28th.
A minimum of 15 was counted on the 9th.
Our first bird of the autumn appeared on Lester’s Embankment on the 9th with
another discovered at the same location on the 13th. The following day 3 birds
were discovered and they were still present the subsequent day. This stocky
warbler has yet to been proven as a breeder on The Scrubs. In previous years
up to 4 birds have held territory, singing well into June before melting away.
A good count of at least 14 birds was made on the 9th increasing to over 20 on
the 11th. Lesser numbers were present throughout the month.
Skulking birds were seen throughout the month with peaks mostly along
Lester’s Embankment of around 7 seen on the 9th and at least 9 birds on the
11th. Other birds were noted with much less regularity from Heron Copse and
Southern Copse. It is at this time that the males can look particularly
handsome with their black, white and grey plumage. Closer inspection also
reveals a beautiful buffy wash across their flanks.
Fairly good numbers were seen throughout the month - an echo of August
2009 - with a good proportion being immature birds. At many as 25 birds were
seen on several dates mostly on Lester’s Embankment and the grassland
increasing to over 30 on the 11th and 15th.
A couple of immatures were found on Lester’s Embankment on the 9th and
were our first for the autumn. These birds were identified as youngsters due to
the slight streaking on their breast plumage. Another was found on the 14th
again along the embankment.
A bird was briefly seen on Lester’s Embankment with a mixed warbler and tit
flock on the 9th it was our first record for 2010. Other singles were seen at the
same location on the 14th, 21st, 22nd,
A series of migrants passed through during the month starting with two on the
9th in Martin Bell’s Wood and Scrubs Lane Wood. The peak counts were 7
birds on the 12th and a respectable 12 plus on the 25th.
August belongs to the Willow Warbler, the Chiffchaff’s horribly similar-looking
congener, as they often outnumbered by them. September is the month that
this understated warbler reigns. The migrant Willow Warbler numbers
dramatically drop-off during September whilst Chiffchaff’s presence rises. At
least 7 were seen on the 9th rising to 10 on the 30th and 31st.
Formally an annual spring migrant at The Scrubs this adorable flycatcher
ceased being a regular awaited visitor in 2006. Indeed, none had been seen
since then, so a skulking bird found in the Maple Trees near the picnic area at
the western end of the site on the 20th was a treat. The fact that it stayed in
practically the same tree for the next 6 days was simply unbelievable. It drew
a constant stream of birders anxious to catch up with this very elusive visitor.
Our previous long stayer, a pristine spring male, remained in Chats Paddock
for just a day and the following morning in April 2006.
The interesting lesson in all this is that migrants sometimes spend inordinate
amounts of time just sitting still deep in the canopy. Which just goes to
highlight the fact that so many birds must go unnoticed right above our heads.
Our first birds this year showed up on the 23rd in the northwest corner. A pair
frequented the area being much more visible than their Pied cousin for the
best part of 2 days.
At least 12 were noticed on the 9th and 15 on the 30th.
Over 20 birds were conservatively counted on the 9th, 30th and 31st. A more
realistic figure of over 50 was estimated on the 15th.
Troops of this endearing sprite were prevalent around The Scrubs during
August with around 20 on the 9th being a reasonable count. At least 35 were
noted on the 15th.
Around 25 were counted on the 15th.
As with last year, birds began popping up with far more frequency and were
the first to be reported since late June. Singletons were reported principally
from Martin Bell’s Wood, Scrubs Lane Wood and Chats Paddock. At least 2
were seen on the 26th and 3 on the 30th.
A single bird was heard calling from the Channel Tunnel Depot area on the
17th. Others were noticed on the 23rd, 24th and the 25th.
The maximum count was at least 200 birds on the 5th. An observer reported
some interesting behaviour displayed by three crows that flew into Chat’s
Paddock and landed in the willows on the 20th. One had something tasty and
when one of its congeners tried to cheekily get a nibble, the owner grappled
for a perch and ended up grasping only a slender willow wand. This quickly
bent down under the crow’s weight resulting in the bird hanging upside
down at the end of a three-foot-long twig. After a moment, it let go and fell
into the twigs below, where after a bit of thrashing, it righted itself, still in
possession of the morsel.
Reasonable numbers were still present during the month with flocks of mostly
immatures habituating the grassland. Prior to the end of the month the biggest
counts came on the 5th when at least 60 were present and on the 15th when
80 were thought to be in the grassland. All counts were still rather less than
last month until the 30th when over 200 were present.
Away from Braybrook Street a few were heard calling from Lester’s
Embankment on the 5th a location that on the 13th also produced a female and
an immature male. The peak count was 30 flying along the northern edge of
the prison to Braybrook Street on the 15th.
A bird calling from Braybrook Wood on the 11th was the first report for August
and the first since June. Another was glimpsed on the 15th whilst 2 were seen
on the 17th and singletons on the 20th and 31st.
A couple were noticed amongst the Goldfinch flocks that danced around
Lester’s Embankment during the month. The maximum count was 8 on the
Despite the presence of up to 120 birds on the grassland, numbers are sadly
down on previous years. Indeed, the peak count was of around 200 on the 9th.
Last year there were up to 250 birds around but during August 2004 over 400
used to feed on the thistles in the grassland.
The demise of this finch at The Scrubs has been dramatic. This time last year
there was at least 20 birds to look at. This year, birds were sporadically seen
with 10 on the 11th being the largest count.
The family group of up to 5 birds were seen daily during the month. The
youngsters were exploring areas outside of their natal grassland habitat and
ranged into Chats Paddock, Central Copse and surrounding environs.
2010 Year List
2. Grey Heron
3. Mute Swan
5. Canada Goose
7. Tufted Duck
9. Red Kite
10. Marsh Harrier
11. Common Buzzard
15. Little Ringed Plover
16. Grey Plover
19. Black-headed Gull
20. Mediterranean Gull
21. Common Gull
22. Herring Gull
23. Lesser Black-back
24. Great Black-back
25. Common Tern
26. Feral Pigeon
28. Stock Dove
29. Collared Dove
31. Rose-ringed Parakeet
32. Green Woodpecker
33. Great Spotted Woodpecker
36. House Martin
37. Sand Martin
38. Meadow Pipit
39. Tree Pipit
40. Pied/White Wagtail
41. Grey Wagtail
42. Yellow Wagtail
46. Black Redstart
47. Common Redstart
50. Northern Wheatear
51. Song Thrush
54. Mistle Thrush
55. Ring Ouzel
57. Garden Warbler
59. Garden Warbler
60. Lesser Whitethroat
61. Common Whitethroat
62. Sedge Warbler
63. Reed Warbler
64. Willow Warbler
66. Spotted Flycatcher
67. Pied Flycatcher
68. Great Tit
69. Blue Tit
70. Long-tailed Tit
75. Carrion Crow
77. House Sparrow
80. Lesser Redpoll
84. Reed Bunting
Red type denotes a bird new for the year.
84 species thus far
(79 species in August 2009 & 86 in August 2008)
Compartments within Wormwood Scrubs
Martin Bell’s Wood – formally known as the Southern Paddock is situated on the south eastern corner close to Scrubs Lane.
Scrubs Lane Wood – the strip of woodland on the eastern edge of the site running the length of Scrubs Lane to the east and along the northern edge to
Chats Paddock in the west.
Chats Paddock - will also be known as the main lizard habitat.
Lester’s Embankment – marks the north western border of the Scrubs and is also referred to as ‘the embankment’. Now named after Lester Holloway who
in the 80’s unsuccessfully campaigned to stop British Rail developing on the Scrubs.
North West Corner – the western edge of the Scrubs.
Braybrook Woods – the woodland strip running along the southern edge from Braybrook Street up to and including outside the prison along the
September 30, 2010