Archive for the ‘Greenwich Wildlife’ Category

When Doggy Met Seal-y

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I do hope Nicola’s okay with my sharing this with you – Matt found it the other day and it’s really rather wonderful. It was taken on 2nd Feb this year (in some rare sunshine) near Morden Wharf and shows a curious seal (who appears from his tag to be a rehabilitated chap on holiday from near King’s Lynn in Norfolk) who can’t quite work out what Nicola’s dog’s intentions are.

At first I couldn’t either and was rather worried about the barking – but when the seal kept coming back for more, and I saw the dog’s tail wagging, I realised they were just intrigued by each other.

I’m assuming that Nicola and Co. are from a Thames conservancy project or similar. Nicola – if you’re around, I’d like to know some more…

Just a heads up – Real Life is getting in the way again this week, posting may be patchy.

The Birds of Greenwich Park

Monday, September 24th, 2012

I admit it – I got up today in a very grumpy mood – not least because of the gloomy weather outside. It’s like someone’s flicked the ‘Autumn’ switch since Saturday and suddenly I’m all fed up.

But then I opened an email sent to me by Joe, telling me about his blog, Greenwich Wildlife, and suddenly, for a few moments on a grey, wet, Monday morning, it was Summer again in Phantom Towers. It’s a photography blog, which makes the Phantom’s own Greenwich Wildlife section somewhat redundant and if it slips off-topic very occasionally, I’m not going to moan. It’s nice to be able to put names to butterflies or birds I’ve seen around but known nothing about.

Joe has the great humility to tell me that it’s an ‘amateur’ blog.

Joe – I’ve got news for you – we’re all amateurs. The number of people that can make actual money on blogs is teeny – and that’s usually only if a) it’s a saucy read that sends a sensitive Phantom all hot under the tricorn or b) you write an actual proper, paper book based on it. Now – Joe’s plumped for the latter (though given the history of Greenwich Birds I’m sure there’s room for the former too…), and has co-authored the publication pictured at the top of the post – but he’s fallen down on the whole ‘making money’ bit.

The Birds of Greenwich Park 1996-2011 is FREE.

It’s “an annotated checklist of the birds known to have been recorded in the Park during those years“, and the idea is “to raise awareness amongst local people and officialdom of the wildlife around them and hopefully this will encourage them to then take some steps towards helping it, however small those steps might be.”  Joe points out that sometimes things are lost simply because people didn’t realise they were there.

It’s published by Royal Parks and you can get your sweaty mitts on a copy, free, gratis, for nothing and at no extra charge,  at the Park Office next to the police station.

It might be fun to use it like an ‘I-Spy’ book – see how many you can spot on a walk round the park…

Thank you Joe. My mood has turned from Autumnal glum to crisp anticipation of hot pumpkin soup, brisk park walks, strange fairy toadstools, roasted Greenwich chestnuts and ghost stories round a roaring fire…

Birds of All Feathers – Crowes, Ravens and Chickens

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

A collection of bird-related stories –  in the loosest possible sense.


First – in case you missed the earlier post, Stephen’s sent me a pic of the basic stage for Les Miserables which is coming for filming this week with Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway etc etc. Looks like a big prod, so don’t expect much Easter access to ORNC, but plenty of star-gazing and singing along to do. Altogether now, I dreamed a dream in time gone by


Secondly Stephen also told me about a rather odd story in the Times a few days ago. One of the ravens at the Tower went missing last year, after the Raven Master allowed some of her flight feathers (which are trimmed to prevent escape) to grow back again. He spent two days in Greenwich, ‘whistling at the trees’ after a Blue Badge Guide at the Observatory reported a ‘large bird’ in the trees outside. It’s is a wonderful image. I do hope he was in full Beefeater regalia. Munin, the bird concerned, flew off and was eventually lured back with a piece of chicken by a chap who’d spotted her in his back garden. It’s a lovely story and I’d give you a link, but I refuse to give Murdoch any cash so can’t actually get behind that pay wall.


Ah yes. Continuing the Pier story, Matt from Beware of the Trees tells me ” I had a quick chat with one of the people organising the ferry queues, who told me that everything would be opening this coming Wednesday. Given Byron and F&B now have menus up by the doors, and F&B was full of staff in full uniform having what looked like a dress rehearsal, this seems very possible. It’s seems a bit less likely that Nando’s and Zizzi will be open, but who knows.

In the true spirit of investigative journalism, Matt looked at the relevant company websites, to see if they were offering any confirmation. You’ll be pleased to know that F&B’s claim to be opening in March, and Nando’s are under the impression that they are opening in Greenwich Village.

Nice to see they have aspirations in the Big Apple too…

Greenwich Wildlife (12)

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Isn’t this a fine sight? This is the sign of one healthy river – and a river that flows right through a capital city. And this photo was taken in Greenwich – right by the King’s Steps on Greenwich beach.

Emma lives in East Greenwich and has the enviable job (well on a gorgeous day like today, anyway) of working for the Environment Agency as a Fisheries Officer, looking after the Tidal Thames, Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool.

Twice a year she and her pals at the EA get to carry out fish surveys at eight sites on the river – from Richmond in the west to Stanford-le-Hope (Essex) in the east.

She says “The data collected in these fish surveys helps us to understand the health of the river, which we need to report back to the EU. We survey the populations of fish using several different methods over the period that the tide turns at low water (known as slack water). Using several different methods means that we can survey as much of the river at that site as possible – a beam trawl is used to look at the deaper water, a seine net is used to survey the shallower margins and a kick net is used to look for tiny fish at the water’s edge.”

The fish are from their last year’s survery and are remarkable for the sheer variety of species. The one on the top of this post shows bream – which is a freshwater fish, and smelt, an esturine species.

And this:

…is a sea bass  (don’t tell the local restaurateurs, eh…) which is very definitely a marine species. The Thames has them all. Emma tells me that all these fish were caught in the same half hour period, “showing how valuable the intertidal foreshore area is in Greenwich for all kinds of fish”.

The last pic isn’t quite Greenwich but I couldn’t resist it. It’s a sight that Emma spotted, presumably whilst up to her thighs in water, in Brookmill Park near Deptford Bridge station. It’s on the wall of the DLR line where it comes up to the banks of the river Ravensbourne. “The river here was restored when the DLR wanted to use the concrete river channel as a place to lay the new line, so they built a new natural channel for the river to run in next to it, creating valuable new habitat for fish, birds such as kingishers and other wildlife” – and rarer mammals too, such as this RiverBanksy, which I adore as it really looks like it’s wading through undergrowth by the emasculated river. Truly an urban species…

Emma and her fishermans friends will be back in Greenwich on the 5th October to carry out their autumn survey. They’ll be by the naval college, at low tide which is around 1430. Emma says “We should be there from around 1400. Keep an eye out for us and our little silver Environment Agency boat, anyone is welcome to come and watch!”

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Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

There I was, early-morning cuppa in hand, sitting outside in the one square minute of sunshine we got over the bank holiday, when a cat hurtled by, not at all interested in me or the cuppa but with that dazed skyward look that only cats get when they’re concentrating on chasing something really good.

Of course the dragonfly was far too high and far too skittish for a mere pussycat to  dream of catching, but that didn’t stop said feline from hunkering down under the bush the fly ended up in and preparing for what turned out to be a long wait.

The dragonfly (which was enormous as such things go, a good seven or eight centimetres) settled on a leaf and just hung there. Long enough for me to put the tea down, nip inside, find the camera (not always an easy feat) take several photos ( quite close-up, I could have easily picked it up if its boggle-eyes hadn’t made me feel slightly queasy) drink the rest of my tea, go indoors, go out for the day. For all I know she’s still there though the cat must have lost interest by now.

Now I have to say that I am surprised at this. I have never seen a dragonfly round these parts and certainly not chez Phantom as I am not a pond-owner. Guess there must be some kind of water feature big enough to support dragonflies in a neighbour’s garden.

I looked it up on the utterly fascinating British Dragonflies site and I think it is a female Golden-Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) as it has parallel sides and a very long ovipositer, a pub-quiz-worthy word whose meaning I guessed at but in trying to look it up  caused me to discover the similarities between dragonflies, Alien and something H.P. Lovecraft would have been proud to invent (scroll down the link’s page if you haven’t already had breakfast this morning.)

I’ve been checking in A.D. Webster’s 1902 gem Greenwich Park, Its History and Associations, which  lists the flora and fauna of the park a hundred-odd years ago, but despite several pages on trees, birds, animals and flowers, and a good couple of pages of three columns of listed butterflies and moths, he doesn’t mention dragonflies at all. In London’s Natural History, written just post-war, they are spoken of only fleetingly.

In fact they seem to be a bit also-ran in many ways – the poor relation of butterflies and moths in the public imagination – which makes me all the more grateful for the British Dragonfly Society. Thank God not everyone finds them as shuddery (but in a very strange way exceptionally beautiful too) as me. After all, who isn’t enchanted when they catch a fleeting glimpse of one darting over a stream in the countryside of a summer’s day?  It’s just when they settle in a bush inches away from my head and just hang there, that I start to twitch…

Anyone else seen any dragonflies round here?

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Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Sorry to all you arachnophobes – but I just had to share this guy with you. I just inadvertently made him homeless by walking straight through his web, and although he seemed reasonably happy to set up camp in my hair, I’m afraid I failed to see the long-term potential…

He’s now busily spinning another giant flytrap, which I daresay I’ll be accidentally walking through later.  There’s nothing spiders like better than Autumn (apart from Phantom hair, apparently, which proves you should never go out without your tricorn) and although there are many things I like better than spiders, I had to admit he’s quite a specimen – a good two and a half centimetres across, most of which seems to be belly, so, given that the females are usually larger than the males, I’m probably mis-genderising her.

I understand she’s the large garden or ‘cross’ spider (Araneus diadematus) which could spark all manner of Not The Nine O’Clock News gags about her thoughts when I invaded her domain, but actually I’ll leave you to read up the rest of the Wikipedia article about her as although I don’t have a big problem with spiders, this post is beginning to make my flesh crawl a little.

Once again, sorry about the pic above to anyone of a nervous disposition. Here is a picture of some kittens, by Kate, to calm your nerves. You can get off the chair now. Nasty Bad Phantom… 

A Pair Of Lost Nutters

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Following up the post about the squirrel burying nuts he’d never find again, I just had to share with you a couple of pics Dave sent me of a frantic fellow in Greenwich Park searching for last year’s batch…

Reminds me of myself just now – I know I have photos of all kinds of stuff in the computer somewhere, I just have no idea where My Pictures has put ‘em.

Sadly this poor chap – like me – is still looking.

Greenwich Wildlife (6) Kestrel Chicks

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Serendipity, eh.

On Saturday I bought an old 1945 book, London’s Natural History, mainly because, I have to confess, it tried so hard. The first page I opened had a grainy black and white photograph entitled Male and female cockroaches with egg-sac, followed by Spiders’ webs. Subsequent pages dealt with a Stray cat and Cherry Blossom in a suburban front garden.

Actually, it’s a fascinating read, not least for the chapters dealing with the wildlife that moved in to the inner city after the Blitz, the pictures that deal with ‘a typical backyard poultry run” and the fact that foxes were an almost unknown sight in the 1940s…

Of course, I went straight for the Greenwich pages, and found myself reading the section called The Influence of Smoke, where the author mentions that a Mr Johnson

“records that a kestrel’s nest was found by steeplejacks on one of the four chimney shafts of the London Council’s tramway power station at Greenwich in 1928.”

Dazza spotted a kestrel over in East Greenwich a short while ago, but I was just about to ask if any nests had been seen, when this little chap appeared in my inbox.

Jo says “This baby kestrel was sitting on the chimney pots near the Cutty Sark.There are 3 very active ones there at the moment – seems to be two parents and this little nipper. I also love the fact that they spend a lot of time scaring the pigeons on the power station…”

Especially for Scared of Chives, who was concerned about the poor chap’s balancing abilities with just the one leg, Andy has quietly improved his chances of clinging onto that chimney pot.

He’ll never make it to Animal Hospital now…

Greenwich Wildlife (6)

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

We haven’t had any Greenwich Wildlife for ages – I guess it’s been so cold and miserable that everything’s been hiding. Or maybe we’ve all been too miserable to notice anything.

Roger was just coming out of the public loos in Greenwich Park (you really needed to know that, didn’t you…) and spotted this little fellow, which Roger tells me is a Long Tailed Tit. I have to take his word for it, as I know next to nothing about Greenwich’s bird population. The shot’s a bit fuzzy as Roger (for fairly obvious reasons) didn’t have his camera to hand at the time and had to fumble about for it. Apparently this species of tit is quite rare in these parts (no obvious gags, now, guys.)
I checked in my ever-reliable A D Webster, who waxes lyrical about flora and fauna in Greenwich Park, and just over 100 years ago, four types of tit were common – the great, blue, marsh and long-tailed variety.
Webster lived in the Gingerbread House at Blackheath Gate (also more prosaically known as The Blackheath Gate Lodge) and says “In my own garden I once saw a flock of long-tailed tits (Paris caudatus) where they remained for several hours…”
Roger didn’t hang around the Gents for several hours (ahem), but he assures me he saw around half a dozen in the bushes foraging for insects.
Nice to know that some of our wildlife is constant…
More Greenwich Flora and Fauna another day. Let me know if you see something rare (and no – Nick Raynsford actually speaking in parliament doesn’t count…)

Greenwich Wildlife (5)

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Is it ‘wildlife?’

Well it could be. Paul sent me this Mandarin Duck that he spotted in Maryon Wilson Park. Chances are there’s another of them just out of shot as they are romantics of the bird world.

Because they’re so attractive, they’ve been used as ornaments in lakes for years, and every so often, a young couple pair up, obviously against their parents’ wishes, and secretly elope. They may be endangered in their native Russia and China, due to deforestation, but Russia and China’s loss is our gain.
There are about 1,000 wild breeding pairs in Britain, apparently – and though these may have been brought in to Maryon Wilson for pretty, they could also be of those lost young couples, desperate for a pond to call their own, Wild or not, they’re still helping keep up the world population.
We have to be extra careful with them, though, as they’re not protected birds here, despite their worldwide decline. That’s because they’re not technically native British birds. Cue one of those 1950s B Movies about misunderstood teenagers…

For the Chinese, they are symbols of love and wedded harmony as they are said to mate for life. Ahhh…