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The cold mists and the crunching frosts have now left St James’s and the Green Parks to be replaced by daffodils, buds and the song of garden birds. Already there are black caps singing up in the boughs of the parks' trees, with several pairs haunting Duck Island.

Notable wildlife

St James’s park is ever a refuge for elusive species, and this spring the park has once again homed a family of tawny owls - quite possibly the first in a decade. Our grounds maintenance team have been aware of a tawny owl pair calling in the Green Park through the winter months, but there have been no sightings. Small green spaces in urban environments have proven to be invaluable habitat for tawny owls, which can include private gardens and squares.

The first fledgling owl was discovered by one of our staff, calmly perched on top of a tractor bucket. Contrary to logic, tawny owl young have evolved to drop to the forest floor and hide amongst the undergrowth during the day, often being fed at dusk on the ground by the parent. The problem with this behaviour is that it is less than practical in an urban environment, due to inadequate ground cover, more frequent predators and disturbance from dogs and people.

It's really important that everyone keeps their dogs under control, especially when walking off the paths. Luckily the fledglings could be watched closely by park staff before fledging this year. We installed a new owl box on duck island to encourage future pairs to nest in the nature reserve.

The water rail that was so meticulously watched by one of our local birders through the autumn, winter and early spring has just this month decided to migrate back to its breeding grounds. Little is known about water rail ecology due to their ability to remain unseen. However the St James’s bird was particularly confident and often displayed its behaviour in plain sight.

The birdwatcher described it as excitable and flamboyant. I was lucky enough to see it on several occasions bobbing and strutting along the lake margin reed beds. It remained for over six months in the end, demonstrating just how species rich marginal aquatic habitats can be. Earlier in the winter there was a second rail, but that bird moved on within a few months.

Other fleeting spring migrant visits noted by local birdwatchers include three sand martins, a whitethroat, the rumour of a sedge warbler, a pair of Mediterranean gulls and a common sandpiper.

Habitat projects

The construction of the new kingfisher bank on Duck island has not yet tempted a passing kingfisher to take up residence. However a period of establishment is essential for such installations and with luck it will become more appealing to these magnificent birds over time. We have now sown wildflower seed onto the surface of the bank to improve it visually whilst further boosting nectar rich flowers in the park.

We recently had three floating pollinator-friendly islands installed on the lake. These islands will be a test to see if floating vegetation can be viable on St James’s Park lake. The aim is that they will provide further nectar sources for invertebrate pollinators like our excellent colony of honey bees.

Spring cleaning is a task that we all have mixed emotions about, however the volunteer groups that we have led in St James’s over the previous weeks have had a positive impact on our habitat improvement plans for Duck Island. The understory has been exposed to sunlight and already the ground flora is changing and diversifying. What was previously thickets of nettle has been transformed into open glades.

A St James' Park beehive being cleaned
Our Master Beekeeper doing a hive spring clean

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