As winter arrives in London the noticeable changes in St James’s Park and The Green Park are the dwindling leaves on most of the deciduous trees, with only a few ornamental species still clinging to brightly coloured patches amongst the branches.
The ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) also known as the Maidenhair tree is one of these and until early December is still a popular backdrop for selfie taking, providing that final scene of autumn in central London. This species is native to China though its range was once vast across the world before 2 million years ago. Several of the ornamental coniferous trees also become vibrant at this time of the year such as the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), pictured right.
As autumn becomes winter there are still scenes of colour that can be found in the flora of the parks. Snowdrops are heavily associated with winter in the British Isles, demonstrated by this early flurry in St James’s Park, pictured below.
It is in the early winter when the great white pelicans of the park begin to develop pink plumage. Currently there are only three mature birds capable of producing the vibrant pinkish tones but by this time next year the three new immature birds will also be undergoing this change. These colours develop in the winter ready for the spring and their breeding season.
The pelicans remain active throughout the winter months and often appear to be shivering or jostling. They do this to maintain body heat and shed excess water from their feathers more quickly which becomes important in colder weather. It is the first winter for the new pelicans introduced in May 2019, so far, they have been unperturbed by the changing conditions, but their appetite reflects that they have been burning more energy in the cold.
We had a rare bird visitor in St James’s park shortly after it was rescued from the loading bay of a cake shop close to Piccadilly Circus. The rescued bird turned out to be a woodcock. These birds are difficult to spot in most settings, but to stumble on one in Zone One Central London was particularly unusual.
After recovering in a warm dry carrier for a few hours the woodcock, pictured left, made a dash for the dense undergrowth on Duck Island. We have seen several woodcock take flight from Duck Island in previous years and we were confident that this one would survive its ordeal.
Another rare visitor for the park was a Cettis’ warbler, spotted on several occasions over a short period in November by one of our regular birders. The elusive water rail, that we now suspect is the same returning bird has also been sighted amongst the larger reedbeds. With any luck it will see out the remainder of this winter in the sanctuary of the park.
Rare birds are always exciting, but the parks are frequented by a range of garden birds that are characteristic of lowland Britain. The small copses that were planted in The Green Park within the last five years are visited by blackbirds, great tits and robins even at this harsh time of the year. On December 11th, twelve blackbirds were recorded in this area on our monthly survey.
Cygnets from our resident family of swans have started to take regular flight practice sessions. As usual there have been a few misjudged landings, but credit should be given to their energy investment. After all, these birds are very heavy when compared to most other flying birds. They fit into the same category as the pelicans, where they require water as a means of weight support in take-off.
We have recently introduced several new pairs of waterfowl to the St James’s Park waterfowl collection. Many of these species have been historically kept on the lake due to their popularity. Some of the new species include eider, hooded merganser, Australian shelduck, barnacle geese, red breasted geese, nene and wood ducks. These can regularly be seen swimming around Duck Island or foraging on the bankside.
The conservation volunteer work parties on Duck Island have been focussing on vegetation thinning and woodland meadow restoration over the recent months, pictured below. The long-term plans for its habitat improvement are developing well and we appreciate all that has been achieved by the volunteer’s efforts.