Wildlife Officer Hugh Smith works with an amazing variety of wildlife in the central London Royal Parks. We caught up with Hugh to get an update on how the plants, animals, fish and insects have been doing this summer.
Summer in the park seemed to arrive early this year, with a lot of warm weather occurring in May and June.
The filamentous algae rafts on St James’s Park lake appeared several weeks earlier than usual. Despite appearing ugly, these dense algal mats benefit fish, invertebrates such as dragonflies and waterfowl.
The large shoals of fish in the lake are present again this summer, with the best views of them being accessible from the Blue Bridge. It's best to visit in the morning or evening to see the biggest shoals, mostly small fish such as rudd, but large carp are often visible.
Several notable birds bred in the park this year and the parks team were lucky enough to witness some of them. In July, coal tits fledged near to the St James’s Park office and for several days the fledglings could be observed hopping and clambering amongst the nearby shrubberies in search of insects. It was also an excellent year for blackbirds in Green Park, with many active nests amongst the denser native scrub areas. Greater spotted woodpeckers also bred in the cavities of a standing dead tree in St James’s Park and frequented Duck Island Cottage.
Another less usual occurrence were breeding jays, the first recorded instance in some years. It was quite exciting to see two small fluffy jays on Duck Island shuffling amongst the branches of a mature yew tree.
Reed warblers returned to St James’s Park by mid-May and their powerful song dominated the dense marginal reedbed areas of the lakeside until August. These small, seemingly fragile birds are a highly resilient migratory species, making annual trips of many thousands of miles from Africa to their summer breeding grounds in Britain and mainland Europe.
One particularly unusual sighting of a male reed bunting was made in May this year in St James’s Park, although sadly the bird did not stop by for long. The reed beds in St James’s echo an era when the park would have been just another section of the Thames estuary marshes, teeming with migratory waders, waterfowl and other marshland species.
The pelicans have had an unusual summer and adjusted their behaviour to the reduced visitor numbers. They have taken the opportunity to venture into other areas of the park, walking across the Mall and down Birdcage Walk before returning for lunch. Our resident fully-flighted pelican, Gargi, flew to Staines and roosted for several nights on one of the large river islands. Locals had quite a shock when they noticed a pelican by the waterside. Luckily, pelicans have an excellent capacity for recall and even more impressive appetites, so thankfully she returned quickly.
Other breeding birds this year are the resident pairs of mute swans, great crested grebes, little grebes, starlings and pochard ducks. The two pairs of swans have separate territories at the opposite ends of the lake. Both produced cygnets and these can now be seen either resting in the shade on the bankside or cruising about on the water with their parents.
Insects have been plentiful in St James’s Park and The Green Park this summer. Notably, speckled wood, Comma and brimstone butterflies, Jersey tiger moths and cockchafer beetles. Other species that have been prevalent this year have been from the dragonfly and damselfly families, to include darters, hawkers and chasers. These will be visible until early Autumn, hunting insects.
It has been a difficult summer for all our park users this year and we hope that the environment and wildlife of the parks has provided some much needed relief for people visiting.