Great Crested Grebe courtship display was highlight of 33 species Danson bird walk

Report by Ralph and Brenda Todd.

It was a cold wind that blew across the Stables car park on Tuesday morning (24th Feb) but it didn’t deter the 15 members of RSPB Bexley Group accompanied by Friends of the Shuttle, Danson Park and Crossness. The sun was shining with blue sky so we were optimistic of a pleasant walk.

We began in the shelter of the old rose garden, Brenda’s keen ears picked up goldcrest but none of us saw it. Magpies, parakeets and a lone great tit out-shouted the tiny goldcrest. Moving north of the children’s playground the ground became very wet and sticky (as was much of the park away from the formal paths) – there was very little moving/calling in the woodland, a couple of chaffinches, blackbird and occasional blue and long-tailed tits. However a constant call was that of nuthatch which was eventually glimpsed by most as it either flew between or moved in the tree tops.

Nutchatch Bexley woods March 2012 Ralph T

Nuthatch. (Photo: Ralph Todd)

A green woodpecker was heard but not seen and a single redwing skulked/fed in an ivy covered mid woodland tree and again, only briefly seen by some.

It was much the same story as we wandered through the woodland to the western side with more long-tailed and blue tits, wren and dunnock showing reasonably well and then a single stock dove took up position on a high branch – viewable through the telescope. Some had a brief view of great spotted woodpecker as it flew high amongst the trees.

We continued around to the Bog Garden where evidence of bird feeding was obvious and the presence of many brown rats (of various sizes) hurried around picking up the scraps – two robins and a wren were feeding by the stream alongside a moorhen but no sign of the elusive water rail. A couple of dozen mallard were also enjoying an extra feed. The pond in the Rock Garden provided one of the morning’s highlights with 4 or 5 stock doves enjoying the morning sun showing off their beautiful, subtle plumage and the iridescent colouring on the neck – two birds emerged from a gaping hole in the dead trunk so hopefully they will be able to nest without disturbance from the ever present parakeets and a large gathering of carrion crows – there must have been 30+ in this one area.

Along the south side of the Lake we came across two single gulls on the grass very close – one a black-headed (without the black head) and a common gull (not very common in these parts outside the winter season). Everyone sorted them out and was able to sort through the larger flock nearby quickly noting a 3rd species – a 2nd winter herring gull. Our attention was drawn to the lake itself with a family feeding the ducks (which included a very odd pair of Indian runner duck) – a few Canada geese were joined by a pair of Egyptian geese. Two mistle thrushes flew over. It was mostly black-headed gulls on the lake though a couple of cormorants flew between the island trees and feeding forays in the lake. Two grey heron, a single lesser black-backed gull (4th gull species of the morning) were pointed out as were up to six little grebes (these proved more difficult to spot as they continually dived for food), two male tufted ducks drifted away from us but all was overshadowed when we saw our target species – a beautiful pair of great crested grebes doing what we’d hope they might – courtship display – head shaking at its best, seen in the lovely sunlight of late morning was an added bonus. Eventually they chased each other across the lake to perform right in front of us – wonderful.

Bird walk attendees had a great view of these Great Crested Grebes indulging in their courtship display on Danson lake.  (Photo: Richard Spink)

Bird walk attendees had a great view of these Great Crested Grebes indulging in their courtship display on Danson lake. (Photo: Richard Spink)

[More of Richard’s photos here: ]

Even the grebes couldn’t disguise the fact that the wind was increasing and with it the cold and ominous black clouds so we decided to retrace our steps past the Bog Garden to the car park where a most enjoyable, if sticky and a sometimes frustrating lack of small birds walk ended at 12 noon.

Birds seen/heard: Great crested grebe, little grebe, cormorant, grey heron, mallard, tufted duck, Egyptian goose, Canada goose, moorhen, coot, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull, common gull, black-headed gull, stock dove, woodpigeon, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, carrion crow, magpie, great tit, blue tit, long-tailed tit, nuthatch, wren, mistle thrush, blackbird, robin, redwing, goldcrest, dunnock, starling, chaffinch. (33 species).

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