There's been a real buzz among bird lovers in London this week thanks to a woodcock.
These bulky waders are mostly nocturnal, favour woodlands and are incredibly shy, so to see one during the day in London, Lambeth no less, is a bit of a surprise. Well, I say surprise, but in fact there have been more than ninety confirmed sightings of woodcock in Greater London since the mid-seventies. My theory is that they've nipped in to town for a bit of excitement.
Our staff and volunteers at the Abb Sparrow watch on the South Bank are on the look-out for woodcock. They've an impressive list of birds spotted at the site, including gulls, cormorants, peregrines, robins, tits and magpies, but no woodcock. Other frequent visitors to the feeders at the watchpoint are squirrels.
They're out in force at the moment and are made more apparent by the falling leaves. Urban birder, David Lindo explored some of the options available for defending bird feeders from marauding squirrels on the BBC's One Show this week. I can confirm that within a day of the feeders featured in David's film being put out, all, bar the one with the sliding metal sleeve, had been breached and emptied by the squirrels.
I don't mind when they empty the feeders, but it gets a bit expensive when they tear them apart or knaw great holes in the plastic tubes. What's worse though is that my urban squirrels stripped my garden of flowers, fruit and veg. I put out enough food for them, but they still ate my sunflowers, tomatoes and courgettes.
There is little that can stop these ravenous beasts. I've tried pretty much every deterrent going. One tip that does work is sprinkling chilli powder on your nuts or seeds. Squirrels can taste it and should be put off by the heat, so you could always try alternatives such as paprika or a hot curry mix. Birds aren't affected by the heat. Sadly, the sort of heavy downpours we've suffered of late washes the powder away, so you'll have to apply regular top-ups for this method to remain effective.
The week after this was posted I was contacted by a teacher at a Lambeth school who reported one of their pupils had found the body of a recently dead woodcock. If you are a teacher interested in exploring urban wildlife, why not visit our Education pages or take part in January 2009's Big Schools' Birdwatch.
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