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Thursday, December 21, 2017

The story of creation of the Rail Ditch in Regent's Park

Regent's Park's Old Boat House reed bed and Rail Ditch

I am really pleased with the alterations made to the Rail Ditch this autumn. The area until 1990 was the site of the old boat house ticket office, the reed bed was the decking where people clambered into the rowing boats and the grassy bank and shrubbery was where the boats were stored on racks. As soon as I heard everything was moving to the lakeside opposite I approached the park manager with my idea for a new wildlife enclosure that would house the parks second reed bed. The first one being the small reed bed on the end of Hanover Island where the seats are. That one had been made from reeds scrounged from a local schools wildlife pond and a member of the public who attended our bird walks. He had a large pond in his garden and said it would be doing him a favour if some could be removed. The pond was to deep for us to take much away, what we did take though established very well over the next 2 years, it became home to the parks first pair of breeding Reed Warblers. Reed beds were a habitat that were part of  London Boroughs Habitat Plans, Regent's Park was the first Inner London Park to have one. That is why I felt that this old boathouse area would make an ideal location for something slightly larger than the Hanover reed bed. I did have some opposition from an assistant park manager, he wanted to grass it over so that the public could sit by the lake and enjoy the view. Thankfully I was able to persuade him that this kind of habitat was needed more than an area for the public to relax on sunny days. There have been several improvements made over the years, we have cut back into the bank to make it wider and have even extended it out into the lake. That wasn't the easiest of things to do but it has worked a treat, although I have found that it has become a place for foxes to hangout. We might try and make that area wetter by creating a pond in the center of it. I will approach the parks management in the new year with that idea, watch that space next autumn.

Until these reed beds were constructed there had been no confirmed Water Rail sightings until one showed up on Holme Green (area 9) in the late 1990's for one day, this bird possibly moved to the Wetland Pen later during it's stay. However since 2004 Water Rails have been seen annually, but for a couple of exceptions in this area.  

Water Rail appreciating the food on a cold day in 2010

The reed bed was once an narrow strip approximately 2.5 metres wide, the reeds were planted on an area slightly above the lakes normal water level. We can control the level slightly by adding water from our borehole or by removing a section on the Monks Weir to drop it. As the reeds soon established themselves the next adjustment that I had carried out was to widen it by removing  soil from behind it, this area would be below the level of the lake and include a small pond for the amphibians to spawn in. At the time this was the only site in the park where you could see frogs spawning. Unfortunately some fall victim to a some of the parks Grey Herons. The Wetland Pen another habitat that I was able to convince the parks manager was constructed in 2003, here Frogs, Toads and Common Newts spawn. 

Before I lost my job as Regent's Parks Wildlife Officer in spring 2012 I was able to have the reed bed added to. This was much more difficult as it was constructed by depositing loads of inert rocks from our waste yard into the lake and topping it off with soil that had accumulated from various projects carried out over previous years and was to costly to have taken off site. We used corporate volunteers to plant a selection of hardy marginal plants. To prevent geese especially Egyptian Geese from eating these plants the area was divided into small sections with fencing, this made it unattractive to them as they couldn't walk freely through the area. 

This years changes have allowed those birders passing through the park to enjoy good views of at least 2 Water Rails. We will continue to use the feeding station until it attracts unwanted rodents, rats a problem that I hope the wetting of the area has removed, that and the presents of foxes that rest up here during the day.

We hope having a larger area of open ground may attract birds like the Common Snipe, this was one of 3 birds that dropped in on a snowy day in December 2010.

The photos below were taken recently

There are at least 2 birds in the area and they can often be heard calling. One bird commutes between the Rail Ditch and the reed bed on the end of Hanover Island. Today 21st December there was a bird calling from area 5 the New Boat House reed bed.

Water Rail calling from deep in reed bed

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Recent highlights in Regent's Park

Regent's Park the last 5 days 12th to 17th December

The cold spell of the previous 2 days soon improved. It had caused a several hundred Redwings to head west a few of these decided the park had what they required so they dropped down and roamed the park feeding on cotoneaster berries. They eventually found the berries in my garden on Saturday, this meant my wife's scaring off of Wood Pigeons was a job well done. Duck numbers on the lake also increased, the scarcer species present were 3 Wigeon, 3 Teal, 14 Gadwall, 1m Shelduck and 41 Red crested Pochards. On the passerine front 4 Blackcaps (3m 1f) were found feeding by the mound and on Saturday 1f Firecrest was still in area 41 and today another was found on the Inner Circle behind the Open Air Theatre. 
The star of the last week and one that caused a bit of a panic for DJ was a Golden Plover. I picked it up really high in the sky and if I hadn't been wearing my specs I doubt I would have seen it, as last Monday at 7.50am wasn't particularly bright. DJ has a similar problem but chooses not to wear his specs at work, so when I was pointing in the direction of the northerly flying plover he couldn't see it. "It's at 10.00 o'clock of the Hornbeam" no he couldn't see it "it's at 12 o'clock now" still no "it's heading towards the plane, it's at 12.00 o'clock  now". Then he had a stroke of luck it turned around and headed back and he was on to it. Thank goodness for that he'd have been gutted, it was his first park bird.