Christchurch Park, an area of 82 acres of varied landscape and water features, is situated very close to the centre of Ipswich. We have recently become aware from notes gathered over the past fifty years of the quite remarkable changes that have taken place concerning the Park’s avian wildlife. There has been some considerable decrease in the numbers of most of the common bird species, with some once-common birds disappearing completely. However, a few species have indeed bucked the trend and for whatever reason are on the increase. Sadly, as throughout much of England, the lesser spotted woodpecker, spotted flycatcher, hawfinch, tree sparrow and bullfinch are no longer found in our Park, but two species are doing exceptionally well. Goldfinch has increased at an unbelievable rate owing, it is thought, to the Niger seed found on many birdtables which goldfinches love. Also, many of the nearby gardens have suitable fruit and ornamental trees in which this finch prefers to nest. The other bird thriving in our Park is the tree creeper, a small, beautifully marked bird that has colonised many of the bat boxes in the wildlife reserve. Sadly, on the other hand, the nuthatch is holding on by just a thread.
We are also lucky to have the brightly coloured mandarin ducks that gather on the Wilderness Pond in summer to moult, this gaudy duck now being recognised as a wild British bird. However, our Park’s most famous bird, and undoubtedly the most photographed owl in the country, is Mabel, our resident tawny owl. This bird can usually be seen perching in her roost hole near to the top of an oak tree, which is not far from the Westerfield Road entrance of the Park. This is the sixth successive year that she has occupied this oak tree, much to the delight of her public. She disappears in early March whilst she incubates her eggs and broods her young, then she reappears when her young can cope on their own usually some time in August. She then moults (obtains a new set of feathers) and there she sits for all to see – and photograph.
The large gardens adjacent to the Park on three sides are so important to the Park’s resident songbirds, giving them shelter during the nesting period. Although recent years have seen the demise of the lesser spotted woodpecker, its cousins, the green and great spotted, are actually increasing in numbers with both species choosing to nest in the Park’s ancient trees. The green woodpeckers feed on the ants which they can find on the grassy areas to the north of the Park, sometimes in the company of mistle thrushes. Kestrels too are now infrequent visitors to the Park but another bird of prey, the sparrowhawk, can be seen circling overhead, especially in summer as it breeds in the Wildlife Reserve.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic change to our waterfowl population. Over the past few years very few ducklings have been successfully raised owing to the predation of large numbers of gulls. These big birds, the lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls, which nest on the buildings in Ipswich, plunder the young of mallard, moorhen, mandarin and Canada geese. These large winged assassins are increasing in number alarmingly and there seems to be no answer to the spread of these gulls.
Another relatively new predatory visitor to our Park is the cormorant. This large fish-eating bird is often seen on both ponds, catching and eating fish. The Round Pond is practically empty of goldfish now and the resident adult and three immature cormorants are now concentrating on the roach of the Wilderness Pond.
Even though we have lost several species, new ones are being added to the Park’s list, with well over 100 species having been recorded. In the last three years new species include golden oriole, alpine swift, raven, short-eared owl, honey buzzard and goosander. Although they perhaps did not linger for long, it just goes to show what you may see in a Park in the centre of Ipswich.
Visitors to the Park are encouraged to write down their observations in a book provided in the Reg Driver Visitor Centre. Also, every year the Friends of Christchurch Park organise spring and autumn bird walks as well as a Dawn Chorus Walk. If you wish to learn more about our Park birds, the Friends have just published a third book in the Portrait trilogy entitled Portrait of the Birds – 50 years of Birdlife in Christchurch Park, Ipswich. This attractive book is written and illustrated by Reg Snook together with Philip Murphy and priced at £7.50 available at the Reg Driver Visitor Centre, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.