Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2022

As we enter the final days and weeks of a two year global pandemic, let's wave goodbye to Covid and cheer in the arrival of Spring with the annual Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake - now in its 5th year. This year is our biggest to date with 14 entrants covering 28 days in March.

Last years winner Mr Richard Rae will be enjoying the last of his Negroni's from the 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' before he buffs up and polishes this much cherished faux gold trophy, before handing it over. Will Richard win again and become our 1st ever two-time winner? Or will there be a new name on the trophy?

This years draw took place on Friday evening at Wheatear HQ here in north-east London as all the names went into the hat...the tension was palpable as the Chairman (and part-time Jack Dee impersonator) carefully selected each name from the hat to determine the crucial date picking order. Who would pick the all important first date in March? This years honour went to Mr Simon Raper - maybe there will be a new name on the trophy.

Here's the list of of our 14 entrants in the sweepstake and the 2 dates in March they have chosen.

The Rules
  1. Whoever correctly predicts the date of the first sighting of a Wheatear on the patch (Wanstead) and within the patch boundary wins!
  2. In the event of the 1st sighting being on a date not selected (i.e 1st March) then the contestant closest to that date wins. If by chance this date falls between two selected dates then the winner will be the contestant who selected the later date.
  3. In the unlikely event of a Wheatear not being seen at Wanstead in March (i.e 28th February or 1st April) then no winner be declared and the trophy will be returned to the chairman for safe keeping. All Sweepstake funds will still be given to the chosen charity of choice.
  4. If a visiting birder, dog walker or Sunday league footballer were to claim a Wheatear sighting, then photographic evidence would need to be gathered and verified before announcing a winner. In the absence of a photograph, the committee will decide if the sighting is viable.

And lastly it gives me great pleasure to announce this years sweepstake nominated charity as 'Batumi Raptor Count' organisation who are trying to raise €20,000 in 2022 to continue their annual raptor monitoring at this all important site on the Black Sea City of Batumi, in the Republic of Georgia.


If you would also like to support the BRC in their important and continuing work...please click on the link below to make a donation.



Further updates on this years sweepstake contest will be updated on here...including this years winner.


The Chalice!
What we are all playing for...it may be small but it means a lot.

Best of luck to all of our entrants...


Friday, 31 December 2021

Wanstead - My review of 2021

January couldn't have started better with Mediterranean Gull, Goosander and White-fronted Goose all hangovers from 2020 and were easily and gratefully mopped-up on the patch year list as we kicked-off 2021.

With love from Russia - White-Fronted Goose

A rather friendly Shelduck appeared on Jubilee pond at the start of February, it's origins were questionable but none the less it made a nice change to see one of the deck and not just flying over. The weather at the start of the month had taken a turn for the worse (or good if you're a patch birder) with the beast from the east II delivering a large movement of Lapwing with Team Wanstead recording over 500 birds in a single day (our 2nd highest ever daily total) also a single flock of 10 Snipe was notable and a record count, however the icing on the cake was the discovery of a 1st-winter Kittiwake on Alexandra Lake - a much sort after patch tick having missed two previously.

1st-winter (2CY) Kittiwake

March is really only about the arrival of Wheatears at Wanstead and our first put in an appearance on the 23rd March much to the delight of Mr Richard Rae who was newly crowned the 2021 Sweepstake winner. Just as I was warming up for the arrival of our Spring migrants, March had other ideas and Winter wasn't over just yet as a report of a leucistic Herring Gull on Alexandra lake had me quizzing the photo and pushing for someone to go and check-out this bird (I couldn't personally get out of work) and then, sure enough my suspicions were confirmed - Iceland Gull! I had to wait until the follow day to see this bird but 'boy old boy' seeing a large white-winger on the patch was a much wanted and hoped for patch-tick. 

Juvenile (2CY) Iceland Gull

April finally arrived but the weather was still firmly stuck in Winter mode and spring migrants were thin on the ground. Thankfully, a 1st-winter Caspian Gull was a nice distraction and a singing male Firecrest in the City Of London Cemetery was another bonus as we awaited the arrival of our summer migrants and a change in the weather. The months personal highlight was finding a singing Nightingale in the scrub south of Long Wood, this was just my 3rd ever patch record and only my second spring bird in full and wonderful voice.

April came and went in a flash and May started briskly with a Rook on the deck, this doesn't sound like much but these now annually recorded birds are usually only seen as flyovers. My patch list had moved on nicely to 149 with the recent additions of Iceland Gull and Kittiwake and I thought I'd missed my best opportunity to hit 150 when I'd failed to connect with a flyover Whimbrel (twice) back in April but the short wait was more than worth it with the discovery (thanks to Mary Holden) of a Black-necked Grebe on Alexandra Lake. BNG had been much predicted over the years with birds not too far away in the Lee Valley reservoirs but to see one on the patch was a special moment, especially as I'd finally hit the 150 patch milestone.

Breeding Plumage Black-necked Grebe

June and the birding Summer doldrums were now here...or were they? Just like the first half of 2021 there was another surprise discovery...a singing Quail in the newly fenced area of the Brooms! Had the fenced Skylark protection area played a part in this birds arrival? We'll never know for sure but it certainly created a safe area away from any disturbance from people and dog walkers - perfect for Quail!

July was predictably dull for birds but the Summer plumage Black-necked Grebe continued to delight as we all awaited the arrival of August and those passage migrants.

August finally arrived but mostly disappointed other than my first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the season and a juvenile Cuckoo which stayed into September. Apart from a trickle of summer migrants towards the end of the month August was generally forgettable, but now we were entering the business end of migration and September.

September started with a bang - a Wryneck! After a gap of 6 years it was good to add my 4th at Wanstead but kudos went to Jono Lethbridge who happened to turn left as I turned right and bumped right into one of these special patch migrants. As for the rest of the month there was a procession of the the usual Autumn favourites - Pied Fly, Spot Fly, Tree PipitWhinchat and Redstarts but nothing else to eclipse the months Wryneck.

October...what can I say? You let me down! We all look forward to October but it was slow, painfully slow - probably the worst October I can remember, hours of slog for little reward - there were a few Brambling and a Jack Snipe, but that kind off sums up my October...forgettable on the patch. Thankfully a week on Shetland saved me from more patch heartache and toil.

November and December sort-off merged into one and continued where October had left off...slow, slow, slow. I added Mandarin Duck and Treecreeper to the patch year list and that was it, my year was over. I should've been more than happy that I had reached a new personal high total of 117 for the year whilst also adding 4 new birds to my patch list (151) but the last few months have been such a struggle that it's left me feeling a little deflated, longing for new challenges and experience's. 

Many thanks to all of Team Wanstead for all your news and support (Bacon Rolls and Coffee) here's hoping 2022 bring us all renewed optimism for the future.

Good birding...TB.


Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Shetland 2021 (1st - 8th Oct)

The 5 man crew (TB, Monkey, Shaun Boy, Hawky and Andy L).

Shetland Crew 2021
The East Burra Crew (aka Team REV)

The birding highlights and numbers...with 4 great finds for the team!

2nd October
  • Red-backed Shrike - East Burra Plantation
  • Woodchat Shrike - Aith Garden
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail - Noss Farm, Spiggie
3rd October
  • Semipalmated Sandiper - Pool of Virkie
  • Shorelark - Grutness
  • Little Bunting - West Quarf (Hawky found)
  • Olive-backed Pipit - Ocraquoy Garden
  • Western Bonelli's Warbler - East Quarf Plantation
4th October
  • King Eider - Wadbister Salmon Rings
  • Red-breasted Flycatcher - Girlsta Quarry
  • Red-eyed Vireo - Brae Community Garden
  • Red-eyed Vireo - Sollum Voe Garden/Plantation (Shaun Boy found) 
5th October
  • Olive-backed Pipit - Channerwick 
  • White-billed Diver - Nestling
  • Radde's Warbler - Kergold
6th October
  • Rustic Bunting - Kergold
  • Greenish Warbler - Bodom Garden (Andy L found)
7th October
  • Common Rosefinch - Hamnavoe (Andy L found)

The final Yellow-browed Warbler count was 10 birds across 9 locations.

Otter sightings x 3 (Hamnavoe, Brae and Scalloway)


A few bird photo highlights of yet another great week on Shetland.

Red-eyed Vireo
Sollum Voe Garden/Plantation

Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Noss Farm, Spiggie

Olive-backed Pipit
Channerwick

Pied Flycatcher
Veensgarth

Red-backed Shrike
East Burra Plantation

Red-breasted Flycatcher
Girlsta Quarry

Rustic Bunting
Kergold

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Pool of Virkie

Woodchat Shrike
Aith Garden

Yellow-browed Warbler
Quendale Mill

Razorbill
Aith Marina

Whooper Swan
Loch of Spiggie

And who could forget this transatlantic beauty...the Monarch! A butterfly I've always wanted to see in the UK but never thought I'd be seeing one on Shetland.

Monarch Butterfly
Sumburgh Hotel Garden

Monarch Butterfly
Sumburgh Hotel Garden

Monarch Butterfly
Sumburgh Hotel Garden

Monarch Butterfly
Sumburgh Hotel Garden

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Rock 'n' Rollering

Twitching - there's a novelty! I've not done that for a while (for the obvious reasons - lockdown, global pandemic, Covid etc) so the opportunity to see a European Roller - a showy one at that! Just over an hours drive away into Suffolk was too good an opportunity to miss.

Straight from work Thursday evening, up the M11, across the A11 towards Icklingham and I was soon standing on the side of the road over looking a sheep field - It could have been any field in east Anglia really. But there, on the telegraph wires stretching across the field was the unmistakable azure blue of a Roller - just imagine being the finder? They (as we all do) must have checked hundreds, if not thousands of birds perched on telegraph wires over the years for it to be just another Starling or Pigeon! So I can only imagine their delight and amazement to see this Southern European wanderer looking back at them - what a rush that must have been.

I was probably on site for about an hour, watching the bird mostly perched, static on the wires with the occasional short flight, as it dropped to the ground to collect what looked like rather large earthworms before returning to the telegraph wires. As twitching goes (and I don't do much anymore) I've become much more selective in which birds I would like to go and see, gone are the days of pursuing UK ticks and spending hours in a car just for a distant dot on the horizon. I'd much rather see fewer rare birds but the one's I do (hopefully) see, I see well!

A hugely enjoyable little twitch, with a great subject and excellent views, plus it was good to briefly catch-up with a few familiar faces as well - That's my kind off twitching!

Icklingham, Suffolk

Icklingham, Suffolk

Icklingham, Suffolk

Icklingham, Suffolk