Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Spring Caspian Gull Interlude

A deep Arctic blast of cold air in April is not exactly conducive for helping our summer migrants land on our shores and after a circuit of the Flats all I could muster of any note was a single singing Willow Warbler, which must have wished it had planned its Spring journey northwards a week later. However, on the plus side there was a sizeable roost of large Gulls (100+) on the football pitches that had me rubbing my thighs! 

The increase in numbers was unusual because as is typical by the end of March all our wintering Gulls have departed, moving onto their breeding grounds and we're usually left with a small band updateable 1st-year birds - maybe the drop in temperature and strong cold northerly wind had pushed these additional birds away from the Thames?

As I picked my way through the Gulls which 90% were 1st-year (2CY) Herring Gulls I could see the unmistakable clean-white head, contrasting nicely with a shawl of darks streaks on the hind-neck of a 1st-winter Caspian Gull. As is good practice I ticked-off a suite of other features confirming the ID (I didn't want to fall into the trap of ticking a bleached 2CY Herring Gull (not uncommon as we approach Spring/Summer). The bird eventually got booted-off the football pitches (showing a lovely clean underwing and unmarked rump, with a nice deep and even tail-band) and spent a bit of time on Alexandra lake but did the decent thing and stuck around for the rest of the day, allowing most of Team Wanstead to happily tick this bird. 

2CY Caspian Gull
A classic 1st-winter Caspian Gull amongst a mix of 1st-winter Herring Gulls 


This was my one and only Casp at Wanstead this winter and just my 10th Caspian Gull record in over 10 years on the patch which still confirms these birds as scarce visitors despite Wanstead’s geographical proximity to the south-east Gull mecca that is the river Thames.

The Casp was a pleasant distraction but can we now have an 180 degree swing in wind direction and get on with Spring?  


Sunday, 28 March 2021

Winner - 2021 Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake

If you haven't heard already (through various media channels) we have a winner of the 2021 Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake - take a bow Mr Richard Rae!

Rich correctly predicted a Wheatear would be found at Wanstead on the 23rd March in a contest which we all agreed was the most unpredictable and gripping to date. At this point it's also worth mentioning the finder (Rob Sheldon) and although there's no trophy for being the finder, he does get to wear an imaginary badge of honour in being the first person to set eyes on one these special passage migrants we all adore so much.

Rich now joins an illustrious band of Wanstead birders who have now held the title of the 'Golden Wheatear' sweepstake winner and is entrusted to keep the prized chalice safe and suitably buffed throughout his reign. At this mornings presentation and passing of the chalice ceremony, a reluctant Jono handed over the trophy to a visibly emotional Rich, who isn't normally stuck for words but was clearly a little choked but did pull himself together to thank his fellow participants and vowed to do what it takes to hold onto the chalice in 2022. We all hope he enjoys being this years champion and look forward to seeing regular photos of Rich sipping Negroni cocktails from the chalice.

A very proud moment for Richard and his family

The generosity of team Wanstead ensured a bumper amount of money was raised for this years chosen charity with £150 donated to 'Birds on the Brink'. This money can help support projects like their recent Willow Tit nest box project near Manchester and soon to be announced nest box scheme for Bearded Screech-owls in Guatemala.

Please click the link below to view some of their wonderful work and projects in more detail.

https://www.birdsonthebrink.co.uk/

This just leaves me to thank everyone who took part and for kindly digging deep into their pockets and raising such a great amount of money - let's hope next years contest will be equally as entertaining, and on a personal level I can only hope my name gets picked out of the hat a little earlier.

Tony Brown - Chairman (and rule maker).


Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Iceland Gull - The one that very almost got away!

I don't really have the time (or the energy) to cover all the patch dramatics in the last 48hrs! So here's a few bullet points to summarise the events - whoever said patch birding was dull?? 

Tuesday 23rd March

  • Rob finds a Wheatear
  • Richard crowned 2021 Sweepstake winner (more of that to come)
  • Mary finds an all white Gull (her description) on Alexandra Lake
  • Gull dismissed as Leucistic
  • Better photos pushed for and finally obtained
  • Gull identified as juvenile/1st-winter Iceland Gull - Patch Mega and 1st record for Wanstead!
  • Majority of team Wanstead drop everything and tick Iceland Gull 
  • Gull does a bunk! (Tony, James & Simon fail to connect for various reasons)
  • Majority of team Wanstead cracks open a beverage and celebrates a very special patch tick (and also wish Jono a happy birthday)
  • Tony, James and Simon - Sulk
Wednesday 24th March
  • Negative early sign of Iceland Gull
  • Another Wheatear seen (these are now old hat)
  • James re-finds Iceland Gull on Alexandra Lake
  • Tony and Simon now also connect with Iceland Gull
  • All of team Wanstead is happy again and serenity returns to the patch
  • Tony, James and Simon crack open a beverage and celebrate
  • Phew...relief...joy!
A full transcript of the last 48hrs is available upon request as a 78 page A4 PDF document based on 3798 WhatsApp messages!

Here are a few Iceland Gull photos...I can't describe how happy it makes me feel to finally see a large white-winger on the patch.

2cy faded, spring

2cy, faded, spring

2cy, faded, spring



Sunday, 21 March 2021

2021 Wheatear Sweepstake - In Safe Hands?

As I'm typing this another day is slipping by and still nobody has claimed a Wheatear on Wanstead Flats and the 2021 sweepstake contest is dangling on a knife-edge. This is the most keenly contested year to date, going right down to the wire with just three of the original ten competitors left in the running...it's nail biting stuff!

There was a reported sighting yesterday (Saturday) which had Jono punching the air and briefly claiming victory and the retention of the much sort after 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' but his hopes were quickly dashed when the committee requested and viewed the respective photographs. The photos were carefully scrutinized and a non-descript, brown looking bird could be seen distantly perching on the Brooms...Dunnock! Yes I know a Dunnock looks nothing like a Wheatear but if a novice birder claims a sighting I have to follow the strict and proper guidelines covered in the rules of the sweepstake before announcing a winner (or not in this case) so the contest was back on and is down to just three participants, James (21st, 22nd) Richard (23rd) and me (24th)...yes - me! who'd have thought I'd be in with a chance of winning after drawing out of the hat last (10th pick) and got left with the dates that nobody else wanted.

I’m not counting my chickens (or Wheatears) just yet, as the wind switches to the south-west overnight so tomorrow (Monday 22nd) does look quite favourable but I never gave myself a chance-in-hell in winning the sweepstake. Once everyone had selected their dates I was left with the two book-ends at the start and the end of the month so to have even a glimmer of hope has got me just a tad excited. One things for sure if I do pull this off it may go down as the unlikeliest of wins and biggest shocks since Leicester won the Premier League!

Whilst James continued to search for Wheatear today he discovered an empty and discarded metal safe on the Flats. It's been reported to the police but I think they could be wasting their time in trying to uncover who it belongs to - as rumour has it, it belonged to Jono! It was where he safely kept the chalice. The safe was only ever opened once a month to give the chalice a bit of a polish but after failing to retain his title, he clearly had no more use for it and must have chucked it out overnight, once it dawned on him that 2021 wasn't going to be his year - even a last ditch and desperate attempt at Nocmigging a Wheatear from the Brooms couldn't help him!

Watch this space to find out who will be the 2021 Sweepstake winner?

Safe
No longer required - Did this once house the Golden Wheatear Chalice?