Sunday, 10 February 2019

Holyfield Lake Ferruginous Duck - Wild or Plastic?

I had the choice between standing in a sterile Wanstead woodland in search of an elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker or going to look at a plastic duck - The plastic duck won! And I'm glad I chose the latter as the drake Ferruginous Duck at Holyfield Lake looked really smart in the early morning winter light.

Whenever a Ferruginous Ducks shows up, there's aways a question mark over the birds origins but this bird could actually be the real deal. It was certainly behaving like a wild bird (keeping its distance and acting skittish in and around the lake edge vegetation) and it's also un-ringed which should rule it out from being part of the German reintroduction scheme or an escape from a local collection, and Holyfield Lake is also a good location with lots of wintering wildfowl. Despite these good points in favour of the bird being wild - we'll never know for sure, but as Ferruginous Ducks go, this is probably as good as it gets now days in terms of the possibility of it actually being a genuine vagrant and was well worth the short drive up the Lee Valley to see it.

Male, Winter, Wild, Plastic

Whilst the Fudge Duck slept on, a pair of Great Crested Grebes put on a wonderful courtship display of their famous 'weed dance' and was a nice distraction while I waited for duck to actually do something.

Weed Dance, Courtship, Display

Saturday, 2 February 2019


Despite the recent snow and and drop in temperature, there appears to be very little cold weather movement of birds on the patch. I did my usual Saturday morning circuit of Wanstead Flats and Park and birds were generally thin on the ground, the only points of interest were an increase in winter thrushes. Fieldfares in particular have been few and far between since the start of the new year, with just single birds noted, but today I recorded up to forty (mostly flying over) but there were ones and twos on the deck as I crossed the football pitches. And in the park around the area of Chalet Wood, Redwings had also notably increased in number, and were a nice distraction while I continued to search for a rather elusive female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

Winter Thrush, London

Winter Thrush, London

Winter Thrush, London

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

25th Anniversary of an OBP

I don't usually dig into the archives on here, but after seeing a tweet from @birdingprof about a bird I saw 25 years ago it had me reminiscing - the bird in question was an Olive-backed Pipit at Wat Tyler Country Park, Essex.

Wat Tyler CP was my original patch and I spent many hours as a teenager and into my early twenties birding the marshes, creeks and scrub in this part of Essex. There were 3 or 4 of us that regularly covered the area, and for a lot of the time for little reward except for the usual breeding birds and occasional passage migrants - but this all changed on the 13th January 1994.

It was a Thursday and I 'd received a call on my landline (these were the days before mobile phones) from Sam Woods who had seen an odd Pipit at the back of the car park near the Motor Boat Museum (as it was then) and his description sounded good for Olive-backed Pipit but being mid-January and not mid-October he was rightly a little hesitant to put any news out until he or one the patch regulars could confirm his suspicions. At the time I was working only a short drive from Wat Tyler and decided to bird the patch during my lunch hour on the Friday. I checked the scrub at the back of the car park but couldn't find any Pipits but continued through the scrub following the path to an area near two small ponds, and it was here I found a Pipit on the ground working its way through the thick scrub, and having obtained good views of a plain, tinged green, unmarked mantle I was confident it was indeed an Olive-backed Pipit and not just an odd Meadow Pipit or even an over-wintering Tree Pipit.

I contacted Sam to confirm I had found the bird again and the location where I had seen it and we convened (with one or two others) on Saturday morning to try and find it, and sure enough it was still in the area of scrub near the ponds. We were all happy with the ID and the news was put out to one of the bird news services.

The bird stayed loyal to the scrub near the ponds for the rest of the winter, although it could be elusive at times I was fortunate enough to see it on several occasions. In the end it stayed for a total of 79 days and was last seen on the 2nd April, and although Olive-backed Pipit is a regular autumn vagrant to the UK, over-wintering birds remain extremely rare.

I still can't believe it's been 25 years...

Shetland, 2013
Unfortunately the Olive-backed Pipit at Wat Tyler CP was in the days before I carried a camera with a decent size lens, so here's a photo of an OBP from Shetland 2013.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Estonian Colour-ringed Common Gulls

Last Friday I popped into Rainham in search of the juvenile Glaucous Gull that had been seen on the Tip and around the Stone Barges on the Wednesday, my initial search drew a blank in both areas, so I went and viewed the reserve from Wennington (Serin Mound) and picked up a distant gull roost on the adjacent marsh as you look towards the old silt lagoons. Although distant I picked out the distinctive biscuit coloured tones and pale bill (dark tipped) of a juvenile Glaucous Gull amongst the gull flock. I hadn't been watching the bird for long before a Marsh Harrier spooked the roost and I lost sight of the bird in the confusion, most of the gulls regathered and landed partially behind a reedbed on the marsh, but the Glaucous Gull had either flown off or was disappointingly out of view.

Earlier, whilst searching for the Glaucous Gull I picked out two colour-ringed Common Gulls stood on the metal gantry which juts into the Thames from the Stone Barges car park.

Colour-ringed, Darvic
Estonian Common Gulls - P4V6 and P9U0
After emailing the ring information to the relevant coordinator, I've now received the life histories of both birds and remarkably they were both ringed as chicks in May 2008 in the same colony at Kakrarahu on the Matsalu Nature Reserve in Estonia. Common Gull P9U0 was recorded in Sweden at Vambasa (east of Romneby) in November 2012 but apart from that single sighting neither bird has ever been recorded away from the nature reserve in Estonia.

Both Common Gulls are males and have been observed nesting amongst the colony of Gulls at Kakrarahu every year since 2012.

Colour-ringed, Darvic
Estonia (Matsalu Nature Reserve) to UK (Rainham Marshes) - 1039miles/1672km
The birds have travelled over a 1000 miles to spend the winter in the UK and were stood just a few feet away from each other at Rainham - what are the odds on that?