Sunday, 29 March 2015


Save Our Skylarks!

The signs are in place and the birds are singing and displaying, but it remains to be seen if the last few remaining pairs of Skylarks on Wanstead Flats are given the chance they need to successfully breed this year.

Early indications suggest there are as little as five pairs of Skylarks currently holding territory on this important grassland habitat on Wanstead Flats. This small fragile population are on the verge of being lost forever on one of London's last remaining breeding sites. This once common bird of our British countryside has seen a dramatic decline in its numbers, and has worryingly slipped onto the BTO's Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern in the last few years, having seen more than a 50% decline in its UK breeding population in the last 25 years. 

The biggest threat to our Wanstead Skylarks isn't the loss of suitable breeding habitat or the changes to agricultural farming methods but something much simpler...DISTURBANCE.

Sign, Wanstead, Skylark
Keep a look out for these signs around the breeding areas of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits on Wanstead Flats
That's right disturbance - it's a minor miracle that Skylarks have ever breed on Wanstead Flats considering its geographical location and its popularity, but somehow they do and that's worth fighting for. 

So what can be done about it? It's quite simple really, as the sign above clearly shows, between the dates of the 31st March through to 31st August - stick to the well trodden paths which criss cross the Flats and always keep your dog under control and on a lead when in the clearly signposted conservation areas, and that's it - simple.

Let's all play our part in helping and protecting this wonderful songster on Wanstead Flats...before it's too late!

Ground Nesting Birds, Wanstead
The Skylark and its typical ground nesting habitat on Wanstead Flats

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Woodcock clinched

Two glaringly obvious winter birds missing from my little old patch list are Short-eared Owl and Woodcock - both were becoming somewhat frustrating as I should have nailed them by now. I've missed Short-eared Owl on three occasions, and as for Woodcock, I've searched every piece of suitable habitat I know over the last few winters with no luck, as others continue to stumble across them all around me - but finally this all changed today.

After spending a large portion of the morning with Jono, which included a fair bit of time tracking down and then photographing another or the same smart male Wheatear I had earlier in the week - it'll be rude not to point the camera at such an appealing subject again. We met up with Nick (regular finder of Woodcock) and after exchanging typical bird related musings, we all headed over to what's left of the SSSI area - recently trashed carefully managed and cut back by the City of London Corporation! With time ticking I decided to call it a day, leaving Jono and Nick I walked the short distance back to the car, cutting through the Broom and passing my favourite cluster of Hawthorn (old Wryneck haunt) hearing the rustle of leaves, I turned around and bursting out of the scrub came a bloody Woodcock - get in, patch tick and not before time - I was beginning to think another winter would pass without catching up with one - now if someone could quickly find me a SEO, this winter wouldn't quite be as unproductive as I first thought.

Earlier, I also added Blackcap to the patch year list, bringing that total up to 73. Just 27 more to add if I want to reach my target for the year of a century - not especially significant number, but as I'm the only regular birder on the Flats who doesn't live within a stones throw of the patch, having to jump into the car each and every time I want to visit or to catch up with something someone else has found - I think that target is commendable.

male, spring, Wanstead
Not a Woodcock...
Male, Spring, Wanstead
...not a Woodcock
Male, Spring, Wanstead
...and not a Woodcock!
* Just the three photos SG ;-)