Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Dragons of Wanstead

Nope! That's not a reference to the fine young ladies who frequent Wanstead but the current wonderful selection of Dragonflies now on the wing in Wanstead Park and Flats.

The four most numerous species I'm currently seeing are the Broad-bodied Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser and the Emperor Dragonfly. As the summer progresses I hope to be able to add to this list with maybe a Scarce Chaser or a Migrant Hawker...let's see!

Dragonfly, Odanata
Male - Broad-bodied Chaser
Dragonfly, Odanata
Female - Broad-bodied Chaser
Dragonfly, Odanata
Male - Black-tailed Skimmer
Dragonfly, Odanata
Four-spotted Chaser
Dragonfly, Odanata
Female - Emperor Dragonfly


Sunday, 17 May 2020

The Best Spaniard to Grace a Golf Course Since Seve Ballesteros

Ever since the government gave the green light for golf courses to reopen I've been itching for 9 holes, so I rocked-up at Lee Valley Golf course wearing my tartan plus 4's and carrying my bag and clubs only to discover the course was still closed - what a shame, but never mind as I'm furloughed I can always come back when it re-opens. I was just about to leave when I chanced upon a singing Iberian Chiffchaff - well...what are the chances of that?? It was also fortunate that I had my bins and camera to hand..!

The bird always kept to the tops of the Sallows on the edge of the golf course and could be clearly heard from the adjacent roadside. In the short-time I was there the Ibe Chiffy was in full and diagnostic voice. It also showed an extensive pollen horn around the base of the bill, giving the impression of being quite long and pointy billed. The underparts were noticeably clean white with a subtle lemon wash around the flanks/vent and face in the good light - although this is not an ID feature those characteristics were more in line with the appearance of Willow Warbler than a collybita Chiffchaffbut aside from those noticeable features it was all about that repetitive and ID clinching song...

Singing, Spring, Song

Singing, Spring, Song

Singing, Spring, Song


Iberian Chiffchaff song captured on the video clearly on three occasions and was a repetitive and distinctive chiff, chiff, chiff, chiff, sweet, sweet, chachacha... 



Sunday, 3 May 2020

A Familiar Shape in the Sky

I saw my first returning Swift on the 22nd April and since then I've been seeing one's and two's silently cross the garden skyline, speedily heading northwards but this morning and eleven days on from my initial sighting...my Swifts were back!

What do I mean by my Swifts? These are the Swifts that stay local for the summer and nest in the eaves or between the tiles of the houses in my road. This morning there were six dark, scythe-shaped birds circling low and around the house, occasionally letting out a welcoming scream, that unique sound once again joining the spring chorus - these birds were not furthering their journey, but had arrived home having travelled hundreds of miles from central Africa.

For as long as I can remember my Swifts always return in the first week of May and in the coming days these initial birds will hopefully be joined by several more as their mid-air courtship display builds up as they chase one another across the sky, screams getting louder, that familiar sound of summer filling the air all the way through to August until their sudden departure leaves the air silent once again.

The Swift is one of only a handful of birds that stirs up an inner emotion and a special connection, there failure to arrive would leave an unimaginable void difficult to fill.

Apus Apus, Screams, Summer
A familiar shape in the sky...

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Stop Press: Wader Identified Without Spectrogram

Any wader on the patch was always revered at Wanstead and this homage would even extend to the lowly Common Sandpiper, by far and away our most numerous wader during spring and autumn passage. However, with the introduction of 'Nocmigging' (for the uninitiated, that's sound recording nocturnal migration) these once locally cherished group of birds have now seen their crown slip a little, as more waders are now being recorded flying over Wanstead airspace at night.

Call me an old fashioned cowboy but I personally like to see my waders as in the image below and not as a series of dashes on a spectrogram, and yes I do get the science part and I do have some interest as to what's flying over at night. There's definitely a place at the table for capturing and recording this information but please don't tell me that listening to a recorded sound (often barely audible), downloaded and run through a software package (Audacity) to produce a visual representation as a couple of black marks on a sound file (just to aid identification for the recorder) is going to come anyway near to the experience of seeing your first passage Common Sandpiper of spring, bobbing up and down on the muddy fringe of a river bank - whatever next...binoculars that can identity the birds for you!

Wader, Wanstead, Spring

Wader, Wanstead, Spring