Sunday, 2 August 2015

Little Owl - Once in a Blue Moon

Given the choice between visiting Wanstead Flats alone at dusk or dawn in search of Little Owl, I not surprisingly decided to go for the considerably safer option, and was parked up at Centre Road car park at 4.30am in near darkness - the bright full Blue Moon did provide a little twilight. I did a quick personal check before leaving the relative safety of the car; bins, camera, silver bullet, wooden stake, crucifix, garlic baguette! Bleary-eyed and attempting to lace up my boots, I could hear the call of a distant Little Owl - result! But oddly the call seemed to be coming from across Centre Road and in the opposite direction I would have imagined - being alone in the dark can play odd tricks on the mind...

Following up from where I believed the call had been coming from drew a blank, so I left and headed back across the Flats towards Alexandra Lake, passing between two of the centre most wooded copse, I then hear the repeated call again - but this time a lot clearer and closer. The bird had to be right above me in one of the copse, aided by the repeated calling, I managed to pick out the birds silhouette and with sun starting to rise, this just gave me enough light to photograph the calling bird high up in an Oak tree.

Historically Wanstead Little Owls have been notoriously difficult to photograph, so in the twilight of a Blue Moon and with the camera's ISO bumped up to 8000 - it was great to finally get a couple of record shots for the Wanstead archives.

Just a couple of nagging questions remained: Were there now two calling birds on the Flats and where did that garlic baguette come from?

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Friday, 31 July 2015

East Tilbury - It's been a while

A recent trip back down memory lane saw me visit East Tilbury - another of my old Thameside stomping grounds, In which I enjoyed catching up with local patch stalwart and old birding mate Paul Wood. Whilst watching the river we exchanged stories of past East Tilbury birding glories and dips, Greater Sandplover, Broad-billed Sandpiper(s), Blue-winged Teal, Bluethroat and Tawny Pipit, along with some of Paul's more recent success's Semipalmated Sandpiper, Long-billed DowitcherWhite-rumped Sandpiper, Red-backed Shrike and Barred Warbler - not a bad list for any site, let alone one in south-east Essex, a stones throw from London.

A clean shaven Paul (I only ever knew him with a beard) is still as sharp as ever and soon picked out both Arctic and Black Tern passing distantly mid-river, and then found three distant adult Curlew Sandpipers feeding on the Thames foreshore - the sites first returning birds of autumn, not to be out done I did chip in with an unseasonal Short-eared Owl crossing the river from Cliffe. Other waders of note were over a 1000 Avocet, 200+ Black-tailed GodwitWhimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plover and Little Ringed Plover.

Although I hadn't been back to East Tilbury in almost twenty years the place had barely changed and is still a premier Essex birding location, well worth a visit at almost anytime of the year. The most noticeable change was the loss of the silt lagoons - these had long gone to seed and were now heavily grassed over, which put paid to seeing any waders up close, I remember them hosting good numbers of roosting birds at high-tide. If I can find the time I hope to be back soon to enjoy more quality wader action this autumn or maybe a few raptors during the winter - that's if Paul doesn't contact me first with news of another exceptional find.

Following on from the wader success at East Tilbury I stopped in at Vange Marsh, where the water levels are looking fantastic. Viewing the marsh from the gated metal screen, I soon picked out a selection of roosting tringa waders, 8 Spotted Redshank (one of which was still in adult summer plumage) 8 Greenshank, 11 Green Sandpiper and a single Common Sandpiper. More distantly I counted 27 Black-tailed Godwit, 8 Ruff, 5 Little Ringed Plover and 5 Curlew - as I said, the water levels look great on the marsh, and surely this place is going to produce something a little bit special on the wader front for one lucky observer this autumn - watch this space!

Waders, Roosting, Essex, Rspb

In the foreground a selection of Tringa waders roosting on the scrape at Vange Marsh