Monday, 22 February 2021

Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2021

Well...didn't that come around quickly! I can't believe another year has gone by so fast, it feels like it was only yesterday when I presented Jono with the 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' at a socially distanced event (I think there may have been 8 of us) from the vismig location on Wanstead Flats. The pubs were obviously closed as we entered lockdown number 1 so we had no choice about the venue, however I've never seen Jono looking so happy, well, not since he noc-migged Common Scoter over his house (he's clearly easily pleased) as that beaming smile went from ear to ear as he lifted aloft that mock gold trophy as his family cheered on - It clearly meant a lot!

If you've not had the pleasure of viewing the draw for this years sweepstake here's a link in which I do my best Jack Dee impression!

Here's the list of dates chosen by our of 10 contenders...and why it's so important to be picked out of the hat early, as history shows mid-month on Wanstead Flats is prime Wheatear time.

The Rules
  1. Whoever correctly predicts the date of the first sighting of a Wheatear on the patch (Wanstead) wins!
  2. In the event of the 1st sighting being on a date not selected (i.e 1st March) then the contestant closest to that date wins. If by chance this date falls between two selected dates then the winner will be the contestant who selected the later date.
  3. If a visiting birder, dog walker or Sunday league footballer were to claim a Wheatear sighting, then photographic evidence would need to be gathered and verified before announcing a winner. In the absence of a photograph, the committee will decide if the sighting is viable.
And here in all it's glory is that rather special chalice we are all playing for... 

Wanstead, Birders, Sweepstake
The photo flatters the trophy
It's only 8 inches tall and made of purest gold plastic with a faux marble base 

And finally it gives me great pleasure to announce that this year, the good birders of Wanstead have chosen 'Birds on the Brink' as their nominated charity and all proceeds from the sweepstake will be going to this wonderful bird conservation charity.

Good luck to all of our competitors - updates and the winner will be posted on here in due course.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Heinei Common Gull - the search continues

The recent blast of cold weather from the continent not only provided an opportunity to enjoy a large movement of Lapwings through Wanstead (approaching 1600 in a 6 day period from the Sunday 7th February) but with frozen water-bodies, it also gave me an opportunity to view a lot of the Gulls closely on the ice and away from the usual wintering gatherings on the surrounding football pitches. There was a sizeable increase in Common Gulls on Sunday 7th February with estimates over 1500+. The swell in numbers was probably pushed up by the oncoming storm and the saturation of water across Wanstead Flats with many of the football pitches now flooded, creating some localised flashes and wonderful (if only temporary) additional and attractive habitat and feeding.

Russian Common Gull (spp heinei) has been on my radar for a couple of years now but despite Wanstead having one of the largest wintering flocks in London (if not the biggest) my success rate has been all but zero with only a couple of possibles in the field (snowy-headed adult Canus) later binned at home having viewed my photographs in closer detail. That was until I photographed this adult bird, not only did it stand out in the field but it also ticked a couple of boxes once I viewed the open wing formula in greater detail.

Plus points

  • Clean(ish) white head - with only the faintest of markings behind the eye and crown
  • Thin necklace of brown spots on nape, not unlike the shawl of a Caspian Gull
  • Mantle and wings a shade darker than surrounding Canus (this was only very subtle)
  • Slim, longish winged with an elongated body shape 

              Heinei Common Gull, Russian Common Gull, Eastern Intergrade

More plus points - in the wing pattern
  • An almost wholly black P8 extending to the primary coverts
  • Broad black band to P5

Heinei, Russian, Eastern Intergrade

Heinei, Russian, Eastern Intergrade

The negatives - What's missing?

  • Bill and legs would ideally needed to be brighter - if not yellowish.
  • The lack of a pale or lighter coloured iris
  • A narrower white trailing edge to the inner primaries
  • More extensive black in P7 (over 50%) giving the bird an overall darker-winged tipped appearance
In conclusion, this bird ticks a few boxes for an 'Heinei' Common Gull and was certainly worth further investigation but to call this a 'true' Russian Common Gull (ssp heinei) would be off the mark as you you really need to have the full suite of features! So this bird probably falls into the 'Eastern looking inter-grade' category at best.

Many thanks to Jamie Partridge for his invaluable the meantime, I'll continue to keep an eye-open for a bird that ticks all the boxes - Do svidaniya!

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

The Beast from the East Delivers

Ever since seeing the long-range weather forecast last week, I had an inkling this week was going to be a bit tasty on the patch. I had a hint of what was to come on Sunday when I birdied the patch for four hours in a snow blizzard and a biting easterly wind, although nothing of real note was seen apart from a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull and a notable increase in Gulls across the patch generally, it clearly set the scene for the following days.

On Monday as the cold-front moved through, bringing more snow and the predictable arrival of Lapwings with it - Team Wanstead recorded over 500 throughout the day (our second highest ever daily total). These classic indicators of a cold-weather movement are always a good sign that birds are on the move. I also chipped-in with 10 Common Snipe circling the fairground, Snipe are typically recorded in one's and two's at Wanstead so to see a large flock is unprecedented and doubled our previous highest count of five. I should point out that I was year ticking Shelduck at the time (thanks Richard) but after ticking the bird on Jubilee Pond its origins are a bit questionable, as it was just a little over-friendly!

And then today (Tuesday) still very cold and more snow flurries, Tim found a party of 9 Wigeon on Alexandra Lake, I decided to give these a miss, even though a year tick went begging I was hoping someone would pull-out a slightly bigger prize and then this afternoon...Boom! Another message from Richard (who had clearly had his Weetabix this week) KITTIWAKE on Alex! 

Kittiwake is a full-fat patch tick and a Gull I was desperate to see on the patch having missed the last one on the football pitches in January 2014. I dropped everything and dashed out the door, a short drive later and there it was (and so was most of Team Wanstead ) a lovely 1st-winter bird sat quietly on the water, looking slightly exhausted as they always do on inland waters, none the less it did fly around for a bit when I was there, so there is hope this bird will survive the winter storm and find its way back to the coast again.

The Beast from the East II has clearly delivered a bit of patch gold but it isn't over just yet, so what's next...or is that just being greedy?

London, Wanstead,
Number 148 for the patch list - What a beauty!

London, Wanstead
1st-winter Kittiwake's are so much better than adults

London, Wanstead
There's something about seeing a displaced bird in an urban setting that I really like

Monday, 18 January 2021

Little Egret - A Good Luck Omen for 2021?

My first blog post in 2021. This will be my 9th year of blogging and although I don't churn out as many posts as I have done in the past, I'm still happy (for now) to put down a few words and share a couple of photos on this platform - there's still a few hardcore birders/wildlife bloggers out there whose content I still really enjoy reading and viewing (and vice-versa hopefully) so I'm still pleased be apart of this special little on-line community.

With another lockdown in place and restrictions on travel, a short trip to the patch at Wanstead remains one of the few places I can escape too. And this is exactly what I did on Saturday morning (despite the terrible weather). The easy option would have been to stay at home and drink coffee but I can do that all week - I really needed to be out whatever the weather, if just for my own sanity!

I managed to add a few new birds to the already faltering year-list (I don't know why I bother really) I suppose it's an old habitat that I find hard to break. I'm sure I've mentioned this before but year-listing also helps as a personal motivator even though I find the annual search and chase of the same set of birds somewhat restricting - I mean, how much time do I want to give to a Treecreeper in a dark wood? Whilst we're in lockdown probably quite a bit of time but never the less I could be doing something far more interesting with my precious time other than trying to add another number to an annual list - but that's the odd little game us patch birders all seem to play (and enjoy for the most part).

The singular highlight of that cold and wet Saturday morning (other than a coffee from Gregg's) was a Little Egret - that's right a Little Egret! I saw my first at East Tilbury back in the late 1980's and twitched it by train and I remember being mightily pleased with myself having ticked this exotic Mediterranean Heron, but now they're two a penny and no one barely gives them a second glance (including me) that was until I found this bird happily perched on a floating log just a few metres away. The Egret briefly and beautifully posed under the dark and threatening skies and brought a rare moment of joy that morning to a rather cold and damp photographer. Several native American Tribes believe the 'Heron' is spiritual and a symbol of patience and good luck - I'll take that as a good omen for the rest of 2021.

Winter, Photography, Photo

Winter, Photography, Photo

Winter, Photography, Photo

Winter, Photography, Photo