Monday, 29 April 2013

Iberian Chiffchaff on Wanstead Flats?

After news of a second good fall of birds this spring on Wanstead Flats - details here: I got to the Flats on Saturday morning (27th) early in hope there might still be a few birds knocking around, but It was evident that most had moved on encouraged by the clear skies that evening - I struggled to find a Wheatear where there were up to thirty birds the previous day, I consoled myself with picking up my first Lesser Whitehroats of the year and a flyover Yellow Wagtail on this rather cold morning, the wind direction had switched to northerly after enjoying a couple days of relatively warm southerlies.

Completing my large loop of the Flats in the scrub east of Alexandra Lake, I picked up a Phylloscopus Warbler working its way through the brambles, intermittently giving of a typical contact call 'hweet', 'hweet' - I ticked this of as another Chiffchaff and was ready to head home. It was at this point the bird came into view, and a lot closer, almost too close! I randomly fired off a couple of images on the camera, checked there quality, deleted a couple of dodgy ones (bad habit) and kept one. It was at this point the bird started to sing 'chiff' 'chiff' chiff', 'chiff' chiff' 'chiff' and this was repeated on a couple of occasions, broken up with the odd 'hweet" - odd calling Chiffy was my first thought! Aware that Iberian Chiffchaff was a possibility but with no previous experience of having seen or heard this species, I thought it would be best to check Xeno-canto when I got home before making any foolish assumptions.

Having a young family to contend with is never conducive for your birding plans and it was late afternoon before I had a chance to listen to any sound recordings but what I heard sounded interesting, very interesting! It was at this point I got the message out to Mr Lethbridge and Mr Croft - "Listen out for odd calling Chiffchaff in the Alex scrub - all Chiff and no Chaff" I jokingly remarked!

The image below is the bird in question. I've had to increase the exposure post capture with photo-editing software as the original was under exposed in the changeable weather conditions, apart from the previously mentioned song, the following features are visible from the image.

  • A yellow wash around the face, including the supercillium with this continuing onto the upper breast.
  • A split eye ring is visible but not particularly strong.
  • A pale looking bill, especially the lower mandible.
  • Legs appear much lighter than the typical black legs of a Collybita almost light brown (a feature also noted in the field).
  • Underparts are clean and white in colour, contrasting with the olive green back and visible wing.
  • Just visible is a slight tinge of a yellow hue around the flank/underwing.

Birds, Birding, Photography, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler

Having shared the image to get a couple of other opinions, the messages received back have been quite positive, pointing to an Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus).

Also worthy of note is the *timing of the bird on the back of a large fall of southern european migrants on the Flats the previous day and the arrival of an Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus) at Flamborough on the 25th April details here: - it has also been noted the Flamborough bird does look remarkable similar in the photos to this bird.

*RBA also reported the arrival of two other birds in the UK.
  • 24th - Lower Moors, St Marys
  • 24th - Boldon Flats, Durham

Despite searching for the bird by the regular 'Wanstead Collective' that same evening and the following day, no further sightings of the bird have been recorded, that was until today (Monday 29th) when JL had this or another odd calling Chiffchaff in the same area - lets hope it's this bird, allowing one or two other people to confirm its Identification.

Comments welcome.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

My London marathon 'Race Day' and a final thanks

The day of the London marathon had finally arrived, I didn't have the best nights sleep but then I hadn't slept well all week - nerves, excitement, worry! All three of those were contributing factors.

Awake early, the weather forecast looked good, a light wind, dry and bright, with temperatures rising to 16 degrees - I only hope this wasn't going to be too warm! I'd eaten my pre-race breakfast of porridge and a banana, made a peanut butter bagel to eat en-route, drank my last hydration drink, put on my running gear with race number firmly pinned to the vest and I was off to catch the tube and the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich and the world famous start line in the park. Saying goodbye to Mrs B and my two boys at the tube station I felt the first wave of emotion as I knew the next time I saw them would be during the race.

On a busy DLR train packed with nervous looking fellow runners we passed the Olympic stadium only adding to the buzz of excitement, bringing back fond memories of the athletes who had giving their all to be a part of an amazing event last summer - for once in my life I could almost relate to their story having also given it my best to be at my fittest to tackle the physical demands of a marathon.

London Marathon, Running

The clock was ticking closer to 10am as 40,000 runners lined up in their allotted positions ready for the mass start, before that though in honour of the three people who died in the Boston marathon only six days earlier, a 30-second silence was impeccably witnessed only further adding to the emotion on the start line, my stomach was like a knot and I had so many questions flying around my head - "am I fit enough?", "will the calf hold out?", "will it be too hot?", "am I fully hydrated?", "how fast should I start?", "are these the right socks?", "will I finish?" And then the hooter sounded - we're off, well not exactly with 40,000 runners in the race it took me over ten minutes to cross the start line but eventually I did and broke into a gentle jog with 26 miles and 385 yards ahead of me.

Part of the my anxiety before the race was whether I could complete the course with a tight/bruised calf! I hadn't let on to many people but I had taken an innocent kick to the calf on the Tuesday before whilst playing football in the garden with my boys and one of their school friends. Although not serious, I had precautionary not run on it since as the race was too close, and any thoughts of not taking part through injury was just too painful to think about. As I took my first few strides I could feel the calf tighten - bollocks, not sixteen weeks training down the pan and with all those donations to my charity, this couldn't be happening! But as I pushed on, ignoring the pain the calf seem to relax and the pain eased and became bearable to run on - had it been all in my mind, was this just self-induced tension? Who cares, I was running the London marathon for probably the only time in my life, pain or no pain I was going to finish this.

Catching only a fleeting glimpse of Mrs B at the six mile marker was just the early support I needed, a combination of good weather and the 'Boston' effect had swelled the support along the route and I could only manage a brief wave to my family as I pushed on at a good pace. The first 13 miles seemed to fly by and keeping an eye on the clock I was through the half way point and over Tower Bridge in around two hours - could I keep this pace up and dip under the mythical 4 hours?

Running towards the Isle of Dogs and Docklands between miles 15 and 20 seemed to take an age as my pace started to slow, the sun shone and the temperature climbed, the next water station couldn't come too soon, grabbing a couple of jelly babies from a spectator in the crowd was just the boost I needed. The calf was holding up well but as I slowly ticked off the mile markers, other parts of my body were starting to hurt - I could feel the blisters swelling on my feet, my hips were beginning to ache and my legs starting to cramp - had I set off too fast? Was I going to pay for it in the later stages? A pre-arranged meeting point with my family and friends in Canary Wharf was just the tonic I needed, lifting my spirits, especially when I saw the home-made signs with my name on waving in the crowd - I knew that if I stopped I may not get going again, so I just grabbed the briefest of kisses from Mrs B, waved to my two boys and friends and continued my steady assault towards the finish.

Going past the 20 mile marker I knew I had it in me to finish, the sub 4 hours was now out the equation but the day wasn't just about the time, it was all about finishing - although I can't lie, I did have an eye on 4:18 - the time Mrs B recorded some 10 years ago. I almost missed the cheering support at around 23 miles from my charity and the team 'Starfish' crew, screaming my name - I could barely hear them over the noise coming from the other spectators but by now I was in the zone, focusing on finishing, I'd almost blocked out the continuous wall of sound from all the cheering supporters lining the route, my body ached, my heart was pounding and my head was thudding but my goal continued to edge closer.

Running, Race, 2013

Finally the 26 mile marker was now in sight as I ran along Birdcage Walk then turning into Mall I could see the final meter makers, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m and the finishing straight - I'd dreamt about running hard and fast towards the finishing line but by now I had given my all to get this far and as much as I tried the legs were finished, and so was I, as I crossed the line, arms aloft I had done it - 4 hours, 15 minutes and 36 seconds.

The body ached and I could hardly walk as I collected my medal but I was proud and smiling, knowing that I had achieved my goal.

There are many people I would like to thank from everyone who turned out on the day and shouted my name and willed me on as I passed them en-route - a massive thanks to you all. The wonderful people who made more than generous donations to my charity 'The Family Holiday Association', to date I've raised £1,757 and including gift aid this figure is over £2,000 and as part of a team of runners under the banner of 'Team Starfish' we have raised a combined total approaching £40,000 for this much deserving charity. A special thanks goes to my mum who championed my cause and helped push up my off-line donations by badgering all her friends, neighbours and members of her Bowls club.

And finally the biggest thanks goes to the three most important people in my life - my two young boys who cheered me on on the day and came to watch me on my winter training runs, I hope this inspires them one day to take on the challenge of a marathon, and lastly my amazing wife without whose encouragement I might have taken a different route and pulled out through injury - your love, support and understanding throughout my long marathon journey made all the difference on the day.

'Team Starfish' all Hero's - Click on the link

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Pre-Marathon race 'thanks'

I've just polished of my last big 'carb' meal of pasta and a jacket potato, washed down with a delicious pint of water - how I've missed a takeaway and the taste of a decent beer on a Saturday night!

Well it's finally here, tomorrow is London Marathon race day... sixteen long weeks of training, with the vast majority of those training runs taking place in the bitter cold of a rather harsh British winter - I always said I was mad to take on this challenge. I'm not alone though, 40,000 other runners will be joining me, all of whom have made many sacrifices to be on that start line tomorrow, all in aid of raising as much money as possible for their chosen charities.

I've been through a bit of a journey in getting to the start line, with many highs and a couple of lows along the way, running a half-marathon in 1:56 so soon after recovering from a calf strain and completing 20 miles in 3hrs whilst being waved on by Mrs Brown and my two boys were both big highs for me. The dodgy calf strain which kept me off the roads for nearly three weeks was particularly frustrating and a big low point, but looking back it's all been bloody amazing! But what I've been most amazed about is the amount of support and best wishes I've received over the weeks, especially this week with many cards and messages of goodwill received from family, friends and my extended Twitter family and fellow Bloggers, many of whom I've never actually met but they have still made the effort to wish me well or even better made a donation to my charity - at times it's all been a bit humbling and rather emotional and I'm not embarrassed to say that I've had to fight back a tear or two just thinking about it all, especially when you think about the dreadful news from Boston this week.

Which just leaves me to say 'thanks' to you all, whatever happens tomorrow will be in the lap of the gods but the two most important things to me will have been achieved, I would have reached my charity fund raising target and I made it to the start line...wish me well.

London Marathon, Running
Cheer on the 'Cowboy'

Monday, 15 April 2013

Migrantastic London 'Fall'

I hadn't planned to go birding this morning, but all that quickly changed when I received a message from the 'Wanstead faithful' reading there had been a 'fall' of Wheatear on the Flats, with up to twenty birds on site - wow! Not wanting to miss that spectacle I dashed to the Flats knowing that I had about an hours window - but what an hour that was to become!

After picking up my first Common Whitethroat of the year en-route to the Broom Fields, it was instantly clear that far more Phyllo's were about than yesterday, with Chiffchaff calling in almost every piece of scrub. I reached the Broom Fields and the messages were true - it was dripping with Northern Wheatear, with at least twenty five birds, probably more, on every grassy tussock and mound!

Meeting up with Mr Croft who had already bagged a Common Redstart and Whinchat, I was keen to move on and cover as much ground as possible, with one eye on the time I frog marched to the Alex scrub picking up a smart spring male Whinchat on the way - no chance of any images it was far to flighty, but within minutes of reaching the scrub I had soon found the female Common Redstart fly catching in the sun - perfect.

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

No real time to stop and enjoy the bird I headed quickly back across the Flats briefly stopping in the Broom Fields again to look at the amazing Northern Wheatear spectacle, when a Ring Ouzel flew straight over me, landing briefly in the Hawthorn, before flying on to one of the wooded copses - this was getting better and better.

Birds, Birding, London
Record shot for Mr Lethbridge and Mr Galley Head Birding ;-)
Continuing on through the Broom Fields and cutting up through Long Wood the sight of another red flick of the tail in the scrub ahead 'BINGO' - a  stonking male Common Redstart! Not much can beat the sight of a spring male - I'll let the images do the talking...

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London
What a cracker!
What an hours birding...and reading all the accounts of birds seen in London today, it seems as if London as a whole has had one amazing 'fall' of migrants with some fantastic numbers reported across many sites in the region - I was just happy/lucky to have been amongst it for a short time.

I couldn't not finish this post without an image of one of the Northern Wheatears from today.

Birds, Birding, London

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Wheatear at last!

A packed family weekend reduced my birding time to a brief Sunday afternoon stroll over Wanstead Flats. I'm not typically a fan of birding in the afternoon, I'm much more of a early morning person, but with limited opportunity I wasn't complaining. The sun was finally shining and the peak cap had made an appearance for the first time this year, with the woolly hat having been firmly dispatched to the back of the coat cupboard until next autumn!

A couple of Swallows and my first House Martin of the year were quickly swept along by the wind, a singing Chiffchaff in the SSSI and then, at last, my first Northern Wheatear on the Flats this year, hunkered down in the shortened grass of the broom fields - not one, but four birds keeping low and sheltering from the stiffening wind.

After the British winter we've all just endured it was nice to be able to sit in the grass (still a little damp after yesterday's rain) in the pleasant afternoon sun, whilst watching these four sub-Saharan travellers insect hunting around me - knowing full well that this was just a brief stop en-route and part of their long migration northwards - magical.

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Red-breasted Merganser on the Thames

Yesterday afternoon I took my two young boys to Rainham Marsh RSPB for a walk along the seawall not really expecting to see a great deal (I never usually do when they're in tow) but more in hope of maybe catching my first returning hirundines of spring - especially as the wind had finally switched direction.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see a relatively close inshore Red-breasted Merganser drifting down the river on the high tide, eventually ending up in Aveley Bay. Although the bird wasn't diving it looked in fairly good condition with no obvious signs of any oil or feather damage.

I would have said this bird was a female but could it actually be an immature male?

Birds, Birding, London

Birds, Birding, London

Monday, 8 April 2013

Siberian Chiffchaff - I think so!

Last week I popped into Vange Marsh an old boyhood patch of mine, now under the management of the RSPB and part of a network of reserves titled the 'South Essex Marshes' which turned out to be rather interesting!

Not a great deal had changed except the addition of a couple of sluice gates controlling the water levels on the fresh marsh and the installation of some iron gates/come screen hides sadly restricting access to the perimeter of the marsh but understandable necessary - I used to see young lads on their motorbikes scrambling all around the marsh!

Another bitterly cold day with occasional snow flurries wasn't that inspiring with a couple of Green Sandpipers, two Avocet, three Northern Pintail, Woodcock and a couple of calling Cetti's Warblers were about the best on site - that was until I picked up a Chiffchaff in a reed ditch, following its movements through the reeds I picked up a second bird then I noticed the attraction, the reed ditch was being fed by a sewage outlet pipe with a small flow of water draining straight into the ditch. Before long I had picked up at least four birds with possibly a total of six all feeding along the ditch making use of the open water and what insect life was living there.

One of the birds stood out amongst the others as being noticeable colder, greyish-brown in the field in comparison to the others! Without knowing that a 'Sibe' type Chiffchaff had been reported in the days previously I made my own conclusions that this bird could be an eastern race tristas Chiffchaff and took the next series of images.

Birds, Birding, Photography, Tristas

Birds, Birding, Photography, Tristas

Birds, Birding, Photography, Tristas

Birds, Birding, Photography, Tristas

Birds, Birding, Photography, Tristas

A couple of key features were noted:
  • The absence of olive tones in the crown and mantle
  • The absence of yellow around the area of the underwing
  • The presence of a grey-brown or pale brown hue in the upperparts
  • The presence of warm buff on the supercilium and ear-covert
  • Very black-looking bill and legs

Unfortunately no call was heard, but unlike the other birds which were occasional calling this bird stayed silent throughout the time I was observing it.

As a comparison the bird below is one of the other classic Chiffchaff's (Phylloscopus collybita) on site that day and is a good indication of the type of light the camera was picking up, which I've read can give a particular bird subtle and varying plumage tints depending on the background and general weather conditions - this bird has a much warmer olive green appearance in the upperparts.

Birds, Birding, Photography, collybita

Would I have picked up the subtle differences in the field if it had been a single lone bird - maybe not, but having other birds in comparison was the big advantage. It will be interesting to see how this develops and whether this bird is later accepted as a Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristas) or just put down as another anomaly!

If you have seen this bird or have a greater knowledge of 'Sibe' Chiffchaff's - please feel free to comment?

Friday, 5 April 2013

Little Ringed Plover on Wanstead Flats

Having missed the recent good run of waders on Wanstead Flats; Curlew, Golden Plover and Stone Curlew! The thought of missing another wader this year would of been very unpalatable, so thankfully the arrival of a Little Ringed Plover which stuck has been a real bonus. For now, it has happily taken up residency around the western end of the Flats feeding in the shallow muddy pools, frequenting between the barricaded renovation works of Jubilee pond and adjacent muddy field - known locally as the police scrape. Now into it's 6th day, could we dare hope for a second bird to arrive?

With a bit of patience, good fortune (no public, especially dog-walkers) and a combat style approach (lying flat in the mud) the LRP is quite approachable and fairly tolerant of a bloke on all fours crawling towards it being photographed at eye level - what a cracking little bird.

Birds, Birding, London, LRP