Thursday, 31 October 2013

Bowers Marsh RSPB - first impressions

I was keen to have a look at what the RSPB had been up to on Bowers Marsh, a place I knew well from my youth - and in the short time I had on this recently opened South Essex reserve, I was impressed with the changes.

Although the track down the hill and past St. Margaret's church and onto the new car park, next to the old cowshed (this use to be great spot the Little Owl) was riddled with potholes, the rest of the reserve had a freshly laid footpath, which weaved and followed the hedgerows and circumnavigated the marsh. The newly created network of flooded freshwater grasslands looked particularly impressive and already held small numbers of WigeonTeal and Shoveler. Four Spoonbills had also taken up residency on the largest body of water on the marsh, along with Little and Great Crested Grebe - in time this area should see larger numbers of winter wildfowl and hopefully a few waders pushed of the tidal creeks at high-tide. 

I didn't have time to cover the whole reserve on my short walk, but what I did see I was impressed with, Cetti's Warblers called from the reed ditches, and the hedgerows were attracting small party's of finches and I'm sure Short-eared Owls are going to be a regular feature throughout the winter months as they always use to be, but the highlight on my visit were three Corn Buntings - a bird I regularly use to see on my childhood visits to Bowers Marsh. 

Everyone is aware of the huge decline in our traditional farm land bird species, so to see these Corn Buntings still here and taking advantage of this new RSPB reserve was a great fillip, and with the RSPB now carefully managing these arable fields and wetland marshes - l hope to see there numbers increase on Bowers Marsh in the coming years.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

No Fire-crest, but a Super-cilium

It's a great time of year for catching up with Firecrest - although they do breed in small numbers in the south-east in the UK, many birds have only recently arrived from the continent alongside the more numerous Goldcrest, to spend a slightly warmer winter in one of our woodlands or actually any small evergreen copse with a good concentration of Holly bushes - that spiky, dense and dark foliage is a particular favourite.

Close to where I live in Woodford Green not far from the edge of Epping Forest there are several good areas where you can find these cracking little birds during the winter months; Bush Wood in Wanstead, Eagle Pond Wood near Snaresbrook Crown Court and Knighton Wood in Buckhurst Hill, and it was here where today I saw at least two birds possible more frantically working their way through the Holly.

Knighton Woods, Buckhurst Hill, Essex, London

Knighton Woods, Buckhurst Hill, Essex, London

Never the easiest of subjects to photograph due to their constant movement in the darkest areas of the wood, this male did stand still just long enough for me to capture him, although due to the angle, that brilliant flame red crest isn't visible - I'll just have to go back for another go!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Med Gull on Wanstead Flats

Searching through the growing number of Gulls which are starting to gather on the football pitches, It was nice to discover an adult winter Mediterranean Gull (patch tick) amongst the Black-headed Gulls, not visible on these images but the bird is also ringed - with a shiny piece of bling on its left leg.

If the bird sticks around, it would be good to get a clear and close image of the ring and read the unique BTO number - It's always fascinating to find out a little history about where these birds have travelled from - even if that's only a short distance from one of the Thameside landfill tips, but with recoveries recorded as far away as southern Spain - you just never know!

Adult Winter, Wanstead Flats, London

Adult Winter, Wanstead Flats, London

Adult Winter, Wanstead Flats, London

There is also an outside chance that this bird could be the well known Ilford individual 'Valentino' just briefly stopping at Wanstead before returning and over wintering in Valentines Park for the 14th (thanks Gideon) consecutive year - anybody know if 'Valentino' is ringed?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Late, late Tree Pipit!

This bird got my heart rate up on a wet and miserable morning on Wanstead Flats!

As I circled the SSSI area, cutting through motorcycle copse a Pipit silently flew up from the grass into a small Hawthorn bush - straight away I instinctively knew this was no Meadow Pipit. Employing my best field-craft skills (i.e not crashing in after the bird) I waited to see what it would do next, and although the bird wasn't visible on the bush, in time it did reappear, dropping to the ground - where it calmly walked and worked its way through the wet grass. I followed its movements for the next ten minutes, before finally losing sight of the bird as it flew up into one of the Oak trees as the rain started to fall even heavier - at no time did the bird call.

Getting better views of the bird I could clearly see my instincts were right and by all accounts I was watching a Tree Pipit - a very late Tree Pipit at that!

This autumn the last record of Tree Pipit on Wanstead Flats was September 21st, with another one at Rainham Marsh on the 29th, and there is only one record in October this year in the LNHS recording area, with a bird at Wormword Scrubs on the 13th.

Wanstead, London
Pipit - looking 'rare'
Wanstead, London
Pipit - still looking 'rare'
Wanstead, London
Pipit - looking less 'rare'
Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

As you can clearly see all the obvious features you would expect to see on Tree Pipit are there when compared to Meadow Pipit; Harder faced, with a strong looking bill, broad submoustachial stripe, bold streaks on the breast - finer on the flanks, and even the shortened hind claw is visible on the third image. Sadly with a heavily streaked mantle, lacking in any olive tones - my hopes of this being an Olive-backed Pipit were clearly dashed!

So I'm happy that this is just a Tree Pipit - but if anyone thinks differently please let me know? I've always wanted to find a Blyth's Pipit ;-)

Monday, 14 October 2013

Seaside Parrot Crossbills

Southend scored the first autumn arrival in the UK of a potential invasion of these Russian monsters with oversize mandibles!

When news reached me that the four Parrot Crossbills were still at Gunners Park I was eager to check them out, but with the rain continuing to come down in sheets, I patiently held off my visit until the afternoon - thinking these birds are going no where fast in this filthy weather.

My patience was rewarded when arriving early afternoon in the dry, at a much changed Gunners Park - where did that housing estate spring from? All four birds were devouring pine cones in one small evergreen tree close to the seawall, with the two male and two female (one female, one 1st year/Juv - I reviewed all my images again) birds, all oblivious at the ever increasing crowd of birders which continued to grow and encircle the small pine tree in the brightening weather.

With such close and good views of that sizeable bill, for which the upper mandible looked particularly thick and heavy, it was a pleasure to observe the birds feed - making very light work of the fresh green pine cones. Whilst there I also got to hear that deep 'chup' 'chup' call as two of the birds briefly took flight around the pine tree.

Gunners Park, Southend, Essex, Female

Gunners Park, Southend, Essex, Male

Gunners Park, Southend, Essex, Male

Gunners Park, Southend, Essex, Male

I hope it's not the last time I get to see these birds this winter and the predicted 'invasion' comes to fruition, as they truly are value for money.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Interesting Rainham Arco

After a pointless bit of Saturday morning river watching from the balcony at Rainham Marsh, in weather conditions not forecast by the BBC - where the best bird was a Brambling on the nearby feeders. I headed towards the wooded area of the reserve in search of migrants - Redwings, Song Thrushes and Robins were plentiful. As I followed the wooden boardwalk through the scrub I picked up a plain looking Acrocephalus Warbler in one of the small trees...mmm - an Acro at this time of year, away from the reeds is always worth investigating further, so for the next ten minutes I watched the bird busily feeding within the small tree, in which it occasionally came to the outer branches, allowing me to grab a few images.

Whilst watching the bird several features stood out for me:
  • The overall rusty warm toned appearance to the upper parts - best shown in the second image.
  • Short, stubby wings - giving the bird a longer tailed look.
  • Soft looking facial features - more Phylo and less Acro like at times.
  • Cocked/raised tail when perched - shown in image four.
  • Light silvery grey leg colour.





The wing length/primary projection and leg colour would rule out Marsh Warbler and I did hear the bird 'chrrr' a couple of times which does point towards Reed Warbler over Blyth's Reed Warbler but given the time of year and recent weather conditions and the difficulty of separating these two in the field you just never know!

Any thoughts or comments are most welcome.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

In 'Oare' of Crake

Surely someone has used that blog title before? If not - why not, it's the work of a genius ;)

No prizes for guessing what I went to have a look at - Spotted Crake

This long staying bird is still occupying a small reedy pond on the edge of the Oare Marshes nature reserve, and as I arrived it was obligingly on view - but as I imagined, despite its close proximity the views were always slightly obscured by the vegetation, and due to the birds skulking and nervous nature as soon as I (or someone else) moved to get a slightly better angle of view, it would frustratingly scuttle back into the reeds.

Oare Marshes, Kent, Wildlife Trust

After a preening session in which it continued to be partially hidden by the reeds, the bird did eventually come into a more open area of the pond away from the relative safety of the reeds, and being so close and aided by some good light you could really appreciate how wonderfully marked these birds are, with contrasting brown's and blue's punctuated with flecks of white throughout the body - the trio of colours kinda reminded me of a suit I once owned!

Oare Marshes, Kent, Wildlife trust

Oare Marshes, Kent, Wildlife Trust

It was just a shame I never quite got the clear image I was after in the time I had on site, but at least In between waiting for this easily spooked Crake to re-appear, a rather smiley lime-green frog did keep me entertained.

Oare Marshes, Kent, Wildlife Trust