Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015 Patch Ticks

My last visit to the patch this year and I've finally caught up with the Firecrest in Long Wood, which brings me up to a respectable 104 for the year, my best yearly total in five years of watching the site at Wanstead with any earnest.

In a fragmented and at times difficult year in which I changed jobs, lived through a 6 month house extension, whilst continuing to see my dad cruelly detetariate at the hands of Alzheimer's, I still found time to fit a bit of birding in along the way and thankfully there were a few highlights to lift the spirits, this included six new birds for me at Wanstead.

The long staying Slavonian Grebe on Heronry in Wanstead Park was great start to the year (January 2nd) and attracted many admirers during its stay, before disappearing after a cold snap when the lake froze over. I then had to wait until March 21st to finally add Woodcock to the list having thought another Winter had slipped by without seeing one. A spring Red-legged Partridge wasn't on the radar when a bird was discovered running across the Flats in mid April, much to the amusement and delight of all the birding locals who weren't around when the last bird was seen back in the 70's. And then possibly my own personal birding highlight of the year was the discovery of a singing Wood Warbler amongst the young Birch trees in the SSSI, the bird sang and performed well all morning in the rain and even stuck around the following day to allow a few more birders to catch up with this locally rare Phylloscopus Warbler.

I had to wait until the autumn to add two former Herring Gull species to the list, the first from the southern end of Europe a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and then a second from further east a 1st-winter Caspian Gull

I can't grumble with adding six new birds to the patch list in 2015, so what does 2016 hold? More of the same I imagine, with twitching having less and less of an appeal, staying local and finding something a little bit out of the ordinary is my thing and still gives me an enormous buzz - all I need to do now is find that patch defining bird - a male Eastern Subalpine Warbler would do!

Winter, Wanstead, Year list
Firecrest - my 104th species of bird in 2015 on the patch at Wanstead Flats/Park

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Great Northern Diver, Fairlop Waters

Winter finally arrived last weekend with an icy blast of air from the north, bringing with it a much anticipated first wave of birds influenced by the cold weather. Locally this produced a female Goldeneye and a 1st-Winter Caspian Gull on the Flats - the Casp was probably less influenced by the weather, but it was still an excellent local find - shame I somehow managed to miss both birds!

Along with the first big movement of Little Auks along the East Coast, which included a bird seen flying up the Thames at Grays, Great northern Divers were also popping up on inland waters, including a bird found locally at Fairlop Waters. This bird has stayed all week and today gave me my the first opportunity to go see it, which made for a welcome change of routine away from the patch on a Saturday morning.

On a fresh and bright morning the bird showed reasonably well, never too close and often playing dodge with the rowing and sailing boats on the lake, the bird seemed fit and healthy and was constantly diving for long periods, covering an enormous area under water. After a brief catch up with Shaun Harvey and with the threat of a parking fine and not much change for the machine, I gave it just over an hour on site before heading home, more than satisfied with views. 

Fairlop Waters, London, Essex

Fairlop Waters, London, Essex

Sunday, 1 November 2015

East London's favourite Med Gull

Two more year ticks added to the patch list at the weekend, with a single flyover Lapwing and an adult winter Mediterranean Gull bolstering the numbers up to the heady heights of 102.

The Med Gull in question was of course 'Valentino' or should that be 'Valentino Alexandra' given the amount of time he now chooses to spend on the Flats and especially the area around Alexandra lake, away from he's usual wintering haunt of Valentines Park, Ilford. Remarkably this is the 16th consecutive winter Valentino has returned to East London - I'm not sure how many more years the old boy's got left, but he'll be sadly missed when he eventually fails to show up one autumn.

I've had the pleasure of pointing the camera at Valentino on Wanstead Flats several times over the last few years - it's always nice when you have a willing subject, photographs were mainly of him sat or stood on the football pitches amongst the other Gulls, loafing around the edge of the lake and then occasionally in flight between the two, so it was good to get something a little different with him actually on the water. It was initially difficult to get the shot I wanted when facing directly into the light, but eventually this was made a lot easier as he drifted under the darkened areas of shade created from the trees on the island - it sounds a bit arty-farty but I do the like the contrast of the dark water and background with the whiteness of the subject.

Valentino, Wanstead

Valentino, Wanstead

Valentino, Wanstead

Valentino, Wanstead

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

From Norway with love

I've just received the recovery data on this Common Gull I saw on Wanstead Flats at the weekend, and it was aged as 3rd calendar year male and ringed on August 1st 2015 in Randaberg, Rogaland, Norway.

This bird presumably summered in southern Norway (most likely destination of where it originally fledged as a juvenile) before following a typical pattern for these birds of crossing the North Sea in the autumn - travelling over 900km to spend its winter in the UK, before making the return journey in the spring to breed as an adult - I'm no laraphile but I've definitely got a new found appreciation for these noisey chip stealers who for too long have had a bad press.

Colour Ringed, Ringing, Gulls
Common Gull (J8M4)
900km from Rogaland, Norway to Wanstead Flats

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Patch Milestone

In recent weeks the patch hasn't lived up to autumn expectations and I've struggled to record anything of note - I was beginning to worry that my target of a century of birds on the patch in a year would fall short again, especially as my time spent birding is always at a premium. But today that target was finally achieved, and what better autumn bird than a Ring Ouzel to reach that milestone with.

The all important list: Wanstead 2015

Along with the Ring Ouzel it was an excellent morning to witness a big arrival of winter Thrushes with c500 Redwing and c300 Fieldfare counted. There were also good numbers of Chaffinch going through, and Robins and Goldcrests seemed to be popping out of every bit of cover - Wanstead may not be in the same league as our birding havens along the east coast, but for an inland urban site it certainly delivers enough quality to ensure regular visits are ultimately rewarded. 

As a non-local who needs more than just leg power to get to Wanstead, I've often questioned my loyalty to the patch when I could be elsewhere birding, but to finally see 100 species of birds in a calendar year proves to myself that my efforts are worthwhile, and for all those blank weekends when I get frustrated with not seeing a great deal, days like today more than make amends - here's to 101 and next weekend...

Wanstead, autumn, male

Sunday, 20 September 2015

60 Minutes of Migration Magic

Nothing quite beats the thrill of finding a rare bird - not that I've found many, but over the years I have had one or two success's. The adrenalin rush that runs through your body at the point of realisation that you're staring at something little bit special, whether this be a local or a national rarity is for me a truly great birding emotion, and the reason I drag myself out of bed early at the weekends - but Saturday morning on the patch I experienced another rare birding emotion - goosebumps!

6.30am and I'm already on the Flats, the sun is yet to rise but a few birds are already on the move, as I pick out the calls of Siskins, Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wagtails flying over, the early signs looked good for bit of autumn vismigging.

7.00am and although the sky is covered in a low heavy cloud, the light is improving and I pick out a couple of Sand Martins circling high above me, this is quickly followed by a few Swallows as they cross the same field of view through my bins...and then for the next hour I witnessed what can only be described as one of the best local birding experiences I've ever witnessed, easily on par with any rare bird I've seen or found.

As I continued to scan my bins skyward, following the Sand Martins, more and more hirundines came into view, these birds weren't low but high up in the cloud cover, just dots in the sky - like a swarm of midges, several hundred birds grouped together in a migrating mass of force. Lowering my bins I started to get a real sense that this was just the tip of the iceberg as streams and streams of Swallows started to appear at head height all around me, without the use of my bins and with a large field of view I could see the horizon was littered with what looked like thousands of hirundines!

Several minutes passed as I stood in awe of this unfolding spectacle around me, I was just trying to take it all in and soak up this wonderful and unexpected birding experience, when a dog walker passed me and asked the usual question "Seen anything good?" I laughed. I don't usually have much time for dog walkers but today I replied with "Seen anything good...just stop for a second and look above you, there are Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins in their thousands - all making their way slowly south for the winter, this is the magic of bird migration on a huge scale". The fast moving dots in the sky were lost on him a bit, but I got the sense that he knew it meant something special to me.

The phone started to ring and it was Jono, he too was soaking up this amazing spectacle from Wanstead's aptly named Vizmig point, and was equally enamoured with what he was witnessing. As I made my way over to meet up with him the Swallows continued to stream pass me, by the time I'd crossed the Flats from Alexandra Lake, Nick had also joined Jono at the Vismig point. The three of us just stood and watched the skies around us, dumbstruck at what we were witnessing, whilst struggling to put an accurate number on the amount of birds involved. 

8.00am and as the sun finally breaks through the clouds, the sky quickly emptied of all those hirundines. Swallows and House Martins continued to move through in small numbers but the big show was over - just one hour amongst the many hundreds I've dedicated to birding, but what an hour - birding is often all about timing and on Saturday 19th September I timed it just right.

I did try to take a few photographs, but to be honest they just don't do the spectacle any justice, and it is much better remembered as a memory stored at the back of my mind than a single picture on a screen.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Yellow-legged Gull - a long overdue patch tick

I was just crossing the football pitches and heading home after another Saturday morning session on the Flats when Nick and I stopped to sift through a small selection of Gulls - we had earlier remarked on the fact that there were a distinct lack of Gulls in general on the Flats for the time of year. A quick scan through them produced a couple of adult and a juvenile Lesser black-backed Gulls, a few Black-headed Gulls and an interesting young Herring Gull - interesting because of its leggy appearance, pale coloured head, dark eye mask and heavy black bill, suggesting this bird was a michahellis race of Herring Gull. This bird wasn't the big brute of a Herring Gull you would usually associate with this species but much smaller in stature - more similar in size to the Lesser black-backed Gulls - was it then a young female?

We were both keen to see the bird in flight to get a couple of record shots, and as we approached the bird a bit closer it duly took off, showing a broad dark tailed band and contrasting white upper tail feathers and rump, features we believed confirmed this bird as a Yellow-legged Gull - but ever the sceptic I was keen to go through the photographs at home before I could be 100% happy.

1st Winter, Gulls, Wanstead, michahellis

1st Winter, Gulls, Flight, Wanstead, michahellis

1st Winter, Gulls, Flight, Wanstead, michahellis

The flight photographs put paid to any suspicions I had, and through the power of Twitter (thanks to Paul Hawkins and Dave Darrell Lambert) who were also both happy to confirm this bird was indeed a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull. Additional features of note were the pale edged dark tertials, reduced pale inner primaries and dark anchors on the scapulars.

I've never had a classic adult Yellow-legged Gull on the Flats only a couple of juvenile/1st-winter possibilities in flight, which I eventually binned as I wasn't ever totally convinced, so it was good to finally nail this one down - a long over due patch tick.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

If Jackson Pollock did Wrynecks...

Not the easiest of birds to catch up with, always preferring the heavy cover and shelter of the Broom - but still really pleasing to see and photograph (ahem) my third Wryneck on Wanstead Flats.

Several candidates below for Bird Photograph of the Year!

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Wryneck Visions

Hopefully any day now... (was how my previous blog page finished) and then 48hrs later - bam! A visiting birder goes and finds a Wryneck on the Flats - and the timing couldn't have been better, I was just about to sit down for a family evening meal when I received the news! The easy option would have been to play it cool, having previously seen two birds on the patch, and also knowing they usually stick around for a few days in the autumn, but oh no - the draw of seeing another patch Wryneck was just to strong, and I made my apologies/excuses and jumped in the car.

To be honest it was all a bit of anticlimax, I did catch up with the bird but only in flight a couple of times, and I never quite got the views I had hoped for. It's my own fault it was all a bit of anticlimax - I always set the bar high, and I'm constantly filling up my head with these amazing images of birds (which this time happens to be a Wryneck) feeding just feet away on an ant hill in the open, tossing ants into the air, whilst rotating its head through 360 degrees - yep, crazy I know, but that's how I visualise the scene as I cut someone else up on a roundabout as I rocket towards the Flats, jumping red lights and picking up speeding fines along the way.

I'm sure the bird will do the decent thing and stick around until at least next weekend, when hopefully those dazzling images in my head will all come true...

In the meantime, here's a photo of a Spotted Flycatcher doing the decent thing and perching nicely on a branch - this photo could have been vastly improved if the Spot Fly had caught a Purple Emperor butterfly - there I go again!

Wryneck was number 98 - the finishing line is within sight!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Redstarts Rock...

...especially those cracking male birds.

After a week receiving regular news updates about a good sprinkling of autumn migrants coming from the patch, I finally got out amongst it this morning and wasn't disappointed, with up to four Common Redstarts being the highlight - my first of the year and another notch towards my century goal.

A supporting cast of 5 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Tree Pipit, a Hobby and several flyover Yellow Wagtails kept the morning ticking along nicely - but it was the Redstarts that ultimately stole the show.

The usual Wanstead crew members were out in force, along with Barking's favourite birding son Mr Hawkins, plus several tourist birders keen on seeing what Wanstead had to offer - and why not, good news travels far and wide, and most often than not Wanstead delivers - especially at this time of year, all we're missing now is that Wryneck - hopefully any day now...

Male, Wanstead, London

Male, Wanstead, London

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Pied Flycatchers - Like London buses

No apologies for posting a photo heavy series of images of a super showy Pied Flycatcher from Wanstead Flats this morning - especially after the last one was so difficult to pin down. The location this time was a small sheltered Oak in Long Wood, in which the bird stayed faithful to all morning.

Birding a patch is a funny old game at times, prior to this autumn I had only ever seen one Pied Fly in over five years of slog around the Flats - I've now found two birds in a space of eight days!

This was Wanstead's third Pied Flycatcher of the autumn, which surely cements its place as one of the best sites in London to catch up with this passage favourite? I also had Whinchat, Tree Pipit, 3 Spotted Flycatchers and a finally Yellow Wagtail (96), although Common Redstart still continues to elude me...

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Thursday, 20 August 2015

A trio of Tree Pipits

After the weekends success in adding Pied Flycatcher to the patch year list, I've managed to add a couple more autumn favourites to the list during the week, Spotted Flycatcher and this cracking Tree Pipit - one of three birds which have been seen around Long Wood in the past couple of days. The total now stands at 95 and with a good chance of adding both Yellow Wagtail and hopefully a Common Redstart this weekend, I'm edging ever closer to breaking that elusive century of patch birds for the year.

Wanstead, London, Autumn, Hawthorn

Wanstead, London, Autumn, Hawthorn

Wanstead, London, Autumn, Hawthorn

Monday, 17 August 2015

Pie-eyed Flycatcher

After an evening in the pub with the rest of the Wanstead birding crew, were I enjoyed mostly talking rubbish, as ale after ale continued to flow. We had all met up to wish fellow patch-worker Dan well in his new Devon adventure - I'm sure he's going to miss the patch but maybe not as much as the Witherspoon pint drinking, tattooed ladies of Leytonstone! 

As my birding colleagues slept off their hangovers, I stole a march on them all and was up and out on the Flats before 7.00am. Dehydrated and feeling a little jaded myself, I headed towards the SSSI area, soon I was watching good numbers of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff feeding amongst the young Birch trees when I recognised the contact call of a Pied Flycatcher. Earlier in the week I had missed the previous patch Pied Fly by just a few minutes, so this was a little a bit of redemption and reward for dragging myself out of bed. I could just pick out the bird in the heavy leafy cover of one of the Lime Trees and quickly put the message out to last nights motley crew, slowly one by one they all soon put in an appearance - some looking and smelling better than others (you know who you are).

I believe the bird stuck around for most of the day, allowing everyone to eventually connect with this quality autumn bird. This was only my second Pied Fly on the patch having missed several in the past, never an easy bird to catch up with and always difficult to photograph amongst the shaded leafy cover - not made any easier by the slow reactions of a tired and hungover bloke behind the camera!

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Wanstead, London, Autumn

Wanstead, London, Autumn

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

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Novelty Sandpiper

Although Green Sandpiper is an annually recorded passage wader at Wanstead, usually seen along the river Roding or as a flyover on the Flats - I've struggled to catch up with one, which is not that unusual as waders in general seem to elude me at Wanstead. My only previous record was a bird in flight calling over the Flats, which I failed to see and frustratingly went down as heard only.

So with news of a bird enjoying the exposed mud of an ever shrinking Shoulder of Mutton lake (possibly for its 3rd day). A - I was keen to see it, and B - Seeing any feeding wader on the deck in Wanstead is always a bit of a novelty for us landlocked locals.

Adding Green Sandpiper to the patch year list brings me up and into the nervous 90's, and with Nick Croft hearing Little Owl on the Flats as he made his way home after connecting with the Green Sandpiper, hopefully 91 is not too far away.

Wanstead, London

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Re-Tern to the patch

I've not added a new bird to the patch year list since the 28th May (Reed Warbler) and I wasn't expecting to add anything new this weekend, but a rare mid-summer visit reaped a small reward in the shape of a Common Tern - It caught me totally off guard (hence the poor photo below) as it quickly flew low and without calling over Alexandra Lake.

In previous years I can typically add Common Tern to the year list with a visit to Wanstead Park, with one or two birds knocking around the waters - but as yet this hasn't been the case, which makes ticking a bird on the Flats a real bonus. That's 89 for the Year List with a couple of glaring omissions still to add - Yellow Wagtail and Siskin, and with autumn just around the corner, there'll hopefully be a few more goodies on the horizon to keep me on track of breaking that century count for the year.

Wanstead, London, birding

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Stornoway Band out birding

A weekend which was mostly taken up by a family wedding put paid to any birding plans I might have had. I did however manage to nip out to Rainham for a couple hours late Sunday afternoon - always a good way to nurse a hangover. The plan was to try and catch up with one of the Temmincks Stints on the Target Pools - but unfortunately these birds never lingered, and had all quickly moved on.

Male, Rainham Marsh, RSPB
A showy male Reed Bunting, posing close to the path on the northern boardwalk
The only other sighting of note was the music band - Stornoway. I believe they were playing a small gig on the reserve that evening to a select few, as part of a whistle stop tour of several RSPB reserves to promote their latest album 'Bonxie'. If you aren't familiar with the band, a couple of the guys are keen birders - hence the name of the album and the connection with the RSPB. I'm not sure if i would have recognised them myself, if it wasn't for a recent appearance on Springwatch Unsprung with Chris Packham.

Having listened to a few sample tracks on iTunes, I would describe their sound as alternative, easy listening, modern folk - if there is such genre. Not sure it's quite my cup of tea but the new single 'Get Low' is definitely growing on me - so who knows i'll probably end up buying the album, unless of course the band appreciate the free plug on this well respected and wonderful birding blog, and feel the need to reward me with a signed copy of the album - which would be gratefully received.

Birding, Birdwatching, Rainham, RSPB
Members of Stornoway birding on Rainham Marsh RSPB
Holding the bins, lead singer Bryan Briggs and in the baseball cap Oli Steadman - I think!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Red-backed Shrike, Fairlop Waters

What better news to receive than a male Red-backed Shrike on your doorstep - well virtually, just a twenty minute drive away at Fairlop Waters. With plans already made for the bank holiday Monday, I'd have to sit on news and wait until the end of the day before I got the chance to see this one.

But after the birds initial discovery in the morning, reports suggested it had quickly moved on with no sign of the bird for several hours. This all changed when Paul Hawkins goes and posts a teasingly good photo of the bird on Twitter, having successfully located the bird again. Fairlop Water is not an area I know particularly well and after a little bit of confusion as to where the birds exact location was, and then a further 30 minute search in that scrubby area, I eventually found the bird sat up on a heavily thorned thicket.

Although extremely mobile, I enjoyed good views of this very smart male bird late into the evening - a cracking way to finish off the long bank holiday weekend.

Male, Fairlop Waters, London

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hare-brained idea

It's 5am and I'm back at Rainham Marsh - not sure why I needed to be there quite that early, the night before it seemed like a good idea. The sound of a Cuckoo calling and Grasshopper Warbler reeling are abruptly interrupted by the exploding song of a Cetti's Warbler as I follow the footpath at the west end of the marsh.

My many previous attempts at photographing Cetti's Warbler have all typically ended in failure, with a trash bin full of deleted photographs of birds partially obscured by dense cover. So for once, it was good to get a clean shot of a bird briefly out in the open - and that's about as good as the morning got. Aveley Bay was waderless, there were a few Common Terns milling about mid river and scoping the reserve from the sea wall didn't result in much either, apart from what looks like a good breeding season for both Redshank and Lapwing.

Rainham, Marsh, RSPB

Rainham, Marsh, RSPB

There was one other bonus for being out at this time in the morning, and this was having great views of a Brown Hare as it fed along the grassy edge of the roadside verge - I've seen them previously at Rainham but never as close as this.

Rainham, Marsh, RSPB

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Last Oenanthe this spring

With spring migration virtually over - Wanstead already has that feel of mid-summer about it. I've turned my attention to a couple of other local sites I like to keep my eye on.

Firstly Rainham Marsh, I'm a big fan of the reserve and it's a great place to catch up with our usual marsh habitat summer migrants; Hobby, Cuckoo, Reed, Sedge and Grasshopper Warbler, but I always feel it should attract a bit more, and on many occasions I've left the reserve feeling a bit disappointed. Having spoken with Howard Vaughan it's also been a poor spring for passage waders, the water levels have looked good but the birds just haven't arrived, and the ones that have, didn't stay very long - lets hope the reserve can have a change in fortunes this autumn.

The other place is KGV reservoir, as a permit holder I enjoy access to this site. This is another place which should be a real magnet for birds, but again I feel it under performs, this differs from Rainham as it suffers from being under watched - on the odd occasion I do visit, I rarely see another soul. There are a few regulars which cover the area but with two expansive areas of water to check, along with scrubby pockets of habitat which run alongside the river also worth a look, it's no surprise that stuff gets missed - I recently circumnavigated just the south basin and timed my walk at around 90 minutes, which goes to show the size of the area.

Being at the peak of Red-necked Phalarope passage I was checking and hoping one had dropped in at the reservoir - sadly not this time, and the only bird of note was a female Northern Wheatear - I thought I'd seen the last of these locally this spring, so I had no complaints about seeing just one more.

Female, KGV Reservoir, London

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Super Dad

The blogpost title is not a reference to myself but a very special male Great Tit.

It was great to discover that a pair of Great Tits were using one of our garden nest boxes, this was a garden first and the whole family were keen to see how they progressed. The proximity of the nest box on the back of the house, also meant restricted games of football and cricket in the garden, but as I explained to my two children, this would only be for a couple of weeks - but to them I bet it felt like a lifetime.

Things were progressing well, the eggs hatched and we could hear the calls of the noisy young inside the box. But shortly after, I noticed the female bird had sadly disappeared, most likely predated by a local Sparrowhawk or by one of the many cats which frequent the neighbourhood. With up to eight hungry mouths to feed, the inevitable happened and those noisy calls became a lot quieter as the days past and dad struggled to feed the whole brood on his own. But this Great Tit never gave up and persevered, continuing to feed the remaining birds, probably just three of four of the more advanced or strongest birds. He tirelessly went back and forth, spiders seemed to be a favourite food source and I would often seen him covered in cobwebs. I did my best to aid him by keeping the sunflower hearts topped up in the bird feeder, just to make sure he had a ready available high-energy food source nearby.

Adult, Male, Nesting

Adult, Male, Nesting

Adult, Male, Nesting

Knowing the young were due to fledge any day soon I kept an eye on the nest box and each morning I would listen out for their calls through the back window, but this morning when I checked I could see three young Great Tits bouncing around on the lawn - I could also see a bloody cat in the garden! Banging on the window to scare off the cat, I could see it eyeing up one of the young birds, I quickly unlocked the back door and dashed out there, only to find the cat had scarpered and there was only two juveniles left - my heart sunk, the hard work of this brave single parent was almost wiped out in a flash.

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

I spent the next hour sat in the garden watching and protecting - from a distance, the remaining two birds, as dad continued to feed them both. Thankfully no cats returned, although I had to scare off an inquisitive Magpie.

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

The photo below was the last one I took before the pair scrambled up the fence and took a brief shaky flight into my neighbours garden, I could still hear them calling but they were now out of sight. There is a large Elm tree just a couple of doors down and the birds seemed to be heading for the safety of that.

I'd like to think that these two birds would have survived to adulthood and will fledge young of their own one day, but given what perils are out there, their chances are only slim. I also hope super dad can find another partner soon as it's still early enough in the season for another brood - that's if he can find the energy.

Juvenile, Fledged