Friday, 30 December 2016

Keeping It Real Until the End

I've done my best to add to my 106 patch year total over the last couple of days, but despite my best efforts in a mixture of fog and winter sunshine I've failed to locate a Woodcock, Little Owl or even a Yellow-legged Gull to add to this score, so it looks as if an admirable 106 will be my final 2016 total.

The patch's 2nd Yellow-browed Warbler of the year remains in situ on Alexandra Lake - we're all hoping that hangs around until the 1st of Jan or even the day after (I may struggle to make the 1st due the sizeable hangover I'm expecting). The rest of the patch remains deathly quiet apart from a single Stonechat on the western side of the Flats, near the Cat and Dog pond which in todays warm winter light seemed to glow from its dead nettle perch.

Stejnegers's, Siberian, Caspian
Just an old school Stonechat  - not Stejnegers's, Siberian or even Caspian.

In a year in which I continued to give the patch almost all of my limited spare time, often choosing to tread the same pathways week after week over the opportunity to go birding elsewhere or even twitch something, I feel this decision has been duly rewarded with five quality new birds added to the patch list (Cettis Warbler, Ortolan Bunting, Yellow-browed Warbler, White-fronted goose and Great Grey Shrike) all of which has kept my interest firmly focused locally - and as long as the birding gods continue to deliver these little gifts now and then I'll continue to happily give it my precious spare time.

So unless I manage to get out onto the patch on the the last Saturday of 2016 this will probably be my last post of the year, which just remains for me to wish you all a very happy New Year 2017 and many thanks for reading and commenting - It's very much appreciated and here's hoping I have enough decent subject matter in 2017 to continue to fill these pages...

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Patch Year List - Smashed!

104 was the number to beat and smashed it I have.

A single Golden Plover over the Flats on December 4th was the bird which took me to 104 for the year - equalling my previous best total, and then on Saturday I went in search of a couple of those notable omissions. First up was Kingfisher, not a difficult bird to catch up with if you spend enough time in Wanstead Park but that's why it was still missing from my list - I don't cover the Park very often, but within seconds of stepping out of the car as I walked towards the Tea Hut the first bird I encounter was a Kingfisher flying low over Heronry Lake. With Kingfisher easily snaffled and a new personal best of 105 in my back pocket my next stop was Bush Wood, this is another location on the patch I rarely visit but it can be good area for my next target - Treecreeper.

The trouble with Bush Wood is the general lack of light, even on the brightest of days it feels dark and gloomy which is great news if you're a Firecrest wintering amongst the tangled mass of Holly but if you're searching for a Treecreeper the gloom can easily hamper your chances, but again I got lucky. I picked out the shape of a pair of Nuthatch silhouetted amongst the bare branches and sky, followed by a Tit flock passing through and then soon after number 106 came into view as a Treecreeper flew between the nearest two tree trunks.

The 2016 List

106 a new personal best year total on the patch and with a little bit of time off between Christmas and New Year there may just be an outside chance of adding to this number - and then we restart those totals and go all over again!

Birds, Woodland, Wanstead
A Treecreeper in the dark
Emphasising just how dark and gloomy Bush Wood can be!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The magic Autumn four...

As we said goodbye to Autumn and hit November predictably the patch has become sterile and the last couple of weekends haven't produced anything of note - and if we don't have a cold snap soon the run up to the New Year could be a big non-event. But with the patch year list sitting on a healthy 103 there are a couple of notable omissions I'm still looking to add - KingfisherTreecreeper and Woodcock which could push that year list to new personal heights - with 104 being the number to beat. That's the beauty of having a personal target it's keeping me motivated and pushing me all the way until the end of the year, even if it is as dead as Dodo!

But looking back over the Autumn it was an exceptional period of time to be birding on Wanstead Flats, I personally added four patch ticks, all of which were real quality birds and wouldn't have looked out of place at the likes of Dungeness, Landguard or Portland - sometimes it's easy to forget where exactly the patch is situated, this is not some coastal peninsula but an urban piece of greenery in an highly populated part of East London with a few football pitches, a small lake, an ornamental pond, a couple copse's and pockets of long grass - but boy oh boy on its day it can give any of those big three locations a run for their money.

Those magic Autumn four...

7th September
Ortolan Bunting
Wanstead Flats

8th October
Yellow-browed Warbler
Wanstead Flats

8th October
White-fronted Geese
Wanstead Flats

29th October
Great Grey Shrike
Wanstead Flats

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Where's Valentino?

I'm starting to get mildly concerned about East London's favourite Mediterranean Gull - Valentino.

We are now into the 1st week of November and there's been no sign of him on Wanstead Flats or Valentines Park. You can usually guarantee a sighting by now as we exit the the tail end of autumn at either of his favourite East London haunts - maybe the old boy is just taking his time, or has age finally caught up with him?

It was back in 2000 when he was first reported at Valentines Park and this winter would have been his 16th return visit to the area, but at the grand old age of 18 (if not a bit older) I do wonder if his time is finally up? I for one will be saddened if this is the case as I'm a big fan of Med Gulls plus he's always been very obliging when in front of the camera, there's still hope and time yet for an appearance...but just in case last winter was his final bow, here are a few of my favourite images of this local celebrity.

Med Gull, Adult Winter, Valentino

Med Gull, Adult Winter, Valentino

Med Gull, Adult Winter, Valentino

Med Gull, Adult Winter, Valentino

Med Gull, Adult Winter, Valentino

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Great Grey Shrike on Wanstead Flats - now that sounds good!

After seeing an Isabelline Shrike yesterday, I didn't think I'd be be writing about seeing another Shrike so soon - and a Shrike on the patch no less!

I followed my usual Saturday morning routine of being on the Flats for first light, but heavy, low cloud cover had made the early morning feel even darker and gloomier than usual. As I made my way around Alexandra Lake I could here a small party of Siskin calling and were the first birds of any note, the scrub around the pub was quiet so I headed back past the lake and along the Ditch of Despair (or Delight, depending on what you find there), and in the distance I can just make out a bird with the naked eye in the gloom, perched up on an exposed bush on the strip of grassland that separates the football pitches, lifting my bins the unmistakable shape of a Great Grey Shrike is staring back at me!! A big rush of emotions quickly entered my head, first; I need a record shot, and second; I need to get the news out to the patch regulars, but within a split second of seeing the bird and whilst trying to move a bit closer (not easy in the long grass) the bird had simply disappeared! I carry on walking right up to the bush and look around - nothing, where had the bugger gone?

Whilst scanning the area, I phoned Jono and Nick and tweeted the news out, luckily Jono was already on the patch at the Vis Mig point and within five minutes he was standing beside me, but with no sign of the bird I thought it was going to be one of those single observer sightings and with no record shots either - I could see things being a little bit prickly at the Wanstead birders annual Christmas drinks - I needed to re-find this bird.

After a quick discussion and a well done from Jono (through gritted teeth at this point) we decided to spilt up and try and cover as much ground as possible. An agonising 15 minutes went by before I re-found the bird perched up on a Hawthorn bush in the Broom fields - I fire off a distant record shot and then quickly ring Jono who I can see is also in the Broom fields but on the wrong side of the bush! I direct him towards the bush and bingo the bird flies out and along centre path in full view of Jono - at this point I can see Jono punching the air with delight.

Bob has now appeared, and with impeccable timing also sees the bird in flight across the Brooms (I think there is some kind of group hug at this point, but as I'm overdosing on adrenaline it's all a bit vague). The three us manage to see the bird perched up briefly once more, before it seemed to disappear into Centre Copse.

Nick, Richard, Tim and James have all now arrived on the scene but despite covering every inch of the Flats between us over the next couple of hours, disappointingly we are unable to find the bird again.

Wanstead Flats, London
Can you see it?
Wanstead Flats, London
Heavily cropped, but yes, oh yes - That's a Great Grey Shrike!
This was the 1st record of Great Grey Shrike on Wanstead Flats and only the 3rd ever for the patch, with two records in the 1970's in Wanstead Park - the last one being in 1977 around the Old Sewage Works, a mere 39 years ago.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Isabelline Shrike - what's not to like

I'm not sure what's rarer - an Essex Isabelline Shrike or finding myself with a free afternoon? Well, as it's been 28 years since the last Izzy Shrike to grace Essex I think the bird just about wins! But as free afternoons go, it doesn't get a lot better than spending it watching a feisty Shrike catching and then devouring dragonflies - if only Friday afternoons were always like this.

This was my first visit to Hythe Lagoons and from what I saw of it, it looks like a cracking little nature reserve on the River Colne, and being close to Colchester on the A12 it also meant I only spent just over an hour in the car to find the site - which is my kind of twitch. Parking was free along Haven Road in the industrial estate and then it was a short 10 minute walk along the river to view the bird from about 30 metres adjacent to the lagoon. Unfortunately the bird was just out of reach using the SLR camera, however I can't complain with my handheld digiscoped effort below - not bad for a record shot of this stunning 1st-winter performer, lets hope Essex doesn't have to wait another 28 years for the next one!

Daurian, 1st-winter, Essex
1st-winter Isabelline Shrike, Hythe Lagoons.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Flushed with success

Another quality morning on the patch, smashing through the century mark for the year and adding three new birds - Common Snipe (100), Brambling (101) and Jack Snipe (102).

The morning was mainly dominated by a big autumn movement of winter Thrushes, Starlings, Larks and Finches all from the east and heading west, at a guess there were c2000 Starlings and over 300+ Chaffinch, lesser numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare and maybe 50 Skylark (for a more accurate number, probably best to check the London birders Wicki Page as Mr Croft was keeping an accurate tally - he had to sharpen his pencil twice!).

The other highlight was the discovery of only my 2nd record of Jack Snipe on the patch. As I followed a Grey Wagtail along the perimeter of Alexandra Lake I almost stood on the bird as it burst out of the scrubby vegetation close to the waters edge - startling me before it was quickly lost to view from where I was crouching. That brought up number 102 for the patch and within reach of 104 my best ever year total, with notable absentees of Kingfisher and Treecreeper still to be added, surely it's going to be a record year?

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Saturday, 8 October 2016

This makes me very happy...

My patch most wanted bird...done.

Next one up on this special little list...Dartford Warbler.

Wanstead, London
Yellow-browed Warbler, Wanstead Flats - finally added to the patch list.
...24 hrs later and I've had time to reflect on the events of yesterday, and looking back it has to go down as one of the best autumn mornings on the patch I've experienced. How it all unfolded is brilliantly described by Jono here and James here.

First up was that amazing Yellow-browed Warbler, a patch tick I had long craved for and a bird which had to drop at some point during the autumn as the country seems to be crawling in them - with midweek sightings locally at Snaresbrook and several more across the London region, we all sensed it would only be a matter of time until one of us picked up that unmistakable call. The honours went to James, a relative newby to the patch but a fully deserved reward for putting in some excellent weekend coverage over Wanstead this year.

Then there was a matter of those 'Geese'. Fifteen wonderfully unexpected White-fronted Geese no less - which just seemed to appear out of the sky from no where whilst we were watching the YBW. I like to think I've got a pretty good radar for knowing what you might expect to see at any given point of the year, but seeing a skein of wild grey Geese circling Wanstead Flats in the early part of a mild October definitely wasn't on my birding radar! Had it been mid-february during a record cold snap across the UK with snow on the ground and a biting north-easterly wind blowing straight across the North Sea then maybe White-fronted Geese might have entered my mind.

Wanstead, London, Wild Geese
Totally unexpected
And finally the Ouzels. Ring Ouzels are regular spring and autumn passage visitors to Wanstead and it's a poor year if you don't see one, but with at least five birds (difficult to put down an accurate number, due to repeat sightings) across the Flats yesterday was exceptional, and by continually catching brief glimpses of these birds all morning only added more spice to the proceedings.

So, two patch ticks in one day, doubling my new birds on patch for this year (Cetti's Warbler and Ortolan Bunting being the other two) and you can see why I'm raving about Saturday the 8th October. That morning will be hard to beat this year in terms of a local patch birding experience...but it's only 6 days until next weekend to at least give it go!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The patch all to myself...

On the patch Saturday morning and I had a very rare occurrence - I was the only birder on site!

With the guys away for the week up north on some far flung isle (I believe the place is called Shetland - never heard of it myself!) I was alone, with the whole patch all to myself (well, that's if you exclude the usual dog walkers, footballers, rough sleepers and general odd balls) it felt good, if not a little strange. As is the draw of Wanstead these days you can almost guarantee bumping into another birder at some point as you cross the Flats - but not today.

The morning started cold and misty but it wasn't long before the sun broke through, quickly clearing the mist and leaving the Flats bathed in warm autumn sunshine - which seemed to be the trigger for the birds. Meadow Pipits seeped, seeped over head and small parties of Hirundines trickled past me, there was no sign of last weeks Stonechats in the Brooms but a Common Whitethroat was still knocking about (I later found two other birds near Long Wood - always good to see these birds into October) but the morning ultimately belonged to the Chiffchaffs with a conservative count of between 25 and 30 birds across the Flats - it felt as if every bush held a least one Chiffchaff and on two occasions I counted six birds together in both Long Wood and the SSSI.

After the recent large influx of Yellow-browed Warblers along the east coast I strained my ears just for the merest hint of tsueeeet amongst the Chiffie's but despite my best efforts I couldn't hear one, so today wasn't to be my day and as the skies darkened and the heavy rain fell (and after getting a good soaking) I called it a day still dreaming of finding one of these magical little eastern gems on the patch.

Shetland, Sumburgh
Yellow-browed Warber is on my patch most wanted list.
(This bird was photographed on some place called Shetland).

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A Changing of the Guard

Late September on the Flats and it's all change, the last of the Northern Wheatears have all but departed and commoner migrants have become scarce - although a Common Redstart was still enjoying the last of the autumn sunshine in Long Wood.

New in this week was the arrival of two Stonechat in the Broom fields, a typical autumn record as this years young move away from their coastal breeding grounds and disperse to discover a degree or two warmer inland habitats. I'm hoping these birds will stick around through the winter, and who knows a long over due Dartford Warbler might even tag along for the ride - now that would liven up what could be a long winter!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Wigeon, Wheatear and Milestones

A bit of a non-event on Saturday morning this week. The weather had dramatically changed with a big swing in temperature from the barmy September heatwave hitting 30°c midweek to the now cooler return to normal autumnal temperatures around 15°c with a stiff westerly breeze to boot - for the first time in ages it felt cold at 6.30am in the morning, not quite cold enough to justify the stripy woolly hat, but it won't be long until that's dusted off.

On the bird front the last of our summer migrants were still hanging on, a couple of Northern Wheatears hunkered down low in the grass on the football pitches, 3 Yellow Wagtails flew over, a Spotted Flycatcher was still catching insects in Long Wood and a steady stream of Swallows and House Martins headed west! Not sure why they were all going west - maybe they cross the channel in Cornwall? But someone should show them a map of the UK as crossing in Kent near Dover might actually save a bit of energy and a few miles.

1st-winter, autumn, Wanstead

The only other birds of note were two Wigeon on Alexandra Lake. If proof was needed that summer was officially over and we were now heading through autumn like a juggernaut, with winter fast approaching it was the return of our winter wildfowl. For a small urban park lake it was good to see increasing numbers of Teal, Pochard, Shoveler and Gadwall - to be honest I'm amazed we get any ducks on the lake at all considering the amount of disturbance it receives on a daily basis from various non-wildlife friendly parties.

Maile, female, ducks, wildfowl

As this latest blogpost gets released on the public, I noticed I've a hit a little milestone - this is my 200th post in just over 4 years I've be writing as the "The Cowboy Birder" and with a bit of basic maths I'm averaging about one post every week, this is by no means prolific compared to the two big London birding bloggers (Jono - Wanstead Birder & Steve - North Downs and Beyond) but it's a fair effort, especially when you consider what else I have to fit around this. I'm still finding the whole blogging malarkey hugely enjoyable and as long as people continue to read and comment, I'm happy to continue...hear's to the next 200 - Yeehaa!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Wheatear to the Rescue

After all the Ortolan Bunting fun and games on Wednesday evening and finally catching my breath again (after cycling like a mad man to get to the patch that evening), it was back to the old routine today. There were up to 5 Whinchat across the Flats, a couple of Yellow Wagtail flew over and there were still one or two Common Whitethroat hanging on in the Brooms, whilst a dozen or so House Martin circled over Long Wood and that was about the sum of the it.

Thankfully, the morning was saved by a single Northern Wheatear - not your atypical flighty one, but one of those wonderful confiding 1st-winter birds, which happily strike a pose for the camera (unlike those adults in the spring). The weather was overcast and gloomy so the light was poor but I'm pleased with the resulting photos, especially as our Wheatear days are now numbered.

1st-winter, Autumn, Wanstead

1st-winter, Autumn, Wanstead

1st-winter, Autumn, Wanstead

Thursday, 8 September 2016

I've seen this Bunting...

This now infamous subject heading/hashtag is immortalised in east London birding folklore thanks to a lovely couple we met on Shetland in 2014. We'd bump into them on a daily basis and they would recall a story about a strange Bunting they had seen in their strong Yorkshire accents - which would secretly have us in fits of laughter (this folklore was later added too by a bit of dodgy Little Bunting misidentification in the Sumburgh lighthouse garden). So 2 years later and this phrase was well and truly resurrected again on Wanstead Flats Wednesday evening with confirmation of the patch's first record of Ortolan Bunting.

I sent Nick Croft a tweet in the morning as a reminder that the window for finding a Wryneck on the patch this year was closing (last week of August/1st week in September) and he only goes and trumps this by pulling a bloody Ortolan Bunting out of the bag! Ok the initial ID was not as straight forward as some people may have thought, but given the flighty unsettled nature of the bird and poor views I'm not surprised the first messages went out as a young Corn Bunting.

I only ever saw the bird in flight on a couple of occasions and although I wasn't totally convinced by the the odd flight calls it was giving, I too was also going down the Corn Bunting route until Bob Vaughan only goes and produces conclusive images of the bird nicely perched up on a Hawthorn bush earlier in the day - If it hadn't been for his photos I think we'd all be safely pencilling in Corn Bunting but with a few, what ifs and maybes...Buntings - don't you just love'm!

A great new addition to the patch list and a long overdue piece of patch gold I had been longing for.

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London, UK
Photos courtesy of Captain Bob Vaughan - the patch's celebrity Jeremy Corbyn lookalike and dog walker fancier! 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Pied Fly - at Speed!

A real smash and grab session on the patch this morning (too much other stuff to do over the weekend) resulted in adding Pied Flycatcher to the year list (95).

You can forget speed dating this was speed birding! I was out by 6am and home by 10am but in the intervening four hours I'd had a good, if brief session. Along with the Pied Fly, I'd also seen 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Common Redstart and singles of both Whinchat and Wheatear. There were also a couple of Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler along with the usual Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Phylo's - by no means a classic autumn fall but certainly enough interest to make those precious few hours absolutely whizz by.

Days (mornings) like today certainly energise you, and make amends for all those hours of toil when you wait all week to get out on to the patch only to leave disappointed - hopefully in the next few weeks as we hit peak autumn passage the birding gods will offer up a little piece of patch gold...

Autumn, Passage, Wanstead
Not the best photograph I've ever taken, but a patch Pied Fly is always a welcome sight - even if the bugger wouldn't keep still or was that me!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Patch Update - ticking over

After last weekends success in adding both Tree Pipit and Wigeon to the patch year list, I was hoping for more additions today - but unfortunately, a single Common Sandpiper skirting around the edge of Alexandra Lake was the only new bird.

Patch Year List

The now semi-retired midweek guys had pulled a Pied Fly and Golden Plover out the bag, along with good numbers of Spotted Flycatchers (seven) and Whinchat (six), so my expectations for this morning were running high, but as so often is the case at this time of year one clear night and most things had buggered off south the following morning - leaving me with just the scraps. The only birds of note were a single Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Whinchats and a Garden Warbler, hey ho - it's the long Bank Holiday weekend and in the blink of an eye things can change with endless possibilities...I just need to find the time to get out there!

Autumn, London, Wanstead
I've been spotted by a Spotted Flycatcher!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Surf, Pasties and a Pelican would have been rude not to have paid this big old bird a visit whilst holidaying in Cornwall with the family - especially as it's potentially a 1st for Britain.

A wonderful week of sun, sea and surf in Cornwall, along with far too many pasties and I was playing it super cool, leaving it until our last day before making the short 45 minute drive from our base near Padstow to Point Quay on Restronguet Creek to have a look at the now long staying (knocking around Cornwall since 7th May) adult Dalmatian Pelican - it was just a shame the bird was showing so distantly.

The bird has been favouring an exposed spit visible at low tide in the middle of the creek, so when I arrived there it was asleep with head in wing, not looking that dissimilar to a Mute Swan - as I only had my bins I was grateful to another birder who let me view the bird through his scope. Thankfully the bird did eventually move, standing up and going for a bit of a walk along the spit, finishing with a bit of a preen before slumping down again for another snooze. 

It would've been great to have witnessed the bird in flight and seeing that big 3 metre wingspan in action but alas it wasn't to be, and soon my all too brief visit to Point Quay was over, as I had some more waves to catch and a meeting with another pasty - surfs up!

Cornwall, Restronguet Creek, Point Quay

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day 2016 - Rainham Marsh

I have to thank and applaud all who helped to make Hen Harrier Day at Rainham Marsh a big success. From the RSPB volunteers to the impassioned key speakers, and especially the hundreds of "Active Conservationists" who came along in support of the ongoing campaign to save our Hen Harriers and upland wildlife in general and finally ban the archaic act of Driven Grouse Shooting.

We have until September 20th to reach the magic milestone of 100,000 signatures, and trigger that all important parliamentary debate. So if you haven't signed already - SIGN TODAY!
And if you have signed, ask your family and friends to sign? Lets get this petition over the line...

Click here "The Petition"

Hen Harrier Day, Rainham, RSPB
73,302 signatures and rising with every passing hour
Hen Harrier Day, Rainham, RSPB
Chris Packham and Mike Clarke chew over the facts!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

In search of Southern Migrant Hawker

I took the kids to Wat Tyler Country Park with the promise of ice cream and zip slides but little did they know that the real reason was to search for dragonflies, and in particular Southern Migrant Hawker.

With ice creams eaten and as little time as possible spent in the kids play park, I dragged them both in the direction of a favoured location - a heavily reeded pond close to the marina, but in the half an hour I could keep them occupied without getting bored of staring at reeds, we only had one brief glimpse of a possible SMH but even through the bins I just couldn't get a good enough view to be sure, so unfortunately today wasn't to be our day and we had to be content with close views of a smart male Broad-bodied Chaser - which even the kids thought was epic!

Male, Dragonflies

Male, Dragonflies

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Summer Aliens

After an absence of several weeks I returned to the patch on Saturday morning with very low expectation, the sterile summer months are typically a bird free zone on Wanstead Flats and I happily steer clear, safe in the knowledge that not much will change until we hit August.

July is a great month to catch up with post breeding waders around the UK but waders and Wanstead don't necessary go hand in hand and we're lucky to catch up with the odd Common or Green Sandpiper, so imagine my surprise when two Lapwing drifted low over the football pitches, circling once before heading west in the direction of Jubilee Pond. Lapwings are annually recorded flying over the Flats but typically these are part of a cold winter movement and are rarely seen in mid-summer on a clear blue sunny day as temperatures are hitting 30 degrees - None the less a welcome patch year tick and a pleasant way to burst my expectation bubble.

As the temperatures continued to rise through the morning unsurprisingly I struggled to add anything else of note on the bird front but a line of three Yellow-bellied Sliders sunning themselves was an odd sight on Jubilee Pond, but fitted in well with the other alien species which frequent the Flats, namely the ever increasing populations of Egyptian Geese and Ring-necked Parakeets and lets not forget the lonely White-cheeked Turaco - I look forward to hearing news of Piranhas and Crocodiles in Wanstead Park before the end of the summer!

Terrapins, UK

Sunday, 10 July 2016

A Scarlet Rosefinch

After a combination of illness (Manflu) and a really busy period at work, I finally managed to find some time to catch up with the Common Rosefinch at Walthamstow Marshes - and as local twitching goes this was one of the simplest.

In less than half an hour from leaving the house on Saturday morning I was parked in the housing estate near the Anchor and Hope Pub and was soon listening to the distinctive whistling song of a male Common Rosefinch as it performed from the tops of the TV aerials on the nearby houses - it was great to see an actual scarlet-coloured summer bird instead of the usual grotty autumn juvenile. 

An enjoyable couple of hours followed, as I stood beside the canal intermittently watching and listening to the bird as it accompanied the local House Sparrow population, frequently flying between the adjacent marsh and its favoured singing posts in the housing estate.

Walthamstow, London, Scarlet

Walthamstow, London, Scarlet

Walthamstow, London, Scarlet

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Spotted Sandpiper at Brent Reservoir

Saturday morning started with a dawn visit to Rainham Marsh in hope of catching up with the Golden Oriole which Howard Vaughan had heard singing at the west end of the reserve the previous day, but unfortunately the bird had quickly moved on overnight - this was a real shame as it's been a number years since I've seen Golden Oriole, and with no news of any returning birds at Lakenheath it has become increasingly difficult to catch up with these birds in the UK.

Thinking my morning was over after seeing the usual bits and bobs at Rainham (Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Cuckoo and Stonechat), I received news of a Spotted Sandpiper at Brent Reservoir, so just over an hour later (the North circular was quiet for once) I was on site and enjoying excellent scope views from the hide of a cracking summer plumage Spotted Sandpiper, initially the bird was sitting motionless on one of the Tern rafts before later flying between the half dozen other rafts and then disappearing around a bend and out of sight from the hide. It did cross my mind to then head straight over to Rye Meads to see the Purple Heron which had also been found that morning, but time was against me as parental duties called in the form of football training pick-up and a summer school fayre to attend as well.

A bit of a shameful admission but this was my first visit to Brent Reservoir, despite it only being about 15 miles away I've never had a good reason to make the short trip, but judging by the excellent habitat on view I'm sure over the years the site has had a number of good birds, but they must have all been midweek or when I've been away - well that's my poor excuse anyway. The part of the reservoir where the Spotted Sandpiper was situated was heavily covered in vegetation so it wasn't until I had stepped into the hide and peered through the shutters that I'd noticed the iconic arch of new Wembley Stadium reaching into the sky, I'm not sure everyone would be happy with the view but personally (as a football fan) I thought it was great and sure beats having a sterile 70's style block of flats or some concrete office type building ruining the skyline, which you might expect around an urban birding site in London.

Wembley Stadium, London
It's not every day you see a Spotted Sandpiper and the national football stadium in the same field of view

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Bee Orchids - Green stuff rules!

I got in from work and quickly changed into my cycling gear and was just about to run out of the door when...

"Dad - where are you going"?
"I'm just going to see a locally rare flower".
"Well, at least it won't fly away"! 

Don't you just love kids?

And for the 2nd blogpost running the green stuff has put in an appearance on these pages, but no excuses for covering them with wonderful images of Bee Orchids.

Mr Wanstead Bio-blitz (Tim Harris) found these exquisite Bee Orchids in the outer reaches of Wanstead Flats - just off a main pathway and close to a main road. I can see why they could be easily be overlooked - it took me over twenty minutes to find them and that was despite knowing the OS grid reference and included an additional telephone call to get precise directions, but I'm so glad I made the effort - I'm now hoping to make it a hatrick of green stuff posts by ditching the bins at the weekend and finding my own rare flower!

Orchids, Wildflowers

Orchids, Wildflowers

Orchids, Wildflowers
The Wren Wildlife Group's second annual bio-blitz will take place this month, giving Wanstead residents of all ages the chance to learn more about local flora and fauna.
The weekend of free activities kicks off with a night-time bat walk in Wanstead Park on 24 June.
Local botanist Tricia Moxey will lead two walks – one on Wanstead Flats (25 June) and one in the park (26 June) – looking at trees, wildflowers and insects.
A dawn chorus birdwatching walk led by Nick Croft will also take place in the park from 5am on 26 June, meeting at the riding stables in Empress Avenue.
More information can be found on the Wren Group website.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A Coterie of Marsh Orchids

It's not very often the green stuff gets a mention on this blog but I'm happy to make the occasional exception, especially when it comes to Orchids.

I had an excellent walk along the seawall at East Tilbury on Saturday morning with great views of at least 3 Common Cuckoo and numerous Stonechats, I say numerous because it was difficult to put an accurate number on how many I saw in total, but if I was to hazard a guess there were probably 3 pairs all with recently fledged young, so there could have been as many as 15 - it felt like every few metres another bird would pop up onto the seawall, but despite this it was the Orchids which ultimately caught my eye.

I'm by no means an expert on Orchids but I believe these are Southern Marsh-Orchids and are fairly common variety found across the southern half of the UK, but having read up on these it turns out that hybridisation is quite common amongst the "Spotted" Orchid family and they could have a few genes from the Common Spotted Orchid or even Early Marsh Orchid - It looks like botanist have as much fun identifying Orchids as we do with our Redpolls!

Orchids, Wildflowers, UK

Orchids, Wildflowers, UK

Orchids, Wildflowers, UK

Orchids, Wildflowers, UK

Orchids, Wildflowers, UK