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!