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).