Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Nightingale sang in Motorcycle Wood

Saturday morning started very well, with 2 Green Sandpipers calling overhead as soon as I had stepped onto the Flats, and then minutes later as I circumnavigated Alexandra Lake I picked out a Little Ringed Plover on the receding waters edge, but as soon as it saw me it quickly flew off calling. Waders at Wanstead are always cherished, so to see two species within a few minutes of arriving is exceptional and to put this into context the only other waders I had ever seen on or around Alexanadra Lake in over 5 years was a single flushed Jack Snipe and a Common Sandpiper.

Other notable birds on an excellent mornings birding on the patch were a single White Wagtail on the football pitches, my first Hobby of the year and a couple of Northern Wheatears - only my 3rd and 4th birds this Spring. But the morning ultimately belonged to the wonderful sound of a singing Nightingale in the scrub on the north side of Motorcycle Wood - a most welcome patch tick, having missed the last bird on the patch back in September 2013.

I was with Nick in the SSSI when he thought he heard the brief song of a distant Garden Warbler or Nightingale but as I had my 8 year old son with me (Mrs B was taking part in the Wanstead 5km park run with my eldest son) and I had to drop him back once they had both finished running, so I left, leaving Nick to try and locate this bird. A short while later (fatherly duties done), I was back with Nick who quickly confirmed it was indeed a Nightingale and he had pinned it down to an area of dense scrub on the north-side of Motorcycle Wood, a tense (potential patch tick) few minutes passed before the bird burst into song again just a couple of metres from where we were both standing, and then for the next 10 minutes or so we both enjoyed the wonderful jaw-dropping sound of a singing Nightingale in full song - I did manage to catch a couple of fleeting glimpse's of the bird, but to be honest the poor views never really mattered as it was all about that hypnotic song.

Male, Wanstead, London
One of the two Male Northern Wheatears on Wanstead Flats.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Three LRP's...but what's next?

I love berating the patch (see previous post) because without fail it goes and delivers up a little gift to keep you interested, and today's gift came in the form of a Little Ringed Plover, and not one but three! Trebling the number of LRP's I've previously seen on the patch.

The Heronry lake had sprung a leak and is draining faster than an ice cold G&T on a warm Sunday afternoon! Which is not good for our local breeding population of wildfowl (Mute Swan, GC Grebe, MallardMoorhen, Coot) but for those of us who miss seeing regular views of waders on a patch, this misfortune could be a god send, and those three LRP's might be the start of something very special this Spring (stop, stop, stop - I'm getting carried away). What I'm trying to say is, if a Greenshank decided to drop in and then stay long enough for me to see it - I'd be a very happy chappy (and I wouldn't be the only one).

Waders, London, Wanstead
A bit of a ropey photo in the quickly fading evening light, but three wonderful Little Ringed Plovers

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Broken Spring

I'm struggling! My fellow patch workers are struggling! Wanstead is struggling!

It's now April 9th, and to date, the following is a list of summer migrants I've seen on the patch this Spring:

Northern Wheatear  - 1 (one)
Chiffchaff - A few of these
Blackcap - A few more of these
Willow Warbler - 1 (one)

And that's it - No Sand Martins, no Swallows, no hirundines at all! My single Wheatear was way back on March 11th - that's almost a month ago, and I've still only seen one, yes one Wheatear!

I can sense the frustration amongst the regulars, we meet up, discuss what we haven't seen, talk about what everyone else has seen, groan, then walk around the patch a bit more, see nothing, and then go home. This is not good, and things have to change - and change fast! Otherwise we're all off to our new patch - Walthamstow!

Jono Lethbridge, Bob Vaughan
The a couple of down trodden and broken patch regulars, trudging off home!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Continental Stonechat

The record number of Spring passage Stonechats through Wanstead Flats hasn't abated just yet, with another new bird found on Saturday - but this rather striking looking male is the first bird which I've come across showing several features more in common with Continental Stonechat (rubicola) than our British breeding birds (hibernans). This is not a big surprise, as the south-east of England continues to record more and more continental 'type' birds aided mainly by its geographical location.

The complexities of Stonechat in regards to race give even Redpolls a run for their money - and you need to be some kind of scientist to unravel all their overlapping genes* (see foot of page). But in this bird the key features which stood out were the pronounced white collar, contrasting with the jet-black head and very dark mantle, back and wings. There were noticeably large, broad white-wing patches, and the bright flame orange breast didn't continue onto the underparts and also a white rump (although slightly streaked) - in hindsight it would have been good to get a few flight photos as seeing the underwing pattern might also have been interesting.

Rubicola, male

Rubicola, male
The white rump is just about viewable in this photo.

Rubicola, male

*Just as a footnote; whilst watching the bird I happen to noticed it poo on the top of a wooden post and have collected a sample for DNA analysis - all I need now is a scientist to kindly extract the DNA!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Wheatear - London Year 1st for Wanstead

The 2017 crown for London's 1st Wheatear of Spring is sitting firmly on the head of Wanstead today, with a cracking male gracing the Flats. So often, Wanstead has played second fiddle to southern London sites like Beddington Farmlands as they record several fresh-in early arrivals, as we sit back with baited breath eagerly awaiting our 1st - but not this year! We haven stolen a March (11th of March to be precise) on our London rivals by taking the crown at circa 8.00am this morning.

Male, London, 1st, Spring
The Prize, the Glory, the Northern Wheatear
Even with my eternal birding optimism I didn't actually believe there would be a Wheatear on Wanstead Flats today, it is after all only the 11th March - and they're not due here for a least another week. But the weather forecast looked promising (an unseasonably warm 17ÂșC and a light southerly) and there had also been a bird seen in Surrey only yesterday (outside the London recording area), but after one circuit of the Flats with my compatriot Jono it was looking increasingly less likely.

As we had both been out since around 6.30am, it was still early (8.00am) and I suggested another circuit. As we crossed the Brooms I picked out a slim Skylark sized bird distantly in flight, but the rocking/barrelling flight of the bird suggested more investigation, following the bird it landed in the top of the nearest copse and moving closer to get a better view - there was the prize - a male Northern Wheatear in all its Spring glory.

It feels great to finally achieve a little personal goal in finding the patch's 1st Spring Wheatear, and with the added bonus of it also being a London year-1st, I might actually treat myself to lay-in next week.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Nine is the Magic Number

I would've loved to have given you an amazing image of all nine Stonechats that graced Wanstead Flats on Saturday morning, but this was real and fast daytime spring passage movement and within minutes the birds had all quickly moved on.

I had earlier found four birds in the lower Broom fields (which on any given day is an excellent Spring count for Wanstead) and was recalling there whereabouts with Rob Sheldon when a couple of birds flew into view from where we were standing in the middle of the Brooms. These initial two birds quickly doubled to four and then doubled again to eight! As we watched the birds fly by one by one, low across the tops of the grass they quickly headed to the far corner of the Flats towards the west end of Long Wood, after a quick couple of recounts we both agreed there actually nine birds in the group, but as quickly as they had appeared they had all soon disappeared.

Nine birds! Wanstead has the odd wintering Stonechat and typically on Spring and Autumn passage you can expect to see two or three birds, but to witness a group, party or even a flock (I'm not sure at what point bird numbers become flocks) of Stonechats daytime migrating was an all to brief but an amazing local spectacle and has easily become the highest number of Stonechats recorded on Wanstead Flats.

The Stonechat is one bird which continues to benefit from our milder winters of late and surely it won't be long until Wanstead records a double-digit number of these birds, I just hope I'm around again to witness it.

Male, Spring, Wanstead
Just one of the magic nine!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Bread-crusted Pochard

Who said February was a dire month for birds?

Following Saturdays patch year tick of Med Gull I've only gone and quickly added another to the list...Red-crested Pochard! Ok, Its origins are a bit questionable...but I see it's quickly appeared on Jono's list - so that's good enough for me. In the short time I had watching the bird it showed very little interest in the white-sliced loaf being chucked in its direction by a family feeding the ducks on the pond, although when a well dressed gentleman turned up with a Warburtons seeded batch the bird soon perked up - clearly this bird is from one of our Royal Parks in west London!

Duck, Wildfowl, Female
Bread-crusted Pochard...Ha..Ha..Ha

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Desolation of Patch

The easy option would have been to stay in bed, the weather forecast wasn't encouraging (overcast and breezy) and with it still being February, there was very little to be enthusiastic about on the patch, but the overriding urge to get up and have a look took over and I was soon on the windswept Flats in the near dark - but this decision was quickly justified, as the bright white-wings of an adult Mediterranean Gull were easily picked out in the gloom amongst the throng of Common Gulls on Alexandra Lake.

With the loss of Valentino (our deceased annual Med Gull) catching up with another Med Gull on the patch has been made a little bit more difficult, and although one or two birds are seen annually it was a bonus to get one early in the year and certainly brightened up what has been a difficult few weeks on the patch - and this isn't just a reference to the lack of birds.

Adult, Wanstead

Adult, Wanstead

Adult, Wanstead

The decision by the City of London Corporation to remove large swathes of Broom and native hedgerow in the last couple of weeks in an attempt to return the Flats back to how it looked twenty five years ago has shocked all of us who have an active wildlife interest in the Flats - each weekend visit has been greeted with apprehension as another area is targeted. This week, it was the area known within the birding fraternity as 'The Pub Scrub' (with reference to the Golden Fleece Pub), sadly the word 'Scrub' will have to be removed as a point of reference going forward as there is now no scrub!

What's left of the Pub Scrub!
I fully understand the need and the requirement for habitat management but the scale of the removal of suitable nesting sites for our struggling native song birds and breeding summer migrants has made the slow birding start to 2017 on the patch even more difficult to stomach. Only time will tell if these large scale changes will impact Wanstead's breeding bird population but in the short term it has left ugly scars on the landscape and a bad taste in the mouths of all of those people who enjoy Wanstead Flats for its fauna and flora.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Aldeburgh, Long-tailed Ducks

As family days out go, not much beats a drive to the Suffolk coast to Aldeburgh during February half-term - especially with the promise of eating fish & chips on the sea wall, whilst the kids throw pebbles in the sea and chase the resident Herring Gulls - but I wasn't expecting to see a couple of Long-tailed Ducks on the River Alde!

Blessed with some welcome winter sunshine we parked-up and followed the sea wall south towards Orford Ness and as I scanned the river Alde I picked up a smart pair of Long-tailed Ducks being pushed along with the rising tide close to the river bank. Buy all accounts it has been an excellent winter for these birds off the East Anglian coast with up to 300 birds being reported at Holme/Titchwell alone, but it was a real bonus to see a pair of these skittish sea ducks up close and on the river. The birds soon moved out to the middle of the channel and I lost sight of them on the bend as they continued to dive and head in the direction of the mouth of the river and towards the sea.

Also of note along the river Alde were 52 Curlew and 3 or 4 Rock Pipits around the area of the Martello Tower but another big bonus was seeing a flock of 20 Barnacle Geese heading north and flying low over the sea. As non-birding winter family days out go, this was right up there with the best of them - but how fortunate was it that I had my bins and camera close to hand!

Suffolk, Winter

Suffolk, Winter

Suffolk, Winter

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Cocksure Pheasant

In regards to working the patch It's been a very slow start to the year with nothing of note throughout January, and I was starting to wish away February so I could hit March with a spring in my step as thoughts of early spring migrants helped raise the spirits, but February wasn't going down without a fight and only goes and delivers a rather fine patch tick in the form of a Pheasant - in these parts Pheasants are not to be mocked as these birds are rare - with only five records in the last decade!

The bird had been reported hanging around the new horse paddock in the the Old Sewage Works and was duly confirmed and ticked by those who are able to bird the patch during the week, but for us weekend birding warriors it was Saturday morning until I had my first attempt at adding this bird to the patch list. Unlike a certain Cetti's Warbler which played hardball last spring in the same area, the Pheasant did the decent thing and was parading around the horse paddock as soon as I turned up shortly after first light. A dog walker soon had the bird running for cover and into the 'big hedge' but within minutes it had popped out again and happily stood on the paddock perimeter fence - looking quite at home, as if the bird had always been apart of this manor.

The strange thing was, once you've seen a Pheasant on the patch and as good as that was, you don't hang around studying its finer details or is after all just a Pheasant, so I didn't linger and left to cover the rest of the patch which again was painfully slow and bereft of birds - so thanks February for this little winter gift but roll-on March.

Cock, Wanstead, London

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Shrike Dipping

I gave the patch a miss on Saturday (always a tad risky) and instead opted for a dawn walk through the Ingrebourne Valley in search of the Great Grey Shrike. Finding this bird was always going to be difficult as it's been very mobile and hard to pin down to one location and with plenty of good habitat on offer over a large area, it's easy to see why this bird goes missing for days at a time before being reported again - but a local Shrike of any description is always worth trying for. After a couple of hours wandering the frozen trails (not entirely sure where I was going) it was no big surprise that I drew a blank, and not wanting to waste all of my Saturday morning I gave up and headed the short distance to Rainham.

After last weeks brief stop at Pitsea for the Waxwings in the pouring rain, it was great to see a more obliging bird at Rainham and this time on a wonderful clear, crisp winter's day.

Winter, Rainham, RSPB

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Wet Waxwings and a Sunday Roast

On route to Southend with the family for Sunday lunch at the in-laws, and I made a quick detour off the A13 towards Pitsea to catch up with a few Waxwings - my first birds this winter (I've been holding out for some local ones - no joy yet!). The Tesco's at Pitsea is a reliable site to catch up with Waxwings especially when the UK experiences winter invasions of these Scandinavian punks as I've seen them here on a couple of occasions in the past.

The weather did me no favours as it was tipping down but fortunately it took me all of two minutes to locate the birds in the trees opposite the Go Outdoors store. With the rain continuing to fall I happily stayed in the dry of the car to view the birds, but I could still hear their distinctive soft trilling calls over the noise of the radio. Unfortunately in the short amount of time I had, the birds all kept there distance, sticking to the tops of the trees. I counted 31 birds in total, fewer numbers that had been reported recently so these birds are starting to disperse and looking at the diminishing berries on the trees the rest of them will soon be on their way - hopefully to a Woodford/Wanstead postcode.

Essex, UK
11 of the 31 Waxwings on view at Pitsea, Essex

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Wanstead Gull Recoveries - Update

Firstly - Happy New Year 2017.

I have started my Wanstead patch list but as it's currently sitting on 54 (list here) with nothing out of the ordinary to report, I thought I would start the new year with a post regarding recent Gull recoveries on Wanstead Flats, in particular the Common Gull (J9R5) below.

Colour-ringed, Ringing, Gulls
Common Gull (J9R5) - Photo courtesy of Dante Shepherd
This bird has a very interesting history, it was first ringed in July 1998 in Bergen Norway before being re-caught again in the same location in July 2011 - and this time the bird was colour-ringed (J9R5), and then for 15+ years it was regularly recorded in Bergen with last time being 15th July 2016 and then 6 months later on the 29th Dec 2016 it was recorded on Wanstead Flats and for the 1st time away from Norway, covering a distance of 640 miles to get here.

Here is the current list of colour-ringed Gulls recorded on Wanstead Flats.


If you do see a colour-ringed Gull on Wanstead Flats please let me know and I will add the information to our growing list. Many thanks to Dante Shepherd for providing his recent sightings.