Sunday, 30 December 2018

2018 - My Birding Year at Wanstead

I suppose 2018 at Wanstead will be remembered for the long staying immature Red-backed Shrike which delighted many visitors to the scrub east of Alexandra Lake and also London's third ever record of Rustic Bunting in the burnt out Broom scrub which stayed for five days and drew big crowds of twitchers over the weekend of the 20th/21st October, these two birds were both wonderful patch ticks, but there were a cast of other birds throughout the year which all help to make 2018 a memorable one on the patch.

I added seven new birds to the patch list in 2018 which now stands on a reasonable 139.

1. Great White Egret - 17th January
2. Rook - 31st March
3. Black-tailed Godwit - 4th August
4. Red-backed Shrike - 28th August
5. Rustic Bunting - 18th October
6. Barn Owl - 20th October
7. Short-eared Owl - 25th October

I finished the year on 109 a new personal high total, but this could have been even better as there were several notable omissions (Common Tern, Garden Warbler, Tree Pipit, Tawny Owl and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker) which would have made what was a great year into an amazing year, but as with any year listing patch birder it's sometimes the birds you don't see that make the most interesting reading.

Along with birds mentioned above, other highlights in 2018 was a self-found Yellow-browed Warbler in Long Wood on the 29th September, two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls (10th Nov/27th Dec), finding my 10th Mediterranean Gull (17th March) and who can forget the 'Beast from the East' which delivered big movements (1500+) of Lapwing at the end of February, although dipping a Dunlin (this would have been a patch tick) on Perch Lake in Wanstead Park was probably the years biggest disappointment.

Here's a selection of photos from the year on the patch...

Bush Wood, Wanstead
Firecrest in Bush Wood
Wanstead Park, London
Great White Egret on Perch Lake
Wanstead Park, London
Bullfinch in Wanstead Park
Wanstead Flats, London
Med Gull number 10 on Wanstead Flats
Wanstead Flats, London
Black-tailed Godwit on Alexandra Lake
Wanstead Flats, London
Red-backed Shrike - Alexandra Scrub, Wanstead Flats
Wanstead Flats, London
Rustic Bunting, Wanstead Flats
Wanstead Flats, London
Barn Owl, Wanstead Flats
Wanstead Flats, London
1st-winter Caspian Gull, Wanstead Flats
Here's wishing you all very happy New Year and good birding throughout 2019.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

1st-winter Caspian Gull on the Flats

Having tried and failed to find this blasted Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the Park (that's a least 6 attempts I've given it!) I went and checked out Alexandra Lake for a bit of post Christmas Gulling and sure enough I struck gold with a 1st-winter Caspian Gull standing amongst the Common Gulls on the shingle bank of the lake - I took the photos below before it unfortunately flew-off east, probably towards the Thames.

Yet again, it's not a classic Caspian but another Western looking bird with German genes and given it's smallish size mostly likely a female, but all the same another smart looking bird.




Caspian Gull on the patch used to be a bit of a rarity but this is now the third 1st-winter Caspian Gull to grace the Flats this winter. The upturn in sightings possibly reflects the increase in numbers this winter along the Thames but also the continuing education amongst local birders (myself included) regarding the ID of this species.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Caspian Gull Redeemed

Having missed last weekends Caspian Gull on the patch (not technically missed - as the ID of the bird wasn't confirmed until photographs were circulated Sunday evening) I managed to redeem the situation by going and finding this 1st-winter bird on the football pitches this morning - Only my second ever at Wanstead. And having reviewed the photos of last weekends bird, this looks to be a new bird? Again it doesn't appear to have the purest of Caspian genes with some German influence but none the less a Caspian Gull.

As always comments welcome...

1st-Winter, Gulls, Cachinnans, Wanstead

1st-winter, Gulls, Cachinnans, Wanstead

1st-winter, Gulls, Cachinnans,Wanstead

1st-Winter, Gulls, Cachinnans, Wanstead

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Rise of the Patch Year List

I managed to add another bird to the patch Year List on Saturday with a vocal Yellowhammer calling low over the SSSI. Yellowhammer is an annual but scarce bird at Wanstead and this was only my 4th record, but there does appear to be an upturn in sightings this autumn on the Flats - maybe it's the same bird being seen or could the ploughed area of Broom fields (remnants of last summers grass fires) actually be of benefit for feeding Buntings in general?

The patch year list has now hit the heady heights of 107 and is a new personal high - not bad for someone who struggles to find just a few hours a week to fit in patch birding around a busy work and home life!

There was also a little bit of visible migration with c500 Woodpigeon (mostly south), 47 Fieldfare, 12 Redwing, 8 Skylark, 20 Chaffinch, 2 Redpoll and a Siskin. Added into that mix was a showy pair of Stonechats which have been knocking around the Flats for a couple of weeks now (every chance they'll winter) and it was another enjoyable few hours of local birding.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Clouded Yellow and Patch Gold

I had quick mooch around the patch this morning as I found myself with a rare morning of free time during half-term week. There was a Chiffchaff on Alex Island and a small party of fourteen Fieldfares overhead and the wintering population of gulls are now starting to build up with fifty or more Common Gulls spread across the football pitches. As I reached the grassland along centre path a group of Crows were up and chasing something...and that something was only a Short-eared Owl!

Short-eared Owl has been a bit of bogey bird for me on the patch, having missed several over the years (and a couple by just a matter of minutes). The problem with Short-eared Owls on the Flats is they rarely linger, once spooked by a dog-walker, member of the public or even a birder they quickly get harassed by the Crows and usually gain height and move on quickly (the same as this bird did today) so for once I was in the right place at the right time to finally nail this much sort after patch tick.

The rest of the morning was fairly quiet and the only other thing of note was this rather smart Clouded Yellow butterfly. I've seen a couple of these southern European migrants on the Flats in the past but only as quick flashes of yellow and never on the deck, so it was good to see this one land for a few seconds before it quickly disappeared.

Butterflies, Wanstead, London

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Rustic Bunting on Wanstead Flats

After initially dipping the Rustic Bunting on the evening it was found (Wednesday), I returned the following afternoon (having escaped work early) to find it showing nicely to a small crowd in the recently ploughed area of the burnt out Broom fields - What a wonderful patch tick and simply amazing find by Nick Croft.

Returning today for another view and now with the scope in tow (having only had views through my bins on Thursday) it felt good to enjoy the Bunting at a more leisurely pace after the mild mid-week panic of dipping and then ticking the bird, but this serenity quickly changed as I caught a distant glimpse of what I thought was an Owl cut through the west end of Long Wood. I really didn't see it well enough to call it for sure, but given the size and what little colour I could get on it, it had to be a Short-eared Owl? After alerting Jono and James, the three of us approached the area I thought it dived into, I could hear the noisy calls of a group of Corvids coming from that direction and then to my amazement out of the wood flew a Barn Owl!

The Barn Owl briefly circled the grassland all the time being chased by Crows before losing it to view as it crossed Centre Road towards the SSSI, as Jono and I were high-fiving the result of yet another patch tick (this was the 1st Barn Owl sighting on the patch since 1993) James had somehow missed it! Apparently he was momentarily distracted by a mystery Finch going over, but thankfully (and to James relief) Nick was now on the patch having been alerted by the news of the Barn Owl and had picked it up again some 30 minutes later, again circling the grassland and still being harassed by the local crow population - there are some excellent photos of the Owl from Bob on the Wanstead Blog who as ever was at the right place at the right time.

Yet again Wanstead (the patch) continues to surprise me...Just when I start thinking about how slow and hard work both spring and autumn were for our commoner passage migrants, bang...a Red-backed Shrike turns up, then a Yellow-browed Warbler, and now London's 3rd ever Rustic Bunting, and these headline birds are joined in part by the likes of Black-tailed Godwit and Barn Owl - I've really got nothing to complain about and 2018 is shaping up to be an exceptional year on the patch.

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Surprise Yellow-browed Warbler!

Another Saturday morning and I'm back on the patch, it's cold and clear and the sun has yet to rise but I can hear a Yellow Wagtail calling high above Alexandra lake, and there are a couple of contact calling Chiffchaff and then another bird singing from the island. There's a low mist hanging over the Flats but this quickly burns away as the sun begins to rise above the horizon. It's soon evident the Meadow Pipit passage of last weekend has now dried up with just a few single birds milling around the grassland as I walk the ditch towards centre copse.

The Brooms are fairly quiet with just a single Reed Bunting and a couple of Skylarks. I make my way along the 'Enclosure' (east end of Long Wood) and two more Chiffchaff are chasing insects and each other. As I reach the gap in Long Wood yet more Chiffy's are flitting around and then I notice a smaller bird jump the gap between two trees - Raising my bins and this big broad supercillium and a pair of wing-bars fill my field of view - YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER!

After watching the bird for what must have been just a few seconds (as it quickly worked it's way through an Oak tree) I grab my camera to try and get a couple of shots but the bird is moving just to quickly through the branches and is mostly obscured. I knew James was also out on the patch so I quickly call him and luckily he's in the Brick Pit area and is standing alongside me in a matter of minutes - but the bird is no where to be seen. Having messaged out the news, Jono is also quickly on the scene but the bird is not playing ball and isn't even calling which is making the job of finding it again even harder.

For the next hour or so the three of us circumnavigate Long Wood and the trees/scrub in the Brick Pit area, Chiffchaffs are everywhere with maybe twenty or more birds in a fairly small area but that wonderful little sprite is sadly no where to be found - This was my third Yellow-browed Warbler on Wanstead Flats but the first I've self-found making it just that extra bit special.

As we're currently stuck in this westerly airflow the numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers arriving into the UK has been low compared with previous years at this time, so it feels like even more of a bonus to pick one up on Wanstead Flats whilst the likes of Shetland and those other typical east coast haunts struggle to record any.

As autumns on the patch go it's been fairly quiet with many of our regular passage migrants not appearing in the numbers you would have hoped for, but with Red-backed Shrike and now Yellow-browed Warbler on the Year List maybe this year it's all about the quality and not the quantity.

Sadly not today's bird but one of my stock photos from Shetland - Oct 2014.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Shrike Two

I went back to the patch this evening for a second bite at the Red-backed Shrike and I'm glad to say that it showed really well (It's amazing what you can achieve when you don't have two children to entertain). I also managed to add Pied Flycatcher to the year list (that's number 100 up) with one possibly two birds amongst three or four Spotted Flycatchers in Centre Copse - It's never easy to confirm accurate counts when the birds are flitting high up in the canopy, and with up to Seven Whinchats scattered across the Flats and a report of a Tree Pipit, the patch is finally starting to deliver the goods this autumn.

Juvenile, Wanstead, London

Juvenile, Wanstead, London

Juvenile, London, Wanstead

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Red-backed Shrike on Wanstead Flats

As photos of Red-backed Shrike go...I think these are amongst the poorest I've ever posted, but who cares as these photos are of a Red-backed Shrike on the patch!

Year after year, the Wanstead crew try and predict what birds might show-up on the patch and without fail Red-backed Shrike is always at the top of that list, so finally today and after a wait of 38 years (the last one recorded was in the Old Sewage Works in 1980) a bird did the decent thing and showed up! Well done to Nick Croft for finding this cracking juvenile in the Pub Scrub (just east of Alexandra Lake).

I would've loved to of stayed longer for more views of the bird (as it was being a little elusive at times) but with two kids in tow it's only so long you can occupy them with a football - and as I couldn't persuade Tim or Bob to go in goal for a bit I had to reluctantly leave...still, it certainly feels good to add another Shrike to the patch list.

Juvenile, London, Wanstead

Juvenile, London, Wanstead

Juvenile, Wanstead, London

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Yellow-legged Gull Saves the Day

The patch failed to live up to expectations this morning, with just four flyover Yellow Wagtails being the only passage migrant movement of any note, the rest of the Flats appeared eerily quiet! Only time will tell if the extensive grass fire damage will have any impact this autumn on our expected passage migrants, but the early signs don't appear to be very good with pockets of Blackberry and Elderberry largely decimated by the fire and the expected Sylvia Warblers which feed on these berries being few and far between. It's only mid-August so hopefully I'm wrong and we'll be tripping over migrants in the coming weeks.

The only other bird of note was a Yellow-legged Gull. This has been knocking around Alexandra Lake since last weekend and was a welcome year tick (97). The bird appears to be in heavy moult with several secondaries missing, which might explain why it's stuck around for a while.

Gulls, Larids, London

Gulls, Larids, London

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Urban Godwit

I know a few birders who have gone to the beautiful country of Iceland in spring/summer in the hope of photographing waders at close quarters in their summer/breeding plumage, spending many hours and hundreds of pounds (Krona) in the process to get that perfect image...I say nah! Why bother? Just wait for a summer plumage Black-tailed Godwit to show up on your local urban lake. Hopefully the lake will be littered with floating beer cans and all kinds of litter left by the general ignorant public just to add to the glamour and it'll not only save you a load of time and money but I promise you it will also be a lot more satisfying!

Today Jono found this absolute beauty of a bird parading around the edge of Alexandra Lake - a big fat patch tick for the pair of us. Much to my amazement and unlike any other wader I've seen on the lake it wasn't skittish and it didn't fly off at the first sign of anybody, it just happily fed on the receding waterline - amazing.

It's been a quiet summer for me on the birding front (the hot weather has spiralled my social calendar) but this has certainly kicked started August superbly and with the June/July doldrums now out of the way...could this be the start of a magical autumn on the patch?


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Eastern Poland - Day 3 (Bialowieza and the road to Warsaw)

After yesterday's long day in the field the plan was to have a more leisurely start so we planned to meet up about 6am, but I woke early and decided to have a quick mooch around an adjacent scrub and farmland close to the accommodation. It wasn't long before I'd seen YellowhammerTree Sparrow a couple Black Redstarts, Red-backed Shrike a flyover Hawfinch and Golden Oriole a singing Thrush Nightingale and a River Warbler! What a contrast to the UK where these days we struggle to see a single Yellowhammer among miles of sterile hedgerows and farmland.

Bialowieza, Poland
Red-backed Shrikes were common - but always a delight to see
Meeting up with the guys, the plan was to visit a few local sites around Bialowieza village before taking the longer but scenic cross country drive back to Warsaw. First stop was back to the River Warbler site from last night and sure enough the bird we had heard singing was in the same spot and was obligingly out in the open, also in the same tree was a singing Icterine Warbler.

Bialowieza, Poland
A great spot for River Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Icky, Golden Oriole, Lesser Spotted Eagle...I only wish I could remember its name!
Bialowiesza, Poland
Singing River Warbler
Bialowiesza, Poland
Singing Icky
Our next stop was the Zebra Zubra trail in search of Hazel Grouse but we weren't prepared for how long the trail was. The wooden boardwalk went on and on and on...In the end we gave up looking and turned back - the walk back was somewhat quicker, and had nothing to do with the howling Wolf we had heard!

We also tried and failed to actually see a Thrush Nightingale at a location in the village given to us by our guide but did catch-up with a pair of Barred Warblers, Great Reed Warbler and Rosefinch, as we tried to fit in as much as we could before heading to Warsaw.

Bialowiesza, Poland

On the route back to Warsaw we managed to mop up a few more birds for the trip list along the way - Montagu's Harrier, Serin, Corn Bunting, Little Ringed Plover, and Pheasant and we even managed to pin down and finally see a Thrush Nightingale much to the delight of all the team (especially Mr Rae!).

As a group we managed to record 108 species in our short time in Poland which Isn't bad considering most of the birding was done in and around a forest habitat. The main aim of the trip was to catch up with the Woodpeckers of Central Europe and as we recorded seven species (and this doesn't include Green Woodpecker) you could say it was a successful trip.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Eastern Poland - Day 2 (Bialowieza Forests and the Upper Narew Valley)

Eastern Poland (18th – 20th May 2018) Trip Report - Part 2

I was awoken by a loud banging on the door - "Our guide is here" bellowed Mr Vaughan in a head masterish type of voice. Shi* alarm had failed to go off! And then it dawned on me - I had failed to update my mobile phone to Polish time (1hr ahead of GMT). I hastily got dressed, grabbed what I needed and dashed to the car park. The guys and and our guide (Mateusz) were waiting - a quick apology for my lateness and we were off to our first stop of a very long day..Bison!

A short drive and we watching a single European Bison feeding distantly in a large water meadow, great to see but I'd hoped to of seen this beast of an animal a little closer.

Bialowieza, Poland
A distant European Bison
Next up on our list of target birds was White-backed Woodpecker. We were led by our guide through a tangled wet woodland trail, the trail was bogy and with the rain falling and my head banging (that'll be the Vodka) I was beginning to think I should have stayed in bed! But once we'd reached the location and after waiting a short time our target bird showed - lifting my spirits! The forest was alive with singing Wood Warblers and calling Collared Flycatchers, we also enjoyed views of a stunning male Red-breasted Flycatcher. Matuesz quickly followed up White-backed Woodpecker with a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers at a known nest hole at a location near the town of Budy, we could also hear the flutey song of a Golden Oriole and the contact call of a Black Woodpecker nearby, but failed to connect with either.

Bialowieza, Poland
Middle Spot
Our next stop was the Strict Reserve (an untouched area of forest, which was still in its primeval state). We took in a large loop of the forest and was one many groups being guided through the area as is the reserves policy in not letting tourists walk just anywhere in this part of Bialowieza Forest. We’d just stepped through the wooden gates when Bob (I think it was Bob) picked out a Black Woodpecker making short work of a dying Birch tree – this was my first Black Woodpecker and was blown away by its size, I knew they were big, but I hadn’t quite appreciated how big – this looked like a Crow on steroids with a Kango machine strapped to its head! 

Bialowieza, Poland
Black Woodpecker - Carnage!
As we looped the forest trail we managed to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, another Middle Spot and countless Collared Flycatchers and more singing Wood Warblers. As we left the Strict Reserve a pair of Honey Buzzards circled overhead and were taking advantage of the improvement in the weather.

Bialowieza, Poland

Bialowieza, Poland

Our first dip of the day was Grey-headed Woodpecker at a nest hole in the Palace Gardens – much to the disappointment of Jono, who had had a run of bad luck with these birds, but our guide soon retrieved the situation by leading us to a Pygmy Owl nest hole a short drive away. Disappointingly we only ever got head views of the bird as it pocked its head out of the nest hole to investigate what that scrapping noise on the trunk was – That’ll be Mateusz doing his best impression of a Pine Martin!
Bialowieza, Poland
Look carefully and you can see a Pygmy Owl
Lifted by the success of seeing Pygmy Owl we headed to Czerlonka in search of Three-toed Woodpecker a bird the team and I were keen to catch up with. An Initial search in a favoured area drew a blank – was this going to be the second Woodpecker dip of day? Then, as I pointed out a Honey Buzzard going low over the tree-line, a voice from the back of the group shouted “Three-toed”! Bob had found the elusive Three-toed Woodpecker a female, our luck had changed, and it was visiting a nest hole giving us all great views much to the delight of the team and our guide.
Bialowieza, Poland
The much wanted Three-toed Woodpecker
Bialowieza, Poland
Red Squirrel, so much better than those yank Grey's!
The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur! The plan was to visit a known site for Nutcracker and Tengmalm’s Owl but this involved a long trek through the forest and later along a disused railway line. It was now after midday and we’d been going for over 8 hours and the temperature was rising - we were all starting to feel the pace. For all our efforts, disappointingly we failed to locate either of our target birds, which made the long walk back even more difficult. 
Bialowieza, Poland
The long fruitless trek through the forest
The plan now was to head back to Bialowieza Village to freshen up and to get something to eat (Wild Boar) before heading to the Narew Valley and the Great Snipe lek. On route back we stopped off for an obliging male Red-breasted Flycatcher and a second attempt at Grey-headed Woodpecker. This time we struck lucky, much to the delight of the team and especially Jono. Matuesz had worked his magic, as he whistled towards the tree the bird obliged by appearing at the entrance nest hole and then came out and flew across the meadow and out of view.
Bialowieza, Poland

Back at the accommodation whilst the guys made the most of a much needed break (grabbing 40 winks) I spent my time showering and brushing my teeth having failed to do either in my haste this morning!

Refreshed again, we picked up Mateusz and headed north for about 90 minutes to the Upper Narew Valley. Arriving on site as the sun was setting conditions were perfect, still with clear skies – These conditions were also perfect for mosquitoes as the boggy marsh was covered in the little bloodsucking blighters! Thankfully I’d packed my Jungle Spray much to the relief of the rest of the team.

Walking out onto the marsh we could hear our first Corncrake calling, this soon turned into a second bird and then several others. We honed onto the closest calling bird but despite our best efforts couldn’t see it for the love or money – the bird was literally calling around our feet and we could even see the grass shake as it moved around but frustratingly it just wouldn’t reveal itself. Moving on to view the Great Snipe Lek, Mateusz pointed out a distant ridge approximately 100 metres away. It was then Mateusz said he could hear a bird calling near to where we were standing and then a bird took flight and landed in the long grass not too far away, despite the fading light the bird was still visible, and with scope and bins trained on it, for the next 20 minutes or so we all enjoyed one of the most amazing sights, as this Great Snipe put on an display of bill-clacking, then stretching its neck out and pointing its head to the sky, with the occasional tail wag, displaying those white feathers – this was repeated several times before the bird eventually flew off. You could tell by the broad smile on Mateusz’s face that we had witnessed something a little bit special. In near darkness the marsh was alive with bird song and along with Corncrakes we also heard Grasshopper Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Woodcock and churring Nightjar.
Lek,Bialowieza, Poland
Yes - that is a Great Snipe in the dark at IS0 10,000
As we headed back to Bialowieza there was just time for one more stop off at a known River Warbler site, and true to form as we pulled up in the cars in pitch blackness we could hear the unmistakeable metallic sewing-machine sound of a bird singing close by. It was now after 10pm and we’d been on the go for about 18hours, we were all exhausted but agreed it had been a day to remember.