Sunday, 22 April 2018

Waders and Wagtails

On a glorious spring morning on Wanstead Flats I thought the days highlight was going to be Bob in a pair of shorts, but a couple waders trumped those milky white pins!

I'd done a big circuit of the Flats where I added Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Grey Wagtail (about time) to the year list, so I joined Nick for a spot of skywatching from the banks of Alexandra Lake in hope of witnessing a bit of raptor movement - although it was warm and sunny maybe it was still to early in the day as those big blue skies were empty. With one eye on the time I was about to head-off when out of the blue a Little Ringed Plover dropped in from the west! At one point it looked as if it was going to settle on the lakes edge but quickly changed its mind and carried on east. Nick and I were both gassing about the result of seeing an LRP when a smart Alba Wagtail also appeared on the edge of the lake and then just as I thought my morning was over a Common Sandpiper appeared out of know where, with that rear end bobbing along the muddy fringe of the lake - you wait weeks for a spring wader to show up on the patch and then two appear in a space of fifteen minutes!


Friday, 13 April 2018

Black Redstart in my Garden!

I thought Friday 13th was meant to be unlucky!

There I was, bleary eyed and tucking into my usual pre-work bowl of porridge when a bird caught my eye through the patio windows - I thought it was just another one of the local Robins flitting around the garden. The bird flew straight into one of the Birch trees, so I stood up to get a better view through the windows (still carrying the bowl and spooning in mouthfuls of porridge) and then I almost choked on the porridge when this Black Redstart was looking right back at me with that rufous coloured tail gently flicking behind. The camera is never too far away so I grabbed it and fired off a few record shots and was blown away with what I had found in my small north-east London garden.

This was by far the best bird I has ever seen in the garden. Until now I've only ever had the usual mix of common garden birds along with odd wintering Blackcap. To put it into some kind of context, in all my years birding the patch at Wanstead I've only ever seen one Black Redstart and this was a similar spring record back in April 2013.

To my amazement when I returned home from work the bird was still knocking around and without having to dash to work (as I did this morning) I had more time and managed to get into the garden and creep within just a few feet as it happily posed on my fence, allowing me to get some decent photos of this wonderful little gem of a bird. This was right up there with one of the best birding experiences I've ever had, and even now I can't quite believe that my little garden has played host to a magical Black Redstart.

London, Garden

London, Garden

London, Garden

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Rook Club

I'm now a fully paid up member of the Rook club, having finally patch ticked this rather elusive corvid.

Historically March is a good month to catch up with Rook on the patch with many of last years juveniles seemingly on the move and Mr Croft frequently picks out these birds crossing the Flats, so frequently in fact that a few of us were wondering if he was actually releasing Cambridge caught birds from his rucksack! But on a bird-less and rather dire Saturday morning in which Summer migrants were none existent, Jono and I were bemoaning the fact how dreadful it was when he picked out a corvid flying towards Alexandra Lake and tentatively called "Rook". We watched the bird fly towards the tall trees banking the lake (a popular location for Crows in the area) but with the views I had I just wasn't totally convinced (I am the eternal pessimist) but Jono was having none of it and we circled the lake to see if it had actually landed, and sure enough it had, and it was perched up high with the other Carrion Crows.

The I.D. of the bird wasn't as straight forward as you'd think, from the angle we were looking at it against the backdrop of a lead grey sky the bird was mostly silhouetted and I had to fire-off a dozen or so images on the camera with the exposure bumped right up (hence the rather arty black and white photo below) to finally pick out that peaked crown and long straight culmen - both of which were not as obvious as you would think when viewing the bird through bins.

So Rook finally falls and is now sitting nicely on the patch list (thanks mainly to Jono's persistence) but one things for sure I hadn't realised just how easy it would be to overlook a young Rook - yeah an adult you'd picked that one out a mile away but a juvenile, now that's a different matter and a little lesson learnt.

Juvenile, Crow, Corvid
Rook - just look at that conk

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Old Man of Wanstead

The blog title isn't a reference to dear old Mr Vaughan but Common Gull J9R5 which is still lingering on the Flats - the old boy is a regular Winter visitor to Wanstead and is at least 22 years old having been ringed as an adult in 1998 in Bergen, Norway. The majority of the Common Gulls have now left for another Winter and J9R5 will also soon be heading north for the summer, here's hoping he returns next Autumn.

Darvic,Colour-rings, Gulls, Ringing
Common Gull J9R5
The Gulls were the only birds of interest as I covered the Flats on Saturday morning, although I did spend a fair bit of my time checking every Corvid which flew over as Rook continues to elude me.  As we approach the end of March Wanstead is currently struggling to record any early Summer migrants, with just a couple of singing Chiffchaffs being new for the year. So apart from Rob's Wheatears on the 16th, we're yet to see a Sand Martin, Swallow or a Little Ringed Plover - but with the long Easter weekend on the horizon this could all change very quickly.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Med Gull Milestone

On Saturday in a blizzard of snow I saw my 10th different Mediterranean Gull on Wanstead Flats. Apart from 'Valentino' - Ilford's annual winter visitor to Valentines Park, which also frequently visited the Flats between 2013 - 2016 all the other birds rarely hung around for more than a day.

  1. 23rd October 2013 - Adult (Valentino)
  2. 9th November 2013 - 1st-winter (colour-ringed)
  3. 9th November 2013 - 1st-winter
  4. 16th February 2014 - Adult
  5. 31st October 2015 - Adult
  6. 30th January 2016 - Adult
  7. 27th March 2016 - 1st-winter
  8. 25 February 2017 - Adult
  9. 12th September 2017 - 2nd-winter
  10. 17th March 2018 - 1st-winter
1st-winter, Wanstead, London
Med Gull number 10 - in the Snow on Wanstead Flats

Despite the ever increasing numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in the UK with breeding pairs now reaching over 600+ they're still infrequent visitors to Wanstead Flats, and even though I've now seen ten different birds I'm still yet to see a smart adult in summer plumage with its wonderful full black hood - that's definitely next on my Med Gull list of goals!

Friday, 16 March 2018

We have a Winner

Well, that was fun...while it lasted.

Congratulations to Mr Rob Sheldon who is the 2018 'Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake' winner by correctly predicting the date of the first Wheatear to put in an appearance on Wanstead Flats. He not only predicted the correct date but only goes and finds the birds himself, picking out 2 possibly 3 males early on the Flats this morning. There was a brief stewards enquiry when we got notified of his find, as Rob had just returned from a trip abroad and we had to clarify he hadn't skipped through customs with a pocket full of Wheatears, but on checking his passport this clearly showed a Bangladesh stamp - not a known strong hold for Northern Wheatear.

Plans are a foot for the 'Golden Wheatear' presentation in which the mayor of Woodford and Wanstead will be presenting this years winner with this much sought after trophy at a venue to be decided (probably a local Witherspoons) along with the prize giving of as much booze Rob can consume on behalf of his fellow contestants - who aren't bitter about his win at all! One contestant (I'm not mentioning any names) declared that Wheatears were sh*t anyway after spending every second of daylight looking for them, but drew a blank on the two days they'd chosen - thankfully he is now making a full recovery after sleeping off a K-Cider binge and an increase in his medication.

Spring, Wheatear
Rob Sheldon correctly selected the 16th March - and is this years winner.

Commiserations to the all the other contestants...there's always next year!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake

As we finally wave goodbye to a rather long Winter that will be remembered mainly for a nasty sting in its tail, which brought patch ticks to many with displaced birds appearing all over the place - thoughts turn to lighter mornings and evenings, a rise in temperature and the start of Spring. You can forget about the Daffodils, buds on trees, boxing Hares and randy Squirrels as there is only one harbinger of Spring in Wanstead and that's the Wheatear!

As a bit of fun we've ramped up the stakes this year - it's also a little bit of additional encouragement to get out onto the patch, as the inaugural Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake has taken shape.

Team Wanstead have each chosen two dates in which they think the first Wheatear will be seen on the patch and whoever gets the correct date, will receive a beer from all the others team members on our next social gathering.

Nick has gone early in an attempt to equal last years patch record of the 11th March and Jono has gone late, maybe he's hoping last weeks easterly blast will delay there arrival. With the rest of us loading the middle to 3rd week of the month, the traditional arrival for these rather special Spring migrants. The only dates not covered by the group are the 28th, 29th and 31st - who wants to bet that one of these will be the winning date!

Check back here for an update later in the month to see who will be crowned the winner of the “Golden Wheatear”.

Wanstead, Spring

Saturday, 3 March 2018

2 Years Ticks and a Caspian

With a fresh covering of snow arriving Friday afternoon, I was champing at the bit to get out onto the patch Saturday morning, as I was hoping for more of the same cold weather movement that Wanstead had experienced throughout the week. Arriving at Alexandra Lake I could see it was still mostly frozen but the temperature had risen above zero for the first time since last saturday and the big thaw had now begun. I bumped into Rob and we walked across the snow covered Flats together, it was apparent no birds were on the move and the skies were empty, apart from just a few pockets of Redwings and Fieldfares.

Rob was keen to add Stonechat to his year list and we headed to the Cat & Dog pond, and good news the wintering Stonechat had survived the big freeze and was still clambering to the tops of the long grass. As we walked the ditch towards the pond a Woodcock flew from cover giving us both good views as the bird circled the SSSI looking for somewhere else to hide. At this point Rob headed towards Bush Wood in search of Treecreeper and I headed back across the Flats and towards the Park in search of a certain large chunky-billed finch that was now being seen more frequently near the Temple and Glade areas.

As I searched the wooded areas around the Temple and Chalet Wood a few Redwings flew passed and with them was the unmistakable broad white-wing bars of the large finch I had been looking for - a Hawfinch! It was soon lost to view but I did manage to see it briefly again in flight before losing it as it flew deeper into Chalet Wood. With two quality year ticks now safely in the bag, I left the park and drove the short distance home.

I decided to stop off at Eagle Pond in Snaresbrook for quick look at the long staying Caspian Gull and soon found it standing on the ice. A family was feeding the ducks and to my surprise it flew from the ice and landed on the concrete edge of the lake along the walkway. This was the first time I had seen this bird do this, as it typically spends most if its time in the middle of the lake and would generally ignore any bread offerings to encourage it closer, maybe as we've gone through Winter it has now become more confident and tolerant of people, either way I was more than happy with the views.

3rd-winter, Gulls, London

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Beast from the East...Delivers!

By all accounts it's been an amazing week on the patch and it all kicked-off last Saturday morning at around 8.30am when I picked out a small flock of Lapwing crossing Wanstead Flats heading north-west, since then the movement of Lapwing hasn't really stopped. On Saturday the count ended up on 108 and then each day following there have been daily counts of 91 on Sunday, 116 Monday, 298 Tuesday, 860 Wednesday and 127 if my maths are correct Team Wanstead have now recorded 1590 Lapwing - simply amazing!

Add in a couple of Golden Plover (surprised we haven't had more), daily sightings of Common Snipe, a single Jack Snipe and a semi-frozen Dunlin on the ice on Perch Lake (Great find by Nick) and you could say the blast of a Russian cold Winter dubbed the "Beast from the East" by the press has certainly lived up to expectations.

Unfortunately I've missed out on most of the fun, due to earning a crust and being tied to my desk all week but I did manage to grab a lunch break, where I discovered a mixed flock of Winter thrushes close to where I work, the birds were gorging themselves on the last of the berries and there must have been up to 50 Fieldfare and a dozen Redwing in and around one tree, small consolation for missing out on the movement of birds at Wanstead but'll soon be the weekend.

Winter, Thrush, Berries

Winter, Thrush, Berries

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Horned Lark, Staines Reservoir

I've been wanting to see this bird ever since its initial discovery back in November last year, and I thought I'd missed my opportunity when it quickly disappeared, so I was more than pleased to hear it had re-appeared again at the back end of January in the same location on Staines Reservoir - I wonder where that had been for a couple of months?

I've not been back to this neck of the woods since the last American vagrant to grace these West London collection of reservoirs - this being the Buff-bellied Pipit back in the winter of 2012. I remember it being a dreadful day then, with persistent heavy rain. Today wasn't a lot better, maybe the rain wasn't quite as heavy but it was a dark, overcast day with drizzle and the gloves were a must. 

Arriving just after 8am (thankfully there were no problems on the M25) and I didn't have to wait long before someone located the bird feeding on the banks of the causeway which split the reservoir in two and despite the weather, I managed to get a few decent images of the bird primarily aided by the fact it was only a matter of metres from where I was standing. I could easily pick out several key features like the dark upper parts and crown, the flared bright white eye stripe and those distinctive rich-rufous flanks - a very smart bird and well worth circumnavigating the M25 for.

Staines, London

Staines, London

Staines London

Staines, London

I don't know a great deal about Horned Larks other than they are found on almost every continent and there are lots of subspecies, and when I say lots, I mean at least forty-two (so I've read) but it appears this bird is considered to be one of two subspecies either alpestris or hoyti both are migratory and North American - It'll be interesting to know what the eventual outcome is, but either way it's a great bird for London.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

What makes you Tick?

As birding weekends go on a cold, wet and miserable January - I'd give this one a respectable 8 out of 10.

First up on Saturday morning was a visit to Walthamstow Wetlands (as it's now known) to look for the Little Bunting which had been found on Friday. An excellent record for London and kudos to guys who dug that one out, but 2 hours standing still on the bank of a reservoir looking at a hedge in the rain isn't really my idea of fun, but thankfully patience did eventually pay off and the bird showed to the small waiting crowd before quickly disappearing again - it's always good to get a London tick, especially on the north side of the Thames. Returning home to dry off and warm-up and the wintering male Blackcap appears in the garden, and curiously this gave me more satisfaction than the Little Bunting - despite seeing hundreds of birds around the UK and abroad, I still get immense pleasure from feeding and seeing garden birds - especially when something a little bit out of the ordinary turns up.

Male, Wintering, Winter

Sunday and I find myself with a couple of hours spare (due to the cancellation of my sons football match, waterlogged pitch apparently) and I head to the patch in search of a few easy missing year ticks - I still haven't seen a Mistle Thrush or a Kestrel. I hadn't been here long before news of a Hawfinch in the Old Sewage Works (thanks Tim) finds me heading quickly in that direction, but not before I year tick the obliging female Bullfinch which is currently residing in the brambles alongside Heronry Lake. No sign of the Hawfinch and the rain is starting to fall as sleet, so I call it a day, satisfied with my lot this weekend, knowing I could have easily have stayed indoors under a duvet and hidden from the elements but that's not what makes me tick.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

A really 'Great' White Egret

Today, I finally caught up with the Great White Egret in Wanstead Park - which is a nice big fat juicy patch tick!

Ever since its discovery on Monday 8th January I've had to bide my time whilst my fellow patch workers literally roll out of bed to see this bird, and one or two others throw money at Uber drivers to tick Wanstead's 1st ever grounded record of this widely increasing Egret throughout the UK.

After the birds initial sighting, it disappeared for about a week before re-appearing again on Tuesday 16th January in the same location on Perch Lake, and when Jono confirmed it was still there today, I cracked and took a slightly extended lunch hour and drove the 12 miles or so to twitch the bird - this was really the only opportunity I had of seeing it, as the thought of waiting again until the weekend was a risk I wasn't prepared to do again, especially after last weeks disappearing act! The problem with trying to bird the patch in the Winter is the lack of light in the mornings and evenings, so a lunchtime twitch was my only chance and I'm mightily pleased it paid off, even if this meant it was a 'tick and run' job with a dodgy record shot to boot - hence the ill-placed branch covering the birds head.

Here's hoping it sticks around a bit longer, as I'm sure I can do a bit better than the photo below!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

All Fired Up..for the New Year

A new year and a new Wanstead patch list!

My first visit to the patch this year on Saturday morning heralded 55 species which is right on the money in terms what I usually score for any opening day salvo, the highlights of a very enjoyable circuit of the Flats/Park with my compadre Jono was a bonus Little Owl perched out in the open in East Copse and a Firecrest! Yes...a bloody Firecrest - you go the whole of 2017 without seeing one and your first visit to Bush Wood and bingo! This absolute gem of a bird lit-up even then darkest clumps of Holly Bush, calling and flitting just a few feet from the pair us - Simply Magical!

Holly Bush, Winter

Holly Bush, Winter

Holly Bush, Winter

As is normal with any opening day visit of the year, it's also notable for the birds you didn't see than the ones you did and there were a couple of absolute howlers, Dunnock being the best - How did I not see a Dunnock? And then there was no Collared Dove and no Redwing, FiedfareMistle Thrush or Kestrel. It's all to be expected really and only adds to the fun of restarting the numbers game back to zero and going again...

So until my next visit to the patch, when I guarantee Dunnock will fall...Happy New Year and best of birding to you all for 2018.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

2017 - My Birding Year on Wanstead Flats

That's another years birding on Wanstead Flats over, with a total of 106 birds seen/heard in 2017. 106 is actually my highest ever total for the patch which I should be pleased about, but overall it was a fairly unremarkable year, and a lot of the time it was a bit of a slog for very little reward, but I suppose that sums of patch birding, you take the rough with the smooth and you have good and bad years - Here's hoping 2018 throws up one or two nuggets of patch gold!

There were a couple of highlights, the singing spring Nightingale at the back of Motorcycle Wood was a patch tick and so was Hawfinch, when a flock of 9 birds flew over me when I was in the Broom fields, sadly the views of these birds were all to brief. The biggest accolade of the year goes to finding the 1st Spring Wheatear for London on March 11th, when I picked out a distant male bird in flight that eventually perched up on top of Coronation Copse, much to the delight of Mr J. Lethbridge.

On the obvious omissions, I failed to see Lapwing, SnipeShelduck and Firecrest which could have boosted the totals to the heady heights of 110 - this would have been quite remarkable for someone with limited time who doesn't actually live in Wanstead.

Here's a little photo journal of the year I've put together...

A cock Pheaseant in early February around the new horse paddock in the Old Sewage works started the year of well and was an early patch tick.

Late February and the 1st Mediterranean Gull (adult Winter) of the year was recorded on the football pitches.

A Red-crested Pochard towards the end of February on Jubilee Pond was nice a bonus, even if its origins were a tad questionable.

One of the few highlights of my year, was the discovery of London's 1st Wheatear of Spring on March 11th.

A very smart continental type Stonechat was present for a morning around the 'Ditch of Despair' on March 26th.

The sight of three Little Ringed Plovers provided early optimism for some rare (any wader is rare in Wanstead) Spring wader passage in April as Heronry Lake had sprung a leak in Wanstead Park, and the exposed mud had us all rubbing our hands, alas the Little Ringed Plovers were the only highlight.

A photogenic Little Owl was a rare sight one early morning in May. A breeding pair was later confirmed in the summer when three birds were seen together, and was excellent news for this somewhat difficult Owl to catch up with on the patch.

A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull on the football pitches at the beginning of July, confirmed once again the importance of Wanstead Flats as an urban site for our much maligned Gulls.

Now this was unexpected! A perched (as opposed to flying over) Common Tern on Jubilee Pond in July stayed just long enough for me to grab a few photos before it took flight, and headed high and north.

A showy Garden Warbler gorging on the ripened Blackberries in mid August is always a welcome sight and was the beginning of the Autumn migration.

One of the classic sights of Autumn on Wanstead Flats, a Spotted Flycatcher flycatching from a high branch in the Brick pits, one of a couple of birds which lingered for a few days at the back end of August.

With Autumn migration now in full swing, the sight of fresh juvenile Whinchats in the Broom fields during September is another must see moment on the Flats, sadly there numbers seem to be down on previous years - was this down to the lack of suitable cover after the Corporation of London's decision to remove pockets of Brooms?

When a bird shows and performs this well, all those early mornings on the patch when you see very little are soon forgotten - this male Common Redstart in mid-September made us all smile.

Another Mediterranean Gull and this time a 2nd Winter bird in November was seen on the football pitches and then around Alexandra Lake for the day.

A rare visit to Bush Wood in search of year ticks and a Treecreeper duly obliged, unfortunately the Firecrest I was also after failed to show.

It's always pleasing to catch up with a Bullfinch on the patch but to see four birds together around Long Wood was memorable, and doubled the number of Bullfinches I had previously seen on the patch in one fail swoop.

And that pretty much sums up my birding year on Wanstead Flats for 2017 - You can view my full list here 2017 Patch Year List.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Shorelarks in Holkham Bay

I've just returned from a very enjoyable Christmas and New Years break with the family to north Norfolk - where most of the time was agreeably spent eating and drinking, you can't go wrong with Fish & chips washed down with a Brewdog beer at Erics in Thornham or a big Sunday roast at the Dun Cow in Salthouse followed by a couple of jars of my favourite Norfolk ale - Wherrys! But in between the Christmas and New Year gluttony I did find a little bit of time for some birding.

New Years eve morning was spent at Holkham Bay, where the kids explored the sand dunes and played football on the beach (with mum in goal) and I spent some time with the eight Shorelarks which are currently wintering in the bay.

Despite the number of people and dog walkers also enjoying a walk along the beach, the large area of Saltmarsh favoured by the Shorelarks is left relatively undisturbed and the birds can easily be found feeding low down amongst the dried-up Sea Lavender. As expected there were also a few other birders getting their fix of these wonderful Winter Larks but after a short time I found myself alone on the fringe of the Saltmarsh as the birds worked there way slowly, closer towards me, and for about ten minutes I enjoyed some excellent views before a football came hurtling into view (Mrs B and the boys had returned) sending these skittish birds further into the Saltmarsh.

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, Winter

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, Winter

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, Winter

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, Winter

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, Winter

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, Winter