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