Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake - Winner

Not much beats seeing your first Wheatear of spring and this beauty greeted me as I walked around the southern edge of Alexandra Lake just after 8.30am this morning, therefore we have a winner of the much coveted 'Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2019' - take a bow Mr Heal who correctly predicted today (17th March) would be the date of the first Wheatear to arrive on the patch.

When I caught up with the newly crowned champ he was clearly overcome with emotion as I congratulated him on his win, holding back the tears James compared the win to the recent arrival of his son - clearly the Golden Wheatear trophy means a lot!

The date of the prize giving ceremony is still to be decided as unfortunately one of our potential sponsors slipped into administration in recent weeks - it's a real shame as that Chicken shop was one of my favourites. I'd like to thank the rest of team Wanstead for their efforts and hours of toil in often difficult birding conditions, with a special mention to Richard and Jono for there relentless assault of the patch throughout March (blink and you would've have missed them).

Here's to next year...

Wanstead, London
This long distant migrant is a welcome sight on any patch
Competition, Winner

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Norwegian Ringed Black-headed Gull

As Wanstead awaits the arrival of its first Wheatear and the sweepstake days continue to be chalked off, I'm continuing to keep an eye on the Gulls. Whilst sifting through the roost on the football pitches I picked up this green colour-ringed Black-headed Gull (J71P) which would indicate the bird was ringed in Norway, and would be a first for me and the patch.

Colour-ringed, Darvic, Norwegian
Adult Black-headed Gull (J71P)
I've now received the birds life history, and it was indeed ringed in Norway, just outside Olso at Braten, Noklevann, and it appears to be a local favourite having been recorded no less than 34 times around Olso since it was ringed on the 21st August 2015. It was last recorded in Oslo on the 29th June 2018 before I picked it up at Wanstead on the 9th March 2019 with this being the first time (J71P) had ever been recorded outside Norway - I do enjoy a good ringing recovery.

Colour-ringed, Gulls
711 Miles (1145km) from Oslo to Wanstead

Monday, 25 February 2019

Juvenile Common Gull in February!

Fairly quiet around the patch at the weekend (not helped by the unseasonably warm weather) but whilst scanning through the usual roost of gulls on the football pitches I came across this 1st-winter Common Gull which had yet to moult and was still (more or less) in complete juvenile plumage. I've seen similar birds in December and January, but never in February and this late into the new year.

Seeing a Common Gull in February still in juvenile plumage would suggest it came from an area of northern late breeding populations or even a more eastern direction which would suggest ssp (heinei).

Food for thought, and one for the many gull enthusiasts to mull over...

Juvenile, 1st-winter, 2CY

Juvenile, 1st-winter, 2CY

Juvenile, 1st-winter, 2CY

Juvenile, 1st-winter, 2CY

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2019

It's here, the wait is over...One of the biggest and most anticipated birding contests is almost upon us - The Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake.
  • 9 Contestants
  • 18 Dates
  • 1 Bird
  • 1 Champion
Team Wanstead have selected their dates, the long winter and dark mornings are almost over, spring is on the horizon and everyone's favourite summer migrant will soon be gracing these shores again.

And the questions on everybody's lips - Who will be this years champion? Will Rob retain his crown? Will Jono be in the country? And will Richard actually make any effort at all? Only time will tell, but as we count down the days until the first of this years Wheatears arrive, you can follow all the action on here, as regular updates will be posted as the excitement builds and the tension grows...

The rules of the contest are simple, whoever correctly predicts the date of the first sighting of a Wheatear on the patch - wins! And there's an added bonus prize if you're also the finder.

We await official sponsorship (I'm in talks with Leica and a local chicken shop) of this nationally publicised contest and until such a time the prizes will be same as last year - a drink of your choice in the local Wetherspoons pub including bar snacks, and the presentation of the 'Golden Wheatear Trophy' (still to be purchased).

Good luck...

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Holyfield Lake Ferruginous Duck - Wild or Plastic?

I had the choice between standing in a sterile Wanstead woodland in search of an elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker or going to look at a plastic duck - The plastic duck won! And I'm glad I chose the latter as the drake Ferruginous Duck at Holyfield Lake looked really smart in the early morning winter light.

Whenever a Ferruginous Ducks shows up, there's aways a question mark over the birds origins but this bird could actually be the real deal. It was certainly behaving like a wild bird (keeping its distance and acting skittish in and around the lake edge vegetation) and it's also un-ringed which should rule it out from being part of the German reintroduction scheme or an escape from a local collection, and Holyfield Lake is also a good location with lots of wintering wildfowl. Despite these good points in favour of the bird being wild - we'll never know for sure, but as Ferruginous Ducks go, this is probably as good as it gets now days in terms of the possibility of it actually being a genuine vagrant and was well worth the short drive up the Lee Valley to see it.

Male, Winter, Wild, Plastic

Whilst the Fudge Duck slept on, a pair of Great Crested Grebes put on a wonderful courtship display of their famous 'weed dance' and was a nice distraction while I waited for duck to actually do something.

Weed Dance, Courtship, Display

Saturday, 2 February 2019


Despite the recent snow and and drop in temperature, there appears to be very little cold weather movement of birds on the patch. I did my usual Saturday morning circuit of Wanstead Flats and Park and birds were generally thin on the ground, the only points of interest were an increase in winter thrushes. Fieldfares in particular have been few and far between since the start of the new year, with just single birds noted, but today I recorded up to forty (mostly flying over) but there were ones and twos on the deck as I crossed the football pitches. And in the park around the area of Chalet Wood, Redwings had also notably increased in number, and were a nice distraction while I continued to search for a rather elusive female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

Winter Thrush, London

Winter Thrush, London

Winter Thrush, London

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

25th Anniversary of an OBP

I don't usually dig into the archives on here, but after seeing a tweet from @birdingprof about a bird I saw 25 years ago it had me reminiscing - the bird in question was an Olive-backed Pipit at Wat Tyler Country Park, Essex.

Wat Tyler CP was my original patch and I spent many hours as a teenager and into my early twenties birding the marshes, creeks and scrub in this part of Essex. There were 3 or 4 of us that regularly covered the area, and for a lot of the time for little reward except for the usual breeding birds and occasional passage migrants - but this all changed on the 13th January 1994.

It was a Thursday and I 'd received a call on my landline (these were the days before mobile phones) from Sam Woods who had seen an odd Pipit at the back of the car park near the Motor Boat Museum (as it was then) and his description sounded good for Olive-backed Pipit but being mid-January and not mid-October he was rightly a little hesitant to put any news out until he or one the patch regulars could confirm his suspicions. At the time I was working only a short drive from Wat Tyler and decided to bird the patch during my lunch hour on the Friday. I checked the scrub at the back of the car park but couldn't find any Pipits but continued through the scrub following the path to an area near two small ponds, and it was here I found a Pipit on the ground working its way through the thick scrub, and having obtained good views of a plain, tinged green, unmarked mantle I was confident it was indeed an Olive-backed Pipit and not just an odd Meadow Pipit or even an over-wintering Tree Pipit.

I contacted Sam to confirm I had found the bird again and the location where I had seen it and we convened (with one or two others) on Saturday morning to try and find it, and sure enough it was still in the area of scrub near the ponds. We were all happy with the ID and the news was put out to one of the bird news services.

The bird stayed loyal to the scrub near the ponds for the rest of the winter, although it could be elusive at times I was fortunate enough to see it on several occasions. In the end it stayed for a total of 79 days and was last seen on the 2nd April, and although Olive-backed Pipit is a regular autumn vagrant to the UK, over-wintering birds remain extremely rare.

I still can't believe it's been 25 years...

Shetland, 2013
Unfortunately the Olive-backed Pipit at Wat Tyler CP was in the days before I carried a camera with a decent size lens, so here's a photo of an OBP from Shetland 2013.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Estonian Colour-ringed Common Gulls

Last Friday I popped into Rainham in search of the juvenile Glaucous Gull that had been seen on the Tip and around the Stone Barges on the Wednesday, my initial search drew a blank in both areas, so I went and viewed the reserve from Wennington (Serin Mound) and picked up a distant gull roost on the adjacent marsh as you look towards the old silt lagoons. Although distant I picked out the distinctive biscuit coloured tones and pale bill (dark tipped) of a juvenile Glaucous Gull amongst the gull flock. I hadn't been watching the bird for long before a Marsh Harrier spooked the roost and I lost sight of the bird in the confusion, most of the gulls regathered and landed partially behind a reedbed on the marsh, but the Glaucous Gull had either flown off or was disappointingly out of view.

Earlier, whilst searching for the Glaucous Gull I picked out two colour-ringed Common Gulls stood on the metal gantry which juts into the Thames from the Stone Barges car park.

Colour-ringed, Darvic
Estonian Common Gulls - P4V6 and P9U0
After emailing the ring information to the relevant coordinator, I've now received the life histories of both birds and remarkably they were both ringed as chicks in May 2008 in the same colony at Kakrarahu on the Matsalu Nature Reserve in Estonia. Common Gull P9U0 was recorded in Sweden at Vambasa (east of Romneby) in November 2012 but apart from that single sighting neither bird has ever been recorded away from the nature reserve in Estonia.

Both Common Gulls are males and have been observed nesting amongst the colony of Gulls at Kakrarahu every year since 2012.

Colour-ringed, Darvic
Estonia (Matsalu Nature Reserve) to UK (Rainham Marshes) - 1039miles/1672km
The birds have travelled over a 1000 miles to spend the winter in the UK and were stood just a few feet away from each other at Rainham - what are the odds on that?

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Two more Caspian Gulls!

Back on the patch Saturday morning with the aim of mopping up a few of the commoner birds missing from the year list and I soon pick up Skylark, Linnet and Kestrel as I cross the Flats, arriving at Jubilee Pond and the terribly sad sight of two dead Mute Swans greet me! Both birds look as if they've been caught up in the wire fencing on the east side of the Pond. I believe this fencing was meant to protect the vegetation on the edge of the pond, however it's clear this fencing is a hazard to the wildfowl that frequent the pond and clearly needs to be removed - I reported the dead Swans to the City of London Corporation who confirmed a Forest Keeper team would remove the birds, lets hope they also remove the unnecessary fencing?

Completing my walk around the patch and the only other bird I managed to add to the year list was a wintering Chiffchaff near the allotments in the Old Sewage Works, back at Alexandra Lake for another scan through the gulls and and I pick up not one but two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls on the lake. We've only ever had single Caspian Gulls on the patch at any one time, so to find two birds is a first for Wanstead and my run of finding Casps this winter shows no sign of abating as this is now my 4th and 5th birds since the 10th November, all of which have been 1st-winters.

One of the Caspian Gulls was of the clean white-headed variety and stood out immediately, the other bird was a little less obvious, being more heavily streaked around the head, hind-neck, breast and flanks. Both birds showed a set of nicely uniformed wing coverts with a reddish hue and a good set of tertials - the more I see of these birds, the more I'm enjoying the subtle difference of each and every bird, here's hoping I catch up with one or two more of these eastern beauties before the winters out.

1st-winter, Cachinnans, London
The more heavily streaked individual
1st-winter, Cachinnans, London
1st-winter, Cachinnans, London
The cleaner, white-headed bird of the two.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Urban Cattle Egrets

With two Cattle Egrets in Cheshunt, just ten minutes down the road from my office - I couldn't resist a bit of lunch hour twitching, and sure enough having parked in the estate and walked the short distance to the park at Penton Fields, both birds were on show straight away.

This was a true bit of urban birding with the park being overlooked on four sides by a housing estate and a kids playground at one end - I suppose seeing these birds in this slightly odd environment was a glimpse into the near future, as they continue to increase in numbers and colonise more of the UK.

I'm still yet to patch tick Cattle Egret at Wanstead but I'm sure I won't have to wait too long, especially as there's a kids playground opposite Jubilee Pond!

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Just a Cattle Egret flying past a set of kids swings in a playground!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Opening the Account

After writing off my New Years Day birding plans due to the late night celebrations and a sore head that lasted most of the day - hangovers seem to last longer these days! Today was my first outing on the patch. Having met up with Jono just after first light and in little under 4 hours and a big circuit of the Flats and Park we amassed a reasonable 54 Species - which is about par for the course.

There were quite a few omissions from the list (Kestrel, Stonechat, Song ThrushSkylark, TreecreeperPochard etc, etc) so lots to keep me occupied in the coming weeks, highlights on the walk round were few and far between but catching up with Firecrest in Bush Wood was nice and yet another 1st-winter Caspian Gull (this time on Jubilee Pond) was also an unexpected bonus.

I'll do well to match the heady heights and the quality of birds we had in 2018 on the patch but I'm happy to plug away and let's see what turns up...

1st-Winter, Wanstead, London

1st-Winter, Wanstead, London