Friday, 13 September 2019

Wanstead August Stats

20 records of Pied Flycatcher, 29 records of Common Redstart, 41 records of Tree Pipit...the numbers don't lie - by all accounts it's been an excellent August for common passage migrants passing through Wanstead Flats, confirming what we all already know that Wanstead really is one of London's prime locations for connecting with spring and autumn migrants.

None of this data would be possible without the continuing efforts of a small band of Wanstead regulars who diligently work the patch, with a special shout out to Nick Croft who pounds the well trodden paths for many hours, most days.

Thursday, 5 September 2019


Waders are revered at Wanstead and Greenshank had only ever been recorded by team Wanstead (well Nick) as a rare flyover, so for the team to see one on the deck and feeding in the shallows of Heronry Lake is just a little bit special and what a great way to bring up the 100 for the year on the patch.

Wanstead, Wader, Autumn Passage

Wanstead, Wader, Autumn Passage

Wanstead, Wader, Autumn Passage

Wanstead, Wader, Autumn Passage

Monday, 2 September 2019

Poolside Birding on the Greek Island of Zakynthos

I've just returned from a super-chilled week on the Greek Island of Zakynthos with the family, although birding was never part of the agenda I couldn't help but explore the local area close to our accommodation, whilst always keeping one eye on the sky as I lounged around the pool. The habitat on our hillside location in the south of the island near Keri was a mixture of pines, Olive plantations and some impenetrable thorny scrub. Each morning I'd make a quick recce of the area before breakfast, the plan was always to get out just after sunrise but I often struggled due to the prior evenings intake of the very likeable Mythos Beer!

It soon became apparent that Zante wasn't exactly alive with birds (well not in this location) in my week on the island I only managed to amass a grand total of just 21 species - I know my birding was limited but I had hoped for a few's the list and the details.
  1. House Sparrow - A small local flock of around 10+
  2. Collared Dove - Several local pairs
  3. Eleonoras Falcon - 2 over the accommodation (1 dark phase)
  4. Common Buzzard - Up to 4 birds circling daily
  5. Sparrowhawk - 2 sightings of single birds
  6. Marsh Harrier - 1 female distantly picked up through the bins
  7. Sardinian Warbler - Numerous pairs, c20 in the area
  8. Serin - 1 briefly in Pine Trees
  9. Red-backed Shrike - 1 male, intermittently seen throughout the week
  10. Spotted Flycatcher - Up to 4 birds seen in the area
  11. Swallow - Numerous, 50+ most days - Including 1 albino bird
  12. Red-rumped Swallow - 20+ most days
  13. House Martin - 20+ most days
  14. Sand Martin - c5 seen most days
  15. Northern Wheatear - 1 in flight
  16. Scops Owl - 1 briefly perched on electricity wires (Well spotted Mrs B)
  17. Great Tit - 4 (1 single bird and a group of 3)
  18. Greenfinch - small local flock of 5 >10
  19. Honey Buzzard - 2 calling birds flying low over the accommodation
  20. Yellow Wagtail - 1 in flight calling
  21. Hobby - 1 over the accommodation
Greece, Zante,
Red-rumped Swallows 
Greece, Zante

Greece, Zante

Greece, Zante
The most numerous bird on my holiday patch - Sardinian Warbler (m)
Greece, Zante

Greece, Zante
Spotted Flycatcher 
Male, Greece, Zante
The local male Red-backed Shrike always kept its distance
And lastly a couple of none bird photos of interest - European Mantis and Cone-headed Grasshopper both of which wouldn't look out of place in the next Aliens instalment.

Greece, Zante

Greece, Zante

Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Arrival of Autumn

I've done very little birding on the patch through the summer months as I do my best to try and avoid the area, as sadly Wanstead becomes a magnet for all kinds of characters and activities - all attracted by the long days and good weather. But in recent weeks I've slowly started to build up my visits again - not that I've seen a great deal (Common Sandpiper is about the only bird of note) but today felt a little different, and was the first time it actually had that autumnal feel about it. There were good numbers of Phylloscopus Warblers in the SSSI with an arrival of at least 6 juvenile Willow Warblers, this was later trumped when I found a smart Pied Flycatcher amongst a movement of birds all favouring the sheltered and sunlit east side of Motorcycle Wood. My first autumn Wheatears had also arrived with two birds in the Brooms/Football Pitches.

Autumn, Wanstead, London
Always flighty and difficult to pin down but a Pied Fly was nice addition to the year list
Butterflies, Wanstead, London
Brown Argus Butterfly
Autumn, Wanstead, London
A Wheatear is always a welcome sight 
On the Gull front it was good to see my first returning Common Gull another sign that autumn is now here, and there was also a 2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull amongst the gull roost on the Football pitches - only my second record this year. As yet there have been no juvenile arrivals but as Yellow-legged Gull numbers along the Thames corridor continue to increase I'm sure it will only be a matter of time.

2nd-summer, Gulls, Wanstead, London
2nd-Summer Yellow-legged Gull

Monday, 24 June 2019

Chasing Dragons

As you would expect at this time of year the bird life on the old patch at the moment is fairly non-existent apart from the usual breeding species, so I've been enjoying a few lazy weekends taking in the Cricket World Cup, FIFA Women's Football World Cup (both of which have been excellent viewing) and also a little bit of local Mountain Biking (more of that another time). However on the visits I have made to Wanstead my focus has been less birds and more Odonata, nothing out of the ordinary to report (although I did dip a locally rare Scarce Chaser) just an enjoyable few hours locating, photographing and ID'ing these magnificent flying beasts.

Emperor Dragonfly (f)
Dragonfly, Odonata
Black-tailed Skimmer (m)
Dragonfly, Odonata
Black-tailed Skimmer (f)

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Lea Valley Ring-necked Duck

It was good to add another London tick to the slowly growing list and so soon after recently adding Great Reed Warbler but it almost never happened! After commiserating Spurs losing in the Champions League final I'd woken up with a monster of a hangover which seemed to get worse as the day wore on. Somehow I managed to pull myself together and by late afternoon headed up the Lea Valley to Fishers Green to look for the drake Ring-necked Duck which Dom Mitchell had found in the morning (whilst walking his dog, no less).

Anyone that knows Seventy Acres Lake at Fishers Green will know it has a large number of small islands and many bays and inlets - all perfect for hiding ducks, so unless anyone was on the bird when I arrived I thought my task was going to be difficult especially as I was still feeling a little jaded, but for once luck was on my side and as I scanned the lake from the footbridge I picked it up straight away amongst a small flock of Tufted Duck, I even managed to position myself at eye level on the lakes edge and got a few photos which all appear to be in focus - amazing what you can achieve whilst hung-over!

Male, Lea Valley, London

Male, Lea Valley, London

Male, Lea Valley, London

Male, Lea Valley, London

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

All Cattle and not much Egret

I popped into Rainham Marsh this morning with my 10 year old son in tow and virtually the first bird we saw was a Cattle Egret flying across the Purfleet Scrape, it landed beyond a herd of cattle where it spent most of its time happily obscured by these big bovine beasts before flying out further into the marsh. The only other birds of note were 10 Ringed Plover on Target Pools and an Avocet pair with two recently fledged young on Butts Scrape, plus the usual Hobby, male Marsh Harrier and a calling Cuckoo - none the less an enjoyable couple of hours walk around the reserve and a nice way to start half-term week.

Rainham, RSPB
Cattle + Egret = Cattle Egret
Rainham, RSPB

Rainham, RSPB

Monday, 20 May 2019

All Quiet at Wanstead but Crossness Delivers

With a band of overnight rain moving through the region on Friday, I felt an early morning start on the patch might be productive - sadly my optimism was dashed again as the search for late spring passage migrants and something of note drew a blank. The mornings highlight probably went to a pair of Treecreeper in Wanstead Park, east of Perch Lake. This was first time I've recorded two birds together in the Park and suggests a breeding pair and would be an excellent record for this location.

Male, Wanstead Park
A bit of green foliage ruins what would have been a great photo! 
Grey Wagtail on Perch Lake, Wanstead Park
Wanstead Flats
A much underrated bird the Stock Dove, just look at those doughy eyes!
My morning jaunt was broken with the news of a Great Reed Warbler at Crossness, but my day was already mapped out and given the time and distance of getting to this Thames-side reserve on the south of the river, any hope of catching up with this London 1st were sunk. Thankfully the bird did the decent thing and stuck around and I caught up with it on the Sunday morning, I only managed two briefs views, one occasion when it climbed the reeds and a briefly broke into a bit of a loud and unmistakable croaking and then another flight view, but all in all an excellent London tick and great find by Richard Bonser in what was an enjoyable couple of hours surrounded by the calls of a Cuckoo and the songs of Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers.

Great Reed Warbler, London 1st
A little gem - Crossness Nature Reserve

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

White or Pied Wagtail?

I took the series of photos below of what I presumed was a White Wagtail (alba) on Wanstead Flats over the weekend. This presumption was mainly based on the mantle colour being rather plain and ash-grey in colour (this was even more noticeable in the field) but given the amount of grey around the breast and to a lesser extent the flanks, I'm now swaying towards a female Pied Wagtail (yarrellii), but I've also seen White Wagtails with a light-grey wash around the flanks, so I'm still not 100% convinced.

The white wing bar also appears to be quite broad and the grey mantle doesn't encroach into the rear crown (what you can see of it) as much as you would expect in a female White Wagtail, so maybe it's just a female Pied Wagtail with a light grey mantle after all? It's just a shame that none of the photos clearly show the rump/upper tail coverts, as this could of clinched it either way (ash-grey for White Wagtail, dark grey for Pied Wagtail).

As always, any thoughts and comments are welcome...

Alba, Yarrellii

Alba, Yarrellii

Alba, Yarrellii

Alba, Yarrellii

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Quadrennial Wood Warbler

Almost four years to the day, another spring Wood Warbler has rocked up on Wanstead Flats. This time in Long Wood just across the road from where I found that special Little Singer in the SSSI back in April 2015.

Navigating traffic in this part of the world is an ongoing battle, so I decided to jump on the bike straight after work to head straight to the Flats in hope of adding the Wood Warbler to the patch year list, smart move on my part as I'd reached Long Wood in less than 20 minutes and with James and Bruce already here, and both having recently heard the bird break briefly into song - I was confident of catching up with it. Less than 10 minutes later I'd picked out the clean white underparts of a Wood Warbler as it worked its way through the top of the canopy. This bird was in no mood for singing and was silent except for the the briefest of trills in the hour or so I was there, but the views were OK and I even managed to grab a photo as it briefly dropped a little lower down, but for most part it always kept to the higher reaches of the Oak canopy.

Seeing and hearing a spring Wood Warbler is always a bit special in London, I just hope I don't have to wait another four more years to experience another one.

Spring, Male, Singing
So it's not going to win any prizes but none the less a photo of a London Wood Warbler

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Worlds Largest Gull Visits Wanstead

The long Easter bank holiday didn't quite live up to expectation on the patch, due in part to the weather being clear, sunny and warm - great for topping up my suntan but not so great for grounding passage migrants to an urban London site. On the two visits I did managed to squeeze in, I added Yellow Wagtail, Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Great Black-backed Gull to the Year List.

While the focus was always on returning passage migrants, the two Great Black-backed Gulls (a 4th and 2nd calendar year birds) on Alexandra Lake were a bit of a highlight - it's only taken me four months to add one to the patch year list! Great Black-backed Gulls are usually only recorded as winter flyovers at Wanstead as they commute between the River Thames and the chain of Lee Valley reservoirs, so to get a couple of these big chunky gulls in spring on the deck and in different plumage's was a nice distraction from looking at the current crop of non-breeding mix of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls which are now set to spend their summer on the Flats.

GBB Gull, Adult, Summer
4CY Great Black-backed Gull
GBB Gull, 2CY, 2nd Calendar Year, Gulls
2CY Great Black-backed Gull

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Comical Patch Tick

When I wrote my last post Twenty Four Patch Possibilities I hadn't quite expected to see one of those possibilities so soon, but just a week later and number four on the list (Mandarin Duck) is now firmly on the patch list and is my 141st bird at Wanstead.

I'm not going to go into any of the details of how and when the bird was found as it's all beautifully summed up here by Jono, but let's just say it was one of the more comical patch ticks I've had the pleasure of, and now it's out of the way I don't ever have to make any effort for another one.

Male, Colourful, Beautiful
It's lovely isn't's beautiful!
This short video clip is best enjoyed with the sound turned right up as to fully immerse yourself in the commentary and excitement of ticking such a wonderful bird which gave some amazing views...if you listen really carefully you can hear the chuckling of several of Wanstead's finest birders as the Mandarin Duck swam within just a few feet of the assembled patch workers.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Twenty Four Patch Possibilities

Last weekend I hit a little milestone when I added Garganey to the patch list - this was my 140th bird on the patch at Wanstead, and this got me thinking. I would dearly love to reach the 150 mark but trying to add 10 new birds isn't as easy you might think for this urban London site, however, given time and a little bit of luck over the next few years it might just be possible...that's if they don't all turn up on Birthday's, Anniversary's or Mother's Days!

So I've listed 24 possibilities that have been recorded at Wanstead in the last decade that could get me too or over the 150.
  1. Grasshopper Warbler (2 recent records, the most recent being a singing bird in the Old Sewage Works on the 14th April 2015)
  2. Kittiwake (4 recent records, 1 on Wanstead Flats on the 7th January 2014 being the most recent)
  3. Curlew (3 recent records, with one over the Flats on the 8th March 2014 being the most recent)
  4. Mandarin Duck (3 recent records, last recorded on the 30th March 2014 on Heronry Lake in the Park)
  5. Osprey (3 recent records, last recorded on the 13th April 2016 flying over Esso Copse)
  6. Crossbill (4 recent records, with a single bird on the 31st July 2015 over the Flats being the last record)
  7. Stone Curlew (2 recent records, last recorded 24th March 2013 over the SSSI)
  8. Turtle Dove (1 recent record of a bird on Wanstead Flats on the 19th May 2010)
  9. Dunlin (5 recent records, the last being recorded on Perch Pond 1st March 2018)
  10. Dartford Warbler (1 recent record in the Broom Fields on the 31st October 2009)
  11. Wood Sandpiper (2 recent records, one on Angel Pond on the 19th April 2011 being the last record)
  12. Oystercatcher (2 heard only recent records, last recorded over the Flats on 23rd October 2013)
  13. Marsh Harrier (5 recent records, last recorded 26th March 2018 over Jubilee)
  14. Honey Buzzard (a single bird over the Flats on the 23rd September 2000)
  15. Merlin (4 recent records, last recorded on 28th November 2016 over Alexandra Lake)
  16. Ringed Plover (1 recent record, 3 birds flying over the Fairground on the 26th April 2015)
  17. Redshank (3 recent records, with one over the SSSI on the 27th April 2015 being the last recorded)
  18. Greenshank (4 recent records, 2 birds on the 10th May 2016 over Alex were the last recorded)
  19. Whimbrel (3 recent records, a flock 33 birds over the Flats on 23rd April 2012 being the last recorded)
  20. Water Pipit (2 recent records, one on Alexandra Lake on the 21st October 2018 being the most recent)
  21. Rock Pipit (2 recent records, with one on the 16th October 2018 over the Flats being the most recent)
  22. Raven (A single record of a bird flying over the Flats on the 24th May 2016)
  23. Cattle Egret (1 recent record of a single bird over the Brooms on the 4th November 2018)
  24. Grey Plover (A single record from the Flats on the 9th February 2012)
Reeling, Rainham, RSPB, London
This would be a welcome sight and sound...especially after missing the Grasshopper Warbler in the Old Sewage Works in April 2015

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Garganey...It's Never Straight Forward

News of a patch lifer on Mother's Day is not good for my marriage or my heart. But there I was making Sunday breakfast for all the family (buttery scrambled eggs, fried chestnut mushrooms on toasted Soda bread, with fresh coffee and orange juice) when I received two missed calls (Jono/James) and then a series of Whatsapp and Twitter messages alerting me to the news that Rob had found a male Garganey on Jubilee Pond!

Garganey is a full-fat patch tick and I'd already spent 6 hours on Saturday morning with Jono covering every water-body on the Flats/Park looking for one, obviously I couldn't abandon breakfast and I also had to take my eldest son to his football match, but by the sound of things the bird was acting really skittish having already flown off once, but had thankfully returned to the pond...dilemma, dilemma, dilemma.

But then it struck me, I could drop my son off at his match early (he was playing a home game at Fairlop) then quickly dash to Wanstead and be back before the end of the 1st half, and that's exactly what I did... I even managed to be back in time to see my son score the first goal, with the team eventually going on to win the game 4 - 2 and my son winning man of the match.

As Mother's Days go this has to be one of the more memorable - with my marriage still intact, a very happy son and an even happier dad.

Male, Wanstead, London

Male, Wanstead, London