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 it...it'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



Saturday, 23 March 2019

March, the new April?

As early spring days on the patch go, today was a bit special. The Cetti's Warbler from last weekend was still calling from the scrub near Alexandra lake and a pair of Great crested Grebes were a bit of a surprise as I walked around the lake, but it all kicked-off when I flushed a Woodcock from East Copse as I watched one our resident Little Owls. There was a small movement overhead throughout the morning with Meadow Pipit (27) Redwing (35) and Chaffinch (15). Chiffchaff had now arrived in numbers (6+) singing and Blackcap (2) were in full song, a brief female Wheatear in the Broom fields was a birthday bonus for Jono and Sand Martin (2) were my first of the year but the highlight went to a very early House Martin quickly thru the fairground, smashing the patch record earliest by 10 days and was a London first of year.

Wanstead, London

The morning wasn't quite over as bit of skywatching from the banks of Alexandra Lake, produced Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon and Red Kite all within a short fifteen minute window which all helped me to add 7 patch ticks to the Year List - It's a been a slow start to the year on the patch, but today felt as if spring had finally arrived.



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

Redwings

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
Close-up
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