Friday, 3 April 2020

Lockdown List - Week 2 Update

After the excitement of seeing a Marsh Harrier on the 27th March, I had to wait until the 30th to add a new bird to the lockdown list with Kestrel hovering at a distance but comfortably snaffled in the scope to bring the tally up to 31, this was quickly followed-up with Greenfinch (32) also scoped from some distance - Greenfinch still remains a garden rarity and I still await one to actually visit the garden feeders.

An early start on the 31st and I was rewarded with three Mallard (33) quickly identified through the bins before losing sight of them as they disappeared over the neighbours rooftop. A pair of Mistle Thrush (34) over the garden was a welcome sight and then a single Goldcrest (35) briefly stopped in one of the Birch trees and I was on a roll! An afternoon sky-watch delivered more results with a Peregrine (36) bombing across the skyline - I can be thankful to the local feral Pigeons for alerting me to that one.

The 1st of April dawned the start of a new month and what better way to begin than with a full fat garden tick as a Rook (37) flew low east over the rooftops with that narrow pale bill easily noticeable against the early morning rising sun. The only other new bird on the 1st was a Grey Heron (38) dropping in low behind a row of terraced houses - someone must have a garden pond which is probably missing a few fish now!

The 2nd was noticeable for a movement of Redwing (39) as I recorded c130 in a 2hr hour window from 7.30am mostly going E and NE. The 2nd and 3rd of April will also be remembered for the extraordinary inland movement of Common Scoter through the night, unfortunately they managed to avoid the airspace above Woodford Green but to be honest I didn't give it much of a go and struggled to stay up beyond midnight - I blame the red wine!

Friday 3rd April and I was stood on the patio at the start of another day and for once it didn't feel as cold as previous mornings, I could see movement on the trunk of a tall tree on the horizon and watched as a Green Woodpecker (40) came slowly bouncing towards me. Then a real prize of Fieldfare 'chack-chack-chacking' overhead brought up number 41 on the list - I was almost resigned to missing one of these so was chuffed to add it to the list. This was soon followed by a lone Common Gull (42) another bird that might have been difficult to add with many now on high northern hemisphere breeding sites.

That's week 2 of the lockdown almost complete and I've amassed a reasonable 42 species - with 2 garden ticks. The full list can be viewed here - Lockdown List

Let's see what week 3 brings...

Collecting Worms, Lockdown Listing, BWKM0
Someone's got a hungry family to feed

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Best Kind of Home-Schooling

I recently found out I had been selected for furlough leave as part of a 70% head count reduction by my employer, this hopefully will keep the business a float whilst we go through the devastating effect of Covid-19. Although this situation is not ideal, I was kind off thankful the government were going to support this extended leave by paying 80% of my wage so I can continue to support the family through this awful crisis. This does mean however that I will be more involved in home-schooling my two boys - as any parent will appreciate this is not as easy as it sounds! I have two typical boys (11 and 13) who mostly enjoy gaming and football and have minimal attention spans when it comes to homework, add my short patience's into the equation and this heady mix of emotions means the next month or two is going to be a really interesting time!

The boys have only ever shown a passing interest in bird-watching and the natural world, so imagine my delight when a female Sparrowhawk perched on the garden fence. In the 15 years of living at our current address this has only ever happened once before - I often see plenty of flyovers but rarely do they venture through our small urban garden. I grabbed the camera and fired-off a few record shots through the kitchen window, the Sparrowhawk appeared to be happily perched so I shouted and gestured to the boys and Mrs B to come and have a look, we all peered through the side kitchen window (this is a small window) and gawped at the Sparrowhawk before it was spooked by a neighbour coming out of their front door - for a minute the boys faces lite-up, eyes wide and mouths open! They both claimed "Wow- that was epic!" and discussed the bright yellow-eye and those sharp talons, before sloping off to hide from the next batch of school work.

I'm hoping in years to come when the boys are all grown up and we're sitting around having dinner, one of them might pipe up and say "Do you remember in 2020 when we were all stuck inside during the Covid-19 period and we saw that Sparrowhawk perched on the fence?". As experiencing a moment like this should stay with a child forever and will last a lot longer in the memory than Trigonometry!

BWKKM0, Lockdown Listing
The glare of a Sparrowhawk

Anyone recognise the purple hue of a Renault Twingo in the background?

Friday, 27 March 2020

#BWKM0 Self-Isolated Garden Birding

In a bid to stay sane during these mad and unprecedented times I've taken up the challenge of the Bird Watch Kilometre Zero (Isolated Garden Birdwatching), this is not only a wonderful distraction when working from home but is also good for the soul, as the constant Covid-19 news feed (although informative) is also very depressing.

I kicked-off the challenge on Monday 23rd March and it was slow, very slow but an early start was rewarded with flyover Greylag and Canada Goose both of which are not regular garden sightings, a small movement of c50 Chaffinch on the 24th was the highlight of another slow day and I had to wait until the 26th to score my first Common Buzzard (even though reports from around London were popping up all the time) but it wasn't until the 27th that things really hotted up!

The 27th is my birthday and I had planned a leisurely breakfast with the family. Having spent an hour on the patio skywatching from around 7am and seen very little and I was getting cold (as the garden is North facing and shaded) and I stepped inside to warm-up. I've been doing the daily Joe Wicks Bodycoach PE lesson with the kids at 9am each morning (hey, I've got to keep fit somehow) and went and got changed into some sports casuals - I'm glad only the family can see me! I was sipping a green tea when I clocked a large bird quite low over the rooftops, even without raising the bins my first impression was possible raptor - then I grabbed the ever ready bins and WOW! A Male Marsh Harrier was slowly heading north just over the treeline.

A Marsh Harrier is not only an awesome garden tick but is also considered to be a local mega at Wanstead - I've only ever seen a single bird in almost 10 years of working the patch and that was last autumn, as it stands my currently total is 29 for the #BWKM0 from my urban Woodford Green garden.

So there's a birthday I won't forget in a hurry. Royal Mail may have failed to deliver any cards and presents and I won't see any extended friends and family but the biggest and best prize (excluding the slippers and Gin Mrs B and the boys bought me) was that Marsh Harrier - It has to be said that birding, even from the restriction of your own back garden could be just the cure to get me and many others through this difficult time.

One of the highlights of the week - a low circling Common Buzzard right above the garden


Monday, 16 March 2020

Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake - Winner

We have a winner! As of 8:48 this morning when Jono Lethbridge announced "It's all over lads" and then proudly provided a back of the camera image of a magnificent Wheatear!

So kudos to Jono for not only selecting the correct date, but also finding the first Wheatear to grace Wanstead. In the long history of the Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake this unique double has only ever been repeated once before by Rob Sheldon...way back in 2018.

Wheatear, Spring, First

The roll of honour now reads...
  • 2018 Winner: Rob Sheldon - Date 16th March - Finder: Rob Sheldon
  • 2019 Winner: James Heal - Date 17th March - Finder: Tony Brown
  • 2020 Winner: Jonathan Lethbridge - Date 16th March - Finder: Jonathan Lethbridge

As I type...the 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' is being polished and engraved with the name of this year champion and plans are being made for the big presentation, however due to Covid-19 and government restrictions on large gatherings we may have to scale back the celebrations and limit the number of attendees at this year event. I had hoped to persuade Mr Oddie to present the trophy but due to the planned restrictions on the movement and self-isolation of the over 70's this looks like it's going to be a non-starter, so yet again I may have to step up to the plate. Keep an eye on social media for all the highlights, news and interviews from this top showbiz birding event - that's if the government hasn't closed all the pubs, in this case I'll drive by Jono's house in full body biohazard suit and just chuck the trophy over his garden fence!

The good birders of Wanstead have all agreed to donate £10 each (£5 for each date pick) to a worthy charity and I am pleased to announce that this years beneficiary will be the OSME (Ornithological Society of the Middle East) with three future projects planned in Lebanon, Azerbaijan and Egypt the 2020 champion will be given the honour of choosing which worthy project to support.

Which just leaves me to thank all of this years competitors for there participation, good humour, genorosity and sporting prowess and roll on next year...

Sunday, 15 March 2020

White Storks over the Thames

I managed to jam the two White Storks that had roosted overnight on Dartford Marsh from the Rainham side of the river. Fraser and Jono had both confirmed there presence in the morning whilst I was getting wet and not seeing much on Wanstead Flats, so with nothing to lose I thought I'd go and check them out - even though I knew how distant the views were going to be.

I arrived at Rainham (Wennington/tip end) and soon picked the Storks out across the river standing in one of a group of tall dead trees (as perfectly described by Jono) and then within a few seconds (and there's the jammy bit) they both took flight and started circling together, slowly gaining height. The Storks soon spooked all the gulls along the Thames foreshore and for a few seconds there were hundreds of birds in the air together. They started to slowly drift west along the Thames before I lost the pair of them as they headed further into Kent.

Reintroduction, Rewilding, London
Will this sight become more regular in the UK?
Not visible in the photo above but it was reported that one of these birds is wing-tagged or colour-ringed therefore they're mostly likely from one of the three reintroduction schemes in South-East England (Knepp Estate and Wadhurst Park in East Sussex or Wintershall Estate, Surrey) so unfortunately not genuine vagrants from across the Channel - none the less it was still good to see these large, magnificent birds in flight over this neck of the woods, and hopefully with the continued success of the re-introduction schemes this may become a far more familiar sight across UK.

Click on the link to read more about the White Stork Project.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Large Hybrid Gull

The other weekend and before I got nicely distracted by the adult Med Gull on the Flats I also photographed what I thought then was an adult Yellow-legged Gull but something about the grey tone of the mantle/wings didn't seem quite right - it was just a smidge too dark, but not quite dark enough for Lesser Black-backed Gull.

I've since reviewed the photos and I've come to the conclusion that it could actually be a hybrid and most likely a Herring Gull (argenteus) x Lesser Black-backed Gull (grasselli). Large hybrid Gulls are not an uncommon sight but it's not an area I'm over familiar with so I sought out a couple of opinions and by and large the feedback I received was positive and in agreement that this bird could indeed be a hybrid.

Structurally the bird is identical to an adult argenteus and has a red orbital eye-ring and yellow legs (not strikingly yellow, more of a washed-out yellow). Unfortunately I never got any flight photographs (that's the Med Gulls fault) as it might have been interesting to see the wing pattern.

Hybrid Gull
Herring Gull (argenteus) x Lesser Black-backed Gull (grasselli).
To also back up the theory that this bird could be a hybrid, it also appeared to be paired up with a Herring Gull (argenteus) as shown below. This photo also gives you a good impression of the birds size and shape and just how dark the slate-grey tone was when compared with a Herring Gull (argenteus).

As always...comments welcome.

Hybrid Gull
Argenteus to the left and hybrid to the right

Monday, 24 February 2020

The 3rd Annual Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2020

As yet another long dreadful winter has passed over Wanstead, there were very few bird highlights for months of toil in the wettest and soggiest of conditions (Caspian Gull, Med Gull and Bullfinch) but at least all the ponds are filled to the brim and Alexandra Lake is looking like a lake again instead of a muddy puddle it had become...but there is another glimmer of light on the horizon for this urban east London location. The evenings are starting to get lighter, blossom is slowing appearing and Bob has trimmed his beard! This can mean only one thing...Spring and Europe's (we're going big this year) premier, low carbon, birding competition 'The 3rd Annual Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2020'.

This years 2020 contestants are as follows...Colours chosen at random (although Mr Sheldon requested orange to match his Essex sunbed tan).

The 2020 runners and riders

There was much speculation as to who would be drawing the tickets out of the hat this year to determine the all important date pick order, but unfortunately Mr Packham and Oddie were both busy and late replacement Mr Lindo had to pull out due to a neck injury (something to do with always looking up) so yours truly got the job again.

Here's the date pick order...which I might add was filmed and verified by the whole 'Brown' family (video footage available upon request).

Date pick order

After a lengthy process in which 2 dates were chosen per person as per the date pick order, we have our sweepstake dates. I'd like to give a special mention to Mr Kerrigan who joined us live from Majorca and being number 10 in the running order had to wait until the end before selecting his dates, so can be forgiven for consuming a nice bottle of Spanish Albarino and falling a sleep during the ceremony!

Here are those dates...
Those all important dates - I can feel anticipation

The Rules
  1. Whoever correctly predicts the date of the first sighting of a Wheatear on the patch (Wanstead) wins!
  2. In the event of the 1st sighting being on a date not selected (i.e 1st March) then no contestant will be crowned this years champion and the trophy will be held in safe hands and dusted off again in 2021.
  3. If a visiting birder, dog walker or Sunday league footballer were to claim a Wheatear sighting, then photographic evidence would need to be gathered and verified before announcing a winner.
The 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' Roll of Honour
  • 2018 Winner: Rob Sheldon - Date 16th March - Finder: Rob Sheldon
  • 2019 Winner: James Heal - Date 17th March - Finder: Tony Brown
  • 2020 ???
Who will be the 2020 champion? Looking at the dates selected then surely going on previous years you would say Tim, Jono, Nick, James (current champion) and Simon look to have bagged all the prime dates, but who knows a sub-Saharan southerly breeze at the beginning of March and Rob could be crowned champion again, then again a blast of cold air from the north in mid-March could push the arrival date back and last pick Sean could prosper...only time will tell (keep an eye on those long-range weather forecasts).

After struggling for sponsorship for the last couple of years - I really can't understand why, as this is now Europe's premier Wheatear event, with this blog comfortably hitting 3 figures for page views (mainly from eastern Europe) - what more could Swarovski want? Anyhow, I've dug deep into the kids piggy banks and secured a suitable Trophy for the winner - which won't look out of place in any cabinet, mantle piece or cupboard under the stairs!

Some can only dream of lifting the 'Golden Wheatear Chalice'.
That just leaves me to wish all the contestants the best of luck and I hope to see you all at the prize giving ceremony. One last note, the prize giving won't be in the same Wetherspoons as last year as we're all barred due to Mr Rae getting into a heated row about the location of a Thrush Nightingale.

Check back here for further updates and Sweepstake news...

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Med Gull number 11

Finally...and after a gap of almost 2 years (my last record was 18th March 2018) I've found another Mediterranean Gull on Wanstead Flats. This is my eleventh Med Gull on the patch in almost 10 years which goes to show just how scarce these birds are in this neck of the woods, despite being an increasingly common sight along the UK south coast.

This smart white-winged adult was roosting amongst the Common Gulls on the football pitches and was just rewards for venturing out on a miserable Sunday afternoon, battling the wind and squally showers. It will be interesting to see if this bird sticks around or like most Med Gulls at Wanstead (with the exception of Valentino) quickly move on?

Med Gull, London, Wanstead

Med Gull, London, Wanstead

Med Gull, London, Wanstead

Med Gull, London, Wanstead

Med Gull, London, Wanstead
This is a nice example of how wet I was getting taking this photo, as the heavens opened I had to run for cover!

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Beckton Iceland Gull

Away from the patch and just a short trip down the A406 I enjoyed a good morning session photographing the Beckton juvenile Iceland Gull. I've been meaning to pop over to see this bird for sometime as I haven't seen a London Iceland Gull in almost six years. The views were initially distant as the bird loafed around the roof of the recycling centre on the opposite side of the creek, but then Shaun Harvey rocked up carrying a weeks supply of various kinds of stale bread. This worked an absolute treat as the bird soon joined the melee of gulls fighting over the goodies. Whilst the bread lasted we both enjoyed some great views of a very smart Arctic Gull - just a word of warning for anyone else thinking of doing the same, don't use tortilla wraps! These frisbee shaped flatbreads are great for throwing some distance but the gulls just ignored them.

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Juvenile, White-winger

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Wintering Turtle Dove

It's taken me a couple of attempts but I've finally caught up with the wintering Turtle Dove at Valentines Park, Ilford - and to say I'm chuffed would be an understatement!

We all know just how rare these birds have become but to put it into some kind of personal context this is the first Turtle Dove I've seen in the London recording area for almost 3 years, the last one being in the spring of 2017 at Rainham Marsh, and that was just a brief view as it rapidly flew along the sea wall. I've been birding at Wanstead for almost a decade now and I've never seen one on the patch! Each and every Turtle Dove you see should be cherished as who knows when you'll see another one, so if you haven't made the trip to Ilford yet...then go, I'm so pleased I did.

Wintering, London, UK

Wintering, London, UK

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

'Monster' Yellow-legged Gull

The patch is still as dull as ditchwater but at least the gulls are still keeping me amused as I count down the days until the first Wheatear arrives...

The latest gull of interest is this absolute 'Monster' of a 1st-winter Yellow-legged dwarfs the local band of wintering Herring Gulls on the Flats and is not far short of being Great Black-Backed Gull in size! Apart from its size the other feature of interest is the rather striking but odd pale coloured bill. Although unusual it's not uncommon for large Gulls to have aberrant shaped/coloured bills (an example here of a bird referenced 'Pinky' on the Thames from Dec 2016) but none the less, when you're expecting to see a dark coloured bill and then you're confronted with something not dissimilar to an Albatross pointing in your direction, it's not surprising gull ID can be a bit of a challenge at times.

1st-winter, 2CY, Monster

1st-winter, 2CY

1st-winter, 2CY

1st-winter, 2CY

1st-winter, 2CY

1st-winter, 2CY

Saturday, 25 January 2020

When is a Rook, not a Rook?

The top of photo is an adult Carrion Crow, the bottom photo is a juvenile Rook - or is it?

The culmen shape and length look good for Rook but surely if it was a Rook (now into its 2nd calendar year) then you would expect to see the greyish-white starting to appear around the base of the bill (at least a little bit) instead of an all black bill the same as a Carrion Crow. The rounded head and lack of noticeable peaked crown also points towards Carrion Crow. So...if it's not a Rook, then is it just an aberrant Carrion Crow with a rather straight and pointy culmen?

Carrion Crow
Juvenile Rook?

Monday, 20 January 2020

'Quasimodo' The Caspian Gull

I've given the omnipresent 2nd-winter Caspian Gull on Wanstead Flats a nickname - is that PC? I just don't know anymore...anyway, rightly or wrongly I've called it Quasimodo! This is due to the odd lower neck/upper mantle lump it appears to have recently acquired. I'm not sure if this is an injury or some kind of growth, as it wasn't there last weekend - all the same it should make the bird a bit easier to identify for any non-larophiles as it's an obvious feature to pick out in the field.

So next time you see a hunchbacked Caspian Gull it might just be 'Quasimodo' The Hunchback of Wanstead!

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Flight, Wing Pattern

Flight, Wing Pattern

Saturday, 11 January 2020

New Year, Same Old Caspian Gull

I've made three short visits to the patch since the 1st of January so my Wanstead year list is up and running (It's 50 something or other) I just haven't got round to updating the blog with any details...that's if I update it at all, I might just give the list a miss this year and concentrate on something different - maybe I'll buy a moth trap...will see!

Anyway...January has continued where November and December left off...same old birds with very little winter movement, so not a great deal to report other than this 2nd-winter Caspian Gull on Jubilee Pond. It's the same bird I saw on the on Alexandra Lake (7th December) and then again on Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook (15th December) so It's doing the rounds locally and is the only notable bird on the new (non-existent) patch list...Spring can't come soon enough.

3CY, London

Sunday, 5 January 2020

2019 - My Birding Year at Wanstead

2019 at Wanstead will be remembered for...well, not a lot really! Let's just say it was fairly unmemorable.

I'm probably being a little bit harsh on the old patch - it did after all deliver 5 patch ticks and there were moments of joy to be had throughout the year; two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls together on Alexandra lake needed to celebrated, a Spring male Garganey on Jubilee pond (of all places), a singing Spring Wood Warbler in Long Wood, the excellent autumn passage of Tree Pipit and Pied Flycatcher, a long staying Greenshank in Wanstead Park and both Osprey and Marsh Harrier on consecutive autumn weekends, but despite these sightings I can't help feeling 2019 just didn't live up to my expectation, especially when I think about how much time and effort goes into working the patch over a long 12 months.

I do know what the problem was...Wanstead over delivered the year before (Rustic Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Yellow-browed Warbler etc) and 2019 was never going to match those heady heights but apart from the lack of quality, something else was missing? There was many an occasion when working the patch felt just too much of a routine and I'd often returned home wishing I hadn't bothered. These kind of thoughts I suppose are natural for any patch working birder who has a quiet year and maybe the key here is to mix things up a bit, so in 2020 my plan is to make a bit more of an effort to step away from Wanstead and go birding else where (like I use to). I'm still very much time restricted due in part to having two football mad sons who train and play matches at weekends but for my own sanity I need to give it a go and as the saying goes "A break is as good as a rest". I'm hoping this might pay dividends and visiting Wanstead will become more of an enjoyable experience instead of the repetitive chore it has sadly recently become.

I finished 2019 on 107 for the Year which was a tad disappointing as I was hoping to hit 110. I failed to connect with seven annual regulars Redpoll, Brambling, Shelduck, Lapwing, Common Tern, Tawny Owl and Mediterranean Gull - the Med Gull really hurts, I can't tell you how many thousands of Gulls I've sifted through over the year and I just couldn't find a bloody Med Gull (deep breath)! There was also an autumn flyover Pipit that 'squeaked' three times as it called overhead which was most likely a Water/Rock Pipit (a full fat patch tick) but I couldn't find it again, so it failed to make the grade for the patch list.

On the plus side these are my 5 patch ticks.

  1. Garganey - 31st March
  2. Mandarin Duck - 6th April
  3. Greenshank - 5th September
  4. Osprey - 28th September
  5. Marsh Harrier - 5th October

Here's a selection of photos from Wanstead 2019 and best wishes and good birding to all for 2020.

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London
Caspian Gulls are scare visitors to Wanstead, so to see two together was a bit special.
Spring, Wanstead, London
A cracking Spring male Garganey on the dump that is Jubilee Pond.
Male, Wanstead, London
It might have been a bit plastic but I was having it! Just for insurance purposes I also saw a female Mandarin Duck on Jubilee Pond which wasn't as fond of bread.
Spring, Singing, London
Terrible photo - But hey! It's a singing Spring Wood Warbler only my second on the patch.
Wanstead, London
I don't take many photos of Stock doves and I like this one so I thought I'd add it.
I just love those big doughy eyes!
Wanstead, London
Greenshank could have been bird of the year but it overstayed its welcome - still, any wader at Wanstead is always cherished.
Wanstead, London
It was a poor year for Wheatear on the Flats and this was one of the few photographs I took in 2019 - here's hoping it's a better year in 2020 for these harbingers of Spring.
Wanstead, London
I've photographed a lot of Stonechat's over the years, but this has to be my best and favourite photo ever of these charismatic birds.
Wanstead, London
It's always great to see a Jack Snipe at Wanstead, a bird often spooked from under your feet so I was pleased to get this record shot as it flew away.
Wanstead, London
An exceptional autumn for Pied Fly at Wanstead and also a good year for Silver Birch - that's why the tree is in focus and not the bird!