Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Clancy's Rustic - Moth Gold!

I've finally struck a little bit of moth gold in the form of Clancy's Rustic!

Just to give you a bit of background Clancy's Rustic was first discovered in the UK in 2002 at Dungeness, Kent by Mr Sean Clancy and the vernacular name Clancy's Rustic was thus created. Since then and like a lot of continental moths its range has very slowly started to creep further north and is now annually recorded in small numbers along the south coast and through Kent but records for Essex (VC17/18) have remained very scarce, so much so that there has only a been handful of previous records (13) and these were generally coastal - That was until I discovered this beauty in the moth trap this morning!

A quick email to the Essex moth recorder and bingo my suspicions were confirmed and the 14th record for Essex and the furthest West (inland) were in the bag.

And to add to this little episode...I remember meeting Sean Clancy on a couple of occasions whilst staying at the Ob's at Dungeness as a spotty teenager in the late 1980's and I would stand and wonder (open mouthed at times) as Sean and a small band of Lepidopterist followers would empty the moth trap, quickly identifying an array of largely bland, brown and grey moths - And now, all these years later I'm the one identifying these bland, brown and grey moths and one just happened to be Clancy's Rustic.

Macro Moth, VC18
Clancy's Rustic - Woodford Green 9th September 2020
14th Record for Essex

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Birding In the Shadow of Canary Wharf

I don't say it very often but today was a really good day birding the patch, from the moment I stepped onto the Flats at first light and picked up Common Sandpiper and Kingfisher on Alexandra Lake until I left at midday, Wanstead was alive with passage migrants.

It's always hard to be 100% accurate with numbers as you're often repeatedly seeing the same birds just in slightly different areas but to briefly summarise I would suggest there were 4+ Common Redstart, 5 Northern Wheatear, 4 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat a sprinkling of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and let's not forget a bonus calling Greenshank - all this just a stones throw away from Canary Wharf!

Not bad for a urban East London patch that does occasionally still surprise me - the only thing missing was that marque sighting which would have been the cherry on today's cake...oh well, there's always tomorrow!

Canary Wharf, London
Common Redstart with Canary Wharf in background
Wanstead, London
Canary Wharf - Same photo just a different focus and subject!

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

88% Self-found Rating

We all know birders like to keep lists, many birders keep lists of list's - I'm not quite that anal but I do keep a few lists including a little unknown list (well, it was unknown) of self-found birds on the patch and this recently hit a new high of 88% with the addition of Nightingale now on that list - does anybody else do this?

The calculation is quite simple really (in Excel) just divide your self-found list by your patch list.

Wanstead list currently stands on 145
Self-found list currently stands on 128

128/145 = 88% (that's rounded down, 88.28% if you really want to be accurate).

For a patch that is heavily covered by numerous people all day, every day (and this appears to be growing year on year) I'd say having a self-found rating of 88% of my total patch list is quite remarkable, but please let me know if I'm blowing my own trumpet here as I have no idea how this compares to any other birders and their patches.

Here's the list of 17 birds I've not self-found and apart from Rustic BuntingOrtolan Bunting and Slavonian Grebe all the others, although scarce on the patch are potentially gettable and would help to improve my percentage rating and could even nudge this into the 90% region!

Red-Crested Pochard
Black Redstart
Lapland Bunting
Slavonian Grebe
Red-legged Partridge
Cetti's Warbler
Ortolan Bunting
Great White Egret
Black-tailed Godwit
Red-backed Shrike
Rustic Bunting

Male, Spring, London
If I could find an Autumn Garganey on the patch this would certainly help increase my % rating.
This male (not found by me) spent the morning on Jubilee pond back in March 2019.

There is one problem (although it's a very nice problem) If I add a patch tick to the list and I'm not the finder my percentage rating drops, as I say it's not a big problem as everyone loves to add a new bird to their patch list regardless of who found it. I also find that keeping a self-found list does keep me interested and fully motivated when I'm out on the patch, I suppose we all have different motivations and goals when out birding and my little unknown list certainly adds a little dimension and keeps me entertained.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

The Speez of a Tree Pipit

It's funny how seeing just one bird of note can turn around a mornings patch birding.

I'd seen Spotted  Flycatcher, a flyover Yellow WagWillow Warbler and a family group of three Hobby which was all standard fare for Wanstead but it wasn't anything to write home about (or Blog about) especially as we're now heading towards the end of August when expectations are always running a little high, but whilst standing in the north end of the Brooms with Bob and Marco I picked out the distinctive harsh flight call of a Tree Pipit overhead. It only called the once but that was good enough to stick it on the year list - which is limping along! The three of us did a quick recce through the long grass and sure enough I found the bird perched up on one of the few remaining burnt and chard trees left in the Brooms - calling the guys over, we all enjoyed some cracking views of one of my favourite passage migrants as it sheltered from the gusty wind, remnants of yesterdays storm 'Ellen'.

Following last weekends Nightingale and today's Tree Pipit finding just a single decent bird amongst the usual passage and breeding species can so often make the difference to your day when birding a local patch.

Autumn, Passage, London
I've seen a few passage Tree Pipits at Wanstead but they don't typically show as well as this one!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Dreaming of a Rare Ficedula

Autumn arrived in the shape of not one but two Pied Flycatchers on the patch Sunday, these were my 13th & 14th records for Wanstead and my earliest here by two days. As much as I love seeing a Pied Fly on the patch, my thoughts were side-tracked by the possibility of a bigger prize - Semi or Collared Flycatcher!

Having seen both Flycatchers well, constantly flitting between the Silver Birches and Lyme Trees in the SSSI there was no doubt both birds were your standard autumn Pied Fly's but there's no harm in dreaming and it goes without saying, double checking - especially as a day later there was a Collared Flycatcher at Spurn.

Here are a couple of photos of Sunday's Pied Flycatchers followed by my dream find...

Autumn, London, Wanstead

Autumn, London, Wanstead

And just for good measure here are a couple of photos of Collared Flycatcher - sadly not Wanstead or even the UK, but Bialowieza, Poland.

Bialowieza, Poland

Bialowieza, Poland

Bialowieza, Poland

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull - Nailed!

It's taking a bit a longer than I'd hoped but I've finally nailed a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull on the patch this summer.

Whilst the bread-chucking Thames Larophiles have been enjoying these brutes for over a month now, us inland patch birders have had to bide our time. You would think being just a stones throw away from the Thames (4 miles in a straight line as the Gull flies) juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls would be easier to come by at Wanstead but despite hours of coverage there are usually only a couple of records each summer - which makes finding one amongst the semi-resident large Gull population that frequent Alexandra Lake taste just that little bit sweeter!

London, Wanstead

London, Wanstead

London, Wanstead

Wednesday, 5 August 2020


Those of you who follow my exploits on Twitter might have noticed a big upturn in tweets regarding Moths in the last few months! This is not a new passion but an old one that has re-surfaced again and was aided by being furloughed and locked-down for 3 months, which gave me the time and opportunity I've been missing for a few years (basically before the kids came along) to re-engage all things Lepidoptery - and I'm loving it!

The early morning starts have been a bit tougher since I've returned to work but the blood-shot eyes and lack of sleep is all worth it when you're rewarded with a new moth for the garden list - This currently stands on 128 for the year. In Moth terms it's not a particularly big total but it does go to show what's possible with a simple Skinner Moth Trap in a urban London garden with a little bit of sacrifice and effort.

Here are a few the highlights of the Marcos so far, nothing out of the ordinary but a good cross-section of Moths - If you're lucky I might even do another post with some of the Micros!

Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Bird's Wing
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Lime Hawk-Moth
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Pale Prominent
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Small Magpie
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Cypress Carpet
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Maiden's Blush
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Oak Processionary
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Grey/Dark Dagger agg
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Oak Hook-tip
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Angle Shades
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Small Blood-vein
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Yellow Shell
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Tree-lichen Beauty
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Scalloped Oak
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Ruby Tiger
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Toadflax Brocade
Moths, Teammoth, Mothsmatter
Mother of Pearl

Saturday, 18 July 2020

July's gone Cuckoo!

As July patch birding at Wanstead goes today was almost off the scale! Ok - nothing hugely rare but adding three years ticks is virtually unheard off and this was mainly thanks to the efforts of Tim Harris who first picked out a Cetti's Warbler on Shoulder of Mutton lake - a bird new for this location and was probably overdue here as the habitat is perfect for one. This was quickly followed by Common Tern fishing in the same location, and just as I was leaving a message came through from Tim who had seen a Cuckoo on the Plain in Wanstead Park!

Cuckoo is still a very scarce bird at Wanstead even though just a short drive away in the Lee Valley, Ingrebourne Valley and Rainham Marshes they're a relatively common sight throughout the spring and summer months. I'd only ever seen one previous Cuckoo on the patch back in August 2013 so you can imagine my delight when I met up with Tim and bird he'd found was still on view - well sort off - it was deep in cover, low-down in a tree. It soon took flight across the Plain and again flew into more cover. Bob had now showed-up (In his slippers) but the bird wasn't playing ball, then after a 20 minute search I'd found it again, as it briefly perched-up and this time was staring right back at me! A quick shout to Bob but the bird had again flown across the Plain towards Perch Lake. It was now midday and I had to leave so I left Bob to try and find it again - thankfully he did soon after I'd left.

What a cracking bird and well worth the seven year wait!

Wanstead, London
7 Years in the waiting...a juvenile Cuckoo

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Not just any Juvenile Green Woodpecker

I was going to post these two photographs of a juvenile Green Woodpecker on Twitter. This may have been seen by a couple hundred people if i'm lucky, and then maybe liked, maybe retweeted and then all too quickly forgotten and lost amongst many thousands of wildlife photos posted every day - but no! I thought I'd add them to the blog and write a few lines about how much I like them - that's the beauty of blogging.

Why I do like the photographs?'s not just the nice, low ground level and eye to eye contact of the subject, but the pose, the subtle head angle as the bird is alerted to my presence and the click of the camera. Then there's the background - not clean, but messy with a blurred depth of field, full of that golden colour of summer - uncut long dry grass, flowing gently in the early morning breeze - that's why I like these photographs and the reason I still blog!

London, Photography, Wanstead

London, Photography, Wanstead

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Bionic Herring Gull

This Herring Gull initially threw me when I first saw it - not the ID but the strange false leg!

The bird was standing on the banks of Alexandra Lake (Wanstead Flats) when I noticed a shiny, glistening leg reflecting in the early morning sunlight, from a distance the Gull appeared to have what looked like a metal leg, but sadly on closer inspection I could see it wasn't a bionic leg (which frankly would have been very odd) but a fishing lure! The hook from the discarded lure had gone straight through the webbing in the Herring Gulls foot. The injured foot was then being held in a tucked-up position and the lure was just dangling vertically to the ground, making it look strangely like a leg. Although a massive hinderance, the bird didn't appear to be in any distress and I watched it fly around the lake a couple of times, with the lure dangling below.

There's always a group of non-breeding Gulls (mainly 2nd-calendar year birds) hanging around Alexandra Lake so it'll be interesting to see if this birds sticks around and if so, how it fares. My feeling is that this is a recent injury and the lure will hopefully come away as the hook slowly tears a way through the webbing of the foot, this should hopefully be possible as I believe all legal fishing hooks are now barbless.

It would be easy to point the finger at an angler for not disposing of their lures/line/hooks correctly but the lure could easily have snagged on something, snapping the line and leaving the lure behind - as someone who has done a bit of angling in their youth I know all to well that this could be a possibility, none the less it's a shame to see an innocent young bird pay the price for someone's fishing misfortune.

2CY, Injured

2CY, Injured

2CY, Injured

2CY, Injured

Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Dragons of Wanstead

Nope! That's not a reference to the fine young ladies who frequent Wanstead but the current wonderful selection of Dragonflies now on the wing in Wanstead Park and Flats.

The four most numerous species I'm currently seeing are the Broad-bodied Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser and the Emperor Dragonfly. As the summer progresses I hope to be able to add to this list with maybe a Scarce Chaser or a Migrant Hawker...let's see!

Dragonfly, Odanata
Male - Broad-bodied Chaser
Dragonfly, Odanata
Female - Broad-bodied Chaser
Dragonfly, Odanata
Male - Black-tailed Skimmer
Dragonfly, Odanata
Four-spotted Chaser
Dragonfly, Odanata
Female - Emperor Dragonfly

Sunday, 17 May 2020

The Best Spaniard to Grace a Golf Course Since Seve Ballesteros

Ever since the government gave the green light for golf courses to reopen I've been itching for 9 holes, so I rocked-up at Lee Valley Golf course wearing my tartan plus 4's and carrying my bag and clubs only to discover the course was still closed - what a shame, but never mind as I'm furloughed I can always come back when it re-opens. I was just about to leave when I chanced upon a singing Iberian Chiffchaff - well...what are the chances of that?? It was also fortunate that I had my bins and camera to hand..!

The bird always kept to the tops of the Sallows on the edge of the golf course and could be clearly heard from the adjacent roadside. In the short-time I was there the Ibe Chiffy was in full and diagnostic voice. It also showed an extensive pollen horn around the base of the bill, giving the impression of being quite long and pointy billed. The underparts were noticeably clean white with a subtle lemon wash around the flanks/vent and face in the good light - although this is not an ID feature those characteristics were more in line with the appearance of Willow Warbler than a collybita Chiffchaffbut aside from those noticeable features it was all about that repetitive and ID clinching song...

Singing, Spring, Song

Singing, Spring, Song

Singing, Spring, Song

Iberian Chiffchaff song captured on the video clearly on three occasions and was a repetitive and distinctive chiff, chiff, chiff, chiff, sweet, sweet, chachacha... 

Sunday, 3 May 2020

A Familiar Shape in the Sky

I saw my first returning Swift on the 22nd April and since then I've been seeing one's and two's silently cross the garden skyline, speedily heading northwards but this morning and eleven days on from my initial Swifts were back!

What do I mean by my Swifts? These are the Swifts that stay local for the summer and nest in the eaves or between the tiles of the houses in my road. This morning there were six dark, scythe-shaped birds circling low and around the house, occasionally letting out a welcoming scream, that unique sound once again joining the spring chorus - these birds were not furthering their journey, but had arrived home having travelled hundreds of miles from central Africa.

For as long as I can remember my Swifts always return in the first week of May and in the coming days these initial birds will hopefully be joined by several more as their mid-air courtship display builds up as they chase one another across the sky, screams getting louder, that familiar sound of summer filling the air all the way through to August until their sudden departure leaves the air silent once again.

The Swift is one of only a handful of birds that stirs up an inner emotion and a special connection, there failure to arrive would leave an unimaginable void difficult to fill.

Apus Apus, Screams, Summer
A familiar shape in the sky...

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Stop Press: Wader Identified Without Spectrogram

Any wader on the patch was always revered at Wanstead and this homage would even extend to the lowly Common Sandpiper, by far and away our most numerous wader during spring and autumn passage. However, with the introduction of 'Nocmigging' (for the uninitiated, that's sound recording nocturnal migration) these once locally cherished group of birds have now seen their crown slip a little, as more waders are now being recorded flying over Wanstead airspace at night.

Call me an old fashioned cowboy but I personally like to see my waders as in the image below and not as a series of dashes on a spectrogram, and yes I do get the science part and I do have some interest as to what's flying over at night. There's definitely a place at the table for capturing and recording this information but please don't tell me that listening to a recorded sound (often barely audible), downloaded and run through a software package (Audacity) to produce a visual representation as a couple of black marks on a sound file (just to aid identification for the recorder) is going to come anyway near to the experience of seeing your first passage Common Sandpiper of spring, bobbing up and down on the muddy fringe of a river bank - whatever next...binoculars that can identity the birds for you!

Wader, Wanstead, Spring

Wader, Wanstead, Spring

Sunday, 19 April 2020

A Plea from the Skylarks of Wanstead

They're hanging on...just!

With possibly only 3 breeding pairs left, have we finally reached the tipping point for the Skylarks of Wanstead? This is a plea to the visitors of Wanstead Flats to please, please stick to the main footpaths which lead around the Flats and dog owners please keep your pets on a lead (or at least under control) as this is now the critical time for our remaining ground nesting birds.

Understandably Wanstead Flats has become a bit of magnet for many more people during this period of lockdown, as everyone makes use of their right to daily exercise as we all continue the fight against the dreadful Covid-19 virus - but could the additional footfall end the Skylarks reign?

The key to saving the Skylark, and the message is simple, 'Keep To The Main Paths' - do this and the Skylark has half a chance and their wonderful song will hopefully continue to fill the skies of east London...

Singing, Wanstead, London

Singing, Wanstead, London

Singing, Wanstead, London

Singing, Wanstead, London

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Lonely Turaco seen on Tinder!

It felt good to be out on the bike this morning, not only because of the exercise (I'm certainly fitter than I was at the start of lockdown 3 weeks ago) but because the overnight rain had dropped in a few common passage migrants on to the Flats. I've been careful in regards to not abusing my daily exercise allowance and have been sensibly limiting my time outside to a couple hours max, this was just long enough to mop up 2 Ring Ouzels, a wonderful singing Willow Warbler, a couple of Wheatears, a flyover Yellow Wagtail and both Common and Lesser Whitethroat - These were all new for the year and only goes to prove how little patch birding I've done during the lockdown period.

As I was leaving I bumped to an old Wanstead favourite - The lonely White-cheeked Turaco!
This magnificent (if slightly gaudy) creature has now been knocking around Wanstead for what must be the best part of 10 years. Despite it's size and colourful iridescent plumage, including striking red wings when seen in flight, it's surprisingly difficult to see and is often just heard singing and calling without revealing itself.

The Turaco appeared to be carrying nesting material (well it is spring) and unless there's another escapee near by then sadly this effort is all going to be in vain, but I suppose you can't stop nature's natural urge to procreate - It's all a bit odd, but it's what you come to expect from a slightly mad Turaco that believes Wanstead is a juniper forest in Ethiopia!

Wanstead, London, Escape
White-cheeked Turaco looking for love! 
Wanstead, London, Escape
The unmistakeable blaze of red in the wing