Sunday, 22 November 2020

Intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull

A Lesser Black-backed Gull (1CY) still retaining its juvenile plumage in November! Is this a common sight? Well, not in urban north-east London, and I can't remember seeing one in this plumage on the patch before so late into the year - this chocolate brown Lesser Black-backed Gull stood out amongst the throng of Gulls on Jubilee pond (Wanstead Flats). 

As far as I'm aware all our British or 'southern' juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls (graellsii) have long gone through a post-juvenile moult into a 1st-winter plumage. With this being the case, seeing a 1CY bird still in this juvenile plumage would suggest a bird from the far northern colonies, mostly likely the northern tip of Norway, so you could safely presume a bird of the ssp 'Intermedius'. 

A fair number of our Common Gulls on the Flats also originate from Norway and will have followed a similar line of migration south, as the Scandinavian winter takes hold.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Intermedius) are not uncommon (but are far less-common than our nominate graellsii). I've seen adult birds (probably the easiest plumage to pick-out) with their noticeably darker tones in the mantle/back/wings on the Flats before, but I've never knowingly seen a juvenile, so It's been a nice little bit of Gull education. I also suspect this may have been a just a brief stopover for this bird before continuing on to southern Europe and North/West Africa and its wintering grounds, a journey of over 5000km before finally losing those juvenile feathers and moulting into 1st-winter plumage - who said Gulls are boring?

As always, comments appreciated and most welcome.

Juvenile, 1st Calendar Year
Lesser Black-backed Gull (ssp. Intermedius)

Saturday, 7 November 2020

The Snaresbrook Caspian Gull - Returns for the 5th Year!

What a thrill to have this beauty back on my doorstep for another winter and looking absolutely majestic!
It was almost midday when I found the bird happily sat on the water at Eagle Pond, eagerly waiting for the next opportunity to steal some bread from an unsuspecting Black-headed Gull. The light isn't great at this time of day and I spent most of the time pointing the camera towards the low autumn sun, but at least there will be plenty of opportunity to improve on these photos over the coming winter months.
This is now the 5th consecutive year this Caspian Gull has spent the winter in the Wanstead/Snaresbrook area and I've been fortunate to have watched it slowly go through various ages and moults from 1st-winter back in December 2015 to full blown adult here in 2020.

It clearly loves the area or should I say the bread that's in constant supply from the duck feeding public, and long may it continue to come back year after year as watching and photographing a local Caspian Gull sure brightens up a quiet winters day when nothings happening on the patch at Wanstead.

Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook

Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook

Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook
Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook



Sunday, 25 October 2020

'Eastern-type' Lesser Whitethroat on Wanstead Flats

Just a few photos of the 'Eastern-type' Lesser Whitethroat from Wanstead Flats today (25th October 2020).

A great find by Rob Sheldon and with poo sample collected for DNA analysis, team Wanstead eagerly await the findings - Will it be Blythi or Halimondendri?

As always, comments and opinion welcome...

Bylthi, Halimondendri
Blythi, Halimondendri 
Blythi, Halimondendri

Blythi, Halimondendri 
Blythi, Halimondendri


Monday, 12 October 2020

Black & White Warbler on Tresco

My week on the Scillies this autumn will be remembered for one bird - but what a bird! The Black & White Warbler on Tresco.

Thursday 8th October and expectations were running high, after several days of strong westerly winds an Atlantic warm front had swept though the south-west overnight, giving hope that an American passerine or two would make landfall. Paul Hawkins and I had done a loop of Peninnis Head and had seen very little other than a smart female Merlin acrobactically pluck a Linnet from a flock feeding in one of the fields. The wind had now subsided and the weather brightened as we slowly made our way to the Garrison and Lower Broome checking every bit of cover along the way, if anywhere on St Mary's was going to produce something special then surely it would be here?

We bumped into Ash Fisher who was also thinking along the same lines, as the three of us searched the canopy and reminisced about previous Scilly discoveries a message came up on the IOS Whatsapp group - Black and White Warbler, Tresco in cover behind the two hides overlooking Great Pool! A crackle of Ash's CB radio and a voice confirmed the sighting and boats were being lined up at 2pm and 2.30pm - Without hesitation we headed quickly towards the quayside, it was just after 1.30pm and Paul & I were in the queue for the 2pm boat within 15 minutes of the news breaking - the boat soon quickly filled up. I'm not sure what the maximum number of people allowed on the boat is, but let's just say it was full! Andy Lawson was at this point in the Longstone Cafe and was playing it cool as he demolished his second cream tea of the week. In the meantime Martin Blow was already on Tresco (dipping another Arctic Warbler) but had already scored the Humbug and was giving us 5 minute updates on the birds whereabouts as we made the twenty minute crossing. We soon landed on Tresco and we were walking (at pace) across the island - I'm not sure how long the walk is (probably a mile or two) but it appeared to go on forever!

As we approached the area behind the hides, we could see Martin gesturing and pointing in the distance, racing up to him the bird was clearly in view but by now the crowd from the boat had swelled and peering into the thick moss covered hedge was becoming difficult as it quickly moved left, then right. I'll have to admit to a moment of panic as I struggled to connect - it's funny how you can't see the wood for the trees at these crucial moments - but then, and after a minute of two I finally connected with that amazing stripey-humbug, a first for me. I was taken back at just how clean and bright the bird was, without a feather out of place it shone bright in the dense cover - At this point I might have punched the air or something similar! 

After several high-fives with Paul and Martin and anybody else nearby, I decided to move away from the crowd (which I might add, were all wearing face coverings) and set myself-up with the camera further along the hedge. I crouched lowdown in an open gap, and sure enough a few minutes later the bird was slowly moving my way as I could hear the directions coming from the crowd. Raising my bins the Black & White Warbler came into full view, before being lost again behind the thicker branches but none the less I'd fired off a dozen or so shots from the camera trying my hardest to manual focus on the bird, checking the back of the camera I flicked through the resulting images and sure enough i'd captured that black and white piece of gold! Simon Nichols was sitting next to me at the time and I showed him the image - we both couldn't quite believe what we'd seen and experienced.

Black & White Warbler may not be rarest of birds with 16 previous UK records (I think) but it's certainly right up there in regards to looks and still carries a special enigma amongst the birding fraternity and has been a dream bird I've always wanted to see in the UK for as long as I can remember.

Tresco, Isles of Scilly
The location, the wait...

Mega, Twitch, Scillies
Male Black & White Warbler - Does it get much better?

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