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