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