Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Looking back at 2020

2020...that's the year and not the sickly, nasty alcoholic drink of my youth often nicknamed 'Mad Dog' - in many respects the year and the drink have actually got a lot in common! I've tried to remain positive and upbeat whilst putting together this post but please bear with me as birding and general wildlife highlights from the year were few are far between.


I continued to bash the patch whenever possible throughout 2020 and I did mange two full-fat ticks (Dunlin and Crossbill) both of which were expected to fall at some point and it was only a matter of time in mopping them both up. My patch list now stands on 147 and the hallowed 150 is within my grasp, so 2021 is all about three patch ticks - but what will they be? KittiwakeGrasshopper Warbler, Whimbrel or even the fabled Oystercatcher

I only managed a mediocre 105 for the year, this was despite being furloughed for 3 months during the Spring and upping the number of visits throughout this period, mainly thanks to cycling to the patch as part of my daily exercise - this was one of the plus points of the year. The purchase of a new mountain bike and getting back into the saddle (although I hardly benefited on the birding front) was something I hugely enjoyed and hope to do more of in the future (low-carbon birding and health reasons etc, etc).

Looking back at the patch list for 2020 and there were interestingly a lot of second records - Nightingale, Cuckoo, GreenshankWhite-fronted Goose, Goosander which helped to add a little bit of quality to the list and then there was that 'Eastern type' Lesser Whitethroat that spent a couple days in the Brooms at the end of October - although this was not a full fat patch tick as it's not technically a separate species (well, not yet) this for me eclipsed both Dunlin and Crossbill as my patch bird of the year. I've seen Eastern (Blythi) LWT on Shetland and Scilly's but to see one on the patch, giving excellent views, whilst being able to note the finer points of identification was an enjoyable experience.

I can't help but think that Wanstead didn't quite deliver in 2020 - I mean the coverage was good (sometimes a bit too good) as anybody birding on the Flats at the end of August will testify, it rivalled Titchwell at times with the number individuals searching for autumn migrants was staggering! But no Shrike, Wryneck, Yellow-browed Warbler, rare Bunting or the like this year...let's hope for a return to form in 2021.

Wanstead Park, London
Only the 2nd Cuckoo I'd ever seen at Wanstead

My 2020 Patch bird of the year - Eastern Lesser Whitethroat (just need Martin Collinson to pull his finger out and confirm the DNA sample provided).

I could muse about the birds I didn't see or had missed on the patch but that would be just another negative and there's been enough negativity this year, however it's probably worth noting that I didn't see an Autumn Ring Ouzel (and nor did anyone else) which is virtually unheard off at Wanstead and I never saw a Red Kite - I mean, how did I not see a Red Kite? These birds are two a penny now days! And then there was those two Cranes - I can't really complain about missing these as I wasn't on the patch at the time but it was terribly gripping to witness the scene unfold on my phone as the birds were tracked over north London and then over Wanstead - oh well, you can't see them all! Well done to those lucky few who added these to their patch lists, I can only hope breeding records in east Anglia continue to climb and we'll be seeing these magnificent birds annually circling NE London in the future.

Lockdown Garden Bird List

I managed to record 60 species throughout 2020 (mainly from March 23rd as we entered lockdown) - not bad for a small urban London garden with a view that is mainly obscured by my neighbours roof. The undoubted highlights were a male Marsh Harrier low over the rooftops on the 27th March (my birthday) Coot and Rook were both new additions to the garden list and a Greenfinch on my feeders on Christmas Eve was a bit special. This was the first Greenfinch actually in the garden (Instead of just a calling flying over) in 16 years of living in Woodford Green - we've got Trichomonosis to thank for their absence but this could be the start of a local revival with goods numbers also now being seen on Wanstead Flats.

Garden, Feeders, Trichomonosis
I've waited 16 long years to witness this!


Another plus point in 2020 was the re-emergence of my Moth Trap. As I touched on earlier having been furloughed for 3 months enabled me to ignite an old passion - garden mothing. This was hugely enjoyable and gave me something good to focus on (away from home-schooling two children). In regards to numbers there was nothing really to shout about with 148 species recorded, but on the 9th September I discovered a little bit of moth-gold in a NE London garden a Clancy's Rustic! At the time it was only the 13th record for Essex (VC17/18) - I suspect this number will rapidly rise as this moth, like many others expands it's range further north - still, it remains a highlight for me and is something I'll look back fondly on in 2020.

Garden Moths, London, Essex
Clancy's Rustic - 13th for Essex. I'll take that!


There's a joke of a title! You could barely travel to see your family, let alone go on a twitch or dare I say a holiday in 2020 but I did somehow manage (and I'm not sure how this also wasn't cancelled) a hastily arranged week on the Scilly Isles with three foes (Martin, Paul and Andy) - this was in place of our cancelled trip to Shetland. And all in all it was a descent last minute substitute - there were good birds to be seen and found, barrels of laughter (and beer) and cracking company to be had on these magical isles. This was topped-off with one very special bird that will live long in the memory and made what would have been a good trip into something of a personal birding highlight...Black-and-White Warbler on Tresco!

Tresco, Scilly, UK
My bird of the year - no contest!

And that kind-off sums up 2020 - memorable for mainly the wrong reasons in which we all suffered the effects of the Covid virus in one form or another, but despite the gloom I did manage a few positives and we as a country (or actually a planet) can hopefully look forward to a brighter 2021 when a return to some kind of normality will be suitably rejoiced and face masks can be binned and hugs and handshakes will be fashionable again!

All the best for 2021.



Saturday, 19 December 2020

A Very Merry Med Gulls!

What's better than a Med Gull on the patch? Two Med Gulls on the Patch!

I met up with most of team Wanstead (Jono, Bob, Richard, Rob and Mary) at Vismig for a Christmas mince pie, coffee and a wee dram - this was pre-planned and was the best we could muster in the these desperate Covid times, with the annual Christmas pub get together obviously cancelled this felt like the our best and only sensible option. It was good to catch-up with everyone but standing around in the wet is not a lot of fun (even with a nip of Brandy inside you) so we headed over to Jubilee Pond as the heavens opened! 

This move turned-out to be a masterstroke as Richard calmly enquired "Is that a Med Gull?" - Yes! A lovely 1st-winter bird was sat on the water - this was a full fat patch tick for Rob and year ticks for the rest of the guys (I was fortunate to have found an adult earlier in the year) but was still really happy to have seen my 12th Med Gull at Wanstead. After lapping up some great views of the bird and downing another nip of Brandy to celebrate Rob's patch tick - rude not too after all! We headed over to the SSSI and enjoyed the increasing flock of Redpoll now numbering 40+ birds in the Birch Trees - no sign of any Mealy's or Arctic Snowballs not long after we all went our separate ways, wishing each other a very Merry Christmas.

Med Gull - Number 1

Gulls, London
Med Gull - Number 1

On the walk back to the car I picked up the 2nd White-fronted Goose on Alexandra lake, after it somehow strangely alluded us all in the morning - I then decided to swing by Jubilee Pond again before heading home. I bumped into Jono who had found the Med Gull again was giving this a good papping after not having his camera with him originally. As we both followed the bird around the pond, a bread-chucking member of the public showed-up and before long a throng of Gulls were all around us. It was quite easy to lose the bird in the melee and I'd seen it circling but lost it again, oddly Jono had it again on the deck - but really close up! 'That's not the original bird" I stumped up "Look at that head pattern". Well, what do you know - you wait all year for a Med Gull to show up and you get two birds together, thankfully I wasn't seeing double due to several nips of Brandy and this was my 12th and 13th records of Mediterranean Gull at Wanstead in the one morning. 

A cracking way for me to probably finish-up the year, with more stringent lock-downs proposed in these parts - who knows when and if I'll be out next!

Gulls, London
Med Gull - Number 2

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Norwegian Ringed Common Gulls

More often than not I don't get rewarded for sifting through each and every Gull on the patch weekend after weekend, but occasionally those efforts do come up trumps - on this occasion it was with a new colour-ringed Common Gull. I also reached a nice little milestone when I discovered the bird amongst the wintering flock of gulls on the football pitches, (JH674) is the 10th Norwegian ringed Common Gull to have wintered in this part of the world (north-east London) - further underlining the strong connection and movements of Common Gulls between the two areas (summer/breeding in Norway and then wintering in the UK/Wanstead).

JH674 was ringed on the 1st July 2018 in Sandnes, Rogaland and is an adult female, it was recorded again in the same area of Norway two years later on the 12th July 2020 before heading south (almost 600 miles) for the winter, showing up on Wanstead Flats on the 12th December 2020 - with this being the only sighting away from Norway.

Darvic, Mew Gull
Common Gull - JH674

Here's the list of the 10 Norwegian ringed Common Gulls recorded on Wanstead Flats with the 2nd table showing many of those birds returning year after year.

The four areas of Norway - Bergen, Olso, Rogaland and Sor-Trondelag from which the Common Gulls reside for the summer months before heading south into the UK for the winter.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

From Russia with Love

It's a funny how a weekend of fog and murk can play havoc with a birds natural navigation, especially when this coincides with the migration and large winter arrival of wildfowl into the UK from the continent, but I won't complain as Wanstead along with many UK sites (including several in the London region) benefited from all the confusion as White-fronted Geese popped up in the most random of places.

Before connecting with the lone adult bird that first appeared on the football pitches on Monday, I'd only ever seen a single flock of White-fronted Geese on the patch, when a skein of 15 flew over the Flats on 8th October 2016 - this was one of those 'Special' patch days that sticks in the mind, as there was Yellow-browed Warbler and several Ring Ouzel also knocking around that wonderful autumn day.

Unlike the skein of geese that circled the Flats in 2016 today's single White-fronted Goose happily (if not a little oddly) grazed all alone on the football pitches, affording some amazing views of this truly wild grey goose from the east - It was eventually spooked by a couple of passers by and flew to the relative safety of Alexandra lake. It's a bit of a worry just how confiding this goose is (I suspect its contact with humans has been minimal, if at all) here's hoping it safely does a bunk and joins up with a wintering geese flock somewhere safe and doesn't end up as Wanstead fox fodder!

Albifrons, Wild Grey Geese
'Russian' White-fronted Goose (albifrons)

Albifrons, Wild Grey Geese
Who knew the lush green grass of a football pitch would make ideal grazing for a lost Russian grey goose!
Albifrons, Wild Grey, Geese
Take off - Aeroflot style!