Sunday, 27 June 2021

Rock 'n' Rollering

Twitching - there's a novelty! I've not done that for a while (for the obvious reasons - lockdown, global pandemic, Covid etc) so the opportunity to see a European Roller - a showy one at that! Just over an hours drive away into Suffolk was too good an opportunity to miss.

Straight from work Thursday evening, up the M11, across the A11 towards Icklingham and I was soon standing on the side of the road over looking a sheep field - It could have been any field in east Anglia really. But there, on the telegraph wires stretching across the field was the unmistakable azure blue of a Roller - just imagine being the finder? They (as we all do) must have checked hundreds, if not thousands of birds perched on telegraph wires over the years for it to be just another Starling or Pigeon! So I can only imagine their delight and amazement to see this Southern European wanderer looking back at them - what a rush that must have been.

I was probably on site for about an hour, watching the bird mostly perched, static on the wires with the occasional short flight, as it dropped to the ground to collect what looked like rather large earthworms before returning to the telegraph wires. As twitching goes (and I don't do much anymore) I've become much more selective in which birds I would like to go and see, gone are the days of pursuing UK ticks and spending hours in a car just for a distant dot on the horizon. I'd much rather see fewer rare birds but the one's I do (hopefully) see, I see well!

A hugely enjoyable little twitch, with a great subject and excellent views, plus it was good to briefly catch-up with a few familiar faces as well - That's my kind off twitching!

Icklingham, Suffolk

Icklingham, Suffolk

Icklingham, Suffolk

Icklingham, Suffolk





Saturday, 15 May 2021

Black-necked Grebe in the Rain

More rain today and I’m starting to get a little bit peeved, my waterproofs need replacing & my walking boots are leaking...but Hey! The Black-necked Grebe on Alexandra Lake continues to show well on the patch so not a total washout. However, this mornings jaunt around Wanstead already had that June feeling about it and unless we get a late overshoot migrant of note, I’ll be dusting off the moth-trap & enjoying a few weekend lie ins until August.

Here’s a little bit of early morning footage of the summer plumage Black-necked Grebe in the rain with a Canada Goose soundtrack!



Tuesday, 4 May 2021

150 - Target Achieved

It's been a decade in the making but this evening I hit the magic 150 for the patch and joined an elite band of Wanstead patch workers who have also reached this local landmark number.

It wasn't quite the punch the air moment I had hoped and dreamt about but the none the less, after missing those Whimbrel just a couple of weekends ago it did feel good to finally get over the line. I had to bide my time all day as news broke this morning of a Black-necked Grebe on Alexandra Lake thanks to Mary (yes - that's Mary who also found the Iceland Gull) and had yet again put the rest of my fellow patch workers to shame, especially as she noticed the bird yesterday (admittedly she wasn't quite sure of the ID) when the majority of Wanstead's finest were swanning around the patch and probably walking right past the Grebe! I on the other hand was playing the doting father and good husband by swerving the patch and doing some family Bank holiday stuff (long walks and gardening) well...at least I have an excuse for not picking up the bird!

Anyway...enough of the jovial finger pointing, basically I'd played it cool all day at work (biting my lip and clock watching mainly) but as the hours and minutes ticked by and the news filtered through, throughout the day the Grebe was still in situ, I knew I had it comfortably in the bag - as Grebes always stick! The last Black-necked Grebe at Wanstead in 1981 (a mere 40 years ago) stayed 4 days on the Shoulder of Mutton Lake and the 2015 Slavonian Grebe stayed a whole 2 weeks on Heronry in Wanstead Park...so it was never in doubt!

I casually left work on time, picked-up my bins and camera from home, swerved some East-London traffic, waited patiently at a dozen sets of traffic lights, stopped to let an old lady cross at the pedestrian crossing, calmly parked in Alexandra Lake car park (free-parking for probably the last time) checked-out a few large Gulls on the lake, walked around to the southern edge and there was Sean, on hand to point me in the direction of the bird - all a bit too easy really! But WOW what a simply stunning bird in full breeding plumage, and even though I didn't realise my dream and find my own 150th bird on the patch it sure beats a couple of Whimbrel quickly flying through!

Patch listing, Wanstead
Black-necked Grebe

Patch Listing, Wanstead
The Magic 150!



Sunday, 2 May 2021

Perfect Day

I can thank Lou Reed for the blog title, but it wasn't quite the perfect day - As my 150th patch tick still alludes me! But in terms of sunrises on the patch (and I've seen a few in my time) this was as near perfect as you could imagine.

A light frost, not a breath of wind, a cloudless azore blue sky with a low hanging mist and a soft golden glow as the sun gently broke the horizon a few minutes before 6am. I think that kind off paints the picture of how serene it was on Wanstead Flats as I crossed the patch at first light on Saturday morning. For a short time it felt a world away from the sprawl and constant noise of urban north-east London.

In these photos I’ve tried to capture and give you an idea of how majestic that May Day sunrise was...but you really had to be there.

London Sunrise

London Sunrise

London Sunrise

London Sunrise

 

 

Friday, 30 April 2021

Patch Milestone within Striking Distance

2021 is officially my 10th year birding the patch at Wanstead. Unofficially I did visit Wanstead in 2010 and dipped a Wryneck! Well I say dipped, I just stumbled around not knowing where I was going and couldn't find the area the bird had been seen and soon left, mightily unimpressed with the lack of decent habitat - This was coming from someone who had been schooled on the Thameside marshes along the Essex coast. A couple of visits that Winter and the discovery of a Goosander on Perch lake in Wanstead Park and I'd seen the potential of the area and was hooked, aided by the enthusiasm of Jono, Tim, Bob & Nick I adopted Wanstead as my new patch and the rest as they say is history.

A decade later and my patch list sits on a heady 149. That's not bad for someone who can't actually roll out of bed and be on the patch in 2 minutes, I have to make a short drive (or the occasional cycle) and most of my visits have been weekends due in part to work and family commitments, but none the less it's been a big commitment with lots of effort, often forgoing other opportunities to go birding or even twitching elsewhere for the good of the patch. Sometimes I've questioned my sanity when I've woken up at stupid a clock on a Saturday morning (often after several Friday night beers) and trudged around the patch and seen very little, but that's patch birding - there are plenty of lows but it's the occasional highs and those special days when you run into a Great Grey ShrikeWryneck or Yellow-browed Warbler which keeps you coming back for more.

Last weekend I managed to dip Whimbrel (not once but twice) on the patch, this would've have taken me to the magical 150 but the birding gods weren't on my side and I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time as a total of 4 birds flew through Wanstead Flats. There's not a lot you can do about it, other than shrug it off and move on. As much as I want to hit 150 as soon as possible the old romantic in me would like to find my own 150th bird on the patch, so as another weekend approaches I'll be setting the bar high again and will be on the look out for maybe a Wood Sandpiper, Bar-tailed GodwitLittle Gull, Arctic Tern, Turtle DoveHoopoe, Black Kite, White Stork...I could go on and on with the possibilities, but to be honest if there's a singing Quail I'll happily take that!

Patch Listing
My patch list of 149 - What will be number 150?



Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Spring Caspian Gull Interlude

A deep Arctic blast of cold air in April is not exactly conducive for helping our summer migrants land on our shores and after a circuit of the Flats all I could muster of any note was a single singing Willow Warbler, which must have wished it had planned its Spring journey northwards a week later. However, on the plus side there was a sizeable roost of large Gulls (100+) on the football pitches that had me rubbing my thighs! 

The increase in numbers was unusual because as is typical by the end of March all our wintering Gulls have departed, moving onto their breeding grounds and we're usually left with a small band updateable 1st-year birds - maybe the drop in temperature and strong cold northerly wind had pushed these additional birds away from the Thames?

As I picked my way through the Gulls which 90% were 1st-year (2CY) Herring Gulls I could see the unmistakable clean-white head, contrasting nicely with a shawl of darks streaks on the hind-neck of a 1st-winter Caspian Gull. As is good practice I ticked-off a suite of other features confirming the ID (I didn't want to fall into the trap of ticking a bleached 2CY Herring Gull (not uncommon as we approach Spring/Summer). The bird eventually got booted-off the football pitches (showing a lovely clean underwing and unmarked rump, with a nice deep and even tail-band) and spent a bit of time on Alexandra lake but did the decent thing and stuck around for the rest of the day, allowing most of Team Wanstead to happily tick this bird. 

2CY Caspian Gull
A classic 1st-winter Caspian Gull amongst a mix of 1st-winter Herring Gulls 


This was my one and only Casp at Wanstead this winter and just my 10th Caspian Gull record in over 10 years on the patch which still confirms these birds as scarce visitors despite Wanstead’s geographical proximity to the south-east Gull mecca that is the river Thames.

The Casp was a pleasant distraction but can we now have an 180 degree swing in wind direction and get on with Spring?  


Sunday, 28 March 2021

Winner - 2021 Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake

If you haven't heard already (through various media channels) we have a winner of the 2021 Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake - take a bow Mr Richard Rae!

Rich correctly predicted a Wheatear would be found at Wanstead on the 23rd March in a contest which we all agreed was the most unpredictable and gripping to date. At this point it's also worth mentioning the finder (Rob Sheldon) and although there's no trophy for being the finder, he does get to wear an imaginary badge of honour in being the first person to set eyes on one these special passage migrants we all adore so much.

Rich now joins an illustrious band of Wanstead birders who have now held the title of the 'Golden Wheatear' sweepstake winner and is entrusted to keep the prized chalice safe and suitably buffed throughout his reign. At this mornings presentation and passing of the chalice ceremony, a reluctant Jono handed over the trophy to a visibly emotional Rich, who isn't normally stuck for words but was clearly a little choked but did pull himself together to thank his fellow participants and vowed to do what it takes to hold onto the chalice in 2022. We all hope he enjoys being this years champion and look forward to seeing regular photos of Rich sipping Negroni cocktails from the chalice.

A very proud moment for Richard and his family

The generosity of team Wanstead ensured a bumper amount of money was raised for this years chosen charity with £150 donated to 'Birds on the Brink'. This money can help support projects like their recent Willow Tit nest box project near Manchester and soon to be announced nest box scheme for Bearded Screech-owls in Guatemala.

Please click the link below to view some of their wonderful work and projects in more detail.

https://www.birdsonthebrink.co.uk/

This just leaves me to thank everyone who took part and for kindly digging deep into their pockets and raising such a great amount of money - let's hope next years contest will be equally as entertaining, and on a personal level I can only hope my name gets picked out of the hat a little earlier.

Tony Brown - Chairman (and rule maker).


Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Iceland Gull - The one that very almost got away!

I don't really have the time (or the energy) to cover all the patch dramatics in the last 48hrs! So here's a few bullet points to summarise the events - whoever said patch birding was dull?? 

Tuesday 23rd March

  • Rob finds a Wheatear
  • Richard crowned 2021 Sweepstake winner (more of that to come)
  • Mary finds an all white Gull (her description) on Alexandra Lake
  • Gull dismissed as Leucistic
  • Better photos pushed for and finally obtained
  • Gull identified as juvenile/1st-winter Iceland Gull - Patch Mega and 1st record for Wanstead!
  • Majority of team Wanstead drop everything and tick Iceland Gull 
  • Gull does a bunk! (Tony, James & Simon fail to connect for various reasons)
  • Majority of team Wanstead cracks open a beverage and celebrates a very special patch tick (and also wish Jono a happy birthday)
  • Tony, James and Simon - Sulk
Wednesday 24th March
  • Negative early sign of Iceland Gull
  • Another Wheatear seen (these are now old hat)
  • James re-finds Iceland Gull on Alexandra Lake
  • Tony and Simon now also connect with Iceland Gull
  • All of team Wanstead is happy again and serenity returns to the patch
  • Tony, James and Simon crack open a beverage and celebrate
  • Phew...relief...joy!
A full transcript of the last 48hrs is available upon request as a 78 page A4 PDF document based on 3798 WhatsApp messages!

Here are a few Iceland Gull photos...I can't describe how happy it makes me feel to finally see a large white-winger on the patch.

2cy faded, spring

2cy, faded, spring

2cy, faded, spring



Sunday, 21 March 2021

2021 Wheatear Sweepstake - In Safe Hands?

As I'm typing this another day is slipping by and still nobody has claimed a Wheatear on Wanstead Flats and the 2021 sweepstake contest is dangling on a knife-edge. This is the most keenly contested year to date, going right down to the wire with just three of the original ten competitors left in the running...it's nail biting stuff!

There was a reported sighting yesterday (Saturday) which had Jono punching the air and briefly claiming victory and the retention of the much sort after 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' but his hopes were quickly dashed when the committee requested and viewed the respective photographs. The photos were carefully scrutinized and a non-descript, brown looking bird could be seen distantly perching on the Brooms...Dunnock! Yes I know a Dunnock looks nothing like a Wheatear but if a novice birder claims a sighting I have to follow the strict and proper guidelines covered in the rules of the sweepstake before announcing a winner (or not in this case) so the contest was back on and is down to just three participants, James (21st, 22nd) Richard (23rd) and me (24th)...yes - me! who'd have thought I'd be in with a chance of winning after drawing out of the hat last (10th pick) and got left with the dates that nobody else wanted.

I’m not counting my chickens (or Wheatears) just yet, as the wind switches to the south-west overnight so tomorrow (Monday 22nd) does look quite favourable but I never gave myself a chance-in-hell in winning the sweepstake. Once everyone had selected their dates I was left with the two book-ends at the start and the end of the month so to have even a glimmer of hope has got me just a tad excited. One things for sure if I do pull this off it may go down as the unlikeliest of wins and biggest shocks since Leicester won the Premier League!

Whilst James continued to search for Wheatear today he discovered an empty and discarded metal safe on the Flats. It's been reported to the police but I think they could be wasting their time in trying to uncover who it belongs to - as rumour has it, it belonged to Jono! It was where he safely kept the chalice. The safe was only ever opened once a month to give the chalice a bit of a polish but after failing to retain his title, he clearly had no more use for it and must have chucked it out overnight, once it dawned on him that 2021 wasn't going to be his year - even a last ditch and desperate attempt at Nocmigging a Wheatear from the Brooms couldn't help him!

Watch this space to find out who will be the 2021 Sweepstake winner?

Safe
No longer required - Did this once house the Golden Wheatear Chalice?


Monday, 22 February 2021

Wanstead Wheatear Sweepstake 2021

Well...didn't that come around quickly! I can't believe another year has gone by so fast, it feels like it was only yesterday when I presented Jono with the 'Golden Wheatear Chalice' at a socially distanced event (I think there may have been 8 of us) from the vismig location on Wanstead Flats. The pubs were obviously closed as we entered lockdown number 1 so we had no choice about the venue, however I've never seen Jono looking so happy, well, not since he noc-migged Common Scoter over his house (he's clearly easily pleased) as that beaming smile went from ear to ear as he lifted aloft that mock gold trophy as his family cheered on - It clearly meant a lot!

If you've not had the pleasure of viewing the draw for this years sweepstake here's a link in which I do my best Jack Dee impression!

Here's the list of dates chosen by our of 10 contenders...and why it's so important to be picked out of the hat early, as history shows mid-month on Wanstead Flats is prime Wheatear time.



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 the contestant closest to that date wins. If by chance this date falls between two selected dates then the winner will be the contestant who selected the later date.
  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. In the absence of a photograph, the committee will decide if the sighting is viable.
And here in all it's glory is that rather special chalice we are all playing for... 

Wanstead, Birders, Sweepstake
The photo flatters the trophy
It's only 8 inches tall and made of purest gold plastic with a faux marble base 

And finally it gives me great pleasure to announce that this year, the good birders of Wanstead have chosen 'Birds on the Brink' as their nominated charity and all proceeds from the sweepstake will be going to this wonderful bird conservation charity.



Good luck to all of our competitors - updates and the winner will be posted on here in due course.



Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Heinei Common Gull - the search continues

The recent blast of cold weather from the continent not only provided an opportunity to enjoy a large movement of Lapwings through Wanstead (approaching 1600 in a 6 day period from the Sunday 7th February) but with frozen water-bodies, it also gave me an opportunity to view a lot of the Gulls closely on the ice and away from the usual wintering gatherings on the surrounding football pitches. There was a sizeable increase in Common Gulls on Sunday 7th February with estimates over 1500+. The swell in numbers was probably pushed up by the oncoming storm and the saturation of water across Wanstead Flats with many of the football pitches now flooded, creating some localised flashes and wonderful (if only temporary) additional and attractive habitat and feeding.

Russian Common Gull (spp heinei) has been on my radar for a couple of years now but despite Wanstead having one of the largest wintering flocks in London (if not the biggest) my success rate has been all but zero with only a couple of possibles in the field (snowy-headed adult Canus) later binned at home having viewed my photographs in closer detail. That was until I photographed this adult bird, not only did it stand out in the field but it also ticked a couple of boxes once I viewed the open wing formula in greater detail.

Plus points

  • Clean(ish) white head - with only the faintest of markings behind the eye and crown
  • Thin necklace of brown spots on nape, not unlike the shawl of a Caspian Gull
  • Mantle and wings a shade darker than surrounding Canus (this was only very subtle)
  • Slim, longish winged with an elongated body shape 

              Heinei Common Gull, Russian Common Gull, Eastern Intergrade

More plus points - in the wing pattern
  • An almost wholly black P8 extending to the primary coverts
  • Broad black band to P5

Heinei, Russian, Eastern Intergrade

Heinei, Russian, Eastern Intergrade

The negatives - What's missing?

  • Bill and legs would ideally needed to be brighter - if not yellowish.
  • The lack of a pale or lighter coloured iris
  • A narrower white trailing edge to the inner primaries
  • More extensive black in P7 (over 50%) giving the bird an overall darker-winged tipped appearance
In conclusion, this bird ticks a few boxes for an 'Heinei' Common Gull and was certainly worth further investigation but to call this a 'true' Russian Common Gull (ssp heinei) would be off the mark as you you really need to have the full suite of features! So this bird probably falls into the 'Eastern looking inter-grade' category at best.

Many thanks to Jamie Partridge for his invaluable input...in the meantime, I'll continue to keep an eye-open for a bird that ticks all the boxes - Do svidaniya!



Tuesday, 9 February 2021

The Beast from the East Delivers

Ever since seeing the long-range weather forecast last week, I had an inkling this week was going to be a bit tasty on the patch. I had a hint of what was to come on Sunday when I birdied the patch for four hours in a snow blizzard and a biting easterly wind, although nothing of real note was seen apart from a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull and a notable increase in Gulls across the patch generally, it clearly set the scene for the following days.

On Monday as the cold-front moved through, bringing more snow and the predictable arrival of Lapwings with it - Team Wanstead recorded over 500 throughout the day (our second highest ever daily total). These classic indicators of a cold-weather movement are always a good sign that birds are on the move. I also chipped-in with 10 Common Snipe circling the fairground, Snipe are typically recorded in one's and two's at Wanstead so to see a large flock is unprecedented and doubled our previous highest count of five. I should point out that I was year ticking Shelduck at the time (thanks Richard) but after ticking the bird on Jubilee Pond its origins are a bit questionable, as it was just a little over-friendly!

And then today (Tuesday) still very cold and more snow flurries, Tim found a party of 9 Wigeon on Alexandra Lake, I decided to give these a miss, even though a year tick went begging I was hoping someone would pull-out a slightly bigger prize and then this afternoon...Boom! Another message from Richard (who had clearly had his Weetabix this week) KITTIWAKE on Alex! 

Kittiwake is a full-fat patch tick and a Gull I was desperate to see on the patch having missed the last one on the football pitches in January 2014. I dropped everything and dashed out the door, a short drive later and there it was (and so was most of Team Wanstead ) a lovely 1st-winter bird sat quietly on the water, looking slightly exhausted as they always do on inland waters, none the less it did fly around for a bit when I was there, so there is hope this bird will survive the winter storm and find its way back to the coast again.

The Beast from the East II has clearly delivered a bit of patch gold but it isn't over just yet, so what's next...or is that just being greedy?

London, Wanstead,
Number 148 for the patch list - What a beauty!

London, Wanstead
1st-winter Kittiwake's are so much better than adults

London, Wanstead
There's something about seeing a displaced bird in an urban setting that I really like

Monday, 18 January 2021

Little Egret - A Good Luck Omen for 2021?

My first blog post in 2021. This will be my 9th year of blogging and although I don't churn out as many posts as I have done in the past, I'm still happy (for now) to put down a few words and share a couple of photos on this platform - there's still a few hardcore birders/wildlife bloggers out there whose content I still really enjoy reading and viewing (and vice-versa hopefully) so I'm still pleased be apart of this special little on-line community.

With another lockdown in place and restrictions on travel, a short trip to the patch at Wanstead remains one of the few places I can escape too. And this is exactly what I did on Saturday morning (despite the terrible weather). The easy option would have been to stay at home and drink coffee but I can do that all week - I really needed to be out whatever the weather, if just for my own sanity!

I managed to add a few new birds to the already faltering year-list (I don't know why I bother really) I suppose it's an old habitat that I find hard to break. I'm sure I've mentioned this before but year-listing also helps as a personal motivator even though I find the annual search and chase of the same set of birds somewhat restricting - I mean, how much time do I want to give to a Treecreeper in a dark wood? Whilst we're in lockdown probably quite a bit of time but never the less I could be doing something far more interesting with my precious time other than trying to add another number to an annual list - but that's the odd little game us patch birders all seem to play (and enjoy for the most part).

The singular highlight of that cold and wet Saturday morning (other than a coffee from Gregg's) was a Little Egret - that's right a Little Egret! I saw my first at East Tilbury back in the late 1980's and twitched it by train and I remember being mightily pleased with myself having ticked this exotic Mediterranean Heron, but now they're two a penny and no one barely gives them a second glance (including me) that was until I found this bird happily perched on a floating log just a few metres away. The Egret briefly and beautifully posed under the dark and threatening skies and brought a rare moment of joy that morning to a rather cold and damp photographer. Several native American Tribes believe the 'Heron' is spiritual and a symbol of patience and good luck - I'll take that as a good omen for the rest of 2021.

Winter, Photography, Photo

Winter, Photography, Photo

Winter, Photography, Photo

Winter, Photography, Photo