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?