6 February 2018

The Brick Pit Bruiser: Great Black-backed Gull

During the winter months, you can find several hundred gulls on the Wanstead Flats. The combination of sizeable mown grassland with 50+ football pitches (ideal for foot paddling for worms), a few lakes with ‘beaches’, and regular feedings of industrial quantities of bread must all serve as attractions to gulls. The relative proximity to several huge watery or waste gull magnet sites cannot hurt either.  

The numbers of Common Gull present are sizeable enough to be an important site for the species, and counts of 500+ are not unusual. 

In second place comes the Black-headed Gull which can also be numbered in the multiple of hundreds.

Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull are only normally present in small - sometimes single digit - numbers across the Patch.

With the exception of scarce visitors or local rarities (with Yellow-legged Gull and Mediterranean Gull being the most common), the remaining commonly found gull, Great Black-backed Gull, is also effectively a local scarcity. Often only seen a few times in the year as fly-overs.

However, in recent years we have had a regular visiting adult on the Brick Pit field. 

I had only briefly seen it once this year from Bob’s car window after twitching the Great White Egret on Perch Pond. So, on Sunday, when I saw a large gull with dark saddle come down in the distance I instantly headed to the field in hope of a decent photograph. Sadly it is easily flushed and did not let me get anywhere near it, so I only managed record shots. But I did manage to capture it with a first winter bird as well.

I know it’s a poor photo but just look at the bull-necked beast with the 1W GBBG and a nervous looking Herring Gull to the left!

If the size of the 1W bird was not enough of a giveaway, the diffuse and narrow tail band and markings, the pale greater coverts, and the nice bright window on the primaries all just about show in this blurry flight-shot (you can hardly blame me for the blur - I had to shoot all of those red ID arrows after it).

3 February 2018

Goldeneye down the river

It has drizzled with winter rain almost all day. Not the nicest weather to be out on the Patch. But, picking up three Reed Bunting in the Brooms brightened the mood. As did seeing both of our wintering Stonechat. And, I rectified matters by finally seeing at least five of our resident Skylark on the Police Scrape.

That was about all I had to offer on my quick circuit around the Patch and so I duly headed home to dry off and warm up. I thought I had been the only birder out on the Patch in the rain (with Tony off twitching the American Horned Lark, Jono in Spain, Tim at the football, and Bob hard at work studying pavement lichens under the microscope), but I was wrong. Mr Croft - sadly a scarce sight on the Patch these days due to other commitments - had snuck out slyly and was scouring the Roding to try and fill a Kingfisher-shaped gap in his patch year list.

Sadly, Nick didn't connect with Kingfisher today. Instead he connected with something far better: a female Goldeneye.

This is the sixth occasion Goldeneye has been seen on the Patch in the last decade (albeit sometimes more than single birds), and apparently only the eighth record ever (!?). As the last sighting was when I was in Ibiza (innit), I was rather keen to introduce this charming diving ducky to my patch list. So I put my wet and muddy trousers back on and jumped in the motor to drive over to the Old Sewage Works.

By the time I reached Nick by the Roding behind the Ornamentals, I was rather out of breath and promptly spooked the Goldeneye which then immediately let itself float downstream. Luckily we caught up with her later further downstream towards the Old Sewage Works as the light, on an already gloomy day, was fading. Not ideal for photos, but I managed some grainy ones. Hopefully Nick will help out by adding some better quality ones later.

Meet the 78th bird for the Patch in 2018 and my 119th Patch tick:

8 January 2018

Great White Egret

Great White Egret is a Great Egret

At 10-45 on a drear grey Monday morning my phone goes off, but it's upstairs. I get there too late, of course, but phone Tim back. "I've got a Great Egret on Perch!" "Immense!" I gasp. "Have you got a camera?" he asks. A few seconds later and I'm there. The Egret has moved to the North side and is standing there looking, well, immense. The yellow bill, the sinuous neck, the white, all that white with black legs. I fire off a few shots and realise I have forgotten my specs. I fire off a few more. Tim is Whatsapping  and Twittering out the good news.

I warmly and effusively congratulate Tim who is rapidly replacing Nick as bird-finder general. An unexpected Mediterranean gull distantly on the Basin on the 3rd and now this. The first solid-gold Great Egret on the patch, although there have been a few claims. A patch tick for all, let's hope it stays for the vistas (thanks Tony). Birds don't get much better than this.

All very lovely, so Tim and I leave. Oddly I seem to hear the screech of brakes distantly from Heronry, hmm sounds like an Uber taxi that has been hired in haste. However I proceed to the Basin where Tim (natch) has found the first 6 Wigeon for the year. Strangley, a taxi seemed to be just behind me as I left the Basin. I must have been hallucinating.

Well, that was a great filthy twitch, and cost me very little.

PS When I got back I realised that I'd been taking the shots on ISO 400 which is pathetic for a 300mm with 1.4 extension these days.  Note to self: always pack your specs and check your shots so that they will look half decent.

7 January 2018

Treecreeper in Bush Wood

I visit Bush Wood three times a year. This is generally the number of visits it takes to get those species which don't really occur anywhere else on the patch - Firecrest (in winter), Coal Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. I dispensed with the first three on January 5th, and today, January 6th, I nailed Treecreeper. Done, one under par. A birdie, haha.

Well, apart from Tawny Owl, but that is generally an entirely random late night post public house tick rather than the subject of a specific visit.

2 January 2018

Wrapping up

Well this is going to be my last monthly round up and post, so lets get it over and done with so that we can go and do something more uplifting instead.

November did happen, it just wasn't all that good and so December, rather than make the former month look bad, was also pretty dull. In keeping with the year pretty much then!

... and there you are I am already bored of this

Let's see what the other's thought of the year.

Rob S thought finding the Little Owl had successfully nested was his best birding moment and rather than predictions has a bucket list of birds that he would like next year: Buzzard, Red Kite of the common stuff, Dartford Warbler would be a nice special bird to get and a Goosander on the Roding would be most welcome!

Richard R had his patch lifer of Goosander in top spot, and thought the Little Ringed Plover twitch on the Heronry was the best event, and goes with Golden Oriole in Long Wood as a prediction for 2018.

Marco J also went with one of his own finds for his best bird–and that was the first spring Woodlark tootling around the brooms for an hour or so.  It was a good year for the tail-lacking lark with up to 6 birds being reported. Best non-event was missing out on the Hawfinch hiatus. Red-backed Shrike makes a return as a prediction and one year it will come true!

Tony B went with the singing Nightingale in motorcycle wood in the spring and was going to go with the showy male Redstart that caused Jono to "scurry home for his big lens", but then went with finding London's first Wheatear of 2017.  Another gropper reeling proper is a wish/prediction for the year.

For a reminder of the singer from the SSSI follow the link here


James H especially liked the 9 Hawfinch going over his head, while his best event was being out stared by a Little Owl.  He too has a wish list–of Brown Shrike and Barred Warbler.

Sean Kerrigan kept with the owl theme with a Tawny Owl being mobbed by Jays in Long Wood and also predicts RB Shrike so it will happen.

Josh S, honest as ever replied: " As I've hardly been out at all this year, I have nothing of value to add!  But all being well I will see you tomorrow!"  I predict you will be on your own Josh!

Mr Lethbridge was not available for comment

Bob V also liked Marco's Woodlark and then the others, thumbs up too to the Hawfinch and he predicts the return of the Bewick's (give or take 70 years then Bob?)

I'd have to go with the Nightingale, as the Corncrake and swans couldn't be shared, as my favourite bird of the year, but Woodlarks, Ringos, the Hawfinch and the Goosanders ticked all the right boxes. The Common Sandpiper that showed no fear as it wandered around the Alex for about a week was an excellent photo opportunity if you got the right  light.

My prediction for next year is that it's probably going to as dire as this.

Then the small matter of the scores on the door's guff

Nick C: 116
Bob V: 113
Jono L: 111
Tony B: 106
James H: 105

... and even not being there for 7 months of the year and committing myself to a London-wide year list (supreme fail ending on the same score as last time I flunked it: 194 sp) I still won.  This year I am giving them all a head start and only 6 months in the game, so we will see if anyone can be arsed enough to take my title!

I would do a review of the year but it's been covered just about above. The only other noteworthy even was the misguided destruction of half of the brooms and other areas by the so called management of Epping Forest.  It was utterly depressing to see so much destruction for amenity sake.  We warned that it would hit our breeding birds and it did with virtually all ground nesting birds effected in someway or other.  The removal of the enclosure was perhaps hardest to comprehend, where we would have spent hours in the past notching up spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and interesting warblers we only got one spotty and one Redstart. Not a good year for the custodians of fragile environment. Jubilee remains a toilet, the SSSI's boggy bit is the driest area on the flats thanks to awful drainage works carried out on the fairground, the Alex is now drying up, the drainage of the Herony left no place for breeding birds and now there is something wrong with Shoulder of Mutton if the lack of ducks is anything to go by.


Wanstead Flats: Woodlark over calling (Bob Vaughan-Twitter)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 3 Bullfinch early am, Brambling, Siskin N, 5 Redwing, Reed Bunting NW, c500 Starling NW, Nuthatch, Treecreeper (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Hawfinch west 0712 (Twitter); 2 Brambling, 4 Linnet, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Blackcap, 2 Little Egret, 16 Teal, 2 Shoveler, 3 Gadwall, 3 Pochard, 2 Kestrel, 6 Redwing (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: 116 Gadwall, 9 Wigeon, 29 Shoveler, 17 Teal, Pochard, 2 Little Grebe, imm Great Crested Grebe, White Wagtail (James Heal)


Wanstead Flats: 700+ Woodpigeon south, 23 Fieldfare, 14 Redwing, 5 Skylark, 5 Meadow Pipit, 2 Bullfinch, Redpoll, Linnet, 6 Shoveler, 4 Teal, Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel, 150+ Common Gull, 2 Goldcrest (Nick Croft/Bob Vaughan)

Wanstead Park: 120+ Gadwall, 10 Wigeon, 21 Teal, 5 Pochard, 2 Little Grebe, imm Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Siskin, Peregrine Falcon, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest (Nick Croft)


Snaresbrook Crown Court: Hawfinch (h) over at 7.15 ish, 70 Fieldfare over and a few Redwing (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead: Mediterranean Gull 2w on Alex late morning (Richard Bonser, Dante Shepherd); earlier on adjacent football pitches (Tony Brown)


Wanstead Flats: 1st-winter male Stonechat, 4 Bullfinch (1m 1f 2 juv/1st-winter), c50 Fieldfare W (Tony Brown).

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Hawfinch N, 32 Lesser Redpoll in birches near Hollow Pond, 10 Chaffinch over, 90 Fieldfare over, 40 Redwing, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, 8+ Goldcrest (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Short-eared Owl, 2 Stonechat, 3 Bullfinch, Linnet, 14 Shoveler, 4 Pochard (James Heal/Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: 10 Linnet, 3 Meadow Pipit, Skylark, 3 Goldcrest, Great Black-backed Gull, 400+ Common Gull, 5 Shoveler, 3 Pochard, 11 Fieldfare, Redwing, singing Song Thrush, 2 Mistle Thrush, Kestrel (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Woodcock (Tony Brown); 41 Fieldfare, Redwing, singing Song Thrush, Skylark, Kestrel, 23 Goldfinch (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: 16 Fieldfare, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, 12 Tufted Duck, 3 Pochard, 8 Shoveler, Kestrel (Nick Croft/James Heal)

Wanstead Park: 116 Gadwall, 42 Shoveler, 18 Teal, 2 Little Grebe, 17 Siskin, Grey Wagtail, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Sprrowhawk, Redwing (Nick Croft/James Heal)



Leyton Flats: 5 Wigeon, 3 Teal, 3 Shoveler, 10 Fieldfare, 12 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush, 4 Little Egret 3E & 1 on Hollow pond (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Hawfinch, 5–10 Linnet, Reed Bunting, 25 Fieldfare, 7 Redwing, 5 Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, 2 Meadow Pipit, Goldcrest, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 37 Shoveler, 26 Gadwall, 2 Teal, f Pochard, 14 Tufted Duck, 4 Little Grebe, Little Egret, 10+ Siskin, Goldcrest, 20+ Redwing, 9 Fieldfare, Water Rail (Nick Croft)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Caspian Gull 3rd w on Eagle_Pond (presumed returning bird), 2 Nuthatch, 40+ Redwing, 15 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Coal Tit (Stuart Fisher)




Wanstead Flats: 7 Bewick's Swan east over the park and the first for 70 years, 5 Shoveler, 2 Teal, 4 Pochard, Stonechat, 40+ Fieldfare, 20+ Redwing, singing Song Thrush, 13 Linnet, 2-3 Reed Bunting, 4 Skylark, Little Egret (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 30 Shoveler, 7 Teal, 16 Gadwall, f Pochard, 20+ Redpoll, 6 Siskin, 4 Goldcrest, 2 Little Grebe, Water Rail, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 50+ Redwing, 10+ Fieldfare (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Caspian Gull 3w still on hollow and eagle_ponds (Jamie Partridge via Twitter)


Wanstead Flats: Stonechat still west of Cat & Dog, 50+ Redwing, 50+ Fieldfare, 17 Linnet, Reed Bunting, 6 Skylark, 5 Shoveler, 3 Pochard, Gadwall, hundreds of large gull flying west including 30+ Great Black-backed Gull, sub-ad Yellow-legged Gull, Goldcrest (Nick Croft/Tony Brown)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Caspian Gull 3w still on eagle_pond (Tony Brown/Adam Winstanley via Twitter)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Caspian Gull 3rd w Eagle_Pond, Kingfisher, Common Buzzard over (Stuart Fisher and Bob Vaughan, Mike Messenger)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Caspian Gull 3rd w still present in the morning, 2 Nuthatch, 16 Redwing, 3 Fieldfare, 2 courting Egyptian Geese, Coal Tit (Stuart Fisher)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Caspian Gull 3w still present pm (David Darrell-Lambert via Twitter)


Snaresbrook, Eagle Pond: Caspian Gull 3w showing well (Tony Brown, David Bradshaw)


Wanstead, Eagle Pond: Caspian Gull Eagle pub car park, 2 Goldcrest (Geoff Gram).


Snaresbrook, Eagle Pond: Caspian Gull 3w still present - favouring area just to east of centre of lake (Harringay Birder)

Snaresbrook, Eagle Pond: Caspian Gull 3w still present, also 8 European Herring Gull and 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 9 Northern Shoveler and 14 Gadwall (Dominic Mitchell)


Wanstead Flats: 4 Skylark, 21 Fieldfare, 8 Redwing, 5 Song Thrush, Stonechat, 11 Shoveler (Nick Croft/James Heal)

Wanstead Park: Water Rail, 13 Shoveler, 11 Teal, 12 Gadwall, 1-2 Nuthatch, 2-3 Coal Tit, 5 Goldcrest, 6 Redwing, 5 Stock Dove (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook Eagle Pond: Bullfinch (Simon Worsfold); Caspian Gull 3w eagle pond (Tony Brown via Twitter)


Wanstead Flats:
Stonechat, Bullfinch, 15 Linnet, Reed Bunting, 3 Meadow Pipit, 3 Redwing, 10 Shoveler, 2 Gadwall, 5 Teal, f Pochard, 6 Tufted Duck, 300+ Common Gull, 30+ Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook, Eagle Pond: Caspian Gull 3w still present (flew off at 13:25 today) (Debbie Burkett)


Wanstead Flats: 4 Mistle Thrush, Redwing, 7 Shoveler, f Teal (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 50 + Goldfinch, 17 Redwing


Wanstead Flats: m Stonechat, 13 Redwing, 5 Meadow Pipit, 350 Common Gull, 10 + Herring gull, Great Black-backed Gull, 13 Shoveler, 5 Teal (Nick Croft/Tim Harris)

Wanstead Park: Water Rail, Siskin, Treecreeper, 3 Goldcrest, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 8 Shoveler, 12 Gadwall, 3 Pochard (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook, Eagle Pond: Caspian Gull 3w still (Shaun Harvey-Twitter)