30 March 2011

Migration in action

Wanstead Flats has finally delivered. After many many hours of recent patch dedication, the local birders (that's us) scored fairly heavily today. It started with Wheatears, the usual herald of spring, but this year supplanted by Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Sand Martin.....

Criss-crossing the Flats this morning, both Tim, Steve and I had walked past the large Hawthorn on the main path through the Skylark area at various times. It had been empty. However on my return home at around 8am, another early start (or so I thought) down the drain, I noticed a bunch of Meadow Pipits in this particular Hawthorn. I am nothing if not thorough, so raised my bins. Ah yes, Mipits. Lowering them, one bird made a brief sortie, and a flash of white passed upside-down though my optic nerve, and righted itself in my brain. Or I think so anyway, never was much good at ologies. That wasn't a, was it? It was a, wasn't it! Get closer. He shoots, he scores!! Albeit a good two weeks late, but there were two in with the Mipits, both females. They lingered just long enough for Nick C to get them, but unfortunately not long enough for Tim.

It was to get better though. Whilst I returned home, my Wheatear desires sated, Nick stayed out, bright-eyed, alert. Luck or skill we shall never know, but his shout of "Ring Ouzel!" down the phone had me pounding back onto the Flats remarkably quickly, and I was soon enjoying a flighty male as it fed on the playing fields, undisturbed by man or beast. Oh, apart from the joggers and dogs that is, who booted it from pillar to post until we lost it near Long Wood. The bird was in what may have to be renamed the Ring Ouzel Triangle, that is to say west of the Esso Copse, east of Long Wood, and north of West Copse. What exactly the draw of this area is we, not being Ring Ouzels, simply don't understand, but by far the majority of all records from Wanstead occur in this small area. It is tempting to suggest that the records involve the same birds turning up season on season, year on year, but we have no way of knowing.

What was already a fine day was rounded off with a further Wheatear, a male this time, and then Sand Martins over Jubilee and the Basin. Spring has finally started.

28 March 2011

Sound files

As I forgot, and in case anyone's interested here's links to a couple of sound files recorded last weekend, firstly of the drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker http://www.xeno-canto.org/europe/XCspeciesprofiles.php?species_nr2=6128.00 then a rather poor one of the singing male Treecreeper at the Dell, which was still singing on Saturday the 26th http://www.xeno-canto.org/europe/XCspeciesprofiles.php?species_nr2=10083.00. Anyway this at least helps to advertise this wonderful free site - xeno-canto.org

27 March 2011

Eyes to the Sky

In the relative absence of passerine migrants, today was a sky day. After a fairly quiet morning, a ragged Red Kite drifted north over Alex, and was good enough to fly over Tim and his group of migrant-hunters in the Old Sewage works. This is the second in under a fortnight, no doubt we'll be sick of them in a few years time. A couple of Buzzards in the afternoon rounded off a good day for the sky above Wanstead Flats, made all the more memorable by one of the model aircraft crashing near Long Wood. It is apparently beyond repair, such a shame.

Not too much else to report. Plenty of Chiffchaffs on territory, and a few Blackcap starting to sing. Usual Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers present and correct in West Copse, and on the Plain in the Park. A Little Egret on the Roding , and three Sand Martins briefly on Alex, seen only by Stuart.

25 March 2011

Sniping a Woodpecker

The neighbours came to visit today, or a neighbour anyway. Sultan Paul al Whitemanijad from the neighbouring state of Walthamstan decided to sign up for Woodpecker Tours, and so at 5:45am he and I found ourselves walking across a misty Flats towards one of the copses. I decided to try the Esso Copse first, and sure enough as we approached some drumming was going on. A quick pause to ascertain the pitch and duration, and I decided we were game on. A fine male in the bag within five minutes.

A quick tour around found no Wheatears whatsoever, and the best bird was a Common Snipe in the usual spot, that is to say the boggy bit of the SSSI. Woodpecker Tours will be ongoing for at least another two weeks, priced at the very reasonable cost of £180 per person per half hour, with a 10% discount if no birds are found. Or at this rate, for free if you find me a Wheatear.

24 March 2011

Buzzard over

Several hours of patiently waiting in my garden in fine weather finally paid off today with a Common Buzzard drifting over ESE early afternoon. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. My tenth from the house over the years, and sixteenth overall. With several over Walthamstan yesterday, it was only a matter of time I suppose. I don't think they can be called rare, but you have to be fairly lucky, or do a lot of sky-watching. Or both perhaps. The real reason I put the hours in is for that one day when an Osprey goes over. I'm still waiting....

In other news, my umpteenth early start this morning produced no Wheatears again - where are they? - and the ever-reliable Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, this time from the copse nearest the Esso Garage on Aldersbrook Road. Had a female there on Tuesday, so perhaps the same bird. If you do want to see one of these getting-harder-to-see birds, the small copses on Wanstead Flats at around 6:30am seem to be producing the goods on a fairly consistent basis.

22 March 2011

A First with Grateful Thanks

A Small introduction as this is my first post.
I am Mike, (BucksMike on Twitter and various other places as I really come from Bucks and still spend a lot of my time there). I now live just up the road in Leytonstone and do seem to migrate to Wanstead park and flats to view the birdlife. I am a relatively new birder despite always having liked birds but not really been a keen watcher. That has sort of changed but my life list is still very short
Now the reason for this addition to this blog.
Having followed various blogs on the internet with regard to local birders I read about a certain woodpecker I had never seen but was often seen on the flats. I did have a few hours last week but no luck and met up with a certain Jonathan Lethbridge who gave me more than a few hints and tips about where to see one. Didnt happen but I tried again this morning
Like Mr L's post a few weeks back I was lucky enough today to be looking in East Copse when I heard a different drumming from normal. It was from West Copse so a quick trip over and first sight was a pair of GSWs in a tree then I spotted it, same tree and very visible. My 1st Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in same tree with the pair of GSW's.
Just to round it of as Mr L put, turn round and there on the grass was a Green Woodpecker so like him all three at once.
Jonathan, a big thanks for the tips and the invite to post on here.
Back to Bucks again tomorrow though

19 March 2011

Wanstead looking bloomin loverly

No words, no buildings, no people - no rubbish, no dogs. No, it's not always like that!

One King Poets and Wheatear hunt

After hosting a gig by the One King Poets (check them out!) with my group Pig7 last night I returned from Lambeth this morning after very little sleep with the intention of going to the flats to find Wheatears but somehow forgot this and got off the train at Wanstead. My first port of call was The Basin, not a great place to look for Wheatears as they are not aquatic, but there were 4 Great-crested Grebe which was very nice but bloody hell it was cold this morning. I then passed the church were I could hear 2 male Goldcrests in a singing competition. Then it was off down the Ornamental Waters which had a thin layer of mist over them like a nice horror film. Near the ruins I was very pleased to hear a singing male Treecreeper on several occasions, finally seeing it go into the Dell, I managed to get a poor recording too. Good sign. Then I had a quick look down the Old Sewage Works area, several Song Thrushes about, but no sign of any Bullfinch which I haven't seen here since 2009, but a male Pheasant called from a copse adjoining the Cemetery, patch tick for the year. I made my way to the Plain and watched a pair of Sparrowhawk circling in the distance (I had previously seen a large female fly over, hearing the change in the bird calls all around before I saw her) and had a probable Rock or Water Pipit over, but the bird remained unseen. Then, coffee and carrot cake at the cafe and a search of the Heronry. Then I heard a drumming male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker from an oak tree and went off to record it... oh hang on I've left my coffee and cake on the bench I remembered, fancy that, so I thought I'd better finish that first. It was whilst I was eating the cake that I noticed a large, strange bird flying over the end of the Heronry, I got on to it... greyish accipiter, huge size, huge barrel chest, broad wings, shorter tail than Sparrowhawk, very relaxed, slow wing beats.... bloody hell a Goshawk (yes a Northern one)... a couple of Crows made a V line towards it but then it went out of view behind the trees heading towards Wanstead Flats. I texted Nick Croft to let him know but he didn't get on to it. You see, if I hadn't gone back for my carrot cake I would have missed it. Then I noticed the LSW was drumming loudly on an old, dead bit of wood so I ran over to the Oak it was in to record it, and even managed to show three passers by the bird in the tree which was showing really well. I've yet to put the recordings on xeno-canto. Anyway these are the best highlights from my day... until next time..... any problems email me at genghisattenborough@yahoo.com. I will be most interested.

16 March 2011

New World Order

It has all gone very very wrong - look!

Does that look like a Wheatear to you? Exactly. That's because it isn't, it's a Little Ringed Plover on the shores of Alexandra Lake. This is hugely problematic. Wheatears are always first. Always. That allows me to construct - annually - blog posts about how I am waiting for Wheatears, why I haven't seen Wheatears yet, why the first long-distance trans-saharan migrant is always a Wheatear, why this makes me happy etc. Ad infinitum (no really). The first proper migrant every year has always been a Wheatear, and this year I have buggered it up by finding a Little Ringed Plover first. Don't get me wrong, it is a smart little bird, and a most welcome patch tick, but it isn't a Wheatear and that is just plain wrong. Bloody birds.

14 March 2011

Once upon a time from the West

A really good day on Wanstead Flats today. An early morning foray netted no fewer than five Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Green Woodpeckers, and a showy male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. This latter bird was in the west copse (see map), and it was from there than I saw all three species in about five seconds flat without moving an inch. The Lesser and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were in the same tree, and whilst looking at them, a Green Woodpecker landed in a Hawthorn just beyond. As far as woodpeckers go, it doesn't come much better.

Back on the Flats after the school run, I plonked myself in the main Skylark area and started watching the sky. Mike, another local birder, joined me, and we nattered away, picking up a fair few Chaffinches moving east, and a couple of Sparrowhawks. Over at Stoke Newington, Mark "Raptor Pheremones" Pearson was doing much the same as us. At around eleven I had a text from him about a Red Kite heading low east. Stoke Newington is more or less directly west of Wanstead, but nonetheless I had little expectation of it coming over. It's about five miles away, and even a slight deviation could see it pass well north or south of us. But it didn't deviate!

About half an hour later, still scanning the appropriate bit of the horizon, I was utterly amazed to see a large raptor with a couple of corvids in tow flapping lazily east. The distance was pretty extreme, but the flight action screamed Kite, and more importantly didn't scream Buzzard, with which I am more familiar. Luckily Mike hails from Buckinghamshire, and has Red Kites coming out of his ears there, and confirmed what I thought once he got on it. A few more corvids started having a go, and the bird went high to shake them off before continuing east. Only the second I have ever seen here, and in both instances I have had alerts from birders to the west. The camaraderie in London is nothing short of superb. Cheers Mark!

We were unable to return the favour, a Peregrine heading NW towards Walthamstow was as close as we got, but there will be others I'm sure. Red Kite is a new bird for Wanstead this year, and takes the 2011 site list to 85. And still no Wheatear!

7 March 2011

Spot the difference

One painted by all round dead artist Archibald Thorburn, much better than that Audubon character who looked like he painted from road kill, and one by me.

He obviously didn't have twigs and branches to contend with, which is why he would have made a better job on this...

Yellowhammer on the Flats

Spent all day out today, starting on the Flats, finishing in the Park. To quickly pick up from yesterday, the news is that we had a Stonechat. No sign today at all, even though I gave it some time, so the presumption is that it is a bird moving through. This makes the most sense, a wintering bird would have turned up in, well, winter, and much as I'd like to see them breed here, I doubt it will happen.

Hot news instead was of a Yellowhammer near the Cat & Dog pond early this morning. By the time I turned up after the school run I hadn't much hope, but remarkably as I approached I could hear the distinctive "chirp chirp" call from somewhere ahead. Try as I might, I just couldn't see the bird though. Turns out it was in the the long grass, rather than perched up anywhere, so I inadvertently flushed it whilst heading towards a distant hawthorn. A male, possibly adult, though it didn't seem especially bright. The bird was extremely flighty, and after trying to get close enough for a decent shot several times, I was forced to give up. An excellent bird for this area, presumably moving through just like the Stonechat.

I spent the rest of the morning on the Flats, mainly the western section, though the birding was tough. Best of the bunch were a couple of Redwing in Long Wood, some Redpolls in the SSSI, and a Coal Tit near Centre Road. The hoped-for Buzzard did not drift over, and so after lunch I moved to the Park. This was even quieter than the Flats, and I couldn't find Lesser Spotted Woodpecker or the Water Rail. Nonetheless very pleasant, and it felt very much like spring, with Long-tailed Tits flying about with nesting material, and some Coots already sitting.

Not long to go 'til Wheatears....

6 March 2011


I wont be giving anything away by saying, yes we have a Stonechat. At bloody last. Used to be a January 1 bird, but it seems our stalwart probably croaked in the second bout of cold weather last year, or decided a warmer clime was more conducive to stonechatty things.

I was going to do so much today: Green Winged Teal (Connaught Waters), Scoter (W Girling), Nutchatches yadda yadda yadda. I didn't. Was going to bring home irrefutable proof of Mealy Redpoll on the flats, but that didn't happen because I got a better look at the rosy tinted individual that inspired those lustful thoughts. By that time I'd lost my will to live and the feeling in my hands. I thought Rainham? No the cold would worse, so I hid in Bush Wood. The sun came out briefly and I warmed up enough to make it to the little tea shop of happiness.

On the way their I met Earl, whom I'd first met a year ago at the Dusky Warbler gig, and had bumped into a week or so earlier when he was looking for our star birds - Lesser Spots. Still to make contact with them I chummed him down to the Dell.

Nothing like the activity of yesterday and no hint of a LSW (apparently showing well that morning!). One Waxwing trilling over head was about as good as it got. He says he'll be back.

Meanwhile I got a text from Tim saying he had found a Stoney in the brooms - a chance to redeem my weekend! First off a stop by Alex (now with a brand new Fish'n'Chip show opened opposite - shameless plug by way of hoping to get free chups). Gulls had returned after the football and giving them the customary courtesy one over I espied a young bird with a rather large aggressive beak....

... which doesn't really show very well in the sketch I made above.

Unfortunately before I could get my focus right a twat and his dog scared the whole bloody lot off. "It appears we've got in the way of this gentleman's photograph", he said.

Couldn't relocate as several people were throwing bakeries of bread out with the resulting wheeling mass of white screaming.

No matter I'll bag the Stoney and head home for a large pot of tea. On the way a number of thrushes side tracked me for a bit.

So still waiting for a good shot of Redwing

... slightly more discernible as a Mistle Thrush

The Stonechat took a bit longer, texted Tim. He replied north broom field wid Yellowhammer. Wid Yellowhammer? I looked at the north broom fields, which brought me too close for comfort to Long Wood and some shady looking types. Finally picked it up when I was on the south side at extreme distance where he said it would be. Bugger would probably be an inappropriate term to use here, so Fudgery Duck! Back I troll.

which after heavy use of photoshop looks like this...

... which gave the bird a rather worn plumage, which was certainly not the case.

Tomorrow the wind comes from the south and the temperature will push the mercury a whole 9 degrees. I sense Wheatear!

Rather than spoil that for now have a badly scoped Skylark. By the way the scores on the doors for dogs on leads vs free range: 1 - the rest. The new signs promised the corporation of London better be feckin huge.

Second thoughts, have a sunset.

5 March 2011

The trouble with Rainham

No I am not going off topic here, I was thinking about going to Rainham, as is my wont of a Saturday, but I am actually quite bored of it. Of course if I lived next door to it I'd be out there all the time, but even then it does seem that Crayford has greener grass, if you get my drift. It's perhaps that there are very few ways to go around Rainham, while here on patch 1 (and 2), I can go where I like and just about when I like and I can jumble it up a bit so it doesn't get too samey! Even then the day's are still not long enough - I've hardly been into Bush Wood.

Today I thought if things go badly I can nip off where I like, but I didn't, the patch held my enthusiasm till I it got dark and I got knackered.

Next week I reckon the broom fields will be heaving, but today only a few brave Skylark and Meadow Pipit ruled. Some Siskin flew over as I walked along the north side of Long Wood, and the Redwing were still practicing their songs in the scrub by the brick pit. Across the road in the SSSI I found a party of Redpoll in the birch. Dainty feeders, but messy. In motorbike wood, there were more birds feeding on the fallen seeds than in the trees themselves.

I am actually quite pleased with these. Now if the sun had been out and I'd been in the right position...

Since the pictures hadn't turned out as horrid as expected, I thought I'd go for the Siskin in the park, however they didn't play ball and so had to make do with an industrious Lesser Spot instead. While I waited for that photo op I was entertained by small flocks of Redwing crashing through the Dell going mad for the Ivy berries.

With a few hundred seemingly pretty goodframes I thought I'd try and improve on my Waxwing shots. Luckily there was only one to choose from and it remained bolted to its branch showing complete indifference to my efforts to sidle up to it.

1 March 2011

Waiting for Wheatears

Apparently of late I have been going off topic, for which I have been fined the princely sum of a week's worth of Doubledeckers. I suppose I'll have to go and do my own thing for the other wild tales I could relate, but isn't this what happened to The Beetles. In which case I am Ringo!

Back on side and following Jonathan's wish for Wheatear, I bring you some visual aids for those wishing to join the happy reunion of Wheatears (and other migrants) and the flats.

OK its an autumn bird, but the gist is that they are here soon, and that's about as scientific as it gets.

So what do we deduce from the above: it's easier to see both Ouzel and Redstart in the Autumn. Getting the hang of it now?

So not much chance of a Spotted Flycatcher till Summer's out...

... but Tree Pipit sometime soon.

Lastly Whinchat, which when you put it altogether gives you...

And finally February: Things moved on with only a few things missing (Buzzard, Stonechat, Lapwing other interesting fly-overs) and a few interesting birdies: Tree Sparrow (must take more interest in our sparrow population!), Med Gull, and other gulls (whisper it quietly!), and the female Goosander. The Little Owl was rediscovered, and Waxwings brought joy. The best, however, is yet to come. Bring it on!

Waxwings still in Westmorland Close

Quickly checked the Flats today for the Med Gull, but not many birds present and certainly nothing interesting. Best bird was an adult Lesser Black-backed which gives you an idea of the quality on offer. A Pied Wagtail was feeding on the shore of Alexandra Lake, which had eight Greylags and an amazing sixteen Mute Swan, the most I have ever seen here - usually a dominant pair chase all the others away.

Then onwards to the Park, via Westmorland Close. Couldn't find the birds yesterday afternoon, but they were present and correct this morning - I counted at least 37 birds sitting in a large tree, subsets of which would fly down and feed on a berry bush near the houses. A wonderful sight, and the mass trilling was pretty special too. I observed them for about ten minutes, at which point the whole flock got up and flew west.

Finally managed some tolerable shots of the Water Rail at the west end of Perch pond, which today was being relatively showy. Incredibly dark in there, but the wonders of modern high ISO (in this case an almost unbelievable 5000!) meant that I could get away with it. Nothing much else to report really. I'm just waiting for Wheatears to turn up.