1 April 2011

The IDs of March

Things finally kicked off for the flats in March, while in the park a kind of torpor set in, and although we're slightly disappointed not to have reached three figures by the end of the month it won't be long now...

Here's a brief resume of what you might have missed:

Divers, er moving right along. Grebes: The lonely Great Crested Grebe on Perch was finally seen with a potential mate doing first date kind of stuff on Heronry before they took in the sights of Alex, the basin and then back to Heronry by the end of the month. Hopefully something will come of it this year if they're quick about it and can squeeze in between the coot throng and find a vacant (and suitable) nest site. Meanwhile Little Grebe's have been trilling on Alex, Shoulder of Mutton with the main population on Heronry. One or two have been seen on the Ornamental Waters but strangely enough this expanse of water and that of Perch hold little of interest for them, maybe down to the large and voracious Terrapins that lurk beneath.

Duck numbers began to fall dramatically leaving just singles of Gadwall (Alex) and a few late movers on the Park's waters. Shoveler and Pochard like wise have virtually all moved on, although the occasional Teal can still be found underneath the willows on SoM. Tufties are still quite numerous and will stay throughout the summer, but no one is sure whether they actually breed here or not. The Egyptian Geese we suspect are jaffas, as nothing has become of their pre Christmas exhibitionism. A Shelduck, presumably from the Walthamstow reservoirs flew east across the flats on the 21st.

Game birds (and we're not talking the type to be found on the Romford Road of an evening) were always going to be a bit of a stumbling block. I suspected we'd seen the last of our Pheasant after the Spring Fair last year, however Mr Fisher got one calling from the cemetery on the 19th, it has, however, remained silent ever since.

Little Egret have become more frequent on the Roding, mostly singles, while Heron appear to be more regular, presumably with beaks to fill back on the W Res or Valentines Park.

It was a good month for raptors, though Kestrel remain alarmingly scarce. Sparrowhawks have been displaying over the park, sometimes joined by a third bird, and frequently seen on the flats. The stars of the show have been 2 Red Kite, one giving excellent views as it slid over the flats at the end of the month and a distant bird picked up by JL after a tip off from Mark Pearson at Stokey, several Buzzards (including two thermaling high over the SSSI) and a female Goshawk picked by SF over a cup of tea and a portion of reasonably priced cake at the little tea shop of happiness in the park. The next few week's should see Hobby back on the patch and you never know one of them Osprey type things might pop up.

Perch's Water Rail was still pottering around its small stinky world at the end of the month, while a new bird (or perhaps the Roding individual re-located after the council removed its cover on the river) was found first in the interesting bit of Heronry then on the SoM. Could it be that we had 3 wintering birds?

After last year's mega Dunlin on Jubilee, we kind of expected something to show. Snipe, or just the one, have been resident in the SSSI and latterly Cat & Dog throughout the winter but its the Alex that sees the most wader action. On a really foggy morning it was again the case, with Jono not only picking up Common Sandpiper, but then a very obliging Little Ringed Plover on the morning of the 16th, patch ticks all round. Soon after small numbers of Lapwing were seen on three separate occasions. An Avocet would be good (having been seen just up the road at Fairlop), but anything wader like would suffice!

Gulls (deep breath): February's Med Gull didn't linger, but a juvenile was picked up on the Alex mid way through the month in amongst the dwindling flocks. Now it appears just juvenile birds are left, and at the end of the month Black-headed Gulls have remained off my lists completely! We're hoping for a bit of Tern action before too long.

In the park and some of the copses Stock Dove's have been singing and displaying for the last month or more. No records of the Little Owl, and what I thought might have been Tawny Owls in Forest Gate probably were alarm systems, and the one in the park a Jay.

The Kingfisher has been regular if not frequent on the Roding, but it has been the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that has been the big draw for year listers in the both the park and on the flats, we even had that Fraser Simpson down one day recording their calls and drumming (check out his web site for the results (http://frasersbirdingblog.blogspot.com/).

Tim "dipper" Harris thinks Skylark numbers are still down on last year, but to me Meadow Pipit numbers appear to be up, whether this is due to migratory birds sticking around or my imagination only Tim can tell. Alex also hosted a Wanstead first in the form of a Water Pipit on the 18th, a bit of a surprise that, considering our position vis a vis Rainham, the Lee Valley etc. Mr Fisher also had a a calling bird of either Rock or Water persuasion in the Park a few days later, so perhaps they're just over looked. It won't be long before the next ID headache in the form of Tree Pipits hove on to the horizon, preferably calling birds thank you. Can you also get the Yellow Wags to land for a picture please!

Waxwings, yeagh seen them, a few still kicking around north of the Park, but their lustre and crown as the most stunning bird has once again gone to the Northern Wheatear, which finally graced us with their presence towards the end of the month, meaning that early fruitless starts are a thing of the past - at least till next week. Only four birds in March is not much to show for the effort we all put in but the prize when it came was enough to forget about the fatigue. A couple of Stonechats put in a tardy appearance mid way through the month, but it looks like the consecutive hard winters have done for this bird as its been scarce all over (I've yet to catch up with it even at Rainham!). As for the larger thrushes Redwing numbers remained constant throughout the month but have dwindled to one or two flyovers, while Fieldfare have been noted on several occasions after disappearing for weeks. A solitary Ring Ouzel, another highlight, gave us the run around on the 30th, stonking bird!

The most evident returning migrants have been the Chiffchaff and Blackcap whose singing can be heard virtually everywhere on both patches at the moment, with up to and over 1o birds singing in the park/old sewage works. A single Willow Warbler briefly flitted around the brooms in the SSSI on the 31st. You'll be hard pressed to find a Goldcrest anywhere at the moment as the winter population has bunked off oop north, but Coal Tit are still very much apparent with a pair inspecting nesting sites in Reservoir Wood. The Treecreeper too, put in a couple of appearances for the lucky - even singing for Stuart.

Finally Lesser Redpolls remained Lesser Redpolls no matter how hard we looked, and the opportunity of a Mealy will just have to wait till autumn though a certain resident of Wanstead has had both Mealy and Brambling visiting his feeders, while an older resident of the park recorded a Tree Sparrow during the snows this year (Stevey T had another probable just days ago in the SSSI). Finally Reed Bunting males are singing in the SSSI, Cat & Dog and a pair have been noted by the Alex, while a first winter Yellowhammer stuck around C&D for a couple of days during the month.

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