28 August 2011

Please sir, may I have some more?

What the Dickens?...

We want more August and are willing to swap for (unused and as new) June and July: two months for the price of one, what an offer!

The species tally up 2 on last week, but I think there's more to be squeezed out of the old patch next week.

Today I was happy to get out amongst migrants after yesterday's yawn fest at Drain'them marshes RSPB; the wind was all wrong, the water levels were all wrong (apart from the levels rising in my boots), and far too much weed (and in the past I wouldn't have complained about that either). Immediately my humour was restored by a rather pretty Wheatear at the south end of the broom fields. It got better. The strange man I saw loitering at the east end of Long Wood turned out to be Jono and not a threat.

Forest Gate's newest and best scrape, it's got water (unlike Rainham), visible shore lines (unlike Rainham), but as yet devoid of bird life (just like Rainham)

Not much happening here though according to Finding Migrants on Wanstead Flats - where and when to look I should be stumbling over all sorts of top shelf migrant stuff. We walked to the Alex, stopping only to have a brief look at the loafing gulls, just in case... A Common Gull was the only just in case.

To the east of the Alex a Tree Pipit rose up out of the grass and zeet zeeted off over Manor Park.

"I don't think its coming back!"

A quick trip round the Wryneck field, where we picked up a smart Whinchat (Jono got another and a Wheatear on his way home) and that seemingly was that. Left to my own devices I did another slow perambulation of the field and decided to take some snaps of the Whinchat. Using extreme field craft, honed over years of experience, and a large bush I got within range, though you might be hard pressed to guess so.

The Whinchat having seen through my bramble patch disguise hoofed it for a larger shrub. It was all part of my plan, and I continued walking back towards the Alex. A small bird flew out from the grass and into the broom the Whinchat had vacated. Now this is one burnt stem, easy to get a handle on this I thought, up until the point I was right on top of it. Only then did my quarry fly out and disappear magically into a hawthorn. Looked like a Dunnock's back with trowel for a tail and a buff/whitish breast. It didn't call like a Dunnock or at all, which was good and now I had it surrounded in a single hawthorn. Game on. After ten minutes I began to tire of this game, and started to change the rules. Peaking in through some of the gaps in the foliage, I eventually managed to find it in deep. It looked back at me before scuttling out of sight. A gropper! Cool! No, really cool! F***in' awesome, actually! All those mornings and evenings in futile pursuit of singing Sedgies and GWs down by the Roding...

Mr Fisher had heard what he had thought would be a gropper at the beginning of the week, however no-one else could say what an autumn calling bird would sound like, he said metallic. He suggested Xeno Canto, but no. I texted him with the news: "Told you so!", he replied.

So its kicking the grass next week in the hope of getting better views, and there could be dozens of them out there.

The park was quiet though a trio of returning Pochard was nice. Natalia had texted me about five Egyptian Goose that had turned up next to the Little Tea Shop of Happiness, but they had naffed off when I arrived.

While I supped my instant and got outside my fruit cake, I could not help but overhear a conversation going on next to me.

"look, I can see the moon."
"Just there under the sun, in the break of the clouds"
" I can only see the sun"
"You can't look at the sun it's behind the clouds, but there's the moon just below..."

Clearly not all dog owners are that stupid!

24 August 2011

Finding Migrants on Wanstead Flats - where and when to look

Autumn has started! Time to get out there and look for migrants. Here is a quick guide, and we hope to see more people out there, as the more people there are looking, the more will be found. Today, collectively, three birders found 4+ Yellow Wags, 2-3 Tree Pipit, 2 Common Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Pied Flycatcher, a Common Sandpiper, 2 Teal, and a host of regular Warblers. Stop reading about it, go and do it. GET. OUT. THERE.

PS Don't bring dogs.

Yellow Wagtail
Where: Any open space, the Flats is often good as you have clear views. Listen out for the distinctive and repetitive "pseeeee" about once every three seconds.
When: Now!

Tree Pipit
Where: As per Yellow Wag, but they do sometimes perch in Hawthorns or on Broom. The best, nay only, way to find them is to listen for the call, which is a buzzy kind of rasp.
When: Now to the end of September. Early mornings when birds are on the move is best.

Common Redstart
Where: The best areas are Long Wood and its environs, and the scrub to the east of Alexandra Lake, though they have also been seen in the SSSI. They love the bottom of Hawthorns, where they will perch and then drop to the ground to feed before popping up again. Look closely at all birds you think are Robins!
When: Now to mid-September.

Where: The Broom fields east of Centre Road is THE area. They also like Hawthorns.
When: Now to the end of September.

Where: Broom fields, football pitches, paths round the Skylark areas.
When: Now to end of September, the odd late bird.

Ring Ouzel
Where: Football pitches around Esso Wood, where they stay close to the margins and pop back into cover when disturbed. Also around Long Wood, particularly near the large clump of semi-burnt gorse. Call a loud chacking. Chack chack chack.
When: Last week in September, first week of October. Early mornings pre-dogs best.

Spotted Flycatcher
Where: Long Wood, scrub east of Alexandra Lake. They particularly like the lower trees between the two bits of Long Wood for some reason, and often shelter in less exposed areas.
When: Now to the end of September

Pied Flycatcher
Where: Long Wood and scrub east of Alex.
When: Previous records have been 21st August, 24th August (both this year!), and 1st September.

Where: The anthills near the Golden Fleece pub and the scrub east of Alex
When: Last year's bird was 16th - 25th September.

Red-backed Shrike
Where: Hawthorn scrub seems most likely.
When: Birds on the move now. Find one and ensure I see it to claim your free beer.

Barred Warbler
Where: They like Elders, so look for those.
When: We don't care, just find one.

Where: In the sky! (just surmising, we don't actually know as we have never seen one), though they do follow watercourses and main roads. A406 and the Roding?
When: mid to end of September, though birds are going over now.

Honey Buzzard
Where: Over the Flats where you have wide horizons is your best bet. Any large raptor here is good, so look out for something that you're not quite sure is a Common Buzzard and make sure you get a photo!
When: Birds are on the move now, one was seen last year on 16th September, though sadly not by me.

Waders in general
All Waders are scarce in Wanstead. For some reason they become even scarcer when people wake up and walk their dogs. The most likely candidates are Snipe, and Common and Green Sandpipers. What we really want are Greenshank and Godwits. Please.
Where: The margins of Alexandra Lake and Jubilee Pond, though sometimes they can be heard flying over the Flats.
When: Wader passage is peaking now, and will continue throughout September.

23 August 2011

Now is the time of our contentment...

Last week's figures of 68 species was somewhat below what I'd thought I'd seen, but this week could get better. As I type rain is falling from the sky and the wind for the first time in ages is from the north with a bit of east in there too. It will of course turn round again tomorrow, but when it stops today things might be out there lurking in the dripping undergrowth. I would try encourage Stuart to go out after work, but since he drew a blank yesterday (when we amassed 2 Redstart, 1 Spotty, 3 Whinchat and a Wheatear, plus the usual warblers and the long-staying Reed Warbler at the east end of Long Wood) only finding strange men loitering in the vicinity of the aforementioned wood it might be difficult to persuade him.

Sunday saw my first Pied Flycatcher (patch tick 103 for the year, 136 all time, 192 for London and 226 for 2011) in millions of years, luckily Captain Tim was on hand to verify the ID.

He had wanted to see Wheatear, I said: well there's one at the top of the tree there! Hang about it just went flycatching.

It was an elusive little B, only sitting out on a branch for a few minutes to help us clinch its validity. Jono on returning from Scotland got better views braving the "waiting log" over which it had set up shop. Juvenile was his conclusion.

A digi-scoped image of a spotty from last year, how I miss the futility of it all

Unfortunately it wasn't there yesterday (Monday), but a new spotty flew in to take its place. Now all we need is the return of our Wryneck from Ally Pally and a few calling Tree Pipits and some other exciting stuff. Please!

Gareth, can I have my Wryneck back please?

Bird of the day was the female Redstart in the scrub by Alex, though the Kingfisher across the path at the east of Long Wood was a surprise. Female redstarts are to my mind so much more beautiful than their colourful mates. Demure. Another cracking bird at this time are the Lesser Whitethroats, stand out corkers.

It's been hard to drag myself away these mornings, and I have a feeling of lethargy about going somewhere else just in case I miss the big one on the flats or in the park. Having said that I had to visit my old mum on Sunday to give her a birthday present and my dutiful son bit was rewarded by 2 Honey Buzzard lazily floating south over the garden eventually being mobbed by a Peregrine. And another description required there! Bring on the long winter evenings and I might get round to doing the rest of the descriptive species from the last year or so.

Currently the site is on 120, up 2 from last year at this time, whatever we get next is going to be mega in some way or other: Black Redstart is my guess though I am holding out for a Wryneck, but I am a tart and anything will do.

19 August 2011

The Rutland Bird Fair

The Goodyear blimp on migration

Nope! didn't quite make it, far too exciting on the flats to spend hours on a train, trundling around displays and showcases, spotting Osprey and generally racking up thousands on my credit card in order to replace my crappy Viking telescope, bins and new camera kit. Might not make it tomorrow either what with the flats being so exciting and all, and the Sub-Alpine re-appearing at Holland Haven and some other yank sandpiper at Titchwell flirting with my affections.

Took a holiday especially to go too! Ah well there's always next year.

Today the alternate day theory paid dividends again. Slow to get out of bed I wandered down to the flats at around 07:00 reasoning that in the past not much happens before it gets warm barring wader action and I wasn't looking for any of that. It's migration time and that means Long Wood.

The east end is where all the polite action takes place. And so it was today. Warbler mania! At one point it got so busy I texted a rather pathetic appeal for help. Tim obliged, but obviously when he arrived it had all quietened down, somewhat. Lesser and Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler mixed in with large numbers of Blue and Great Tit, some Dunnock, Robin and a healthy smattering of Backbird all seemingly on a feeding frenzy of fruit and insects. A Common Redstart moved through the tangle at a the base of a small oak, not to be seen again. How many of each species there were was impossible to fathom as birds would fly in and be swallowed up by the foliage. How many of these birds were resident and how many had dropped in overnight again hard to say. Tim surmises that for every warbler you see there are many behind the scenes that you don't. Wise words indeed.

By 10:00 things had dropped off completely. Where they had all gone to unclear, probably deep in the cool recesses of bramble satiated with their morning's chow down.

By 12:00 even I'd given up. Any thoughts that the same activity might still be going on on the east side of Alex were quickly dispelled. Only Parakeets, bar a few whitethroat and a typing pool of Lessers and Blackcap. Before I left though a Common Tern crazily yanked its way across the sky doing a few circles round Manor Park and disappearing to the south. I was beginning to think I wouldn't get one of these over the flats this year, tick #102.

While embibing a coffee at the little tea shop of happiness I met Mike Messenger, who likewise had had a Redstart that morning on the plain. As he talked we followed the flight of a couple of Sand Martin over Heronry when a large raptor broke his train of thought. The Buzzard, free of an escort of crows did a bit of circling and dreamily carried on south and into corvid air space over the flats.

After 12 hours I am sitting by the Shoulder of Mutton checking the cricket scores, tired but content. Then a Kittiwake goes and ruins it all!

How did that happen? I just took a glance at a strangely moving gull moving towards me, it's not a Black-headed, looks like a Common, oh! its got a yellow bill. Oh a Kittiwake! Then gloom. Why?

Patch mega and indeed a first according to our records. No elation. Things like this need to be shared, even if its to scream down the phone at Jonathan "F***ING KITTIWAKE!" several times loudly. But he's in Scotland and texting just doesn't cover it. Or a host of other reasons. Fucking Kittiwake!

Apologies to all Kittiwakes everywhere you are undoubtedly a beautiful bird

A Kittiwake not flying over Wanstead Park; for illustrative purposes.

Could that be otter spraint?

You wouldn't know anything about the disappearance of a large number of Coot, some Egyptian Goose chicks and a pair of Great Crested Grebe, would you?

My little furry friend your days are numbered... ... here's hoping

18 August 2011

Spots, chats and 'tears

It's been a good week on the flats so far, and no doubt would have been fairly interesting today if I'd managed to get up for it. Last night I spent too long downloading a new app from Birdguides that could do away with need for a pager ever again. Should have been easy, but wasn't, and in the end I had to restore all the contents of my i-phone and by 02:00 in the morning I was back at square one and highly pissed off.

Of course it loaded up first time this morning, no problem. Arse!

First glance it looks rather good, however the test will come when T-Mobile/Orange's piss poor reception is anything less than good. So most of the country then!

Last week I purchased another bit of technology, with the idea of bringing you, dear reader, the sounds of nature of the flats and park. Rembird, a small very plasticy recording device, a point and record system which while it looks like something that's fallen out of a cracker, is meant to be the dog's doo-dahs for those "what the f***in hell is that?" moments. Early bumblings suggest that it is something that's just fallen out of a cracker.

It would have been handy if I'd managed to get the thing working yesterday as, while stumbling round the east end of Spotted Fly central (Longwood), I heard some interesting calls interspersed with warbles and other song types thrown in. It soon became apparent that the source of the sound was a group of yobby Jays, behaving in a very anti-scoial way like a group of hoodies with a Molotov cocktail outside Dixons, but it would have been nice to actually share the wide range of mimicry that was going on. But silence!

Barring that and personal injury sustained by two assaults by dogs: one a two-pawed attack on my personals by a collie, and the other some rat-shaped shit of a thing that launched itself and its fangs at my thigh - it's been a great week. Goaded by reports of all manner of tasty migrant action in London and in particular our west end counterparts at the scrubs, I couldn't let Wanstead's top passerine migrant badge be usurped.

Monday was beautiful when the sun finally started warming things up. Ring-necked Parakeets in a never ending stream from the south. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff singing and calling, Lesser Whitethroat being amiable and visible, a Garden Warbler or two moving through the elder with numerous Blackcap. Stand in front of a group of bushes, especially if they have elder berries on show, and you'll find it hard to move, just in case something really exciting puts in an appearance: so basically the scrub to the east of the Alex, or that to the east of Longwood. And at this latter site I finally found the first confirmable returning Spotted Flycatcher. Three of them in the crown of one of the taller trees. Needless to say they didn't stay there too long and I spent the next ten minutes trying to refind them.

Then all hell broke loose, the Wheatear that had been perched on a log for most of the morning, became two (Stuart later finding six) and birds suddenly were flying everywhere, thanks to two eastern European women and their flock of ten unrestrained dogs. In amongst the melee of wings two Whinchat, so thanks ladies.

Tuesday was quieter, with just one Yellow Wagtail flying over, and a Tawny Owl calling from the Esso copse, or at least I was convinced it was an owl, but having heard the range of gurgles, warbles and melodies coming from the Jay's yesterday one never can tell.

Wednesday got better, so it could be the "every other day" rule applies. Three Whinchat this time, one a very differently plumaged bird, I presume one of this year's brood. No Wheatear, though Stuart found one later, and Spotted Fly very much in evidence. Interestingly they have appeared almost a week earlier than last year, and maybe we will have them for longer this!

Another flyover Yellow Wag, and a dark falcon from the south that dived into the canopy in Longwood, but suggested enough for it to be a Hobby, though I couldn't make out a white cheek, again I was wrong sided looking directly into the lightest part of the sky.

I haven't managed to get passed the flats yet, so who knows what's popping up in the old sewage works.

16 August 2011

Birdguides moves the goalposts

Red Kite?

Naah too common, sorry mate!

Green Sandpiper?

Ten a penny!

Spotted Flycatcher?

Naaah, but if you had a Redstart or a Whinchat, now your talking!

[Sometime later that morning]

Right, Whinchat

You got one?

No two, and 2 Wheatear, and 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Garden Warbler, 5 Lesser Whitethroat...

That'll do nicely.