31 October 2011

Here come the gulls...

A quiet day on the flats this morning. Only the Wood Pigeons were making any effort in numbers and movement, so I headed off to the park. Tufty numbers are on the up and I counted nearly fifty without even looking at the ornamental waters. The Pochard weren't doing much, but at least they were awake.

I had a quick look for any returning Water Rail at the west end of Perch, but the swamp is in need of some water - a deluge. Nothing. A flock of tits were feeding in the willows, among them a couple of Goldcrest flitted through the leafless canopy. The open water held 17 Tufties and and a similar number of, now, very elegant Gadwall, while a Heron stalked the margins.

Down in the old sewage works I mused about refinding the otter Steve saw last week. Apparently, according to the park rangers Steve had spoken to, someone has released an Asian Short-toed creature into the park at some point, and the rather smaller version of our own indigenous variety is what he concluded he must have seen. Unfortunately there was nothing in the Roding but rubbish and a sofa. A Kingfisher did make an appearance and landed on some weeds further downstream, briefly.

On the way back I heard Bullfinch and tracked one as it flew high over the golf course south. One day I'll get a photo, but they do seem very wary. Their presence added to the feeling of anticipation that something good was about to happen, and I would have happily stayed longer, but work beckoned and I had yet to trudge round the Alex.

It was still gloomy when I finally reached the flats again. Shoveler swam in and out of the encroaching willows and a smart male Teal fed along on the shore of one of the islands. The female Wigeon put in appearance and has probably been there all the time I missed her last week. It would be nice if we had a long staying Pintail, or a diving duck but the disappearance of the all the Little Grebe and the solitary Tufty suggests that there is not much of interest in the slowly shrinking pond.

But gulls there were. Common Gull are now as abundant as the Black-heads, and with numbers on the up you've got to check them all, just in case. So I did.

The Mediterranean Gull appeared barely able to keep its eyes open as it floated round in the wake of its more energetic cousins. Smart bird though. I think the fourth record this year, all of which I've found. Not bad for someone who's crap at gulls.

26 October 2011

Busy visi-migging time

I am back from the Scillies. Horrible place: midges, birds I wasn't familiar with (life ticks apparently!), too many hills, cars, people, dogs and the weather was truly awful as well. But happily I am back on the flats now and although the Wheatear, Whinchat and most of the warblers seemed to have scarpered, and the ouzels didn't put too much effort in appearing it's visi-mig time.

I like visi-migging. It takes very little effort except that of keeping warm and there's always the Esso garage for coffee and a hot bite to keep your enthusiasm up. Last year was pretty epic, with large flocks of finches (including Brambling) and the occasional mega in the form of Lapland Bunting to look out for.

Halfway down the brooms there's a path that runs diagonally through the tall stuff. There's a couple of small hawthorns that birds like to perch in (last year a Yellowhammer obliged us by sitting up in the leaf free canopy - patch tick for Tim, and previously Stu's Dartford Warbler frequented its lofty position), this is where I like to stand. All around you have large amounts of sky, depending of course on whether the sun is shining or not. Birds appear to be funneled through between the park to the north and the housing estates or they fly along the edges of the flats to the north, south and west. This is what we think, however without being two places at one time, who can tell.

The best time is obviously just after dawn, while the traffic noise is still subdued and the dog walkers are at a minimum. For a great morning the wind has to be just right with preferably some cloud cover forcing the birds lower. This year there's been nothing but southerlies so the autumn like the spring has been a bit naff as most stuff has just shot through without adding an overnight stay.

Earlier in the month Meadow Pipit were still streaming in, now though it is the turn of the thrushes, the finches and Wood Pigeon. Today was Goldfinch day, not record breaking numbers, singles, pairs and small flocks. Yesterday it was Redwing, 200 and more of them, tomorrow it could something else, but always the Wood Pigeon. Tim counted over 1,000 of them feeding on the football pitches a week or so ago. Flocks of all sizes can be seen mostly heading south, but just to confuse things a lot of them turn around and come back, thus making any meaningful count of their numbers a tad difficult. So most of the time I don't bother. Come the cold weather their movements will more decided and the pencil guided across the blank page.

Always though there's the expectation of something special. Last week 2 Crossbill called as they flew over the Alex (OK I'd wandered off from the visi-mig viewpoint by this time: after 09:00-ish not a lot happens): Jonno got a similar treat vis-migging from his garden when 8 chupping birds flew north. Another day a Goshawk floated low over my shoulder and over Longwood (contentious - get over it!) lazy wing beats and close enough to make out the fine barring on its underside and its black cap, however not slow enough that I could get the sodding camera to focus on it. Arse! It later reappeared going south over Alex flushing everything in its path, on both occasions there was enough in the air, fleeing admittedly, to get a very good sense of scale. And to add grist to the mill (?) shortly afterwards a female Sparrowhawk was harried across the brooms by a couple of brave again corvids.

The small amounts of rain we've had over the last couple of days have brought us a couple of Blackcap and some Chiffies, whether they are migrants or just long-stayers that I've missed I can't be sure. What is certain is that unsettled weather is what we want. I've new waterproofs, wellies and a coat. The pencil is sharpened ready.

Bring it on.

9 October 2011

Sandhill blues


I know for a fact there are 4 birders in the UK who didn't manage to see the Sandhill Crane. We were planning to trip up there today, but the bugger offed on Friday afternoon and has now disappeared - probably lunch somewhere in France. This made me sad on Saturday and I had trouble getting up. I thought about Drain'em Marshes, but that would have probably pushed me over the top, so I watched the rugby, which made my mood slightly better, and so trolled out around 11:00.

Soon my mood returned. Stuart had got another (or the same) Woodlark again on the flats, but when I got there it was already full of other people enjoying themselves. How awful!

Got followed around Long Wood, by a fat bloke in glasses, not a fan of my prose I guessed.

With a lack of anything interesting to look at I ventured in Bush Wood, with an idea to find Firecrest, surely they must be back by now. Tower Hamlets cemetery has got them. We, it transpires don't.


I was getting pretty morose now. Alongside Heronry hundreds of Wood Pigeon took to the air and scattered aimlessly across the sky. All week I'd been noticing this activity and had searched in vain for the reason. This time the reason was all to obvious. A juv/female Goshawk soared over the tree line to the south, scattering corvids and sundry in its path. A bit contentious I know, but at least this time I had plenty of other objects to give some idea of the size of this bird. Big! Anywhere any time else I would have probably jumped at Buzzard due to its size and then changed my mind. It was big!

Feeling better now.

A minute or so later I felt a whole lot better as a Woodlark bounced down the avenue, calling! Sweet!

It reminded me of my night walk from Ipswich to see the Roller (which I didn't), come the morning Woodlark, were displaying all around me, consolation for missing the gawky blue bird.

On the way home in the gathering dark, I thought I'd check out the Alex to see if Stu's Wigeon had survived the day and had not been hit on the head with a stale loaf. In the gloaming I could just make it out. Sweet!

Sunday and I still can't get out of bed on time. Watched the end of the rugby...

Stuart was already at Long Wood when I dawdled up. He had braved the rain, but was still lamenting losing his Macdonalds through the bottom of a wet bag.

We stood in the broom field and chuntered some, as Blackbird and Song Thrush chased each other through the bushes. Stu had got the first Redwing earlier that morning, and on cue another "seee"-d its way down the wood. A Wheatear popped up on the log just close by and then we heard the unmistakable call of a Woodlark as it rose out of the grass with some mipits and a couple of Skylark. And a little later and from the same direction a beaming Mr Harris, who had picked up the bird as it flew over his head, a patch tick for him.

Waddya mean you can't see it

This was getting interesting. A few finches, some unidentifiable on account of their silence, a juvenile Hobby circling as it moved eastwards and the Woodlark again. Could it be a stayer?

The Wigeon certainly was, and evidently one that was still in eclipse plumage; it's raspberry ripple head still to grow through.

The afternoon: too many calories at the little tea shop of happiness, no Firecrest, but a showy Grey Wagtail and a busy pager it's siren buzz insisting that I consider returning to the Scillies next weekend. I am weak.

4 October 2011

Black gold

Met up with Mr Harris on the flats Tuesday.

"Quiet today!"

"Yes, quiet."

"This time last year, we'd had Ring Ouzel, and Redwing..."

"Yes quiet today."

We circumnavigate Long Wood. The southside towards the broom fields.

A small party of Song Thrush rise up from the brooms, flushed by a dog. Maybe remnants of the small fall from Monday, which brought many a quip from the recipients of my text mentioning an incidence of thrush.

Then Mr Harris spots two Ring Ouzel in the next batch of disturbed birds. More like it. The mood changes immediately. We try and refind them and fail (Stuart later refound the male holed up at the east end of Long Wood that afternoon). It's a start and if it's anything like last year, we're in for a busy couple of weeks.

One from the spring before you ask

Our pondering, and wishful thinking also provided 3 Wheatear and 2 Whinchat breaking the drought of the last week, and what with Stuart's Woodlark on Saturday, the east end of Long Wood is becoming "the" place again.

2 October 2011

September, short but sweet

Funny month September, only half a month really, but a gem.


The Hobby fledge 3 young
Returning Siskin and Lesser Redpoll
Whimbrel heard on the 2nd
The mention of Osprey makes Jono smile (go on try it!)
Rock Pipit over Alex
Red-breasted Goose wins best looking goose award

With only half a month on offer, the hunt was on to get some good stuff before it and we buggered off. The Wryneck was a no show, but Jono finally got his much dreamed of Osprey (London and patch tick) on the 7th, it's early morning flap across Alex scattering hundreds of pigeons set us thinking: had it roosted in the park?

Other raptor news: the Hobby fledged 3 young in the ornamental waters with all five soaring majestically over the woods on occasions joined by the local Sparrowhawks. A Common Buzzard was seen at the other end of the park moving gracefully south on the 10th, and Kestrel became more apparent on the flats usually accompanied by a bevy of Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies.

Hirundine movement south peaked on the 17th with over 1,100 birds in just over 2 hours as observed at the tea hut of happiness by Tim Harris, with one flock of over 750 birds. Other smaller movements, but none the less still impressive, were of 100 + Swallow, 40 + House Martin and 30 + Sand Martin on the 12th and on the 20th when 300 + Swallow were followed south by 200 + House Martin. Large numbers of Meadow Pipit were also counted moving south during the month peaking at over 100+ on the 15th, Tree Pipit were recorded on several occasions (2 on both the 9th and 10th and 1 on the 19th), and a Rock Pipit made its mark on a day of more mass movement of Mipit on the 14th. Yellow Wagtail were heard most days with a high number of 11 on the 15th, and even Grey and Pied Wagtail put in appearances on a number of days.

Our favourite migrants, the chats, were well represented on most days with Wheatear reaching a high of 7 + birds on the 9th, Whinchat never reached the high numbers of previous years and could be pretty hard to find, especially at the weekends. Common Redstart were recorded on 3 days and a Stonechat even put in a showing on the 26th, only the 3rd record this year.

With strong winds on many days warblers were sometimes in hiding and during the course of the month their numbers gradually started to fall with the last Lesser Whitethroat seen on the 9th. Only Chiffchaff numbers held up at the end of the month, but there's still time for a fall if and when the weather changes in early October. By the end of the month Goldcrest had started appearing more regularly on the flats and were becoming more evident in the park too.

Spotted Flycatcher numbers peaked at 11 for the whole patch on the 10th (9 on the flats and 2 in the park), but, as with the warblers, some days they were hard to pin down because of the wind.

Finches started coming back, the first Siskin taking me by surprise on the 9th as it called but was not seen. In the following days small flocks were an almost daily occurrence and they would be joined by Lesser Redpoll (10 on the 15th) in the middle of the month. Chaffinch became more obvious, their numbers swelled by early migrants and Reed Bunting were seen on more than one occasion.

Local birder Gary Hewett, had a Whimbrel calling over his garden just to the south of the flats, the first record this year, and a possible Pink-footed Goose on the 13th could have been a feral bird, while the same day the RB Goose added a bit of colour to the Alex as it's tour of the home counties continues. Another could have been, and about-bloody time if it had have been, was a Redshank call on the 12th as Katia's last throws were experienced by the country as a whole, however one call does not a tick make, so we wait on.

Common Tern were recorded on one just one day, the 10th, with 2 flying east over the flats, and another fishing on Heronry. We've suggested a tern raft to the wardens, who appear quite happy at the prospect...

Finally our wintering ducks are coming back with Tufty numbers picking up in the park and Pochard hitting 19 on Heronry on the 10th.

Bring on the ouzels.....

... and it's June again


It's June again, except for the better weather (now rather than then). Back from Shetland I had longed to get back on the flats and in the park to reacquaint myself with the Wheatear, Whinchat and Spotted Fly and the supporting cast of warblers. There weren't any, but what there was were people. Probably more than whole population of the Shetland archipelago, and their hideous dogs, children, toys, games and rubbish; none of which I had missed one bit.

I gamely had ago at kicking some cover and "swishing" half-heartedly but the magic of those northern isles had gone, and it was too bloody warm. Tony (Brown) and I tried to make a Dunnock into a Whinchat, a Robin into a Spotted Flycatcher, but it was no use June has tricked us and we're back in its thrall.

Can't say too much about Shetland, because as the title of the blog suggests, this is Wanstead, as far removed from the Shetland's as you can possibly get, unless of course your in the Scillies; and I can't say much about that yadda yadda....

Just a quick hello to my fellow guidees, who I know will now be following the blog, and a big thank you to Martin Garner (him!) for letting me prattle on about what a great patch we have. Luckily for all my camera broke on day 3 so no irrelevant insertions from there. Have this Robin instead...