31 December 2012


Went on a dry run (ha!) for the big day tomorrow. The consensus in the pub last night was that it won't be brilliant on the 1st, not as good as last year (as it will be tomorrow), with it being quiet'n'all. Having spent all yesterday recovering from exuberant imbibing, I was just happy to be able to walk and focus. Wind tossed gulls everywhere and those not being tossed around in the wind paddling and picking in the new pools on the footy pitches.  More Lessers and Herrings than Tim got on Sunday, but still nothing to get the heart racing.

Wandering through the SSSI I picked up a small goose hurtling down wind, dark with a big white bum, woo hoo a Brent! "Bullocks": was Mr Lethbridge's encouraging reply to my text.  Disney has obviously worn off.

The Firecrest was singing sub-song in the little woodland north of the Alex, and there could be 2 birds, which no doubt will be no birds tomorrow. Naff all else bar loads of Gadwall flying about: 15 over the Alex itself (with another 30 doing not a lot on the lake), and flocks of over 30 whizzing around the park, which really buggered up my count as they were probably the ones already included from the basin.

So 43 species on the flats and a pitiful 38 in the park for a combined total of 52.  Missing both Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Skylark, Redpoll, Collared Dove, Coal Tit and a few other possibles like Bullfinch and Linnet.  So with the extra eyes of Tim and Jono tomorrow and maybe a few others it could be dire or not so dire.  The slate is clean.

So 2012: good, bad, indifferent? I think we are pretty much all in agreement that, while we didn't top 2011, we got some pretty decent birds, records were broken, we welcomed new members to the task, and a few additions to the burgeoning list.  Personally I had a pretty good year.  If I ignore the amount of time spent working the patch, it was my best year yet.  Close enough to the 150 that it would be nice to bag it next/this year.  My best bird this year, apart from today's Brent, has to be the Hawfinch, better still after getting some god-awful pictures of it. The Wryneck, of course deserves a mention, and finding not one but 5 Pied Flycatcher is pretty special.  The Marsh Harrier another contender, as was the day of 4 Kite. My Grey Plover in the fantastic cold snap, along with the Steve's Smew, and the Jack Snipe.  Yup a pretty good year and that's not even counting the Greenshank.

Jono will be happy with his Short-eared Owl, his Golden Plover call probably the loudest I've ever heard him, the Snipe, Smew and Mandarin.  Now he waits for Wheatear.

Bob, back into the game after a few year's sabbatical, was more than pleased with his new birds: Ring Ouzel, Waxwing and the others I forget.  Tony's prize the Wryneck, with a supporting cast of Wood Lark and Golden Plover. Tim in the right place at the right time for the Jack Snipe, has probably spent too much time with moths and should get out more, but judging by what he told us in the pub, he hasn't had much time to do anything editing this and that and chairing the WREN Group.

Stevey T, found a few good birds; the Smew, Mandarin and the year's first SOE, good job!.

New patcher Dan Hennessy, contributed a couple of the Pied Flys, the flyover Godwit and the Goldeneye  - so more of the same next year please.

Stu, now and infrequent visitor, still managed to pull some good-uns out of the hat, again! Rook, Cuckoo on our patch and the massive Melodious just down the road from his house. Congratulations too, on being E-Birds birder of the month, which isn't a sleazy centre spread award, apparently.

Of the irregulars, a big up to Barry Bishop and his understated "There's a Marsh Harrier". And to anyone else who's popped in to one of London's best birding sites - to you all thank you.

Bring it on.

23 December 2012

A Christmas post

Since I will be looking after the folks in between eating too much, this will be the last hurrah before crimbo. Not much to tell: a lot of gulls today.  I mean a lot! A rough guess at around 2,000 at the various locations on the flats.  I only checked the police scrape cos I was late out again. Mostly Black-heads and Commoners, with a few big-uns thrown in.  As I slipped off park-ward via Costa, I gave the playing fields a once over.  White spots everywhere and more no doubt lingering by the lakeside at the Alex.

Gull pics on the off chance that one might be interesting, wrong again!  There were a few others there too

After faffing round Reservoir then Bush Wood (1 Nuthatch!), a detour via the basin (many Gadwall), I ended up in the Old Sewage Works as it was getting dark.  Did the same thing on Saturday, I am searching for Goosander you see.  The Ilford Golf Course has some nice new water hazards which are much to the liking of our Mallards.  If the Roding rises any further the golf club might seriously have to consider water sports.

As I stood watching darkness grip the land a Sparrowhawk flew towards me and had a pop at something which looked like a bat to me through the bins, a big one. However I thought I got some white on its wing, which would make it not a bat, but a bat shaped wader bird.  But it didn't fly like a wader and I could get any hint of a bill.  It gradually disappeared up the river.  So today I thought: might get a repeat.  I got 2 in the form of Pipistrelle, which just goes to show how warm it has been of late. As long as they can catch midges they'd be alright, though I did see some moths on the wing.

But mainly the OSW was about gulls.  Hundreds of them. I could see loads feeding or roosting towards the railway line and every now and then a big flock of several hundred would wheel past northwards. Most, I could make out, were Black-headed, with a few Common and here and there small parties of Herring Gull and some LBBGs.  Before it got too dark to see I estimated 1,300 BHGs had passed me.

I stood there a bit longer, because it was peaceful.  OK you've got the North Circular just a few hundred yards away, but no people, no dogs.  The nearest bit of Wanstead we've got to nearly countryside, apart from the woody bits of course.  I also was hoping for a Barn Owl, well you never know.  And thinking of owls made me decide it could be now or never with our Tawnies.  Not really wanting to go all the way to Bush Wood I dawdled, stood a bit and listened.  It was nearly an hour later when I got to the Shoulder of Mutton.  I could just make out the flashes of the Tufties on the lake - they like to roost here.  Then I heard my first London owl of the year calling from Reservoir Wood.  Job done.  Would be nice to have all the owls for London this year, but Little Owls are harder to come by than you think, so maybe next year when I go for the 200+ in London-pointless-year-listing-exercise-thing.

It also means that we don't have to have our annual drinks in Wanstead or The North Star (even with its delicious French bar staff) on the off chance of hearing owls en route.  It can be the Golden Fleece.  So if you fancy a pint Sunday the 30th is the date.

Happy xmas

20 December 2012

An early Christmas present

As I was going to drunk on Friday night, I thought (rightly) to spend some money before the inevitable.  Knowing full well that my nearest and dearest would be buying me another shirt, perhaps socks, or ill fitting retro underwear, I decided to treat myself.  My second-hand (let's not get ahead of ourselves here!), Sigma DG 150-500mm was delivered remarkably speedily and I was able to go and play with it first thing Monday morning.  It will I am sure take a bit of getting used to.  It wobbles a bit so I started on the big stuff, steadily progressing to flying stuff and a few bits of small stuff that let me arse around with the focusing, which is slightly slower than the old Canon 400mm.

Technical stuff over, I mean after all I am still point and click - usually with the right ending pointing targetward. I am just happy that all my efforts didn't end in the bin and I have cause to regret my compulsion.  So from now on you'll get moorhen for you money, and hopefully less cropping than a heavily subsidised field of wheat.

13 December 2012


Had high hopes for today when London disappeared from view from our lofty tower at Canary Wharf.  Smashing I thought: cold snap and fog = lost birds. Great.

An hour after my alarm went off I managed to keep awake long enough to get out of bed and put the kettle on.  Late on to the flats it didn't appear I'd missed anything, or I'd missed the lot.  Either way I couldn't see or hear anything.

A quick trundle with hope in my stride, became a crawl as all my best sites turned up blank.  Back on the loop home and standing in the little woodland to the north of the Alex, the Firecrest popped up just above my head and gave me and the auto-focusing a torrid time, but I am, smugly, rather pleased with results....

Happier.  I thought I might get back earlier to process the pics and upload them before I go to work. So instead of going via Long Wood, I took the diagonal/straight route across the Corporation's new mown areas. A couple of Lapwing, seemingly looking to land, caught my attention over Long Wood.  Any Lapwing on the deck is worth 10x one flapping over, so I rushed off a text and rushed off to the wood.

N-n-n-nineteen!  They actually looked quite at home.  Jono even got there to see them fly off.

Then another 22 flew west.  Visi-migging is what it's all about!

7 December 2012

Firecrest, Alex

A bit late getting out of the pit on Wednesday I decided to change my route crossing the broom fields to centre copse and then along the little ditch that separates the two playing fields.  I stopped to practise a few shots at a male Reed Bunting feeding in the grass, pretending it could have been a rare vagrant.  While I was at it a waderish call came from behind me and disappeared over Forest Gate.  Saw nothing and I have no idea what it was, it just sounded waderish!

The bunting hid in the long grass, and I moved on towards Alex and the scrub that lies to the east of it.  At the back where the tall mature trees form a small copse, a flicker caught my eye.  A flicker that showed a rather nice white eye stripe. The Firecrest of the title.  Shouldn't really have some as a surprise, considering the City of London Cemetery if full of suitable evergreens, and maybe it was the same bird Jono got about a month back by the scrub to the east of Centre Road.  It didn't hang about and vanished while I was texting the news out.  I gave up looking after about half an hour and wandered back to the Alex.  Here I met "next day" Keith, who had come to look for the bird.  He thought he might have had it in the holly just by the lake, but he also said he might have just had a Caspian Gull on the lake where the gulls and Canadas wait to get fed. I persuaded him to show me his possible Caspo, which not surprisingly we couldn't find. Time up I left him and he went back to looking for crests.

Today I met up with Josh and I towed him round the park, Old Sewage Works and back to the Alex, looking for sawbills or any other cold weather movement birds.  We had drawn a blank and were just going to search Alex's scrub for the Firecrest when it popped up in the self same holly Keith had been staring at the day before.  Josh by the way, another new birder for the patch, had discovered the Firecrest were back in Bush Wood towards the middle of November, and he's been a bit of a lucky talisman for me so it was only right and proper that he be there now.

220 shots later and the little gem flies off and we give it some peace. Now if it should stick around it may afford some very reasonable views, not like the ones in Bush Wood, which are much harder to pin down, but then with FCs popping up all over London, how many might be lurking in the evergreen world of the hereafter just across the road?