28 April 2015

April: not quite dead yet

At last a Wheatear picture I am pleased with.  And a chat and a streak...

... and the patch is not quiet June dead yet: both Bob and Tony notched up Hobby.  Can we get 2morebirds in 2 days? Probably not  now I've raised the question.

25 April 2015

Singing Wood Warbler

 Tony's done us proud again.  Sloping off after a morning coffee with prime task of bagging the Garden Warbler back on its old haunt, he only goes and nails a singing Wood Warbler. Rare enough in London at the best of time, rarer in spring and only Bob has heard a singing Wood Warbler on patch before. We others were heading off to the Alex to find something good there - well it felt that kind of day - when he called.  We hurriedly back-tracked.  After a bit of a scare we all caught up with the smart bird singing intermittently in the increasing rain.

Wanstead finest (left to right): Tony B, "Badger" Bob V, Jono L, Dan H (obscured by) Tim H, Stuart F

The poor Garden Warbler was largely ignored.

A good day was embellished by a smart Whinchat, 4 Wheatear, a singing Reed Warbler on Shoulder of Mutton, a Sedge by the Roding, an elusive Common Sandpiper on Heronry and lastly a Red Kite overthe Alex - who needs Hudsonian Godwits.

23 April 2015

Spring Whinchats in Wanstead

Tim Harris, 22/4/2015

After seeing this pristine-plumaged Whinchat on an unmown strip between blocks of football pitches on Wanstead Flats on Saturday morning (18 April) – and after seeing Nick and Tony's great photos of the bird (some of which appear with this article) - I was inspired to look back over our spring records.  

To put things in context, this gorgeous bird winters in sub-Saharan Africa and breeds in uncultivated, often damp, areas in north-west, northern and eastern Europe – though sadly no longer in London, where the last confirmed breeding was at Rainham in 1989. Pairs have certainly summered in that area since then, but for Wanstead its status is of a passage migrant in autumn and to a lesser extent in spring. Returning birds are regularly seen in some numbers in late August and September, when Wanstead Flats is one of the best London sites (with a peak count of 13 in 2009). Notably also, autumn birds tend to stick around for a few days. 

Spring migration is much more of a rush and passage dates are more tightly concentrated. When trawling back through old bird reports I was surprised to find years when no spring birds had been seen at all, though we are hampered by a very incomplete set of local records. In the years 1976-81, during which there were published records, the only migrant noted in spring was a male on 8 May 1977. The recent picture is healthier, though whether that represents more individuals stopping off here on their way north – or simply much better observer coverage – is impossible to say. 

One thing is clear: the male Whinchat found at the western end of the Flats by Dan Hennessey on 16 April is the earliest record we’ve had in the recent sequence of reports, dating back to 2009. Indeed, it could be the earliest record ever. It is also an exception to the rule of thumb that passage locally is pretty much confined to the last week of April and the first week of May. Assuming Dan’s individual and the bird found at the eastern end of the Flats two days later were the same (and they may well not have been), there have been five April birds and eight in May, with the latest being a male near the broom on the Flats on 11 May 2012 and a female in the same area on the same date in 2014. There have been seven males, three females and three unspecified. The best recent springs were 2012 and 2014, with at least three birds each, though there’s still plenty of time for that total to be matched this year! And the best places to look are on and around the broom south of Long Wood, in the SSSI and in the scrubby grassland opposite the Golden Fleece. And here’s to plenty more!

21 April 2015

Singing Whinchat

Our run of new birds came to an abrupt stop on Sunday, but today a Lesser Whitethroat made it's presence known, to me at least.  That leaves but a few more regular summer migrants to come: Hobby, Garden Warbler and Common Tern - and maybe a few odds and sods before we reach the sod that is June and July. There's still good reason to go out early doors and wander the flats,and today was no exception.  Jono found (refound) a corking male Whinchat down by the ditch that runs towards the Alex, where Saturday's bird was. Using the ditch as cover I thought I'd give it a go and see if I could improve on my woeful spring Whinchat images. What I hadn't expected was for the bird to start singing - a song I haven't heard since I was in Wales for the Marmora's Warbler a few years back. Well worth the wait and the wet trousers.

16 April 2015

Dan saves the day

 To hear that your colleagues, not five miles away, have themselves a Hoopoe does not necessarily fill you with optimism for the morning ahead.  Good that there are such birds around, but bad in that there a) not on your patch; b) it's probably going to top trump what if anything you do find; and c) it's not likely to come this away.  I am very happy for them, really! No really!

We were set for the worst case scenario with only the RLP, which had managed to survive into day 3 in the Dog Caliphate, in the plus column.  Then Dan nails a stonking male Whinchat as he's leaving the flats by the Dane's Rd School scrub. Luckily I was in the SSSI so I yomped over, needless to say so did Bob.  Good to see a bit of serious competition going on, though of course there will be other Whinchats easier and closer. Dan's back in school next week so we need a few more goodies from him before then...

14 April 2015

Gropper way to start the day

The day was tanking slowly as a large group of birders (well three) escorted Mr Lethbridge off the patch: like gulls following a trawler they've learnt that things happen after he leaves. Obstensibly we were looking for yesterday's Sedge Warbler but a message from Tim changed all that, and then the day went crazy! Reeling Gropper in the Old Sewage Works.

Marco charged off on his bike, while Mr L, Dan and I hot footed it behind. I texted Barry B, who was on ouzel watch, an alternative to fruitless thrush hunting.  His answer a Red-legged Partridge wandering around the paths on the flats.  Now here was a kind of dilemma. Gropper, obviously the better bird, but a Partridge! only old Badger Bob had been privy to the last record of one of them.  We of course went for the warbler, hoping that the RLP would survive ending up the wrong end of a dog in the meantime.

We met Marco at the top of the OSW studying a bramble and thorn patch.  For twenty minutes we helped him watch this patch - full of Dunnock and Robin and a very grey Chiffy, which all had us going.  Then the gropper sang, close by and glorious.  It even showed a couple of times, needless to say the best views I've had of this reclusive bird.

Jono was the first to break, late for work he thought to give the RLP a go on the way to the station.  We stayed put and were joined by Tim,who'd finished his reptile/breeding bird survey for the morning. A Peregrine circled overhead and then a Tree Pipit called and landed nearby in a tree. When it flew off it was joined by two others as it sailed off over the park. Things as they say were cooking.

Now we decided to hunt the game bird that had managed to elude Mr L, but not before a coffee on the way. We met Barry, who had not seen anything since his last text, and with no immediate Red-legged action we wandered over to the SSSI to tick Bob's Whitethroat (fresh in that morning). That took all of 20 seconds when we got to the tree it was in, so I veered back back on news that Marco had the RLP doing the paths again.  By the time I got there he'd lost it.  You had one thing to do Marco!

Thirty minutes of circling the brooms and I find it sauntering about the main path.  Job done and a patch life tick in among a four tick day, now if only a Redstart would appear.  Dan would get that pleasure later that afternoon.  Can't be too greedy I suppose...

12 April 2015

Wibbly wobblers: the weekend was cobblers

Early morning on the flats is wonderful, you are full of expectation - which doesn't happen.  You wander around some more thinking something must happen, it doesn't. Hours later your heartily sick of the rest of the human race (especially Maltese gunmen) and that's it: back to work thinking about the following weekend and how it will be better, when it wont. Aaah the week days, less is more and all that!

11 April 2015

Swallow on a stick

It was meant to be brilliant today; rain early morning and then clear, apart from the strong breeze - potential migrant-tastic. Well the BBC got that wrong, and it was rubbish.  Tony held out to get a female Wheatear, while most sensible people went home - I went to the park. Some Swallow there had an equally dim view of the weather and I of them.

After the sun came out and nothing was forthcoming in the park I tried again for Redstart, or anything back on the flats.

Zip, but some close Mistle Thrush; one having a bath while the other collected, what at first I thought was mud but on closer inspection, insects.  Which begs the question, who was looking after the kids?  A friendly Magpie?