21 November 2015

Am I Gull able?

After tedious mild weather for weeks, it snowed this morning! Big flakes for a short while. Had to get out there, but where are the gloves and why didn't I empty my Wellies of spiders before I put them on? Finally, checking the Bush Wood football pitches through the rain indicated a substantial hard weather movement of birds had taken place, there were about 75% fewer gulls.

Jubilee didn't look much better, a male Pochard, a pair of Shovelers, a few gulls of course. Many birders get off on gulls, practice the art of feather tracts, discuss aging features and anchor marked tertials etc. I know I should do this, but I find gulls highly variable and just a little technical and scary. One 1st winter gull by the waters edge looked distinctly odd though, quite a small "large" gull but with a whitish flat head, dark-eye, long straight bill, long-legged - hmm....

The main thing is not to panic, so I extracted my camera from under the "waterproof", took of my sodden gloves and took a shot. The second didn't fire, flat battery! It was of course pissing down, so I looked out the spare battery (da dah! last time I ran out I missed shots of a perched patch Short-eared Owl FFS) reloaded, aimed and fired of a few before my fingers became completely numb. Here:

The focus and detail isn't great but I've put it out as a possible 1st winter Caspian Gull. So far I've had some support, but please comment, potential patch tick out there to be slagged off.

Oh! nearly forgot, the guy's caught up with a duck, just one female Goldeneye on Alex and later on SOM. My pictures are of course rubbish, but Nick's got some good ones. Some people just like the pretty stuff.   

14 November 2015

Plastic and other bits

November gloomily goes on as a procession of wet fronts and wind roll in from the south west.  Grotty enough for me not to get the camera out very often, and not grotty enough for there to be anything worthwhile getting the camera out for.  It looked like that might have changed this week when I spotted an interesting duck on the Heronry.  Big blue bill, could it be? Ruddy Duck it wasn't, but what it actually was–quite beyond me too!  Luckily "Gaucho" Bob was shadowing me, and with his wealth of experience in South America quickly called it a Silver Teal. This was the second bird though, the first had flown of earlier in the company of Mallard, that well known inter-continental carrier of things exotic. His picture below shows quite clearly this bird was un-ringed and therefore completely pukka for a UK first.  Shame then that we are pretty certain it came from Connaught Water and the careless wildfowl collection that's in the vicinity.

 Pic: Gaucho Bob

Nice duck for all that.

So I won't be scooping maximum finders and bonus points in the Patchwork Challenge. Here I am getting stuffed.  What was the Inner London League has now morphed into the Inland South Mini-league, pitting me against the likes of Ham Wall, Somerset (the small matter of Hudsonian Godwit) and some other noteworthy patches–none of course within four miles of the centre of of our capital. My nearest geographical rival, Graham White (aka The Grumpy Naturalist, aka Billy bloodworm) at Rye is also well ahead of me and causing me to think that perhaps Rye isn't as dull as I think. To be beaten by someone of his caliber is no disaster, but considering that with his ecological work overseas and in this country probably means he birds his patch considerably less than me–perhaps I should be more embarrassed.

It's that time of year again.  The time of year when I put off doing the hours needed to get the Bird Report out.  This year I have unilaterally decided to go for a screen show format, rather than one that looks like it could be printed out, but never will be, but in the spirit of true democracy I open up the decision of what goes on the cover to the wider blog space audience.

It looked like the decision had already been made for us from way back in the early weeks of January and the pretty black and white duck, which proved popular to bird starved London ornos. Wheatear (been done), Wryneck (done), Golden Plover, Skylark, Lapland Bunting all covered (and in the case of the last bird not recorded–yet!). So what other contenders were there: my Short-eared Owl didn't even get a nod from my colleagues in the early fashion parade (jealousy), and even Jono's sublime Redstart shots got only the one vote! So it looks like a one horse race, but that's because I had forgotten Allen, or at least considering most of the images I got–was trying to forget our short stay Red-legged Partridge. Jono of course did the job on the game bird. As for the Slav, it's down to whose slav is it anyway Mr Brown's or him again!

If any of our many visitors this year would like to add a piece on their experience of, what without question, is London's best site for passerine migrants (Redstarts, Whinchat, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher), they would be very welcome.

So to the contenders:

The quality of the above may have been compromised somewhat by me copying the images off the blog

 A selection of JL's

 "Allen" – Jono Lethbridge

 Back cover shot (one of mine)

Another of mine, probably in need of capturing the sympathy vote

JL's Redstart.  I know some are the wrong shape!

I did this

And just look what you're missing out on

Finally, as we always bang on about how good our patch is, when it's good, I thought I'd give you my take on the other great sites that London has to offer, especially as in a few year's time some of them will be no more (unless we fight to stop developers trashing them!). Obviously you can't lump somewhere like Rainham in with Staines Reservoir for example, so I've tried (in my own feeble way) to categorise them.


Staines Reservoir
Queen Mother
William Girling
Walthamstow complex


Rainham RSPB
Crayford Marshes

Gravel workings or former industrial sites

Tyttenhanger GPs
Stocker's Lake
Barking Bay (now done for)
London Wetland Centre 
Lea Valley

River sites

Gallion's Reach
West Tilbury
Barking Mouth


Dagenham Chase
Wanstead Flats
Fairlop Waters
Wormwood Scrubs

Reed bed/Mixed

Ingrebourne Valley
Rye Meads
70 Acres Lake (Lea Valley)


Richmond Park
Regents Park
Hyde Park
Bushy Park
Hampstead Heath
Wanstead Park

 Just a bit of fun and probably missed a lot of good places too!


1 November 2015

October: The Cinderella month of migration

I come back from Shetland to find... not a lot really, very few reports logged on the London Bird Club site–fellas you only had one job to do! I could go back through the sporadic twitter feed I was getting, when a signal allowed in Shetland, but there's only a few nuggets that need to be added.

Top of those nuggets was Jono's calling (singular) Yellow-browed Warbler by the ornamentals on the 11th, but not seen by him or anybody who turned up to look for it.  With so many hitting Britain this autumn I thought it was an odds on bet that one would turn up here eventually, indeed I thought I'd bagged one in a line of sycamore just up from the stables a week or so later, but I suspect it was a Coal Tit being pratty. I tried briefly to make a Wren into a Dusky Warbler and later a young Common Buzzard in to a Rough-legged, but even I could see I was not going to score on either of those.

Short-eared Owls are as common as muck this autumn too, with virtually everybody in London having one or more on their patch. We just amassed two on the 6th and 25th, there will no doubt be more.

Best bird for Bob was his first Woodlark, which did the decent thing and flew over our heads and called.  He is regretting not making a more successful effort at locating his accro that was edging it's way around the edge of Jubilee, the lack of a brown wash on the flanks and its pale appearance put him in mind of a Blythe's Reed Warbler, which again considering the amount of birds this year wouldn't have been at all surprising. Jono's regret was that Bob was standing with us when the Woodlark came over.

Only the three Ring Ouzel this autumn, and all single day wonders.  Not the massive movement of winter Thrushes either, with just three counts of Redwing over 300 and just the one smallish, but big movement of Fieldfare and only one day of 20 Song Thrush. Stonechats were here and there, but usually gone tomorrow.

As for the last of the summer's migrants: Two Swallow on the 18th, were the only record for the month–it would appear, Chiffchaff held on till the end of the month, but Blackcap have not been seen since mid October and are, if there are any, in someone's garden hogging the suet. A late Yellow Wagtail was recorded on the 14th, while a Rock Pipit appeared around Alex on the 26th (only the fourth record in the last five years making it as rare as Wryneck).

Stuart has his Firecrest back, and again its another bird that everyone appears to be ticking off, apart from us and we're ticked off about it. James did find 50 + Goldcrest in Bush Wood in a stalwart effort to find one of the stripey headed buggers, but it looks like a lot more visits to Bush Wood will be required.

October is the month of Viz-mig, when finches bound across the air space of an early morning.  Sure enough there were a few days of good Chaffinch movement and several of Brambling, Stuart picking up the first on the 14th. It would appear there is a two week window in which these birds are more likely, after which they become the thing of dreams.  Redpoll numbers increased and they could seen or heard most day by the end of the month.  I say Redpoll as they'll soon be grouped as one species again before long (due to their identical DNA) and I am not allowed to say I can tell the difference in calls, even though we are hearing distinct calls, though not the distinct sizes. Siskin are back in the park, where they should be, with up to 30 + birds wandering around the park alder time!

Records are broken again: with water levels dropping on Heronry, and likely to drop more (I hear tell that the CoLC are looking for tenders to drain the lake by turning on the valve that apparently connects it with Perch), it's been a massacre of the innocents.  The innocents in question–fish.  Record numbers of Cormorant have been gobbling up mouthfuls of fry, while up to 14 Little Egret (plus one on the Roding) became the new record for the patch.

Records too in the world of duck:  21 Wigeon on the 12th looked pretty unbeatable for this frequent but not-common winter duck, high teens were seen all month, and then the record was mullered with 33 birds on the 31st, split between the ornamentals and Shoulder of Mutton, with one outlier on Alex making 34 birds in total. Could numbers go through the roof like for Gadwall (climbing slowly through the 200's). The Basin has sadly been missing out so far with virtually nothing on it bar some Egyptian Goose, it will certainly need to contribute if further records are to be broken. Wigeon, like Pochard, of which there have been very few, are early autumn birds for us so it will be interesting to see how long the numbers hold up!

Waders: 14 Lapwing, a possible Golden Plover, and a few Snipe.  With no boggy bits I can't see that improving much soon.

Finally that Mediterranean Gull, Valentino, came back.  Now in his 16th year, apparently, I am still not sure if anyone has ever managed to find out where he was ringed. His name from now on is Lazy of Alex, because he does bugger all when he is here!

the other stuff...


Wanstead Flats: 1w m Ring Ouzel, f Stonechat, 3 Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, 20 Linnet, pair Wigeon, f Pochard, 2 Skylark, 10 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 4 singing and 6 calling Chiffchaff (Bob Vaughan)


Wanstead Flats: Short-eared Owl (Jono Lethbridge) f Ring Ouzel (John Whele), 20 Herring, 20 Lesser Back, 10 Common Gull, 8 Song Thrush and a few dogs (Bob Vaughan)


Wanstead Flats: Stonechat, 2 Redwing, 4 Swallow east, 3 Teal, 2 Shoveler, 2 Chiffchaff, f Blackcap, 20 Herring, 20 Lesser Back, 10 Common Gull, Sparrowhawk (Bob Vaughan)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Tawny Owl calling from court grounds at 06.15-20, Firecrest, at least 6 Goldcrest, small group of migrant Blackbirds and Song Thrush, 4 Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Coal Tit, Sparrowhawk, 3 Redpoll, 2 Siskin (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Park: 21 Wigeon, 12 Shoveler, 50 plus Gadwall (Bob Vaughan).

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Vis-mig: included 17+ Song Thrush, 25 Redwing, 6 Blackbird, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Fieldfare, 2 Siskin, 8-10 Chaffinch, 3 Skylark. Also 19 Lesser Redpoll in birches, 2 f Wigeon on Eagle Pon, 15 Gadwall, 3 Shoveler (which later flew high NE), 2 Coal Tit, 15+ Jay, 6 Goldcrest (Stuart Fisher).


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Tawny Owl (06.20), c10 Goldcrest, 9 Redwing, 2 Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting, Wigeon, 8 Gadwall, no sign of Firecrests since Friday (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: 2 Stonechat, Yellow Wagtail, 9 Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, 6 Meadow Pipit, 10 Skylark (9 north), Linnet, Siskin, Redpoll, 20 + Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, 52 Gadwall, 14 Shoveler, 4 Teal, 3 Pochard, 2 Little Grebe, Kestrel, 4 Common Gull, Blackcap, 6 + Goldcrest, 7 Redwing (Nick Croft/Bob Vaughan)

Wanstead Park: 86 Gadwall, 18 Wigeon, 24 Shoveler, 5 Teal, 3 Little Grebe, 1st winter Great Crested Grebe, 120 + Redwing (west), Fieldfare, 10 + Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Bullfinch, 2 Siskin, Coal Tit, 1-3 Little Egret (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Brambling (heard over), 385 Redwing through, 6+ Goldcrest. Skylark over, 10+ Song Thrush, 4+ Lesser Redpoll, 3 Meadow Pipit, Tawny Owl (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Stonechat, Chiffchaff, 5 Goldcrest, 16 Linnet (11 later on Police Scrape), 3 Siskin, 2 Redpoll, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Meadow Pipit, 5 Pied Wagtail, Skylark, 2 Pochard, Little Grebe, 10+ Common Gull, Kestrel (Bob Vaughan/Nick Croft).

Wanstead Park: 25 + Siskin, 2 Nuthatch, 13 Goldcrest, 2 Coal Tit, 8 Egyptian Goose, 4 Teal, 139 Gadwall, 13 Shoveler, 19 Wigeon, 4 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe (Nick Croft).


Wanstead Flats: 77 Gadwall, 14 Shoveler, 5 Teal, 2 Chiffchaff, Blackcap, 7 Goldcrest, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 12 Common Gull, 2 Meadow Pipit, 34 Redwing (Nick Croft/Bob Vaughan)

Wanstead Park: 17 Wigeon, c. 100 Gadwall, 11 + Shoveler, 2 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 4 Little Egret, 7 Grey Heron, 36 Siskin, 13 Goldfinch mobbing a Sparrowhawk, 5 Goldcrest, 3 Chiffchaff (1 singing), Redwing (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: ad f Ring Ouzel (Long Wood), totals of 500 Redwing, 300 Fieldfare and 100 Chaffinch going west 07.00-10.30, 7 L Redpoll, Siskin, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Chiffy, 2 Blackcap (Tony Brown, James Heal, Bob Vaughan)


Wanstead Flats: ad Mediterranean Gull (ringed so presumably Valentino), 30+ Common Gull, 2 Swallow, Stonechat (reported), Bullfinch, 4 Siskin, 11 Linnet, Redpoll sp, 20+ Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, 8 Skylark through, Meadow Pipit, probable Golden Plover (h), 2 m Teal, 20+ Gadwall, 2 Pochard, 4 Shoveler, 5 Fieldfare, 10+ Redwing, 5+ Goldcrest, Kestrel (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: (WEBs) 153 Gadwall, 15 Wigeon, 14 Shoveler, 14 Egyptian Goose, 8 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 5 Little Egret, 5+ Chiffchaff, 8 Goldcrest, 10+ Siskin, Stonechat (reported in OSW) (Tim Harris/Wren Group/Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: 70 + Chaffinch, 17 Brambling, 22 Linnet, 3 Lesser Redpoll, Redpoll sp, 3 Siskin, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, 300 + Redwing, 60 + Fieldfare, 10 + Skylark (7 through), 6 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtil, 2 Chiffchaff, 6+ Goldcrest, Common Snipe, 50 + Common Gull, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 52 Gadwall, 5 Teal, 6 + Shoveler, 3 Pochard (Nick Croft/Barry Chandler/Jono Lethbridge) Mediterranean Gull on Alexandra Lake 13:00 (Andrew O'Brien)

Wanstead Park: Water Rail on Roding (Simon Raper)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: m Tawny Owl, Brambling NW, 7+ Song Thrush, several Redwing over, 24 Gadwall, Kingfisher, 3 Teal, Grey Wagtail, 12+ Goldcrest, 8 Pochard, 14 Lesser Redpoll (Stuart Fisher)

Forest Gate: Brambling over (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Woodlark (west over brooms, first record this year), 20 + Skylark, 12 Lapwing, Snipe, Brambling, 100 + Chaffinch, 5 Siskin, 6 Redpoll sp, Lesser Redpoll, 5 Linnet, Reed Bunting, 50 + Redwing, 50 + Fieldfare, Chiffchaff, 6 + Goldcrest, Coal Tit, 60 + Gadwall, 4 Teal, 10 + Shoveler, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 5 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 20 + Common Gull (Wanstead Birders), Mediterranean Gull (adult) on football pitch near Alexandra Lake 13:00 (RO)


Wanstead Flats: 68 Gadwall, 10 + Shoveler, 5 Teal, 7 Lesser Redpoll, 5 Fieldfare, 15 Redwing, 6 Meadow Pipit, 6 Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, 2 Skylark, 6 + Goldcrest, 7 Herring Gull, 6 Lesser Black-backed, 30 + Common Gull (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: pr of Stonechat, 7 + Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 6 Pied Wagtail, 7 + Skylark, Kestrel, 13 Brambling, 3 Linnet, 20 + Goldfinch, 5 Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting, 13 Redwing, 66 Gadwall, 10 + Shoveler, 6 Teal, 7 + Goldcrest (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 4 Little Egret (Heronry), 50 + Gadwall, 3 Shoveler, Wigeon, 2 Egyptian Goose, 3 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 11 Siskin, Bullfinch, 4 Skylark, Meadow Pipit, 10 + Goldcrest, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: m Stonechat, 3 Redwing, 3 Brambling, 19 Linnet, 3 Lesser Redpoll, m Reed Bunting, 10 Skylark, 14 Meadow Pipit, 8 Pied Wagtail, Chiffchaff, 9 + Goldcrest, Little Egret, 3 Pochard, 70 + Common Gull, 2 Kestrel, (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: 80 Gadwall, 9 Shoveler, 5 Teal, 3 Little Egret (north), m Stonechat, Redwing, 18 Linnet, 5 Redpoll, Reed Bunting, 2 Chiffchaff, 10 + Goldcrest, 2 Kestrel, 5+ Meadow Pipit, Skylark (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: 9 Little Egret fishing on Heronry + 5 Grey Heron and 15 + Cormorant, 140 + Gadwall, 15 Shoveler, 13 Wigeon, 10 Teal, 2 Kingfisher, Nuthatch, 2 Siskin, Bullfinch, Redwing, Grey Wagtail, Kestrel, 12 + Goldcrest (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Short-eared Owl over Alex then west (13:40), Mediterranean Gull, 50 + Common Gull, Common Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, 2 Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Chiffchaff, 6 + Goldcrest, 11 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 3 Skylark, 3 + Redpoll, Linnet, Reed Bunting, 50 Gadwall, 6 Shoveler, 2 Teal, 4 Little Grebe, 6 Redwing (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: 11 Little Egret Heronry, Water Rail, 2 Kingfisher, 2 Nuthatch, Sparrowhawk (James Heal)


Wanstead Flats: Pale Buzzard sp with broad white tail band being harried by crows distantly over Coronation Copse (as seen froom the Alex maybe up to half a mile away!) rubbish pics here http://wansteadbirding.blogspot.co.uk/  (comments welcomed) - The trouble with the larger raptors is the fact that they are all constantly in transitional plumage, so no two birds are the same...It looks like an immature Common Buzzard to me (JR). Agreed, looks like a Common Buzzard - no dark belly patch (RCallf) [As I suspected–thanks for the input: NC] Rock Pipit circled round Alex calling, 5 Meadow Pipit, 3 Skylark, Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk, 33 Gadwall, 2 Teal, 8 Shoveler, Linnet, Reed Bunting, 4 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 15 Little Egret (14 on Heronry with 10 + Cormorant and 8 Grey Herons–the fish are being slaughtered), 156 Gadwall, 14 Wigeon, Teal, 12 Shoveler, 3 Egyptian Goose, 6 Little Grebe, 30 + Siskin, Meadow Pipit, 3 Skylark, 6 Goldcrest, Redwing, Grey Wagtail (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Mediterranean Gull, 150 + Common Gull, 27 Linnet, 6 Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Skylark, 2 Meadow Pipit, 10 + Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Chiffchaff, 10 + Goldcrest, 60 + Gadwall, 20 + Shoveler, 20 + Tufted Duck, 3 Pochard, Teal, 7 Egyptian Goose, Little Egret, 12 Redwing 2 Fieldfare, 20 + Song Thrush, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Firecrest (Leyton Flats), c8 Goldcrest, 3-5 Redwing, 10 Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, 17 Gadwall, Teal, 3 Egyptian Goose, Grey Wagtail, 2 Great Crested Grebe (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Mediterranean Gull, 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull, 150 + Common Gull, 100 + Black-headed Gull, 30 Linnet, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Siskin, 10 + Goldcrest, 4 Skylark, 3 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 10 Fieldfare, 30 Gadwall, 13 Shoveler, 3 Teal, 4 Pochard, 20 + Tufted Duck, 2 Little Grebe, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 5 Little Egret, 69 Gadwall, 6 Shoveler, 2 Egyptian Goose, f Teal, 6 Little Grebe, Chiffchaff, 15 + Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Siskin (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats: 2 Goldcrest, 12 Lesser Redpoll (James Palmer)


Wanstead Flats: Mediterranean Gull still snoozing by Alex, 1st w Yellow-legged Gull  (Bob Vaughan); 2 Chiffchaff, 15 + Goldcrest, 11 Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, 6+ Meadow Pipit, Skylark, 75 Gadwall, 16 Shoveler, 11 Teal, 5 Pochard, 20 + Tufted Duck, 2 Kestrel (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Mediterranean Gull, 150 + Common Gull, 150 + Black-headed Gull, Lapwing, 20 + Fieldfare, 10 + Redwing, 2 Chiffchaff (one singing), 10 + Goldcrest, 15 + Chaffinch, 6 Linnet, 7 Redpoll, 2 Reed Bunting, 10 Meadow Pipit, 4 Skylark, 61 Gadwall, 18 Shoveler, 4 Teal, f Wigeon, 5 Little Grebe, Kestrel (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: 33 Wigeon, 186 Gadwall, 25 Shoveler, 11 Teal, 7 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 8 Little Egret, 15 + Siskin, 7 Lesser Redpoll, Kingfisher, Meadow Pipit, Sparrowhawk, 50 + Goldcrest, 2 Coal Tit (Nick Croft/James Heal)