1 January 2023

Autumn migration 2022 - summary


Autumn could be described as the period between the first returning passage migrant after the summer and the departure of the last. In which case the first and last autumn passage migrant this year was the same species: Yellow Wagtail, with the first on 27 July and the last on 22 October. Of course, different forms of migration and movement continue on into November with finches and the thrushes etc.

August is when autumn migration kicks off for birders, but August 2022 was a relatively disappointing month in Wanstead. We recorded a total of 86 species for the month of August which is dwarfed by the 98 we had in August in the previous year. September performed better and we breached the ton for the second year running (102 for September 2022 versus 104 for the month in the previous year). October was a bit down on average with 88 for the month (whilst each of the three previous years saw the month get over 90 species). In November we recorded 81 species, very slightly up on average, but four down on November 2021.


September delivered two significant patch rarities: Tree Sparrow found by Mary on 2 September (our first since 1985!); and the first of two long staying Dartford Warbler (our second and then third ever and first since 2009) found by Marco on 30 September.

Other good birds included: Wryneck (9 Sep); Cuckoo (4 Sep); Short-eared Owl (14 Sep); Yellowhammer (17 Sep); a well twitched Woodlark on the deck (29 Sep); and Merlin (14 October). Merlin would probably have got more column inches devoted to it if it wasn’t the second (or third if you count that the first was seen over two days) record of this patch rarity for the year.

Bob’s NocMig recorder also delivered some incredible results: most notably our first ever Pink-footed Goose (16 Sep), but also Ortolan Bunting (13 Sep); Barn Owl (30 Sep); and, Ringed Plover (1 November). All very high quality patch rarities for us.

Autumn Passage Migration

The table below captures the phenological dates and counts of most of our classic passage (non-breeding) migrants. I have been converted to the value of ‘bird days’ as a metric despite it always seeming nonsensical to me before. So, ten Wheatear on one day would be ten ’bird days’ as would one Wheatear every day for ten days.

Almost everything arrived earlier this Autumn than the year before, with some returning birds even appearing in July, including our first Autumn Wheatear on 27 July, compared with 16 August in 2021. The final departures, meanwhile, were not overly early or late, although we did have our latest ever record of Yellow Wagtail on 22 October.

In terms of volume of records Swallow and Whinchat numbers were very materially up on the previous year (223% up for Swallow and 118% increase for Whinchat). Let me try and bring that to life a little: this Autumn, we recorded 185 bird days or records of Whinchat, spread across 44 calendar days from 1 August until 2 October, with the majority of dates in August and September producing Whinchat. Obviously some of these records will be the same birds stopping over for a day or more to re-fuel, but the average count of four birds, across each of the dates when records were registered for this species, is impressive, as is our high count of 13 Whinchat on 9 September.

Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart, and Garden Warbler numbers were also up, whilst everything else saw lower numbers of records than the previous year. Sand Martin (68% down on the previous year) and Yellow Wagtail (62% decrease) were particularly notable drops on the year before.

I am well aware that trends cannot be read into a dataset covering two years, but we only have eBird records from October 2020 and I don’t have the patience to trawl through old bird reports or tweets to build a better data set.

29 June 2022

Spring '22: Whimbrel, Turtle Dove, and a Merlin too


Spring 2022 (for the purpose of this summary, March, April, and May) saw 109 bird species recorded locally with March (77), April (a month record of 95), and May (88).


One of the best birds of the Spring was only seen by a single lucky birder, Tim Harris: our third Turtle Dove in 12 years perched briefly near Alex before disappearing south on 1 May. Tim was also alerted by a call while inspecting his moth trap in his garden and watched a Whimbrel (our sixth sighting) fly over on 5 May.

A slightly wider audience were enthralled by a Merlin (our fifth record) on 23 April which flew low up over the Brooms, around Long Wood and then picked up pace and took out a small passerine over Centre Copse. A few more saw it again the following day.

Some other notable records:

  • Jono found a Pheasant on 2 April; a long staying bird in the Brooms, last reported on on 26 April (only seventh on record).
  • Nick had a Goosander west over Long Wood on 9 April.
  • We got our hopes up when a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker appeared at a location which will remain undisclosed on 13 April and stayed for several days.
  • Jono found a singing Nightingale in Long Wood on 15 April.
  • A poor start of the year for gulls meant that our first Caspian Gull for the year was seen on 7 May and our first Caspian Gull on 31 May; both second calendar year birds and both found by Tony B.
  • Bob’s NocMig recording device picked up Oystercatcher (15 April) and then Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover (both on 1 May).

Spring passage migrants

The Spring migrant passage was kicked off, as it is so often, by the arrival of the first Wheatear; this year on 13 March. This was our second earliest on record (after 2017; 11 March) and six days earlier than our mean average first arrival. It was also the second Wheatear of the year for the London recording area. Richard found the male in the Brooms and Louis & Gosia won this year’s prestigious Wheatear sweepstake trophy; with Louis wearing black tie to collect the trophy a few days later.

The table on passage migrants should hopefully speak for itself and with a comparison in grey of spring last year to give some context. In terms of calendar days when a species is recorded, the most notable call-outs are: Sand Martin (down six); Yellow Wagtail and Willow Warbler (up four); and Wheatear (down four).

A single record of Tree Pipit this Spring was a notable improvement on the blank last year, but this year we got through Spring without a single record of Common Redstart (compared with four last year). 

Breeding birds: some selected comments

This was the second year we had the benefit of the Skylark fencing. An organised Skylark count in March revealed 11 birds on Wanstead Flats with 4-5 males regularly singing. There was evidence of successful breeding with at least one pair feeding young, although there was also sadly evidence of possible predation of one nest.

Meadow Pipit was last recorded on 29 April and whilst we still have healthy numbers through the winter, this is the second year in a row that this species has not stayed around to breed locally - I didn’t hear a single Meadow Pipit song this Spring.

Reed Warbler have popped up all over the place during the Spring, but the most reliable singing territory has been by Shoulder of Mutton pond again - although only one male this year. There have also been at least one regular singing Cetti’s Warbler on the Roding in the Old Sewage Works.

We had one or two wintering Chiffchaff but then numbers started to increase from around 9 March up to a peak count of 22 singing males in mid April. This followed a very similar pattern to the previous year. A similar story can be told about Blackcap - with one or two being reported in gardens through the winter and then numbers starting to build in March up to a peak count of 27 singing males on 14 April.

Our first Common Whitethroat arrived on 12 April this year (last year 14 April). I am not sure we have conducted a thorough survey of singing males this year but it will be at least approaching 20 territories. The first Lesser Whitethroat arrived on 15 April (26 April in 2021) this year and we had a peak count of 6 singing males with closer to 2-3 holding territory across the Spring.

Our Spring high count for Song Thrush was 17 birds across the Patch but this may have been swelled by local or wider movement and the number of regular birds holding territory is closer to half that number.

17 March 2022

Winter summary: a hard, but not very cold winter


2021 ended with our record highest number of bird species we have ever recorded on the Patch:143. December saw 76 for the month. 2022 started much like 2021 with 78 species in January (the same as Jan 2021), but February was not aided by the cold snap we had in ‘21 and so we recorded a pretty paltry 71 species for the month compared with the outrageously high score of 85 for the same month last year. As February came to a close, the total number of birds recorded on the patch for 2022 is 79.

January 1st is always a special day on the patch as the local birders go out and year-tick Robin and Mallard. This year the team managed to compile 61 species on day one of the year (which compared with 69 on the first day of the previous year).


I don’t think it would be unfair to say that this winter has been rather dull in terms of birds of interest. 

I flushed a male Yellowhammer from the Brooms on 3 Jan. It flew up, circled around me calling and flew off East not to be seen again. That was probably the best bird of the month, partly because January didn’t see many spectacular birds, and partly because we haven’t had a Yellowhammer in January for a very long time.

Rob Sheldon found our seventh Red-crested Pochard on Heronry on 16 December; a female. Sean T found a drake Mandarin on Shoulder of Mutton on 12 Jan. This is the fourth record in a 12 month period which matches the number seen over the previous decade.

The best of the rest included:

  • Louis and Gosia had Short-eared Owl over the Flats on 10 Jan.
  • Simon had the only Treecreeper we have had since November also on 10 Jan in Bush Wood.
  • Also a good winter for Firecrest with 10 records across three locations and at least three birds on 13 Jan; a pair in Reservoir Wood and a single bird in the Dell.
  • The only Red Kite of the period was on 2 December.
  • The only year tick made in February was on the last day of the month - a flyover Shelduck from Nick, and our first since May of the previous year.

Duck numbers

I am pleased to report that some of our duck numbers seem to have recovered slightly from the atrociously low numbers the previous winter (we suspect this was due to local issues - likely to do with the water rather than any more sinister macro trends). Whilst nowhere near the peak of a few years ago, Gadwall numbers this winter reached high counts in November (133 peak) and December (126 peak). The numbers dropped in the new year with the peak so far being 31. Last winter, our peak Gadwall count was 42. Further:

  • November last year also saw the peak count for Shoveler (60) which compared with 28 last winter.  This year so far our high count for Shoveler was 45 on 31 Jan. 
  • Teal numbers are pretty consistent with last year, with high counts in the twenties. 
  • Pochard high count for the three winter months was also the same for this year and last: 7.
  • Tufted Duck high counts this winter and last both saw highs in the forties.
  • Note that we have not had any confirmed reports of Wigeon locally so far this winter.

Other trends and records of note 

Rather than comprehensive review of the data across species, I have attempted below to take a small sample where observations or comparisons can be made. I will leave the fuller species review data until the bird report (I have just started work on 2021 and believe Nick may be doing something for 2020):


It appears that our local Skylark population may have benefitted from the added protection of the fenced breeding areas last year. Across the three winter months, we had 54 recorded bird days and an average count of 3.5 birds compared with 2 during the same period last year. Our Skylark high-count of 7-8 birds this winter compares with a high of 5 last year. So, the data aren’t robust enough to draw too many conclusions, but at least the trend appears to be in the right direction. [Edit: a walk-over in March revealed 11 birds]

Meadow Pipit 

Meadow Pipit counts were also up a bit on last year with average counts of 7 (versus 4 last winter) and a high count of 25 (cf 18 last year), but counting Mipits is always a tricky business and so we have to be careful reading too much into these data. We will wait and see whether we get persistent singers and breeding success following the sad desertion of this species as a breeding bird last year for the first time.

Cetti’s Warbler

This winter we have nine records of the singing male on the Roding (none from in the Park). This seems to be very similar to the previous year. Let’s hope we get breeding success.

Siskin and Lesser Redpoll

Our winter flock around the tea hut and Perch Pond in the park was back again this winter with a high count possibly in the sixties. As previous years, we have regularly recorded a Lesser Redpoll flock in the SSSI, but the new addition this winter has been a regular flock of Lesser Redpoll (high count of 17) in the alders around Perch Pond with the Siskin.


Partly thanks to the evening diligence of Nick, we have had a likely record of 18 bird days for Woodcock in 2022 by the end of Feb. The regular haunt of the Roding to watch the crepuscular flyover has been reported early in Jan but somewhat overtaken by a regularly seen bird or birds in the SSSI.

Gadwall drake - Tim Harris

Meadow Pipit - Tim Harris

Shoveler - Tim Harris

Stonechat - Mary Holden

30 December 2021

Autumn 2021: Summary and some data


Autumn - which, for the purposes of most of this brief report, is simply from the start of September to the end of November - added 10 species of bird to our patch year list (at a record 142 by the end of November) with many of our local birders also breaking their personal year bests before the Autumn was over. Monthly totals were also impressive: September = 104 (our highest month score on record); October = 90 (somewhat lower than the 95 we had last October); November = 85 (seven more than November last year) and a total of 120 species across the three Autumn months.

However, this may simply reflect good coverage and focused recording, rather than the year being somehow better than others. Indeed when we analyse our data on the autumn passage passerine migration (see below), and compare with data from previous years, we can see that 2021 was, in some other ways, poor to middling.


It feels appropriate to start with our very long staying Black-necked Grebe which arrived on Alex on 3 May (and, for those who haven’t been following our patch exploits, this was only our second ever record of this species) complete with full ‘sum plum’ golden ear tufts and then through the Autumn moulted into the more subtle, but equally beautiful, monochrome shades. It was present throughout the Autumn but was last seen on 28 November when it departed as the first ice of the season spread across the lake.

A big highlight was the first Wryneck on the Flats in six years and our fifth patch record. Jono found it feeding on the edge of the model aeroplane field by the Brooms on 4 September and it was seen by most of the locals and a fair few visitors for two further days.

The day after (5 September) the Wryneck find, a similarly rare patch spectacle came when Richard, Jono and others picked up a flock of six Curlew flying west over the Flats. I was at home (off patch) when the news came through but was able to see them flying further west over Leytonstone (just one of several locally-rare birds this year I have added to my house list but not my patch list). 

Our best ever September (for total species) ended with an excellent record and photo from Nick of a Gannet flying south over the Flats (only our fourth patch record). Nick also had our fourth patch record of Merlin north over the Flats on 13th October. 

The best of the rest included: 

  • A long-staying juv Cuckoo that frequented several copses on the Flats and last seen on 7 September
  • Sedge Warbler on 3 September on the Flats
  • Marsh Harrier heading west over the Flats on 7th September found by Nick (another one I saw from my house)
  • Mediterranean Gull on 12 September on Alex from Nick
  • Mandarin on 16 September on Jubilee from Bob and a pair on Heronry from Rob on 20 November
  • Simon found Green Sandpiper on 18 September and Nick heard another on 19 October
  • Jono and Bob had Golden Plover over the Flats west over the Flats on 22 September (the first since the cold weather birds back in Feb)
  • Jono had our only Short-eared Owl for the year NW over the Flats on 21 September
  • Lapwing on 7th, 8th, 10th October and again on 5 November
  • All of our Jack Snipe records have been this Autumn, with the first on 2 October and last on 5 November
  • Jono had our second Woodlark of the year on 11 October (still a patch bogey-bird for yours truly)
  • Jono also had our only Ring Ouzel of the Autumn, which was also our second latest, on 5 November (see more under passage migrants below) 
  • Nick had our first Firecrest since April on 7 November.

Bob’s nocmig recorder has also been hard at work this Autumn with: Redshank on 6th and 8th of September (plus another on 23 October); Oystercatcher on 7th September (also a record on 24 November); Ringed Plover on 23 October; and, Dunlin on 9 October. 

Autumn Passage Migration

In the last bird report, I covered the beginning of Autumn migration (August), but now the eBird data can provide a fuller overview of the full migratory period this Autumn.

Autumn migration kicked off with the first departing Sand Martin on 5 August and Willow Warbler on 7 August. The earliest of the ‘big seven’ (Wheatear, Whinchat, C Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail) was Spotted Flycatcher on 11 August; a pretty standard date. However, as with most phenological trends this year, most passage birds appeared to be arriving later than normal. In fact all of the species tracked in the data table arrived later than average with the exception of Willow Warbler (across species tracked they were over three days later than average).

We actually recorded more bird days than the recent average (2016-2019) for each species over the Autumn except for Ring Ouzel, but I suspect this may have been more down to strong coverage and recording. Indeed, if we just compare with 2019, the key species are all down except for Yellow Wagtail (see column four in the table). Some time I will attempt to crunch more of the historical data to give a more accurate picture over time.

Using the same comparisons against the mean over the last few years, the average day counts were all pretty similar with a few notable exceptions: Swallow numbers were down by around half on the average. More positively, Sand Martin, Tree Pipit, and Pied Flycatcher numbers were all up on average.

Wryneck - J Lethbridge

15 September 2021

Summer 2021: 'A summary of the not-very-summery summer'


The summer lull in June bled into some more unseasonally cloudy, dull, wet and windy weather which hasn’t always been conducive to seeing perching birds. However, by the end of August our patch bird total for the year stood at a hefty 132 with the total monthly patch lists: June = 73; July = 72; and August = 98 (our highest month total ever) and a total of 103 species of bird recorded across the three summer months. Several of the local birders have already broken, or are well on track to beat, their own personal best year records.

In terms of successful breeding, we have had a couple of success stories from species which don’t often breed locally: Pochard and Reed Warbler spring to my mind immediately. It appears that the fencing to protect our tiny remaining Skylark population may have had some success and we are hopeful that at least one pair reared a brood successfully from some positive signs. 

Skylark - Tony Brown

Sadly, Meadow Pipit have abandoned Wanstead Flats as a breeding location this year. Let’s hope they return. Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat breeding success seems healthy if the number of singing (early season) and juvenile birds (late season - aware these numbers can be inflated by migration) can be anything to go by although there are signs that second broods may have been thin on the ground. We believe our local House Martins - still only found at one location - bred again. To focus on one more positive: Little Grebe numbers seem to be increasing; and negative: Song Thrush: singing territories on the Flats, in particular, seem down on previous years.


Birders often dread June - arguably one of the worst months of the year for birding interest, so it helped allay the blues when Nick found a Quail calling with its distinctive ‘wet my lips’ hidden amongst the grass in the fenced area of the Brooms on Wanstead Flats on 6 June. Even more extraordinarily it appears that there were two Quail calling the following day.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention our long-staying Black-necked Grebe on Alexandra Pond, Wanstead Flats. First spotted by Mary on 3 May, at the time of writing, this stunning bird has now been with us for four months and attracted a fair number of photos throughout the summer and more recently as it starts to moult towards its winter plumage.

July often isn’t the greatest of months either but three fly-overs (sadly only seen by a small number of birders) smartened our list up: Mary had Oystercatcher circling Alex on 12 July before Jono had it ‘heard only’ going over his house; our first (but not last) Garganey of the year flew over Nick towards Alex but could not be re-found; and Rob had a brace of Lapwing flying North over SSSI on 17 July (our first since the huge flocks in the February cold snap). 

Richard found an adult Cuckoo on 29 July - most likely on its way back. Nick also had an adult on 11 August. These were just precursors for a long-staying juvenile bird, first found by Nick on 15 August and then seen regularly since then, most often flying quickly between various different copses.

August could, of course, accurately be included in an Autumn summary given the beginning of autumn migration (more on that later), but we stick here to a simple three-full-month definition of the season for the ease of write-ups (one swallow does not a summer make etc etc).

Nick had an Arctic Tern - only our second record for the Patch - flying over and calling on 4 August and also a flyover Greenshank on 18 August. A visiting birder reported a Pheasant on 20 August (perhaps not realising quite how scarce a bird this is for our local patch). 

Rob found the second Garganey of the year, on Alex, on 26 August which stayed just long enough for the first wave of local twitchers to add to their yearlists. Anyone getting there after 8am were disappointed. The following day Nick found a Raven heading west over the Flats. Jono got it from his house and I garden ticked it over Leytonstone a minute or two later. Jono and Rob also had Great White Egret heading east over the Flats on 29 August.

Raven - James Heal

Curlew, Whimbrel, and Oystercatcher were all picked up on the NocMig radars while their birding masters were fast asleep so added to generic patch lists, but (*spoiler alert*) the excitement of a flock of Curlew seen during the day had to wait until September.

Early Autumn Migration

The reappearance of Willow Warbler on 7 August (the first since the last spring bird on 1 May) heralded the beginning of the ‘Autumn’ migratory period. Our first Autumn Wheatear (16 August) was our latest ever. Hopefully the table below speaks for itself.

It will make sense to give a fuller picture of the Autumn passage passerine migration later in the year or as part of a full year review.

Tree Pipit - James Heal

Spotted Flycatcher - Nick Croft

Wheatear - Nick Croft