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

11 June 2021

Spring 2021 - Summary


This Spring has seen some very odd weather. Spring passage was undoubtedly retarded by some very long stretches of persistent northerly winds. Nevertheless, this year continues its march on as one of, if not, our best ever years for birds if we go by the rather blunt metric of the number of species recorded. Several of us are on track for personal best records.

As a team effort, the total monthly patch lists across the Spring were: March = 86; April = 93; and May = 87. The total spring list (March to end of May) was a pretty healthy 115 species.

More broadly, the health of bird diversity locally is a mixed picture. Action has obviously been taken for our dwindling breeding Skylark population, but we have some concerns that we might have lost or be about to lose Meadow Pipit as a breeding bird. Other species seem to be fairing rather better: Cetti’s Warbler seems to be moving from a patch rarity to a patch regular; Reed Warbler appears to have at least a couple of territories; and the number of Common Whitethroat territories seems strong. Wanstead Flats, in particular, remains a star performer in London for passage passerine migrants. Whilst the Spring passage is never quite as impressive as the Autumn, some of the records (such as a day high of 12 Wheatear) are notable.


Birders generally rate a season by the number and quality of rarities and scarcities. High up on the list was our first ever Iceland Gull found by Mary on 23 March on Alex pond. There was a mad scramble to see this stunning first-winter/second calendar year white-winged gull and much gnashing of teeth from those of us who missed it on the first day followed by significant arm waving, whooping, and socially distanced air high-fives when it appeared again the following day and the day after etc.

2cy Iceland Gull - Tony Brown

If a single day had to be identified as the zenith of our Spring birding, it is probably 24 April. Tony picked up the first Green Sandpiper of the year going north over Alex. A few minutes later and a mile or so west, two Green Sandpiper flew in and landed on Cat & Dog pond right in front of me before dawn and before they saw me and scarpered. Others heard and saw one or two flying around over the next hour or two, and so we settled on a minimum of three birds. Things got better when I picked up three Whimbrel flying east over the Flats (a full patch tick for me) and another flew over shortly afterwards. This all happened before Tony found a singing Nightingale just south of Long Wood. As several of us stood silently near a patch of brambles and brooms listening to the wonderful liquid trills and whistles of the king of songbirds, I certainly reflected that it was quite high up there on the list of most memorable day’s birding on the Patch I have had.

Green Sandpiper on 'Cat & Dog' Pond at first light - James Heal

Mary was clearly not content with having found our first ever Iceland Gull and discovered a wonderful almost-summer plumage Black-necked Grebe on Alex on 3 May. This is the second ever record locally and the first in just over forty years. I won’t spare Bob V’s blushes by saying he saw the first one back when I was six months old. This wonderful golden-eared bird was still present a month after it was first found and having been twitched by a reasonable number of London, and even a few further-afield, birders.

Black-necked Grebe - Jonathan Lethbridge

Talking of twitches, bird-finder general, Nick C (although Mary is catching him up), spotted an Osprey heading west over the Flats on 6 May. He alerted East Central Turret Observatory (aka ‘Jono L’) who located the bird whilst working from home and he in turn cascaded comms to others including to Western Turret (aka ‘yours truly’) who managed to spot it out of my northern hatch (skylight) circling Bush Wood. There was a scurrilous rumour that I made a dash with my bins to the Patch to try and get Osprey on my Patch list, but failed. Clearly such a rumour of uncouth twitching is below the standing of an eminent naturalist and Chair of the Wren Wildlife & Conservation Group and I would deny it strenuously.

Nick also flushed a single Woodlark from near Long Wood on 28 May - our latest ever Spring record. At the time of writing, I am fresh in from listening to a bird sing that was an even better find from Nick, but I don’t want to steal the thunder of a summer write up (which is likely to be somewhat thinner on the ground than Spring).

For those only marginally interested in local birds, you might wish to turn the page or tune out now. For those hardier souls who get a kick out of phenological data, read on...

Spring passage migrants

The table hopefully speaks for itself. If not:

  • The second column (‘bird days’) is quite simply the number of days from March to the end of May when a particular species was recorded. We tend to find this more useful than counting birds on passage e.g. if you see three Wheatear on Saturday and three on Sunday are the birds on Sunday new in, the same as the day before or some combination?
  • The third column obviously relates to the first record of each species on the year. I have included ‘last’ date as this is a Spring review, but obviously some of these species might continue being seen throughout some of the summer months, and hopefully all of them will reappear in the Autumn on the way back.
  • The fourth column and the coloured numbers refers to the first arrival of each species this Spring with green numbers relating to the number of days earlier than the mean average first date locally and red corresponding to those later than the mean average.
  • Average count is mean average number of individual birds seen on each of the ‘bird days’ and high count is simply the highest number of individual birds of one species seen on any of the Spring days.

Whilst some of the poor weather - especially the prolonged northerlies during some of the key migratory periods - undoubtedly retarded the flow of some species by a bit, the table shows that there were still more species showing up for the first time on a date earlier than the mean average than later.

A couple of species are worth drawing attention to...

We saw reasonable numbers of Willow Warbler on passage, including an impressive high-count of 11 singing on 11 April right across the Patch. Sadly, it does not seem that any of these birds stayed as Willow Warbler does not appear to have bred locally for a few years now.

Wheatear seemed to have a good Spring, despite being four days later than the average first arrival (and a full 12 days later than our earliest ever). We had a total of 24 bird days and an average of three birds seen on each of them (with a high count of an astonishing 12 birds on 20 April).

I will let the table on Passage migrants speak for the rest of the records.

Migrant and resident breeders

A quick(ish) canter through some of the breeding birds (albeit most definitely not exhaustive). Swifts first appeared on 21 April (two days earlier than our mean average first for year), and we had a trickle through on most days after that until 1 May when a sudden jump from 2 to 23 birds signalled that our local birds had returned. We have had a couple of days when over 100 birds have been seen across the patch and an average of around 25-30 daily. No comprehensive survey of nest sites has been completed and so it is difficult to draw any conclusions beyond the numbers we see frequently.

Hobby was first seen on 25 April (four days later than the mean average) and one or two local birds seen regularly since then.

We seem to have at least two pairs of Little Owl on Wanstead Flats still and one or two of them were very frequently seen on favourite trees.

Our first Reed Warbler for the year arrived on 29 April (4 days later than the mean average) in Wanstead Park and there have been two singing males in the Park and a third heard on three days during May on the Roding in the Old Sewage Works.

Reed Warbler - Sean Kerrigan

We only have a small colony of locally breeding House Martin. The first record was on 5 April which was just one day earlier than the mean average. Our high count of at least 25 birds on 8 May was followed by only three other days when double figures were reported. The rest of the time we have only had low numbers reported regularly.

It appears that the Roding in the Old Sewage Works has two singing Cetti’s Warbler and there has been another on the Ornamentals in the Park. Fingers crossed that this year or soon we get some breeding successes.

After the odd appearance of winter Chiffchaff and perhaps a couple of early arrivals moving through, we start to see a big influx from March and then with peak counts of singers in April (this year around 13 birds during the second week of the month).

Small numbers of Blackcap also remain resident locally through the winter; particularly in local gardens, but the arrival of migrating birds seems to happen around the beginning of March. This is steep increase in numbers, perhaps as some birds passing through temporarily swell numbers, before declining to numbers of birds with established territories.

I have decided to optimistically include Garden Warbler in the company of our resident breeding birds rather than with the passage migrants although we have no evidence of breeding beyond some persistence in one or two singing males.The first one was recorded by a visiting birder to Wanstead Flats on 2 May (4 days later than the average first arrival) and the local regulars didn’t connect to one until 19 May in Wanstead Park. We had a couple singing possibly for a few days in late May in the Old Sewage Works.

Lesser Whitethroat first appeared this year on 26 April (a full 9 days later than the average first for year). We had a peak of five birds on the day after the first (probably as the migratory flood gates had opened) and have two seemingly established territories on Wanstead Flats and one in the Old Sewage Works.

Common Whitethroat has had another good year if singing males are anything to go by. The first arrival (on 14 April) was only two days later than average. Double figure counts of singing males has been a regular occurrence and we reached a peak of 25 birds counted on 7 May.

The number of Song Thrush territories on Wanstead Flats sadly seems to be declining whilst seeming more stable in Wanstead Park and the Old Sewage Works. Two or three singing males on the Flats has been a reasonable count through the season whilst 5-7 territories in the Park and 4-5 in the Old Sewage Works are also commonly achieved counts.

As anyone local will know, this the first year that the CoL has fenced off the main areas of grassland where Skylark and Meadow Pipit are known to breed. We believe that two pairs of Skylark have established territories and some evidence of breeding over an above singing males has been witnessed. Three singing birds have been heard on a few occasions but we suspect that there may be a ‘spare’ male aside from the two pairs. Let’s hope that the fencing, few disturbances to their habitat will lead over time to more sustainable breeding numbers than hopefully at least two which is where we are now.

Sadly, the story for Meadow Pipits is more dire. Whilst passage/movement birds were counted in the early part of the season, there have been no singing males at all during the crucial stages of the Spring. Hopefully this does not mean that Meadow Pipit is yet another bird to have been lost to us locally as a breeding species. Time will tell.

I won’t attempt to provide breeding survey updates of more of our commonly seen birds as I am not sure the data we collected really formed an accurate view this Spring.

Other birds

Our long-staying Common Shelduck was last seen on 25 March. We had two Spring fly-overs in March.

Mandarin Duck was reported from Wanstead Park on 14 March.

Marco strengthened his game bird credentials by finding a Pheasant on 28 March and then a Red-legged Partridge on 4 April.

Mike M heard the patch’s only Cuckoo on 30 May.

Common Sandpiper was first recorded this year on 3 May (six days later than the mean average first appearance) in the Old Sewage Works and we had one which seemed to stay for several days on Heronry a few days later.

There was a little bit of confusion reminiscent of the double trouble we had with Mediterranean Gull a few months ago when a second calendar year Caspian Gull on 6 April turned out to be two second calendar year Caspian Gulls seen on Jubilee and Alex.

2cy Caspian Gull - Tony Brown

It has clearly been a good year for gulls (with the Kittiwake and Iceland Gull helping us to a record tally of ten species this year) and a late season adult Great Black-backed Gull in Wanstead Park on 10 April was a bit of a surprise.

Great Black-backed Gull - James Heal

Indeed, we have had nine bird days with Yellow Legged Gull this year, the last of which, so far, was seen on 8 May. Our friendly second calendar Mediterranean Gull also stuck around until 12 March.

Unsurprisingly, Red Kite numbers seem to be continuing to rise with 29 ‘bird days’ from March to the end of May (41 Red Kite counted since the beginning of the year). This is still not at the level of Buzzard sightings with 50 bird days during the spring months and a day high-count of 8 birds seen on 13 April. We have also had 16 bird days for Peregrine and up to two birds seen on each of those days.

There were nine ‘bird days’ for Rook this Spring from 8 April until 1 May with a high-count of three birds on 22 April.

Rook - Tony Brown

A nice surprise in April, was a singing Firecrest in the City of London Cemetery. Whilst, strictly speaking, off-patch for the local birders, this individual was actually singing from a Holly Bush visible from the patch boundaries (whether it was audible or not whilst standing on the Patch is really a question one shouldn’t ask a gentleman).

In the spirit of phenological last dates as well as first, it is perhaps worth noting that our last sighting of Fieldfare came on 26 March (only the second year on record where we haven’t continued to record this species into April); a full two weeks earlier than the mean average last sighting. Redwing, however, continued to be recorded until 13 April which is a week later than the mean average last Spring record.

Those at the front of the class may remember that we had a bumper autumn and winter for Stonechat. We had one or two birds that stuck around until 23 March.

Similarly, some of our winter finches stuck around for a while. Our main flock of Linnet has been elsewhere since around mid February, but one or two birds in particular have been seen frequently throughout much of April and May on the Flats. The same is true for Lesser Redpoll (where a single bird was last seen on 27 April) and Siskin (last recorded on 30 April).

And, to finish with Buntings, we had three records of spring Yellowhammer (30 March, 5 April, 18 April). There were also nine records of Reed Bunting - all single birds - from March to May.

Common Redstart - Nick Croft

Canada Goose Gosling - Bob Vaughan

Ring Ouzel - Bob Vaughan

Yellow Wagtail - Nick Croft

2 March 2021

Winter Summary

[Note that this is reproduced largely from a report written for the Spring Newsletter of the Wren Wildlife & Conservation Group and has been written for a non-birding audience]

This is the first winter that the local birders have been collectively capturing their notable records using the eBird online platform. Some of us use the platform personally, but this new team account will hopefully make retrospective reports - like this one - a little easier and allow us to track and compare changes in the data over time more successfully. This report covers the winter months of December to February - each in full.

We recorded a total of 87 species over the winter (74 in December, 78 in January - I believe our best start to a year ever, and a pretty decent 83 in February).

The tables interspersed here are a collection of some of the records we have on eBird for select species. The 'bird days' column is the most likely to be mis-interpreted. Many of these species will have been present every single day, but the bird days simply correspond to days when birders reported their records.


A big highlight was undoubtedly the fact that we joined much of the country in getting closer to White-fronted Goose than normal in December. Until then, I had only ever seen one flock pass over on the patch in the past 6 years. We had a long staying bird (of the Russian subspecies) that was joined by a second on 18 December and they both remained, to the immense relief of those of us who keep a year list, until 1 January when they departed for the last time (one of them relocated a couple of miles west at the Walthamstow Wetlands where it remained until 6 Jan).

Russian White-Fronted Goose - Jono Lethbridge

The Goosander on Perch Pond on 28 December was a patch tick for many of us, but things just got better. The drake was joined by a second male on 31 December and, then, at least 7 birds were seen on 1 January (there was a bit of movement hence the uncertainty). A single drake was reported on 2nd, 7th, 12th, and 16th January and then two birds on 24 January so quite an extraordinary period for this previously patch-rare bird.

Goosander - Jono Lethbridge

Most of the other highlights were associated with the early-February cold-snap (or the mini 'Beast From The East' which certainly shared a number of similarities with its meteorological namesake from three years ago).

As the cold weather front came in from the continent, the bird sightings began with a single Lapwing circling the football pitches on Sunday 7 February. Then, just off-patch sadly, but still worth a mention, I had a flock of 5 vocal Redshank fly over my house in Leytonstone (a real local rarity). These birds were heard some time before they were seen over the rooftops and I strongly suspect that they were circling over the Western Flats (just a couple of minutes walk from house), or even had come up off the ground. I then continued to hear calls even after they had passed over which suggests they circled back round again or there were more birds which I didn't see.

C Snipe - Richard Rae

As temperatures continued to fall, the frozen ground pushed increasing numbers of birds in search of feeding areas. In the week from Sunday 7 Feb to Saturday 13 Feb, we had an astonishing 1593 Lapwing pass over (only six fewer birds than we recorded during the 'Beast' in 2018) and with our peak day on Monday 8 Feb with 565 birds. If Lapwing are the 'cake' of eastern cold fronts, then Golden Plover are the icing. Nine birds were seen on 12 Feb and a single bird was seen on the following day. The cold weather also brought a record 12 Snipe (including a single flock of 10 on the Fairground/Police Scrape on 8 February) and a Shelduck to Jubilee, and occasionally Alexandra, lakes. This rather tame individual is the first of the species on the deck for some time. It remained throughout February and into March (as at time of writing).

Lapwing - Bob Vaughan

But, to continue the analogy, if Lapwing and Golden Plover were cake and icing, then the cherry on the top was a Kittiwake on Alexandra Lake on 9 February. Found by Richard Rae, this was the first patch Kittiwake since 2014 and was a patch tick for many of us. The clearly exhausted bird stayed long enough for all the local regulars to get a good view before, hopefully, heading back out to sea.

1w Kittiwake - Tony Brown

Many of us struggled to concentrate on working from home as cloud-shaped flocks of Lapwing floated past - mostly heading west or south west - and occasionally settling briefly on the ground to test their luck or perhaps out of exhaustion.

Whilst wonderful to see these birds, it is bittersweet at best as sadly many of them will likely not have made it back to where they came from. It is a reminder that cold weather is often little more than an inconvenience for many of us; but it is literally life and death for large numbers of birds and other organisms.

Duck numbers

Duck numbers have been shockingly low this winter; particularly in the Park where we have previously had many hundreds of Gadwall and good numbers of other duck. We are not sure what has caused this fall, but perhaps a water quality test of the lakes is due again? Shoveler and Teal both had high-counts of 28 and averaged only 10 and 4 respectively per day that they were recorded. Gadwall averaged 5 birds per day with a high count of 42. The day of the Kittiwake (9 Feb) was also the only day this winter that we have had Wigeon on the patch; nine birds on Alex only present for a few hours. Some of the waterfowl numbers have been crunched in the table.


There have been three reports of Caspian Gull on Wanstead Flats this winter although sadly not with any photos - on the 26 Dec, 11 and 14 Jan.

We have been lucky to have a very long-staying 1st winter Mediterranean Gull found on 19 December and still present at the time of writing. On the 19th and 21st we actually had two Med Gulls (actually causing a bit of confusion on the first day they were here together). 

We have also had Yellow-legged Gull appearances sporadically through the winter with a maximum of two birds (an adult and a 2nd winter) on 7 February. It was also on this day that we had the highest count of gulls overall; extensive flooding and cold front meant we had heavily inflated numbers of gulls on the pitches (which more resembled pools at the time). We made a rough count of at least 1800 Common Gull and over 1000 Black-headed Gull with three figures of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

1w Mediterranean Gull - Tony Brown

Other birds or numbers of note

We always have one or two wintering Chiffchaff and Blackcap and this season was no different. A single Chiffchaff was encountered a few times in the Old Sewage Works through December. The first Chiffchaff of the new year was only seen briefly by Cat and Dog Pond on 6 January and there was then a gap until 28 January when one was picked up in the Old Sewage Works. Since then, it/they have been encountered more frequently (although never certainly more than one bird a day) and we have had one singing by the stables. It is a similar picture with Blackcap although wintering birds seem more frequently found in adjacent gardens to the Patch than in key habitats centrally.

There have also been four day's worth of sightings of Firecrest in Bush Wood.

Skylark began to be consistently seen or heard by around mid-January and in February we have had a high-count of five birds and at least 3 singing males.

Throughout December and January, we have had two pairs of Stonechat over-wintering; one pair by Cat & Dog pond (helping to entertain those working on restoring the pond to a more appealing habitat), and another mainly found around the south Brooms area and Angell Pond. However, by mid February, these wintering birds had departed and were almost immediately replaced by some others on passage (we had a winter high-count of 7 on 20 Feb) and then a single longer-staying female in the Brooms until 27 Feb. This has been a good winter for Stonechat on the patch and follows our record-breaking Autumn (a high count of 16 birds on 7 October).

Stonechat - Nick Croft

Two of our finch species are worth noting. We have consistently had a good flock of Lesser Redpoll with up to 40 birds being counted on numerous dates; mostly in the SSSI, but often, later around Alex and a/the same flock of c26 birds by the Roding in the Old Sewage Works on 21 February.

We consistently get a flock of Siskin frequenting the Alders at either end of Perch Pond in the Park. This year's winter flock was first noted on 10 November and we had a high count of 29 birds on 1 January. The flock was last reported on 31 January although a visiting birder did report 2 Siskin in the Park on 12 February.