27 February 2011

Last rites for February

Friday was an excellent day. Well the sun shone for a start and it felt like spring. Saturday was the complete antithesis and utter shite. Second patch Rainham beckoned, and OK I might have thoughts of ugly gulls, but more of ring-tailed and Marsh Harrier, Grey Plover and a host of other critters that I keep missing while Kev Jarvis sails full-steam ahead into the sunset.

Met up with Dave Callahan at the stone barges (just a little bit of self glory here - it was with Dave that I found Rainham's Hoopoe last year on a very instructive trawl round a much warmer marsh), he had already had a look at the tip and was on his way round by the river. I decided to give the tip a few minutes primarily looking for Meds, but should some hideous big bugger appear all well and good. Wrong move number two (number one was getting up at 05:19 instead of staying in bed). While he found Turnstone and Corn Bunting, I found disconsolate birders and a heaving tip. On the plus side I did find my first without-the-help-of-someone-else Caspian (I'll say the descriptions in the post. With the others!). As I trudged up to the Serin mound a stream of confident birders passed the other way.

At the mound I met up with Dave again and as we moved off to the sea wall Bradders on his way to the tip. No sign of Turnstone, or bunting we walked along the wall to find pipits. And find them we did, amongst which were some scandinavian Rock Pipit coming into their summer plumage, and they are really quite beautiful.

A cup of coffee or two later and while I was buying a replacement eye piece for the scope having dropped the thing last time at the centre, Dave set off to sit in the new hide. While I was haggling over the price - trying to get bars of chocolate thrown in, coded news came in over the radio. The SBG had been seen on the targets. Not a particularly good code.

I had a head start on the waiting masses and set off wet footed only to be passed by a dad and his kid with the same goal. Happy faces meant it was still there, and I must admit I was getting a bit excited. Get this out of the way and enjoy the rest of the day, I thought. Didn't see Dave in the hide when I arrived and assumed he was still making his way along the northern boardwalk. The guy who'd spotted the gull offered me a look through his scope, which I declined on the basis that the brute was going to stand out at that close distance.

I scanned the gulls. Nothing.

Having heard where the guy was giving instructions to other newcomers to look, I cheated and followed them. Got to be said I was a bit disappointed. The back end of another bird as they were all facing into the wind. What I saw looked like the back end of a GBB. Nothing like what I was expecting. No worries I have ti... the buggers all launched into the air and dispersed over the back of Wennington and the pools in between. Bugger!

Then the masses arrived.

While we scanned, or a few scanned the area I met up with a guy who I'd met down in Dorset for the Bufflehead, and again in Norfolk for the Woodchat. He had kindly given me lift to see the Stone Curlew and then on to Lakenheath for the orioles. We reminisced about bacon sandwiches and what we'd both been up to. Then I relocated Dave who had been fairly oblivious to the commotion around him. Had he seen the gull. No. But it was right in front! Seeds of doubt grew to larger proportions.

Back with the melee someone picked "the bird" up again right at the back of Wennington, seventh bird in from the right. Easy enough directions. Again a sense of disappointment. Everybody else seemed happy enough, but as time wore on a dissenting voice piped up. Brave fellow. The gull now had morphed into something quite grey, nothing at all like the pictures on Dom's website or Bird Guides...

... ah Bird Guides! The i-phone to the rescue. I showed the picture around. Of course the colour of the grey will change with the light. The finder himself said I think it flew off earlier. True the gulls were very unsettled and had taken off and shuffled around.

Then the clincher news of the gull back on the tip five-ten minutes previously. While some decided to go for the clincher at the tip others went home happy with their tick. I decided against fighting the elements and chose the option of staying put and drying out a bit more.

A crap day made crappier with the news of Jonno's Caspo on the flats and Tim's Waxwing by the stables. I wanted home.

Sunday dawned spectacularly-ish, and having provisionally arranged to meet Jonno for gull inspection I was on the flats early doors. On my own. For a long time.

When the laggards finally turned up we sauntered across the playing fields where I picked up the Med again. Apparently it had been re sighted the day before. After a week's seeming absence it had progressed further with its moult and looked a different bird.

Prodigal Med Gull

Tim suggested making a slight detour on the way to the little tea shop of happiness, to see if the Waxwing were still around. They were, patch tick for Jono and an opportunity for me to get some cracking visuals. That should read slightly better than my previous efforts visuals.

You've probably overdosed on great Waxwing shots anyway

After rattling off a good hundred shots (yup and this was one of the best!), we bee-lined the tea shop picking up Grey Wagtail for Jono and Tim on the way.

While stood soaking up tea and rays we watched a pair of Sparrowhawk displaying over the woods, joyous! Another birder joined us. Apparently Wanstead Park has made a name for itself because of its Lesser spots, and he was another drawn by the chance of a sighting. We brought him to the Dell, the most likely place. Nothing. We made to go to the Old Sewage Works, but a the call of the smallest woody stopped us in our tracks. It flew east, he followed.

Great Crested Grebe, Perch's first of the year

26 February 2011

Caspo on the Flats

Today was a good day to say the least. After some filthy twitchery not involving Wanstead one little bit, I hit the Old Sewage Works early afternoon. After some hard listening I managed to locate a Bullfinch in the large hedge, but it flew out the back before I could see if it was male or female. Also present were a couple of Dunnock, several Greenfinches, a Song Thrush and a Chaffinch. Leaving the area, I noticed a bird loosely associating with four Goldfinch in the weedy bit, and was delighted to find a male Reed Bunting. I do not normally get excited by Reed Buntings, but if memory served (and it did) I had never seen one in the Park before. Guaranteed on the Flats, where they breed either side of Centre Road, but a new bird for the Park. For me at least - perhaps they are regular? The Old Sewage Works is the most likely place I suppose, but nonetheless very pleasing.

But the foray was to get better, as on the way back I stopped on the Flats to see if I could locate the Med Gull that was still around. I couldn't, but on scanning a close group of Gulls, what I had first taken to be a Herring Gull from the road began to scream Caspian at me. In my own head, I've come close to Caspian here several times before, once even returning home for a scope only for it to morph into a Herring Gull at 40x, but this one was the real deal. I managed to get to within about 30-40m of it; unfortunately so did some footballers about a minute or two later, and as luck would have it, I didn't have my camera as the weather was so poor.

Now we've seen what happens when descriptions of Gulls are posted on here, so I will refrain from doing so lest buns get thrown. Suffice it to say that I am so confident that I wrote it up as soon as I got home and have already submitted it to the county recorder, for it remains a description species in London due to the confusion risks. No point hanging around, best to write these things immediately before you start imagining pro features. Maybe it'll get through, maybe it won't - I don't find many things, and am therefore rather inexpert at writing descriptions. It doesn't really matter - bottom line, I was happy, and it's now on my Wanstead list, and about time too. I've found several birds at Rainham, and whilst Gulls are still a minefield, the best advice I know is that if you have even the slightest doubt, then it isn't a Caspian. Everything has to add up, and this time everything did. Adult bird, in case anyone is on the lookout for it. When it was flushed, it flew south towards the Capel Road changing rooms, but I couldn't refind it. The Flats are looking very good for gulls right now, as the continued presence of the Med Gull shows. We're only a few days away from the anniversary of the mega-gull count in 2010, where persistent rain transformed the Flats into a large puddle, and we had over 3000 Gulls, including a record count of 82 Herring Gulls. Today there were only about 25 Herring Gulls, mostly juveniles, but if it continues to rain, that number may grow. Slaty-backed anyone?

23 February 2011

Attempt to scope scaup scuppered as it may have scarpered

The title says it all, no Scaup. No surprise. I got thoroughly wet and probably would have been well pissed off but for a male Bullfinch who put in appearance over the ornamental waters even the Water Rail put in a show.

With my scope by my side it was a chance to practice some digi-ing. One hundred and sixty frames later and not much to show for it (collective sighs of relief).

But with news of Swallows last week, today 2 Sand Martin and even an Osprey reported on Birdguides, now is not the time for complacency as anything can happen!

... but probably won't

... just yet

22 February 2011

Starting early

Decided not to go out today, for fear of burning out before the mayhem of March. So had plenty of time to catch up on what's about. Daniel of Redbridge Birds emailed us regarding a Scaup that had been reported to him from the Heronry on Monday. Sounded good. The reporter however was an 8 year old boy aptly named Samuel Bird. Could this be the hybrid reported from Valentine's that Jono we were asked. I was out on Monday but in a rush to get round and saw nothing of note in my cursary observations.

It would be fantastic and a tad galling if this little upstart had seen something that I should of. Mind you Jono's own son probably has a bigger lifetime list than my own - and he helped me onto to some Little Gull at Titchwell last summer (the Black Winged Stilt day), so perhaps it wouldn't be that impossible. I was probably a better birder back in my short wearing youth too!

So rather than chase really ugly gulls at Rainham I'll be back on the ponds, and I really would like the tyke to be right, but obviously for all the wrong reasons - patch ticks and all.

On other matters for two nights running I've got hints of an Owl calling on Earlham Grove, Forest Gate - presumably the same one Steve got in the little wood on the south edge of the flats. Mega if true!

Also in my spare time this morning I had a quick look at the stat counter that is part of this blogging stuff. The most viewed page? Yup my admission of being crap at gulls. Car-crash internet.

Postscript: Woo hoo I can do paragraphs - which means fewer or no crap pictures.

Ha! you wish

A morning what like it wont be tomorrow

21 February 2011


With patch being slightly in the doldrums, I decided a change of scene would be in order. Steve was not working so I offered him the choice of Rainham - lucking out on Penduline Tits, an ugly gull or two - or the chance to see Smew, Bittern, Black-necked Grebe etc. up the Lea Valley. There was only going to be one winner. As if to put sugar on the enticement I said we'd cycle, my fingers firmly crossed in the vain hope of rain. It didn't rain. So early doors we're off, first to the flats in a half-hearted check on the gulls. There were some. That obligation fulfilled we headed off to the nearest access point to the Lea valley which wasn't being built on. Already I was beginning to regret my cycling offer, but no-one could doubt our green credentials. Hackney Marshes held a surprising amount of Teal on the river and not a lot else. We passed the water works NR expecting Cetti's, but not expecting it to be open. A quick detour and a head-on collision with a bollard, brought us to this interesting little site. Not much on the pools: Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufties (of course), and a couple of Little Grebe and definitely no repeat of my Harlequin moment of a couple of years back (OK it was an escapee, but still a beautiful bird). On the marshy, reedy bits more Teal, some Snipe and a Green Sandpiper (my first of the year, and a probable first for Steve who couldn't actually remember seeing one). I thought I was being helpful by getting him on to the bird when he said: "Oh, I thought you had another one, I've seen that already". [Below Snipe, taken at Rainham - not a million miles away from Walthamstow]

With much to be done and so little time, we were off again. Through the stables - plenty of Redwing and Fieldfare in the paddocks - and up to the reservoirs where my first goal a London Eider was calling me. It was supposed to be on No. 5, and rather than pay a pound to get in we peered over the fence. Nothing. Meaning there was nothing for it but to cough up the money. Luckily we me a nice birder called Harry, new to the area, who told us that there was zip on the southern waters barring a few Goldeneye. So that meant we went Northside. Lockwood I fancied as the best place. Apparently an eider-down. As we made to leave, Harry called us back, the eider had just swam out from the shore where it had been hiding behind a pair of Shelduck. Even Steve, who up to this point had been complaining about seeing an Eider again, took some interest. Bingo London tick no. 186 (give or take some dodgy plastics).

Next the William Girling. Not much on the way bar a fly over female Goosander, while the WG was possibly the quietest I've ever seen it. A few Tufties, GC Grebe and gulls. I finally scoped the BnGs close in on the eastern shore. Another new tick for Mr Thorpe. It was getting decidedly miserable now and I was hoping someone would steal my bike rather than have to cycle it further. We made our way up the side of the King George through some particularly muddy patches - the joy of walking - where somehow I managed to acquire a puncture - rapture - which I was accused of deliberately achieving by ploughing through brambles. By that stage I would have taken a knife to the tires rather than subject my arse to the saddle any longer. So walking it was then. I sensed Steve was not amused, it got a bit quiet. A Grey Wagtail lifted the gloom a bit.

OK so I lied about how far it was to the next point of call, I knew he would thank me later. Maybe not today, or next week, but sometime! Hall Marshes held some Lapwing, Wigeon and a surprising amount of Pheasant. Goldeneye (another Steve first) on Friday Lake and the reason for this madness a male Smew on 70 Acres (year tick 106 - yeah pitiful!). By now Steve had had enough, and although I wanted to search for Pink Feet and Goosanders and other stuff, I had to agree. All the same a Water Rail squealing like a pig on the way to the station and a singing Goldcrest meant a rather good day. Except for the cycling.

Today on the patch: 7 Teal on Shoulder of Mutton, Grey Wagtail on Heronry (see pic above), and a singing Redwing, so not a lot really - I am tempted to go and see that ugly battery-raised gull at Rainham.

18 February 2011

Wanstead Park public consultation

The good people at the City Corp, in an effort to get their hands on some lottery money are asking the public for their views on what should be done with dog exercise and fly tipping area we fondly know as the patch. The consultation does not quite cover all the flats, just that west of Lake House Road known as Bush Wood Flats. [http://www.wansteadpark.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=129:draft-conservation-statement-published-public-consultation-begins&catid=42:restoration-of-wanstead-park&Itemid=118] I leave the sensible arguments to the sane, but through my experience of the users of the park I think we should go the whole hog and make into east London's biggest dog toilet and tip. Then we could have gull masterclasses without having to go to Rainham. Sod the Skylark; they're a nuisance as some people believe dog's should be put on a lead during the nesting season. They're dogs! Enough said, apparently. As for the tipping: there have been 2 scooters and today a car in the very area covered by the report. Where else are cowboy builders and DIY enthusiasts going to dump unwanted materials; its not as if the council picks these things up if you ask them. As for the feeding the ducks, isn't it enough that people are willing to drag large buckets of rice, sacks of bread and other kitchen refuse without having to take away the containers. Wake up! And besides if it were used as a tip, wouldn't this negate the need to clear virtually all the scrub to stop the cottagers?

Obviously I would like to see the whole of the flats made into a National Nature Reserve on account of it being rare acid grassland: no footie, no model planes, no dogs, no joggers, no barbecues and a few more scrapes please. You could start with Cat and Dog, nicely full at the moment and even hosting its own pair of ducks. The Snipe was there too, and even the Heron has had a sniff round in the past.

Today a flock of Siskin flew south, just one of the 50 species noted in just a couple of hours. In the SSSI there seemed to be Reed Bunting everywhere, and Meadow Pipits - 20 flew off the fairground at one point - best count I've had since the autumn.

On Alex a crash of gulls were trying Indian cuisine, which looked as if it were making them go slightly mad, as they started diving into the water to rid themselves of the taste. Had a quick look through the host of roosting gull for our Med, but they wouldn't settle as a Sparrowhawk was cruising the area. Ominously a fleeting glimpse of a large common gull-a-like could mean that bird might have come back. Got a fairly good look at the wings, enough to draw a terribly sketch. So its back out early doors tomorrow to see if can catch the bugger before the footy starts. Then maybe Rainham for some more gull fun!

Above the Egyptian Geese from Alex, not the same ones as on Heronry

16 February 2011

A good day

Sometimes the sun shone, and sometimes it didn't. It shone on the Little Owl Steve refound at the weekend, sitting in the crown of a tree at the west end of Long Wood, the last place I had seen the bird in 2010. This pleased me all the more because I hadn't got up that early in the first place (tick 62 for the Flats). It was a morning of endless possibilities, wherever we looked we were rewarded. In the SSSI two Reed Bunting sang while a flock of Meadow Pipit rose off the sodden fairground and gave us close views in the silver birch. Tim had earlier counted 19 on his tour before setting off to work - and more pleasingly for him 14 Skylarks of which 6 were up and singing. Since he had reported nothing from Jubilee and Steve had already done the rounds there, we headed back to the eastern side of Centre Road. As we waited to cross I noticed a small bird get smacked spectacularly by a car, it fluttered briefly on the centre line and seemingly expired. We moved closer to check what it was before it became part of the road surface - a Dunnock - but then it was gone. I presumed sucked up by the wake of a passing car. It flew says Steve - a somewhat unbelievable happy ending. What a day!

Above the clay pit fields a couple of Redwing, one singing quietly to itself, and Fieldfare sat in the virtually berry free bushes. Steve wanted to go and find Coal Tit, rather than the Med Gull, so we moved on to the park. 4 male Teal made for the willows as we approached the Shoulder of Mutton, and I pointed out a singing Coal Tit to the north, which Steve couldn't hear. Since we were here I suggested to check out the basin for the GC Grebe seen at the weekend, and as a long shot Waxwing that had been reported off one of the side streets. A text from Jono, while on the school run, confirmed the grebe still in residence. Within ten minutes it was in the bag (tick # 65 for the Park). "Look out for Waxwing," I said, more in hope than expectation. First side road we come to there are 6 of the beauties feeding in a small tree (tick #66). What a morning! Of course before Jono could get there they'd buggered off, and I had cause to rue forgetting my camera - so here's a truly awful pick of Wanstead's first for yonks from last October.

A quick scurry down to the cricket pitch to count wagtails and a bit of trespass across the fairways to get back into the park, we finally catch up with a viewable Coal Tit near the grotto. That chuffed Steve. It was now surely time to chase gulls. He had other ideas and produced some bread. We fed the ducks!

A couple of Little Grebe edged along the side of Heronry giving me the opportunity to introduce another paragraph and a image of spurious context.

Back at Alex the Med was not showing well and Steve quickly got bored and returned to the Old Sewage Works. Five minutes later wandering through the sea of swirling white, I put it up. A good day.

15 February 2011

Taken to task

I wanted to have the title "sent to the naughty step", but I thought that might be considered glib and rather diminish what is basically a serious (to me anyway) matter!

The reader may have come across Nick Tanner's comment regarding my probable/possible Ring Bill of Friday. Firstly I would like to say that I have nothing but admiration (sometimes grudgingly) for virtually every birder who is better than me, but in particular for those who experience, knowledge and field craft far exceeds my own. Not least because on many occasion I have benefited from it, and on occasion learnt from it. Without these dedicated people I would not have a good number of cracking birds on my life list or any hope of finding them on my own. Nothing can beat years of birding.

There lies my problem, I've only been "seriously" birding for just under 2 years now so it comes as no surprise to me that I am absolutely hopeless at many aspects of bird identification, and not just in the larid field either. I would however like to think that I have, in that time, improved in certain areas, but perhaps not moved on as much as I would have liked in others. Books, DVDs, apps are all well and good, nothing comes close to actually seeing, hearing and experiencing things in person, or to have people around you to correct your mistakes and give you some inside gen from their own experiences. So an opportunity to thank Jonathan, Tim, Stuart, Marco Johnston and Adrian Pearson for there guidance over the last year and a bit.

Returning to the main topic: Nick was not convinced by my "description", and in retrospect it wasn't very good, although I obviously thought at the time I had ticked enough boxes for me to report it. If Tim hadn't been rushing round after his first Med Gull for Wanstead, the matter would have probably been resolved in a matter of minutes. But he was, so I had to go on my own feelings, which may or may not have been totally wrong. More worryingly for me is on discussing the bird with Tim on the phone, he asked: "... and the iris colour was it yellow?" I had no idea. Today a RBG was reported from Sands Lane GP, Yorks (http://www.birdguides.com/bne/details.asp?thread=617996). I had a look. How could have I have missed eyes like that? True the image was in sunshine not drizzle, but still I can recall nothing particularly special about the eyes of my bird. I have subsequently realised I rarely if ever notice the eyes of any bird. On many occasions I've walked away from a sighting realising I can't actually remember too much about the individual. This to me seems like a more serious problem and one that needs to be addressed (in light of some descriptions and notes to be written as required by the London recorder), especially as I move out of my comfort zone of the familiar. At the moment this would point to a compromise between rushing round the patch(es) and taking a longer more considered approach to my observations.

A master class in gull ID would help - I wonder what Martin Garner is up to at the weekend? In the end its a matter of learning by your mistakes, weaknesses and through experience. So a thanks to Nick Tanner for the wake up call!

Since Friday I have removed the bird from my count for the flats and only included it in the sightings column in brackets (in good faith), which will have a disclaimer come the day I put my year list on the LB site.

13 February 2011

It lives!

Our errant Little Owl has finally put in appearance. Steve managed to track down the elusive bird to the western edge of Long Wood during the week, which is all the encouragement I need to get up at some stupidly early time tomorrow when I should be catching up on zeds. Work today meant only a few hours on the patch, more than enough time for Jono to pick up the Med for its 3rd day after some sterling work by two dog walkers and their 3 hounds who ploughed straight through the assembly of gulls we had been scrutinising with no luck for half an hour. Once the masses had spread over the playing fields the standout bird stood out.

Could have been a good day if the football hadn't started at ten, and I hadn't got to go to work. 2 Siskin over Cat & Dog, singing Reed Bunting and a male Teal circling over the brooms in the SSSI before flogging it eastward. We found a pair later on the Alex which gives me an opportunity to drop this one in I took yesterday at Rainham (as the sun shone I watched its green flash turn to a wonderful blue and back again).

While we watched the aforementioned gull, Tim arrived. He was doing a WEBS count, which meant I didn't have to take my hands out of my pockets, which was good. I tagged along down to the little tea shop of happiness where the WREN group were meeting. They invited me to sign their insurance claim form so I am now covered for the dangers that lie in wait for the innocent birder. Dangerous activity this!

With short time left at my disposal Steve and I trolled round the OSW with little success bar an extremely quick weasel crossing our path (4th mammal tick of the year). I wandered, lonely, and all at once I came upon a host of crocus... and a Goldcrest singing in the ivy.

12 February 2011

Med Gull redux and a lot of Dogs.

Started off on the Flats scanning Gulls in the hope of pulling out the candidate Ring-billed Gull from yesterday. No joy, although there are enough Common Gulls on the Flats that finding a Ringer wouldn't come as a total shock - probably in excess of 700 in total, with several hundred Black-headed Gulls. With all the rain of late, the football pitches are proving extremely attractive for worm-hunting, and are thus swarming with Gulls early morning. On the western Flats where I started, I had around forty Herring Gulls, which was my highest "normal" count (the record is from late February 2010 when Wanstead Flats resembled a large puddle, with 3000+ Gulls including 82 Herring Gulls).

On the plus side the Med Gull from yesterday was still around, though mobile and unhappy posing for photographs. Gradually the footballers took over, so I headed with Tim to the Park, Nick having forsaken God's own patch for Rainham (honestly, who would do such a thing?).

The Park was crawling with dogs. A 360 degree scan from the Tea Hut of Happiness (and openess) revealed no fewer than 22 dogs, including an enormous one that bore more than a passing resemblance to a Grizzly Bear. You couldn't move for canines, ninety percent of them out of control. A tip for those who contemplate sitting down to enjoy their cup of tea - stand. We observed two dogs pissing against the Tea Hut's chairs, it's disgusting. Today was all about dogs, until about lunchtime they ruined my walk, running amok through habitat, jumping on me, in all the ponds, even swimming in the Roding. It was so bad I briefly entertained renaming this blog Wanstead Dogging, but somehow it had a slightly unsavoury ring to it. Mind you, it would probably get a lot more hits. By mid-afternoon dog levels had declined to something bordering on tolerable, but the birding remained quiet. Not sure how many miles I covered, but on my third visit to the OSW I managed to connect with a Little Egret that flew south and out of sight.

Other birds of note included a drumming Lesserspot at the far northern end of the Ornamentals (and another in the centre Copse on the Flats), and finally a Kingfisher on the Roding, calling stridently as it zoomed past south roughly level with the Canal. The regular Egyptian Geese were on Heronry in the afternoon, though not in the morning, and the Treecreeper was reported from near the Grotto.

And finally a plug for the 2010 Bird Report, a link to which you should see over on the right, or there is a tab at the top where you can also access 2009. Tim has put together two top-notch reports that show how good this area is, illustrated lavishly with stunning photography, ahem. The 2010 is hot off the metaphorical press, and it's free!

11 February 2011

Gulls are great... ... no really!

Small ones are great. Large ones, well I am playing hard to get. But what a difference actually seeing something interesting in your large flocks of larid layabouts can make. Quietly wandering across the football pitches towards the Alex, for another round of count the ducks, a red bill caught my attention. It was bright and big. Hang about, it also showed no black on its wings at all. When it finally came to rest it also had bright red legs, result! My text was soon responded to by Tim and Jono, but I had already had my fill of Med Gull and was off to tote up the tufties. This now meant I would have to stay and refind the bird. JL was first on the scene, a stop off while taking his kids to school. Tick and run, though to be fair he was going to see if the children were enthusiastic about adding MG to their Wanstead lists and before he could get back an elderly gent and his dog had gone straight through the gull flock scattering them to the four corners. Luckily the Med went westward where Tim caught up with it on the brick fields (his first on the patch having missed last Summer's bird). Job done.

Having forgotten the hours I've spent looking at countless BH Gull to make one MG, it always surprises me how bloody obvious they are. No matter, I will be back searching fruitlessly next week at countless BH Gull to make one MG.

Back on track I was filled with a fresh sense of optimism and endeavour with regards larids. I started scanning the reassembled flocks between myself and the lake. A couple of Herring Gull, two or three LBBGs and many Common and Black-heads. The group immediately in front of me, mainly CGs in various states of lethargy, contained something slightly more interesting at the back. In that at first glance through bins (which need constant wiping against the drizzle), the alert bird was significantly larger than its companions. It was also not so cute as the soporific Commons before it, but no way as angry looking as the couple of Herring Gulls paddling for worms. Bill much larger with a prominent dark ring, dark markings on the neck and head, probably not a Common Gull I summised. Which left my knowledge of gulls with only one suggestion. Now I've seen Rossi a couple of times when year listing: take a train to Westcliffe on Sea, walk to the front by the Icecream parlour look on the street lamps, on the groynes - bingo if he's there job done. No more than ten minutes work each time (I did miss him once), and your back on a train. He is to say the least rather obvious. You know he's likely to be there and so looking is easier. Take a similar bird out of context and its harder. Strangely though just as when I saw the Westcliffe bird there was absolutely no elation whatsoever, that built up later. First I wanted Tim to see the bird for confirmation or correction. He was still wandering around after some small winter plumaged black headed gull with a bright blood red beak. The bird flew off to the south. I should have noticed mirrors'n'stuff, I should have taken a picture (but judging from the woeful results of the morning these would probably have been less than helpful), I should be better at taking notes (which for me still amount to 1 or 2 or perhaps a bigger number!). I can say it had fairly extensive black on the wing ends and thus little white. I should have noted where it went, but I got distracted by a text. Bugger! Couldn't find it, though now all flying birds were looking like it. Bugger! But not being one to give up easily I scanned the few patches of white things and gave up. Bugger! Tim says they are loyal to a patch e.g. Rossi. So it will be back tomorrow and so will Wanstead Birders... ... with telescopes. We'll pin the bugger down.

... what the Mediterranean Gull might have looked like it if it had been last year in the summer, still leaves plenty of room for the imagination. I can't fathom why Tim chose Jono's picture for his wonderful The Birds of Wanstead 2010.

7 February 2011


The Kingfishers look to be back, as if from a long vacation the way they were scooting up and down the river checking out what had changed. What a heart lifter the first glimpse of the metallic spear shooting off down the river was, but then to have two chasing each other over the woods and playing fields made my day. And with the male Blackcap pottering about the hedges by the stables and later the singing Treecreeper I was loathed to go to work (when am I not!). A good day.

... and signing out on a high, have some catkins just about to pop out in all their furry loveliness

6 February 2011

Saturday, 5 February

A late post, but I had to cut short my amble round the patch yesterday to go to Cambridge to sort out a phone. It always the same the less time you have the more you want to stay out, the delusion being that you think your going to see something special, because you've seen something 'quite' special. I was hoping that a J Snipe might be confirmed today, but there was nothing on the first walk through the bog. I had to go to the Cat and Dog pond to get a Snipe, which was possibly the one I flushed later from the aforementioned boggy bit of the SSSI. The species were rattling up and it looked good for 50 on the flats, missing were Skylark, Fieldfare (haven't seen any for some time now), Sparrowhawk, Goldcrest, RN Parakeet (also seemingly thin on the ground). A coffee beckoned so down to the little tea shop of happiness, for a mug and a slice. It was too early, so I dinked round the corner to see if I could catch up with the Rail, not showing, and to see if there were any large sawbills on Perch, there weren't. Ah well a mug and slice then. Refreshed I made off to the old sewage works, a Kestrel - probably the same one I'd just seen over the Alex - patch tick. By the little sluice a white object appeared on the side of the Roding. Little Egret, I thought, but I've made this mistake before so checking it wasn't another plastic bag with my bins, it's identity was confirmed (#77 for Wanstead this year). It was then flushed by some golfers teeing off just across the river. It lazily flapped south and round the corner. I followed. I was checking out the opposite bank when I heard a plonk as a errant golf ball hit the water. The Little Egret, which must have been on the bank below me and obscured from view, flopped westward and then over the park. Bad shot, but then I noticed other white objects in the mud and on the far shore, the results of sliced tee shots. I decided that I too might be in danger from the swaggering oafs on the other bank so headed back to the park.

Lots of Tufties, loads of noisy Siskin, but still no Kingfisher. Caught up with the Egret again as it fished with success just south of the pumping station.

And here's what it looks like after a bit of a touch up in photoshop...

5 February 2011

The blustery day

With strong winds over night the odds were high that there might be something interesting on or over the patch this morning. I intended to get up early. I didn't. That meant that a full circuit was off the agenda and that staring into bushes would have to be cut to a minimum. A male Peregrine followed the line of the trees on the south edge of the flats and gaining height disappeared over Forest Gate (yay! year tick). The Heron was on Jubilee, patiently watching. Two Cormorants dived for god knows what and the wheeling Starling remained stubbornly starling and not Waxwings. No blown in lost birds either. The Fairground was empty bar a group of crows, Skylarks absent. Just before the SSSI a "snipe" flushed from the boggy ground near my feet and silently whizzed over the trees and out of sight. It appeared smaller, it appeared to have a shorter bill, it appeared to have a heavily streaked (with gold) back, it appeared to have a pointy tail. The regular Snipe was under its favoured tree and it to obliged me by taking flight. Both were silent. Now I've never seen a Jack Snipe in flight so I don't really know what to expect. I consulted Stuart (F), who said they fly straight and quickly dive for cover, which mine didn't. The fact that it had sat tight till I was nearly on top of it favoured JS, but I really don't know; it's one of those moments that you start influencing your thoughts to suit your initial reaction. So a possible. Bugger! Must do better. And like the possible YB Warbler, the possible Black Redstart and probably a host of other possibles - not counted.

No such problems in the Park. The Water Rail had not been incorporated into a Heron's diet, the Egyptian Geese were still in situ after trying out the Basin the day before, and there appeared to be many more Siskin in evidence. It's always the same though, I could and wanted to stay longer, but my contract says that I have to go to work. Bugger! The sharp-eyed will have noticed that my enforced paragraph break today is brought to you by the word Cormorant and the number 1.

2 February 2011

Swan ate my trousers

A man from east London was today in shock after a vicious and un-provoked attack on his person by one of the Queen's own swans gone rogue. The man was set upon, by the so called Shoulder of Mutton pond, in Wanstead Park this morning by a pack of delinquent wildfowl whilst going about his business counting the less offensive members of the waterfowl to be found on ponds in the area. "It had gnashing, slavering teeth and a rabid look in its eyes, I feared for my life", said the man. "It's those pesky do-gooders who are feeding these birds filth to which they finally become addicted, and their behaviour gets quite outrageous as they try and score more white bread." This was not the first time the man has been subject to the un-wanted attentions of theCygnus family, prior to Christmas he had his finger severely beaked as an adolescent grabbed for his cheese and onion pasty.

The bastard swan in question

Meanwhile: Skylark feeding on the Fairground, with a few mipits in attendance, some duck and stuff, and in the Park some ducks and stuff and 9 Linnets in the old sewage works. Cast your mind back to my impressively brilliant chart of the other day and you will notice that some months are better than others. From this scientific resource we can see that one could, feasibly stay in bed till late March/early April, go back to bed again in late May through to mid August and not miss a hell of a lot. As an idea it has a lot going for it.

I was going to finish with something eloquent regarding the beauty of certain trees at this time of the year, but considering the shot above I would be hard pressed to make it believable!

1 February 2011

More Therapy

We left our Heron standing around Wanstead's Perch Pond, motionless - physically still. What a difference two days of standing about in the cold water make. Today he was still there, but had chosen to stand on a branch instead.