27 April 2011

All going a bit Pete Tong

It's all gone a bit samey down on the patch; the cold on Tuesday took me by surprise and kept my hands firmly in my pockets. At least the crowds have gone, leaving just a few strange men loitering round the broom patch, and of coourse the packs of un-stewarded dogs roaming the skylark fields, and the litter that marks the true appreciation of this "local beauty spot" by its myriad of users. Maybe it will be cleared by the time the next wave of shits arrive this weekend or maybe it wont. The fair's gone too, so we get that bit of cut up ground back.

I thought we'd be in for a Whinchat bonanza this week, but the solitary male scarpered Sunday night. The male Wheatear was replaced by a female on Tuesday and by Wednesday she'd gone too. Absent too, were the Lesser Whitethroat and the newly arrived Garden Warbler. The Reed Warbler on Alex only stayed the Sunday, so to get my fix I had to pootle round to Shoulder of Mutton.

Two Willow Warbler became one on Wednesday but showy enough for some pics and now I am struggling, don't want to go to work. Can't wait for the Royal Wedding, though I might miss it due to finding much better things to do.

On the plus side, someone reported a Little Egret carrying "nesting material", so that's something to look out for, in between looking at every bloody feral pigeon in the hope that it isn't and is, instead, a stunning Turtle Dove, which would be nice.

No bloody Swifts either, but some of these which aren't House Martin really - well at least till Mr Lethbridge has seen one.

Don't know what this is, but I am pretty confident it's not what we went looking for at Dungeness on Monday though it probably has the words "hairy", "vagrant", "emperor", and a few others thrown in. Couldn't get too excited by the beast at Dunge, but this is the first on Alex and so it rocks, er or something like that.

Still no pics of the Reedy so have another denizen of the reeds...

24 April 2011

Uphill from now on

With virtually all the gimme's in the bag, barring Swift, Common Tern, Spotted Flycatcher (much later on), it looks like it's going to be a long summer. Today the Whinchat finally, hah! its only April I must remember, graced the broom fields, and after half an hour of chasing singing I pinned down a Garden Warbler. With Jonno's Reed Warbler on Alex, the second bird currently on site, what's left to get... .... we said this last year and sailed through the targets we thought possible, but its going to be hard work (early mornings) and a lot of luck, and in that case anything can and probably will happen. The exciting thing is you just don't know what.

This morning was beautiful and things looked good for a big score on the flats, but then it went, er, flat. Not perturbed Steve and I wandered through the park, first stop of course Shoulder of Mutton for RW 1, probably the same bird as last year, who sang unrequited for 3 months before jacking it in, hopefully a young warblet will find him and make warbles together.

On Heronry a match has been found for GC Grebe no.3, and who knows we may get humbug baby grebes floating around before too long. God knows what the Egyptian's are up to, and I apologise unreservedly for inferring anything against either as apparently they have a nest somewhere up a tall tree.

Not a lot was happening in the Park either, so we went off patch to find nothing much happening elsewhere. However Fairlop has a Sedge Warbler singing from a Blackberry bush, and I want one.

On the way back I couldn't resist stopping by RW1 just to reassure myself all was well. He promptly shut up. All's well.

Erm they have some big roosters in Essex!

22 April 2011

Hobby returns

Two days later than last year, but it looks like our breeding pair of Hobbies has returned. There I was, lounging entirely predictably in my garden chair, when the familiar shape drifted over the garden, followed swiftly by another. I had to squint a lot, and furrow my brow, before I allowed myself to shout "Hobby!" very loudly and jump up and run for my camera. The results are hardly worthwhile, but you get the picture...

19 April 2011

Morning wood

After working Sunday and knowing that holidays were just up the road, I couldn't take anymore, so I took some more holiday and unintentionally a lie in. As luck would have it, this was probably the best non decision I've made for a long time, rewarded as I was for my tardy behaviour by the sight of a small un-duck like thing on Bandstand (AKA Angel) Pond.

It was very wader-ish and not a Common Sand, so also very exciting. Being a team player I moved around sun-side to get some shots of before phoning Jono, just in case it hiked it.

Luckily it appeared more than happy in the vestiges of the pond, and fairly oblivious to me. Having got some record shots I phoned Mr Lethbridge. As always when this happens you fear anything spooking the bird before anybody arrives, especially Woodies - having only ever seen them in flight around Alex made me all the more anxious.

While I waited a large dog bounded into the water and made straight for the bird, it flew side-stepping the lunging dog, as it were. Again it charged as its fat owner jogged out of sight behind Bandstand Wood completely oblivious to his arse of a dog. After a few minutes the hound gave up and calm was restored and the sandpiper with it.

Mr Lethbridge arrived soon after, glowing from his exertions of cycling - probably the most eco-friendly twitch he's managed for a long time. His reward probably the best showing of a Wood Sandpiper I think I've ever had, and on the smallest scrap of water, at one of the busiest entrances to the flats, unbelievable. What a place!

As we snapped away an old guy came and asked what we'd got, I lent him my bins. Chuffed, he said he was leading a walk later and would have something to show his entourage. The bird flew off!

Onwards, through the broom fields: 3 Wheatear again, Linnets over and approaching long wood the flash of red from the tail of a Redstart (tick #100 for the patch this year, only four months ahead of last year) bingo! Spent the next half an hour shadowing the rather beautiful bird as it happily went about flycatching.

Holidays are brill!

A squirrel!

16 April 2011

Latest migrant activity

Although we've been absent from the blogosphere for about six days, our enthusiasm has only waned a tiny tiny bit. In truth, it's just been a bit quiet - a bit of a lull in proceedings. We've continued to have Wheatears on most days, and trickles of Hirundines though. Whitethroat numbers are building, and Chiffchaff and Blackcap are everywhere.

The lastest year addition came today, a mid-afternoon stroll over onto the Flats producing a Lesser Whitethroat, a day earlier than last year. If my records are to be believed, I last saw a Lesser Whitethroat on August 17th, and probably last heard one sing some time before that, so the fact that I picked it up on song is nothing short of miraculous. Something, at last, is sticking.

Our 106th bird of the year, though tomorrow when all the local birders have stopped twitching all over the country like nutters, we'll hopefully add a few more...

10 April 2011

Egrets, we've had a few

... Steve regrets going down the library to find his nightjar isn't what he thought...

... Nick regrets pointing out a Lapwing to Jono, on the grounds that it is a year patch tick and keeps him one in front in the league table (London Birders Wiki)

.... and this

... imagine Frenching that!

8 April 2011

New species of goose pending

Another fantastic day on the flats once the sun began to warm the cockles, and rather than look at a particular log, I thought the best policy was to move around thus opening all sorts of windows of opportunity.

Met Steve in the broom fields who recounted his Wednesday night stake out of the flats to try and catch the Stone Curlew as it went roostwards. He hadn't seen that, as became apparent from his description of what he had seen: a "bird" about the size of a Jay with longish wings flitting between the copses quickly appearing and disappearing, jagging as if hawking for insects seemingly clapping its wings above and below. He is methodical, and his description went on a bit, but I have fairly short attention span, so I forget much of what he said, but from what I do recollect it sounded good for Nightjar. Oooh er! Wanstead courting controversy again. Texted Tim and Jono with the news.

Bit early was our shared conclusion (which is why you never got to hear about a reeling Grasshopper Warbler ar Rainham a month ago just by the Tilda factory - just too damn early, I wouldn't want to look foolish would I?).

The idea, however, had formed a seed in Jono's head and set him to researching earliest records of NJ's for Essex. Not good was the prognosis. But not deterred he came out later and risked life and limb at the edge of west copse for a repeat performance (not Long Wood no-one is that stupid). His reward, Noctules!

We've sent Steve down the library to check out footage of Nightjar, and we'll probably send him back again for footage of Noctules. However, this still remains intriguing. Noctules, the UK's biggest bat, is still pissing small - 1/3 the size of the bird and I have difficulty imagining anybody who has seen a bat mistaking them for anything else, but I am probably on thin ice here, so enough, for the time being.

The flats did give up a new species of goose (See below), which we will call the Coat-hanger Goose. It can be deduced from its strange neck that it doesn't migrate but hangs itself up in wardrobes until spring arrives. Either that or it's a scary mutant.

The Whitethroat or another was singing and showing rather well in the SSSI, and a Tree Pipit toyed with us briefly in the broom south of Long Wood. As I was showing Steve its location it flew off before the brain clicked into gear and said "get a shot idiot!"

I am now extremely knackered after virtually a month or more of early starts and my body is starting to rebel, so an early start tomorrow then!

...and finally the March bit of science, bit tardy so apologies

From the above we deduce we're on track!

6 April 2011

Watching logs

Spent a good few hours watching a particular patch of the flats today and predominantly a log. Other people also came and joined in watching the log. It didn't do much, and as for a pastime, I don't think it'll catch on.

Luckily while watching the log other things kept us entertained.

Of course some of these

... and one of these

... could have come a bit closer.

And particularly these; that meant we couldn't go and find out we really had been watching a log for many hours

I reckon the Curlew is roosting either on the golf course or on "the plain" in the park. So it looks good for tomorrow. Now, though, I want a Great Spotted Cuckoo. i'd share it, honest!

5 April 2011

Stone Curlew over the brooms

Rather damp this morning, and gloomy. I had a mind to get to Jubilee before the doggies and score big on a wader, but I am too easily distracted. First by a dumped moped in the little Angel pond, which made me test the edges for Snipe for some reason, then by a flyover bird. At first I thought it was just another, or the first of the day's Cormorants, so nothing special, however it didn't want to be a Cormorant and pestered me to take a closer look. Although too dark to get any finer detail it was a goose, a small dark goose lacking anything in the way of shouting I am a bloody Canada! Dark head shortish neck and only getting lighter towards the rear end. Bloody hell, was that a Brent. We had some last year when they were blown up the Thames, even had some fly by my house, Jono had some by Jub, I think! The goose carried on doing some crazy ivans over east copse and appearing to land. Choice made, off to Alex, and a race between me and some dogs to get there first. I lost.

Alex, though did have a Kingfisher, more brown than electric blue, and a singing Willow Warbler. Trudging my way back and already slightly lettuce like, I thought to check out the balloon stands for Wheatear, nada! I had just left centre copse when a strange bird appeared to my right not a hundred yards away casually flying up the centre path by the brooms. Strange gull, I mused. "***&&^%$£@@@@@@ me, a %^&@#### Stone Curlew!"

Horror shots to follow

Jono will be crying over his laptop

No excuses, just got a bit excited, should keep the recorder happy - you think?

It got stranger, what the hell is this Tufty up to?

So a good day and to wrap it all off some of these little pleasures...

2 April 2011

Ton up!

April 2nd and we're up to 100. The last few days have been extremely productive, and none more so than today. I didn't get out early - beers last night put paid to that - but the Flats proved once again that it is a real migration hotspot.

Roy W was one of several visiting birders looking for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. Stuart and I met him near West Copse and were pleased to hear that he had scored. While we continued to chew the fat, Roy, always on the hunt for photographic subjects, headed off to a distant Green Woodpecker. Meanwhile I fancied I saw a flash of reddy orange from near where he had gone, and it wasn't long before he was beckoning us over and pointing. Oooh goody, I thought, a Whinchat perhaps?

More black and white than orange really, but most welcome. I wondered if it was the same bird as a couple of days ago, but it didn't linger to ask it. Wondering where it had got to, a nearer bird drew our attention. Had it just flown in, as when it flew towards Long Wood it was clearly a female bird, whereas the first one had been a male. Two bird theory invoked again.

The three of us skirted the edge of Long Wood to see if we could pick them up again. As we did so, a small bird popped up in front of me. The eloquent phrase of "Shit! Redstart!" passed my lips, the flash of reddy-orange explained. It stayed faithful to the area long enough for a couple of others to see it, before vanishing as the Ouzels had done. Most unexpected, my first spring bird here, and #99 for the patch this year.

A Swallow swooped by, a handful of Sand Martins, a pair of Wheatear near the broom fields, and later in the afternoon, the #100 that merits this post - House Martin over. A little slow to start this year, but we seem to have accelerated into the peak season almost instantaeneously. Clearly somebody has turned the migrant tap on.

1 April 2011

The IDs of March

Things finally kicked off for the flats in March, while in the park a kind of torpor set in, and although we're slightly disappointed not to have reached three figures by the end of the month it won't be long now...

Here's a brief resume of what you might have missed:

Divers, er moving right along. Grebes: The lonely Great Crested Grebe on Perch was finally seen with a potential mate doing first date kind of stuff on Heronry before they took in the sights of Alex, the basin and then back to Heronry by the end of the month. Hopefully something will come of it this year if they're quick about it and can squeeze in between the coot throng and find a vacant (and suitable) nest site. Meanwhile Little Grebe's have been trilling on Alex, Shoulder of Mutton with the main population on Heronry. One or two have been seen on the Ornamental Waters but strangely enough this expanse of water and that of Perch hold little of interest for them, maybe down to the large and voracious Terrapins that lurk beneath.

Duck numbers began to fall dramatically leaving just singles of Gadwall (Alex) and a few late movers on the Park's waters. Shoveler and Pochard like wise have virtually all moved on, although the occasional Teal can still be found underneath the willows on SoM. Tufties are still quite numerous and will stay throughout the summer, but no one is sure whether they actually breed here or not. The Egyptian Geese we suspect are jaffas, as nothing has become of their pre Christmas exhibitionism. A Shelduck, presumably from the Walthamstow reservoirs flew east across the flats on the 21st.

Game birds (and we're not talking the type to be found on the Romford Road of an evening) were always going to be a bit of a stumbling block. I suspected we'd seen the last of our Pheasant after the Spring Fair last year, however Mr Fisher got one calling from the cemetery on the 19th, it has, however, remained silent ever since.

Little Egret have become more frequent on the Roding, mostly singles, while Heron appear to be more regular, presumably with beaks to fill back on the W Res or Valentines Park.

It was a good month for raptors, though Kestrel remain alarmingly scarce. Sparrowhawks have been displaying over the park, sometimes joined by a third bird, and frequently seen on the flats. The stars of the show have been 2 Red Kite, one giving excellent views as it slid over the flats at the end of the month and a distant bird picked up by JL after a tip off from Mark Pearson at Stokey, several Buzzards (including two thermaling high over the SSSI) and a female Goshawk picked by SF over a cup of tea and a portion of reasonably priced cake at the little tea shop of happiness in the park. The next few week's should see Hobby back on the patch and you never know one of them Osprey type things might pop up.

Perch's Water Rail was still pottering around its small stinky world at the end of the month, while a new bird (or perhaps the Roding individual re-located after the council removed its cover on the river) was found first in the interesting bit of Heronry then on the SoM. Could it be that we had 3 wintering birds?

After last year's mega Dunlin on Jubilee, we kind of expected something to show. Snipe, or just the one, have been resident in the SSSI and latterly Cat & Dog throughout the winter but its the Alex that sees the most wader action. On a really foggy morning it was again the case, with Jono not only picking up Common Sandpiper, but then a very obliging Little Ringed Plover on the morning of the 16th, patch ticks all round. Soon after small numbers of Lapwing were seen on three separate occasions. An Avocet would be good (having been seen just up the road at Fairlop), but anything wader like would suffice!

Gulls (deep breath): February's Med Gull didn't linger, but a juvenile was picked up on the Alex mid way through the month in amongst the dwindling flocks. Now it appears just juvenile birds are left, and at the end of the month Black-headed Gulls have remained off my lists completely! We're hoping for a bit of Tern action before too long.

In the park and some of the copses Stock Dove's have been singing and displaying for the last month or more. No records of the Little Owl, and what I thought might have been Tawny Owls in Forest Gate probably were alarm systems, and the one in the park a Jay.

The Kingfisher has been regular if not frequent on the Roding, but it has been the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that has been the big draw for year listers in the both the park and on the flats, we even had that Fraser Simpson down one day recording their calls and drumming (check out his web site for the results (http://frasersbirdingblog.blogspot.com/).

Tim "dipper" Harris thinks Skylark numbers are still down on last year, but to me Meadow Pipit numbers appear to be up, whether this is due to migratory birds sticking around or my imagination only Tim can tell. Alex also hosted a Wanstead first in the form of a Water Pipit on the 18th, a bit of a surprise that, considering our position vis a vis Rainham, the Lee Valley etc. Mr Fisher also had a a calling bird of either Rock or Water persuasion in the Park a few days later, so perhaps they're just over looked. It won't be long before the next ID headache in the form of Tree Pipits hove on to the horizon, preferably calling birds thank you. Can you also get the Yellow Wags to land for a picture please!

Waxwings, yeagh seen them, a few still kicking around north of the Park, but their lustre and crown as the most stunning bird has once again gone to the Northern Wheatear, which finally graced us with their presence towards the end of the month, meaning that early fruitless starts are a thing of the past - at least till next week. Only four birds in March is not much to show for the effort we all put in but the prize when it came was enough to forget about the fatigue. A couple of Stonechats put in a tardy appearance mid way through the month, but it looks like the consecutive hard winters have done for this bird as its been scarce all over (I've yet to catch up with it even at Rainham!). As for the larger thrushes Redwing numbers remained constant throughout the month but have dwindled to one or two flyovers, while Fieldfare have been noted on several occasions after disappearing for weeks. A solitary Ring Ouzel, another highlight, gave us the run around on the 30th, stonking bird!

The most evident returning migrants have been the Chiffchaff and Blackcap whose singing can be heard virtually everywhere on both patches at the moment, with up to and over 1o birds singing in the park/old sewage works. A single Willow Warbler briefly flitted around the brooms in the SSSI on the 31st. You'll be hard pressed to find a Goldcrest anywhere at the moment as the winter population has bunked off oop north, but Coal Tit are still very much apparent with a pair inspecting nesting sites in Reservoir Wood. The Treecreeper too, put in a couple of appearances for the lucky - even singing for Stuart.

Finally Lesser Redpolls remained Lesser Redpolls no matter how hard we looked, and the opportunity of a Mealy will just have to wait till autumn though a certain resident of Wanstead has had both Mealy and Brambling visiting his feeders, while an older resident of the park recorded a Tree Sparrow during the snows this year (Stevey T had another probable just days ago in the SSSI). Finally Reed Bunting males are singing in the SSSI, Cat & Dog and a pair have been noted by the Alex, while a first winter Yellowhammer stuck around C&D for a couple of days during the month.