30 October 2012


As I meandered down the old sewage works today trying to find something interesting.  Something interesting happened.  A young fox sauntered up the river path, not in the slightest bit bothered that some weird human was obstructing his/her free range. I gave him (I'll call him that for no other reason than I am calling him that) some free space so that he could make good his getaway, but he was not interested in escape.  Instead he followed me up the slope and on to the new path.

I stepped aside again, but he just had a nibble at his tail and yawned. Just as I thought I'd got a new lodger, he left the path and disappeared into the brambles. One of his eyes appeared to be somewhat weary compared with the other, but he had a good wet nose and looked healthy enough.  Good luck to him I thought, what with the Evening Standard trying to get public hatred stirred up against our wild canine friends.  After all they eat babies and cats, don't they?

29 October 2012

Wanstead Crows

The patch was dead this morning. With a capital D. Dead. Best bird was either a Ring Ouzel in long wood that I never saw, or a juvvy Stonechat near the Golden Fleece that Nick saw later. The sky, filled with birds yesterday, was devoid of movement. In desperation I went to work early and saw nothing there either.

Instead I'd like to post a photo of a Crow I took at the weekend in the Park, and you will see immediately why I've posted it. Look at the feathers on that! Not particularly Crow-like are they? Wanstead regulars will recognise this Crow, or rather, Crows like it. For a great many Crows in Wanstead have unusual amounts of white feathering. If you go down to Alexandra Lake where many seem to congregate, you'll see loads with varying degrees of this abnormality. Go somewhere like Rainham however, and there won't be many at all. My supposition is that the Crows in Wanstead keep it largely to themselves when it comes to breeding, and being long-lived, there are more and more of them now showing this genetic trait. Admittedly the bird pictured has more white on it than a lot of them do, but it has long struck me as unusual, and up until now I've never bothered thinking about it much. Hey ho.

28 October 2012

A weekend of watching the sky

This weekend has been nothing short of wonderful. No patch ticks, no patch year-ticks even, but viz-migging at its best on the Flats has produced stacks of migrating birds. The most numerous have been Woodpigeons, followed by Fieldfare, but for the brave few who stood and froze their nads off at the watchpoint, it was boot-filling time.

A few highlights from Saturday

- 125 Lapwings, all west. Usually this number of birds would indicate thick snow and minor blizzard activity, so who know why they came through, but come through they did, mostly in large flocks of 30+. I flushed a couple off the Police Scrape at first light, along with 2 Snipe, little knowing this was just the start.

- 2 Swallows, both north. Fools. Easily my latest Swallow on the patch.

- 500 Woodpigeon, another fairly large movement.

And from today, Sunday

- 600+ Fieldfare, almost all west

- 1500 Woodpigeon, all south. It was like reliving the Blitz, massive squadrons moving slowly over. I'd had 400 in the first quarter of an hour, and then another 600 came through in two minutes. The sky was black (well, grey and white and stupid....)

- 150+ Chaffinch, commonest finch by far.

- 50+ Linnet, including one flock of 20+ birds. This is basically unprecedented.

- 500+ Starling, almost all west. At one point about 150 flew under one of the uber-flocks of Woodpigeon, which had me putting my tin helmet on and diving for cover.

26 October 2012


After reports that thousands of birds may have perished in the foggy conditions that were the "Indian summer", I am happy that sky has turned clear.  OK it's brass monkeys outside and the wind is whistling through the holes in my trousers, but that's got to be better than birds ending up in the North Sea. Having said that most of the migration witnessed this week has been to the north, even the few remaining Swallows have been defying logic heading that way. The Wood Pigeons bucked the trend.  Today was the first big movement of these birds and as per, it was definitely south.  About 1,000 this morning, most probably more, before it all went quiet.

So far this week several hundred Chaffinch, a few Brambling, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin and of course Hawfinch; over a 1000 Redwing, and several hundred Fieldfare have been counted flying over.  Song Thrush numbers are up, but always harder to count as they appear to just migrate round in small circles. What really surprised us was the absence of ouzel. It appeared they chose the foggiest nights to vanish. Gone too, it would seam, are the last of the Chiffchaff, today being the first day since the early spring (I am talking February here), that none were heard!

Skylarks appear to be moving backwards and forwards, while Meadow Pipits must come in at night - today I counted over 40 with over 20 in one group in the brooms. A little disappointed with the wader deluge: 2 Golden Plover, 50 + Lapwing and a couple of Snipe, but we remain hopeful and  just to prove that anything can pop in at anytime, I found a male Stonechat at the south end of the brooms that wasn't there when Tim scrupulously did his morning walk.

Tomorrow some geese would be nice.  With Brent, Whitefront and Pink-foots kicking around the London area, any would do.  Not fussy.  I just need 2 more birds to equal last year's tally, while as a collective  8 are required to match 2011. It's not as if there aren't enough eyes on patch. Perhaps we need a Mr Fisher special!

And here is what you've all be waiting for: a Ferret on a lead.  Go figure!

24 October 2012

A day not to be mist

Another misty slow start which turned into one of the best days I think I've had on the flats. It all had to wait for Jono to leave (and sometime after that), but then it all kicked off. 

The Hawfinch thankfully made a return over the Esso copse, this time I was ready and had a witness in the form of Adam Hudson (here to twitch the ouzels for the second day running.  he didn't get ouzel but I think he was as happy with his first Hawfinch for London).  And there could have been 2 birds, certainly the calls suggested it.  Lets hope they stick around for all of us to get on to them.

I am now happy about it!

Bonus too, in that no report needs to be done!

I followed it up sometime later with a Brambling in with some Chaffinches over in the corner of the playing field by Centre Road, while searched for Steve's ouzel he'd found in that general area.  My first not flying over.  Sweet!

Then almost immediately Tony got in on the act, 3 Woodlark west.  Wrong-sided by Long Wood, I missed them, and the 2 Golden Plover he had soon after.  He had also forgotten that he was now a canon-wielding member of the team!

This was not a day for going to work, anything could happen, but sadly I had to.  A quick scuttle down to Alex and the only downer of the day.  I flushed something, I don't know what, from the burnt area in the scrubby part to the east of the lake. Initial thoughts were it was a game bird, but the like of which I had not come across in my time as a country boy. No discernible markings on its dark brown back and about the size of a partridge/pheasant with no tail.  Took me by surprise as it shot out and over the trees.  No calls, no whirring flight.  Nothing whatsoever to give me any idea as to what it was.  But what it probably was, was good.  Bugger! Another one that got away.

Can't wait till tomorrow. 

Play misty for me again!

23 October 2012

haven't the foggiest...!

In answer to how many ouzels we have. Stu says he had 2 birds on Friday, one an immature male and the other a female.  OK! Bob had two Saturday. There were two Sunday, 1 male (maybe 1st winter) and a.n. other which I didn't get much of a look at.  Today Jono and I flushed a male from the hawthorns just south of Long Wood.  We were pretty sure that nothing would have left overnight, since it was crap. Later though I picked up a male along the bank north of Long Wood, and when Doug "wants-ouzels" and I went to investigate, there could have been 3 males there, certainly 2 chasing each other through the tree tops. So I don't know, the female you'd have thought would still be around, having stuck it out through the week!

Anyhow it occurred to Jono and I as we mused patch-things, that this was the same kind of day as his Oystercatcher and my Lapland Bunt. Nothing happened so he went to work and I went to the garage to soothe my rumbling stomach. Not much at the Alex bar a female Teal and the usual ducks.

I returned to Long Wood choosing the path near the Esso copse.  A strange call made me look up to where a rather portly bird was doing a manouver over the trees. I got my bins on it to see that it was a rather large finch with a coupe of large white blotches on its wings. This didn't suggest a Chaffinch with an over-active thyroid, nor did the short tail, the call however didn't suggest Hawfinch.  Then I remembered one we flushed from the school trees at Baltasound.  "Hawfinch" Matan Garner had said, I looking up saw a large finch, not calling the way I had expected.  I later saw/heard it again over the local hall. I checked later on Xeno-Canto and was pleasantly surprised to hear a few calls which fitted with what I'd heard, sweet!  Stevey T texted that he might have had the same bird over Heronry at the weekend.

Surprisingly I felt a little under-elated (no pictures, this time I think I got it right, by watching the bird as opposed to trying to get it in the view-finder - arse though!).  Getting Jono on to the SOE yesterday felt much better than seeing this on my own, with no-one to share the first Hawfinch since 1985. After all it was likely to happen with birds up the road at Woodford and recently at Blackheath/Greenwich.  Mind you can't wait for tomorrow.

Up at Long Wood I met Doug.  He hadn't caught up with anything and was beginning to wonder if he ever would.  One last circuit round the trees and I'd have to leave him to it.  Big bins save the day again.

A happy ending.

Oh ffs, so bloody close!

21 October 2012

Sunday short

Another Sunday and another planned early start. Rain in the night, north easterlies, of course you'd want to get up early and hit the patch.

I managed 09:30, after the news of 2 ouzels playing sitting-on-the-bushes-and-shouting-out-for-their-pictures-to-be-taken, had been received on the phone. I'd got to the crossroads of centre path and the new drain route when I chanced to look back towards jubilee. Some corvids were harrying something. Something which, on closer inspection, turned into a Short-eared Owl. Being late pays again!

I rattled off a few shots. It was hard to judge how distant it was, but looking at the pictures, I'd say Surrey! I called Jono, he needs SOE having been on the way to Shetland, bed, on the way from Shetland on the last 3 occaisions one has been spotted. No reply. I saw Josh, who was wandering towards centre road. He too had seen the crows but hadn't a clue as to what the 4th bird was. I set him right. He's only been birding a few weeks and already he has Ring Ouzel, Wood Lark, Tree Pipit and now Short-eared Owl on his list. He probably saw the action before I had got on to it, jammy feck!

Jono called back. He had got my group text and was now up from the breakfast table scattering kids and his aunt in his haste to get out of the door. Not ideally placed, it was hard giving directions to the owl as I had no idea where it was in relation to any other point on the flats. Finally after about a few minutes, that felt like an age. and after losing the bird as I tried to juggle phone, bins and ciggie, he managed to pick it up by the beyond the two towers on the west of the flats. It made him happy, which is probably the best result that could have happened. A patch tick for him following Bob's yesterday. I want one.

So here it is, another one to add to my growing collection of very small far off birds, which are just about recognisable for what they are.

You'll also be pleased to see that I improved on the ouzel shots of yesterday, or perhaps not. But they are heading in the right direction, give me another few weeks, I'll have it nailed.

I have discovered that I can do a reasonable impersonation of an ouzel "chucking". I thoought so, the ouzels were less impressed. Did help me to stumble upon a rather nice pair of Blackcap though.