30 July 2013


The time of famine is nearly over, August starts on Thursday and while it might not kick off straight away the anticipation is mounting. Even Jono has been tempted out, and of course he scored almost immediately with the first Common Sandpiper on Alex this year, shortly afterwards flushed by a doggie. It's a start.

With school over Dan has been on the flats early doors; his reward a Tawny Owl calling a couple of times, but he's off to Shetland and Fair Isle for a few weeks so he'll, hopefully, be knee deep in the good stuff before long.

For my part, I had a fresh looking Reed Warbler in the Old Sewage Works by the Roding, doing a bit of sub-song and taking a keen interest in what I was doing.  So while things are few and far between at the moment the moment is just about now.

Here's the itinerary for the next few weeks:

Snipe: on the 1st in 2011
Spotted Flycatcher: last year 2nd (9th in 2011)
Crossbill: last year on the 2nd (already noted)
Wheatear: first on the 5th (2011) and last year on the 7th
Common Redstart: a female in the Alex scrub last year on the 11th, 19th the year before
Yellow Wagtail: 12th August 2011, 18th 2012
Green Sandpiper: 12th August 2012
Tree Pipit: 13th August 2012, and 24th the year before
Whinchat: 15th August 2011, and a day later last year on the 16th
Yellow-legged Gull: 17th August in 2012, 23rd August in 2011
Pied Flycatcher: 18th August last year, and 21st in 2011
Sedge Warbler: 23rd August in 2011 (last year the 30th of July)
Wryneck: 25th August last year (and September two year's before)
Marsh Harrier: 26th August last year
Grasshopper Warbler: 28th August in 2011
Arctic Tern: 28th in 2011

and in 1980 the last record of Ruff on the patch

Add to all that increasing numbers of Chiffchaff, returning Willow and Garden Warbler and the promise of an Autumn invasion of Two-bar Crossbill (Lee Evans has spoken), and who knows what flying over, popping up, showing well, and briefly before being flushed... to come. June and July can be expunged.

23 July 2013

A purple patch

Monday and I stood and melted a little while I watched a few rather smart Purple Hairstreak, a butterfly easily overlooked as they tend to stay high in the canopy of the oaks. While not quite in the same league as a Purple Emperor, a smart animal none the less.

And continuing the purple theme: Small Copper on a purple flower....

 ... and the SSSI looking resplendant in purple.

20 July 2013

Like buses...

... you wait half a year for one, and then three turn up all together.  We are talking Common Sandpiper here, not buses, but then a fourth one appeared, just after Bob had left and after giving me the title for this blog. Then a fifth which is where the analogy completely comes off the rails as it were.

Five sandpipers, more, I think, than I've ever had in view at the same time (barring Curlew Sand and Wood Sand), and probably a record mused Mr Lethbridge.  Probably a record until I met up with the daddy of all things ecological in Wanstead, Mr Paul Ferris, who said he had more many years ago but couldn't remember the exact figure. Five will do for me and it did well also for Dan who trollied up to have a gander.

They weren't up for doing much and what they were up for doing was keeping at a healthy distance. So I joined Mr Ferris and Kathy Hartnett for a ramble (they had been counting butterfly, and other insect life all morning). We had a quick cuppa at the Little Tea Shop of Happiness to see us on our way, and no sooner had we left we got some raptor action in the form of the resident Hobby having a go at Peregrine that had strayed a bit too close to their airspace.

Now Mr Ferris knows a thing or two, and Kathy too knows her beans, which left me as a happy passenger providing bird ID when required, which was not too often.

For example: Did you know that some types of Lime tree give off a pheromone that is toxic to bees.  I did not and now I do, and if proof were needed we found a few corpses under one variety of non-native Lime the Corporation had though fit to plant down the side of the grove.  Way to go City of London. Better not inform the government about it else they'll be planting that particular tree in arable areas to save money on carbofuran.

I  learnt that we are one of the only sites in Essex to have Yellow LooseLongstrife, a rather pretty flower growing up from the margins of our ponds. I was also introduced to its more common, but equally attractive purple version namesake (though a willowherb rather than a primrose family member). We ended up looking up at the oaks at the bottom of Perch trying to spot Purple Hairstreak.  The only British butterfly to commit its whole life cycle to the oak.  It feeds on the sugary secretions of aphids!

We had a look at the Horse Chestnuts, already showing die back from their infestation of a tiny little moth, of which there were millions fluttering about the dieing leaves.  Not much hope for a quick cure there then!

We parted company at the Perch Pond and I wandered round the Old Sewage Works till it got late.  Walking back past Heronry, the five sandpiper were still there still resolutely doing nothing.  Things are definitely on the turn.

You can catch up with Mr Ferris through the link down the side of the page. Well worth a look sometime. http://www.wansteadwildlife.org.uk/index.php/component/content/?view=featured

18 July 2013


Green Woodpecker are not easy to photograph.  They are usually two steps ahead of you and away, laughing at your clumsy attempts at stalking.  There seem to be a lot about this year, you can hear them calling everywhere or flying up from the grass, usually with a youngster in tow. Down by the Dell I came across this clumsy youngster, momentarily on it's own (hopefully) and not quite sure where to put it's big feet or what to do.

16 July 2013

Death in the sun

My flat is currently hotter than Death Valley at midday, at midnight.  Not conducive for sleep, not for conducive for getting up early to trudge around the flats before it gets too soporific to continue.

Don't mind the heat so much it's the increasing number of twats it brings out into the open, and god are we all getting fatter.  Seeing someone within their recommended size to weight ratio is as unlikely as a Bridled Tern on the Angel pond.  Now I am overweight, but at least I can still see my feet and my gravitational effect on the surroundings is less than that of Pluto, some of these people are distorting light their masses are so large, though that could be heat haze I suppose.

Monday morning always bring deep joy regarding my fellow inhabitants of this planet.  The heaps of rubbish they leave, just to show what an enjoyable weekend was had larding it up on the flats, and now sadly the old sewage works.  Thanks Redbridge for ruining a place of solitude.

Just when you think things might be on the turn for the better it gets worse.  July sucks! High pressure sucks, bring on some un-settled weather.

Oh my god! A slim person, I am off to check the Angel for tern!

12 July 2013

The turning of the tide

Things are changing, slowly, on the patch.  In just a few weeks the Swifts will be gone and already some of our wintering birds are returning.

First up an eclipse male Gadwall tested out the waters of the Alex and the Heronry looking for his kind, and this morning Dan H reports 2 Teal on the Alex. Black-headed Gull numbers are on the rise; 30 + on the flats with a splinter group mugging bread from the ducks and geese on Heronry.  The first Common Gull, quickly followed by a second earlier this week, is now to be seen loafing around with the BHGs on the playing fields by the Alex. It's getting towards that time the larger gulls that are to be found early doors on the footy pitches could be joined by something a tad more interesting: Yellow-legged Gull or perhaps a Mediterranean Gull, both would be acceptable.

We may have to wait until the ground work is finished on the Jub before anything waderish pops in (still waiting for a Common Sandpiper, or any Sandpiper, for the year), but we have had movement of Lapwings, another good sign.

Heart racing stuff. It does mean the seasons are shifting once more and the exciting stuff is getting closer.

Then it will be just manic!

4 July 2013

June roundup

Yup, June. 

The weather was dull with a few brightspots, and the birding was dull with a few brightspots, but on the bright side- its a month closer to something exciting happening so if I can avoid self harming myself too much through the tedium of July...

  • Cuckoo reported singing down by the stables
  • Turtle Dove flyover of the Shoulder of Mutton on the 13th
  • Garden Warbler: where last spring we had none, this year four singing birds and two that were holding territory.  That they've both stopped singing doesn't mean they have moved on...
  • Reed Warbler: singing males on Alex, Bush Wood, the Shoulder of Mutton, the Old Sewage Works (3 singing at one point), and mate-less and moved on
  • 5 more Shelduck making it the best year yet (11th and 21st)
  • Clouded Yellow briefly on the 19th by the Shoulder of Mutton (a London year first, I believe) and not a bird
  • Painted Lady on the 20th near the Esso copse, and also not a bird

Half way through the year and it looks to be a good one for Chaffinch  Usually around now they are hard to find, but this year they are calling everywhere.  A good year for Greenfinch too with small family groups in the SSSI, Long Wood, the Alex scrub, and various locations in the park.  Bullfinches are now being seen and heard again in the OSW, but only in ones or twos.

It should be a good year for thrushes; Song Thrushes are still singing, Blackbird young can be heard chacking in the undergrowth, but Mistle Thrushes curiously scarce.  I did see a large party flying from the False Acacia behind my flat (off patch) numbering over 10, but no large family groups on the flats as yet.

The movement of Swallow finally halted towards the end of the month, and our resident House Martin this year number just four, though I haven't checked the nesting site to see if any more are at home. The Sand Martin mystery might have been cleared up after a chance meeting I had by the Perch pond, with a birder who had been watching a nest site at Barking, which may account for the regular sightings over the Alex. Counts for Swifts have ranged from 20 to over to well over a hundred on both flats and park and it's hard to imagine that these birds are in decline, but we do rather well for them here.

Faring less well are birds like the Grey Wagtail and Kingfisher, both river side nesters and probably suffering from the fluctuations of the Roding in the early spring. I've subsequently seen the Kingfisher carrying food along the Roding, so maybe they've tried again, whereas the sight of a pair of Grey Wags around Heronry means they haven't.

Failure too for the Great-crested Grebe, in all probability to Mink predation. The male suddenly disappeared and the female abandoned the nest.  She did try shacking up with the bachelor on the Perch, but I don't think he was up for it and it looks like she's now moved on. No sign as yet of any Little Grebe chicks, or Tufted Duck, and our hoped for Pochards never materialised.

Our resident warblers are doing well, and Lesser Whitethroat territories could be at a high.  The Willow Warbler now only occasionally sings from his Birch wood home, but he has become harder to pin down.  A second bird was singing on the south edge of Bush Wood for most of the early part of the month, it's gone quiet there too.

Collectively we found five Great Spotted Woodpecker nests, seen a few juvenile Greens, but no more signs of any Lesser spots, while another woodland bird, the Stock Dove, appears to be coping well with the invasion of Ring-necked Parakeet who could be a competitor for suitable nest sites.

We're still not sure how the year's going for the larks and pipits on the flats, lots of activity, but nothing tangible to show for it. Seven singing Skylark was the best count, with two Meadow Pipit still parachuting in the brooms.

A quiet month on the raptor front.  Only one Buzzard, but potential signs of nesting behaviour from our Hobby and signs too of Sparrowhawk carrying food for young somewhere.

The Terns have been back on Heronry, with three on one occasion. Where these might be nesting is baffling, I timed the regular bird from when he left the pond carrying fish to when he returned; just over 10 minutes, which implies it's got to be somewhere close.

Too much excitement for you?  Then have the rest of the news.  Be still my beating heart!

1st June

Wanstead Flats: Common Buzzard (Dan Hennessy), Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat (Josh Selfe), 10 Sand Martin, House Martin, 3 Swallow, 100+ Swift (Nick Croft/Tim Harris)

Wanstead Park: Garden Warbler (Josh Selfe), pr Hobby (Nick Croft)

3rd June

Wanstead Park: Reed Warbler (SoM), Common Tern (DH), Willow Warbler (TH), Hobby, Swallow, House Martin, 150+ Swift (Nick Croft). Reed Warbler Bush Wood (Paul Ferris)

4th June

Wanstead Flats: Lesser Whitethroat + yg, 5 Sand Martin, 4 House Martin, Swallow, 50+ Swift, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 2 singing Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Little Egret, Hobby, Kestrel, the Great Crested Grebe has abandoned the second nest after losing its partner - presumably to a mink, 5 Little Grebe, Swallow, 100+ Swift (Dan Hennessy/Tim Harris/Mike Messenger/Nick Croft)

5th June

Wanstead Flats: Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Swallow, 4 Sand Martin, 3 House Martin, 100+ Swift, Stock Dove, 2 Little Grebe, 2 Egyptian Goose, pr Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Reed Warbler still Shoulder of Mutton, Willow Warbler Bush Wood, pr Hobby, 2 Swallow north, House Martin, 100+ Swift (Nick Croft)

7th June

Wanstead Flats: 2 Sand Martin, House Martin, 50+ Swift, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: pr Reed Warbler (Shoulder of Mutton), Garden Warbler still OSW, 2 Little Egret, Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, House Martin, 60+ Swift; locals report singing Cuckoo from the stables area yesterday (Nick Croft)

8th June

Wanstead Flats: singing Willow Warbler, 4 Lesser Whitethroat, Swallow, 4+ House Martin, 50+ Swift, Kestrel, 7 Skylark (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Turtle Dove SE over Shoulder of Mutton pond (first for 2-3 years), 10+ Stock Dove, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, yg Lesser Whitethroat, Kingfisher, 3-4 Little Egret, lone Great Crested Grebe has paired up again, Bullfinch, 2 Black-headed Gull N up Roding (Nick Croft/Josh Selfe)

11th June

Wanstead Flats: 2 Lapwing W, Linnet, Pochard E, 3 Sand Martin, 4 House Martin, Swallow, 50+ Swift, 4 Little Grebe (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 3 Shelduck N over Heronry (1 S later), 2 singing Reed Warbler (SoM), 2 singing Garden Warbler, Common Tern, Little Egret, Sparrowhawk, 50+ Swift, 4 House Martin (Nick Croft/Mike Messenger)

12th June

Wanstead Flats: Hobby, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Reed Warbler singing Alex, Lesser Whitethroat, singing Willow Warbler, 100+ Swift, Swallow N, 4 House Martin, 5 Stock Dove (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Reed Warbler still Shoulder of Mutton, Little Egret, 50+ Swift, 4 House Martin, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)

14th June

Wanstead Flats: 2 singing Lesser Whitethroat, family of fledged Common Whitethroat, 5 Sand Martin, House Martin, 100+ Swift, Kestrel (Nick Croft/Tim Harris)

Wanstead Park: Garden Warbler still OSW, Reed Warbler, Little Egret, Common Tern, Sparrowhawk, 100+ Swift (Nick Croft)

16th June

Wanstead Flats: 3 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Egyptian Goose, House Martin (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: singing Reed Warbler still, 2 Grey Wagtail, 5 House Martin (Nick Croft)

17th June

Wanstead Park: 2 Common Tern on heronry (Dan Hennessy)

18th June

Wanstead Flats: 2 Great Crested Grebe Alex, Lesser Whitethroat, Meadow Pipit with food, House Martin, 30+ Swift, appears to be a good year for Chaffinch (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 3-4 Reed Warbler (SoM), 2-3 singing Willow Warbler (Bush Wood), 3 Common Tern, 2 Grey Wagtail, Bullfinch, 2 Little Egret, Hobby, Kestrel, Sand Martin, House Martin, 30-50 Swift, 20+ Jackdaw hawking for flying ants (Nick Croft/Tim Harris/Bob Vaughan/Dan Hennessy)

19th June

Wanstead Flats: 4 Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler singing in SSSI, Swallow N, House Martin, 3 Sand Martin, 30 + Swift, Kestrel, Egyptian Goose (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 1-2 Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler still OSW, Lesser Whitethroat, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Great Crested Grebes back on Perch Pond, 2 Common Tern, Kestrel, Nuthatch; Clouded Yellow briefly in reeds on Shoulder of Mutton then flew N towards golf course (Nick Croft)

20th June

Wanstead Flats: 5 Lesser Whitethroat, Sand Martin, House Martin, 20-30 Swift, Grey Wagtail; Painted Lady (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Garden Warbler, no sign Reed Warbler, singing and very tatty Goldcrest, 4 House Martin, 30+ Swift, tatty Sparrowhawk, Little Egret (Nick Croft)

21st June

Wanstead Flats: Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler both singing SSSI, 5 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Shelduck over, Egyptian Goose, 4 House Martin, 30+ Swift, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 4 Sand Martin, House Martin, 40+ Swift, Little Egret, singing Goldcrest (SoM) (Nick Croft/Dan Hennessy).

24th June

Wanstead Flats: 50+ Swift, 8 House Martin, 3 Sand Martin, singing Garden Warbler, singing Willow Warbler, 2 singing Lesser Whitethroat, Stock Dove, Egyptian Goose, f Sparrowhawk, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Little Egret, family of Chiffchaff, Blackcap gathering nest lining material, 10 Swift, 5 House Martin, Common Tern, Grey Wagtail (Nick Croft)

26th June

Wanstead Flats: Willow Warbler, 2 Lesser Whitethroat SSSI, Stock Dove, 3 House Martin, 4 Sand Martin, 50+ Swift, f Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft).

Wanstead Park: Reed Warbler singing from the long hedge in Old Sewage Works, Grey Wagtail, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, House Martin, 50+ Swift (Nick Croft/Josh Selfe).

27th June

Wanstead Flats: Sand Martin, 4 House Martin, 50+ Swift, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, family of Chiffchaff east end Long Wood, Kestrel, 4 Stock Dove, Grey Wagtail (Nick Croft).

Wanstead Park: Little Egret, singing Coal Tit, Grey Wagtail, House Martin, 50+ Swift; Mink with 3 kits (Nick Croft).

29th June

Wanstead Flats: 50+ Swift, 3 House Martin, Lesser Whitethroat, 3 singing Skylark, 2 singing Meadow Pipit, juv Green Woodpecker (Nick Croft/Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Park: Hobby, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 2 Little Egret, 2 Grey Wagtail, Common Tern, 3 Black-headed Gull, 4 House Martin, 60+ Swift, Bullfinch, 2 Kingfisher, 10+ Stock Dove, 10+ juv Chiffchaff in Old Sewage Works; Grass Snake in the Roding, Hornet and the 4 Mink are still on the loose (Nick Croft/Stuart Fisher)