25 January 2015

Slav don't live here anymore

The inevitable happened and Heronry froze over, and in the small remaining patches of open water the Little Grebe was not give any more ground to it's illustrious cousin. Something had to give and something had to go. So it'd been a bit dull of late, till today when Josh picked up a calling owl, while presumably walking his dogs, and Bob scored a Blackcap down his road.  Jam and jam!

The Owl is the biggest kick in the nads as I spent a chilling hour or two, waiting for a too-woo, at the Shoulder of Mutton as the darkness and thermometer fell. Should have stayed in the Old Sewage Works by the Roding and would have probably got a Woodcock instead of a cold... (stop it!).

Saturday was, however, lovely and when it's sunny it's great for photos if you can get anything close enough to pap.  I managed to reel off 150 + shots, all of which will be rubbish against Mr Letbridge's exacting standards, but made me happy.  Thought I got some humdingers of a Water Rail scurrying up and down the banks of the Roding, beyond the Gates of Mordor, but on closer inspection of it's left side I noticed a rather nasty looking wound. It looks like a stab wound, so either from a rival or a Heron.  The bird appeared chipper enough and so here's hoping it's not one of those nasty parasitic mite infestations that invariably kill.

20 January 2015

A tale of two waterbirds

Tim Harris 19/1/2015

Counting waterbirds on a monthly basis can be a bit of a slog at times. For a start, it takes several hours to get around all the lakes in Wanstead Park, let alone those on Wanstead Flats. The weather may be cold and wet, the paths muddy and sometimes not very much has changed since the previous month. Counting gulls on Wanstead Flats is particularly frustrating, regularly producing the classic situation where – close to the end of logging a large loafing roost of Common Gulls, 583, 584, 585 … a dog charges through the middle and disperses the lot. Right, where was I? 1, 2, 3, 4 …

Despite this, the numbers produced provide useful information for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), helping them to evaluate which species are faring well and which are in trouble. Locally, we have a team of tireless counters, so during the winter months not only Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats but Eagle Pond (Snaresbrook) and Hollow Pond (Whipps Cross) are covered. We also now have an almost complete record for the months of autumn, winter and early spring stretching back to January 2009. That makes it possible to look at trends and, maybe, draw some conclusions. Combined counts for Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and Eagle Pond can be compared now over seven WeBS counts. Systematic counting has only recently restarted at Hollow Pond, so a comparison cannot be made including that site. Browsing through the figures, trends for two birds jumped out at me: those for Gadwall and for Moorhen. Figures for the recent WeBS count produced record January numbers for both species. 

The ‘Gadwall army’

The main concentration of Gadwall in our area is on Alexandra Lake and the lakes of Wanstead Park, all waters where there is plentiful weed for these ducks to eat. Numbers at Eagle Pond rarely exceed single figures. The rate of increase was slow and irregular in the first years of the sequence: 40 in January 2009, 24 in January 2010, 101 in January 2011 and 88 in January 2012. During these years, the peak counts were respectively 111, 86, 137 – and this is where things really start to lift off – 200+ in December 2012. Since then, the rise of the ‘Gadwall army’ (as former Wren newsletter editor Steve Swaby has dubbed it) has been seemingly inexorable, with 363 in December 2013 and 459 in December 2014. The 422 counted in January 2015 was the highest-ever January count, and the biggest count on a WeBS day. 

Gadwall was a pretty rare bird in London not that long ago. According to Andrew Self (The Birds of London, 2014), the average wintering population in London was only about 100 in 1970. Wanstead Bird Reports from the late 70s and early 80s mark it out as a local rarity. However, by the end of the century the London winter population was around 2,500, and Self describes an average of 600 in the Lea Valley in recent years. The peak count (at the time of publication of his book) he lists was 453 at Cheshunt GP in December 1989. A larger share of London’s birds is now wintering in Wanstead, but there is no obvious reason why. Clearly there is a plentiful supply of weed on which the birds can feed, and maybe the growth of weed in our lakes has made it easier for these attractive dabbling ducks to feed by upending. Whether other factors are involved – such as an increase in the continental populations from where most of our birds originate, or problems with the food supply at locations where they previously wintered – is not clear. One thing is certain, we should enjoy the phenomenon while it lasts because like pretty much everything in nature, numbers go down as well as up. Cutting of the weed in The Basin later this year may well impact on the numbers that lake can support next winter.   

Moorhen success

Another success story, though much less dramatic, concerns Moorhens. Again, January WeBS figures for the years 2009-2015 show a consistent increase: 20, 21, 35, 44, 2013 figure lost by a careless recorder!, 66 and 80. And maximum counts for those years were as follows: 47, 56, 35, 65, figure unavailable, and 78 in 2014. Judging by the number of juvenile Moorhens seen on our lakes in recent autumns, I believe this increase can be put down to local breeding success. The species nests in emergent vegetation, where they are better protected than Coots’ nests, which are exposed stick islands, easy pickings for Lesser Black-backed Gulls. With the highest-ever January WeBS count for the species this year, I reckon we could be in for another bumper breeding season.

10 January 2015

One more

I don't write on here often, but I am very pleased to have caught up with the Slav that was found whilst I was on a rare jaunt off-patch. It has had the decency to stay until I could get down there with a camera, following a desperate early morning twitch yesterday. So - and not wishing to clog up the interweb too much - here's my effort from this lunchtime.

9 January 2015

Grebous bodily harm

All portrait pictures of Slavonian Grebes are becoming so-o tiresome, they are so yesterday, mundane, run-of-the-mill.

Add a bit of tree and some surreal backdrop, then I think we've got a few more miles in the tank...

8 January 2015

December: a big fat turkey

It felt like there were no highlights, but to my surprise there were and I missed most of them

  • Jack Snipe: the second for the year
  • Woodcock: two sightings which doubled our records for the year to fairly dismal
  • Lapwing: just the one record and again a poor year 
  • Warblers: both Blackcap and Chiffchaff made it in to the month
  • Firecrest: regular for Stu at Snaresbrook and his laurels
  • Oystercatcher: Stu's ears pick up a flyover
  • Gadwall: records broken and the broken again, how long before the big 500 is achieved?
  • Wigeon: in record numbers on the basin
  • Red Kite: Gary scores a late bird over the flats
  • Buzzard: just the two records
  • Water Rail: possibly five on site
  • Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: the year's only record, in a garden midway between the park and the flats
Some old left overs....

Wanstead Flats:44 Gadwall, 12 Shoveler, 2 Teal, 9 Linnet, Fieldfare, 2 Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 104 Gadwall, 41 Pochard, 2 Shoveler, Kingfisher, 3 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 40 + Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, 4 Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, 10 Fieldfare (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Strangely, no sign of Firecrest this am (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Flats: 51Gadwall, 16 Shoveler, 20 + Tufted Duck, 4 Pochard, 2 Little Grebe, 14-18 Linnet, 7 Skylark, 3 Meadow Pipit, 2 Pied Wagtail, 8 Mistle Thrush (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: The Basin 104 Gadwall, 2 Wigeon (Dan Hennessy)

Wanstead Flats: 60 Gadwall, 15 Shoveler, 8 Pochard, 2 Little Grebe, 21 Linnet, 7 Skylark, 10 + Redwing, 5 Pied Wagtail (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 99 Gadwall, 14 Pochard, 4 Shoveler, 20 + Tufted Duck, 4 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 3 Grey Heron, m Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail,3 Lesser Redpoll, 20 + Goldfinch, 3 Goldcrest,Redwing (Nick Croft) The Basin: 117 Gadwall, 9 Pochard, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Little Grebe (Dan Hennessy)

Wanstead Park: The Basin 183 Gadwall, 5 Wigeon (Dan Hennessy)

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Oystercatcher heard calling overhead at 06.35 (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Park: 239 Gadwall, 7 Wigeon (all waters counted) (Dan Hennessy) f Bullfinch in garden nr Bush Wood (Lindsay Vaughan). The Basin: 6 Egyptian Geese, 191 Gadwall, 17 Pochard (Tim Harris). Heronry: 7 Little Grebe. Also, 83 Jackdaw, 334 Carrion Crow, 24 Magpie into dusk corvid roost (partial count only) (Nick Croft, T Harris), Water Rail, 2 Goldcrest, Teal, 2 Egyptian Goose (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Flats: 45 Gadwall (Dan Hennessy). Jack Snipe (Angel pond), Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, 5+ Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 3 Pied Wagtail, 8 Skylark, 13 Linnet, 6 Pochard, Shoveler, Little Grebe, Kestrel (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Flats: WeBS count 33 Moorhen, 107 Coot, 2 Little Grebe, 7 Pochard, 23 Tufted Duck, 68 Mallard, 43 Gadwall, 11 Shoveler, 2 Egyptian Goose, 10 Greylag Goose, 210+ Canada Goose, 4 Mute Swan, 600+ Common Gull, 200+ Black-headed Gull, 7 Herring Gull, 6 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1-2 Snipe, 2 Little Egret over, 3 Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, 8 Skylark, 28-32 Linnet, 3 Goldcrest, Kestrel, 2 Fieldfare, 2 Redwing (Nick Croft).

Wanstead Park: 2 Water Rail (Bob and Lindsay Vaughan) WeBS count: 23 Mute Swan, 3 Greylag Goose, 53 Canada Goose, 338 Gadwall (combined total of 378 a new record for the wider patch), 2 Teal, 85 Mallard, 19 Shoveler, 27 Pochard, 40 Tufted Duck, 8 Little Grebe, 3 Great Crested Grebe, 5 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 42 Moorhen, 176 Coot, 278 Black-headed Gull (Tim Harris et al)

Wanstead Park: Nuthatch and female Bullfinch in OSW (Tim Harris)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 2 Firecrest, 2 Egyptian Geese, 5 Shoveler, 14 Gadwall, 2 Great crested Grebe, 2 Coal Tit, c5 Redwing, 3 Stock Dove, 3 Goldcrest, 10 Goldfinch (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Flats: 20 Gadwall, 4 Shoveler, 21 Grey-lag Goose, Little Grebe, 3 Skylark, 2 Redwing, Kestrel (Nick Croft) 

Wanstead Park: Water Rail, 90+ Gadwall, 5 Shoveler, Little Grebe, Goldcrest, 30+ Redwing, Kingfisher (Nick Croft), 209 Gadwall and 5 Wigeon on Basin (Dan Hennessy)  

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 2 Firecrest (one in NW of court near end of laurel hedge, 1 in Ivy covered trees E of Eagle Pond), Fieldfare, 22 Goldfinch, 30+ Gadwall, 2 Shoveler, 9 Redwing, 2 Great crested Grebe (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Park basin: 7 Wigeon (J Lethbridge)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 2 Firecrest together at roost site, 7 Goldcrest, Treecreeper, 38 Gadwall, 5 Shoveler, 2 Great crested Grebe, 2 Green Woodpecker (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Flats: 7 Skylark, 4 Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, 21 Linnet, 3 Shoveler, 3 Pochard, 5 Tufted Duck, Little Grebe (Jubilee pond), Redwing (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Firecrest, 2 Nuthatch (Gilbert Slade), 10 Lesser Redpoll (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Park: 368 Gadwall (411 for Wanstead today), 7 Wigeon, Teal, 2 Kingfisher, Water Rail, 15 Redwing (Dan Hennessy).

Wanstead Park: 334 Gadwall, 9 Wigeon (3 Ornamental Waters, 6 Basin), 11 Teal (Ornamental Waters), 17 Shoveler, 2 Coal Tit, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher (Dan Hennessy)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 2 Firecrest, 16 Gadwall, Sparrowhawk, 65+ Woodpigeon heading S including a pale leucistic bird, 2 singing Coal Tit, 7 Redwing, Grey Wagtail (Stuart Fisher) 

Wanstead Flats: 18 Shoveler, 9 Pochard, 47 Gadwall, 2 Egypian Goose, Little Grebe, 7 Skylark, Meadow Pipit, 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Linnet, 2 Lesser Redpoll, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 199 Gadwall (excluding basin), 22 Shoveler, 4 Teal, 4 Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, 8 + Stock Dove, 2 Goldcrest, 2 +Siskin, 2+ Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch, Sparrowhawk, 5 Grey Heron (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Firecrest, Goldcrest, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Fieldfare over, singing Coal Tit (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Park: 7 Wigeon (Basin), 10 Teal (Ornamental Waters), 24 Shoveler, 315 Gadwall, 3 Great Crested Grebe, Nuthatch, Kingfisher (Dan Hennessy).

Wanstead Flats, Fairground/SSSI: 2 Egyptian Goose, Common Snipe, 2 Green Woodpecker, 8 Skylark, Mistle Thrush in full song, 6 Linnet (Tim Harris) Red Kite (Gary Hewett) A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has been reported in a garden between the flats and the park - the year's only record

Wanstead Park: 8 Wigeon, 10 Teal, 339 Gadwall, 19 Shoveler, 17 Pochard, 31 Tufted Duck, 2 Great Crested Grebe (Dan Hennessy).

Snaresbrook: Tawny Owl calling at Gilberts Slade at c6:30am (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Flats: 4-7 Meadow Pipit, 2 Pied Wagtail, 7 Skylark, 17 Linnet, m Reed Bunting, 3 Shoveler, 4 Pochard, 10 Tufted Duck, Little Grebe (Jub), 8 Gadwall over park, 2 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Woodcock at dusk, flew over R Roding on to golf course, 2 Little Grebe, 69 Gadwall (Perch & Heronry), 4 Shoveler, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 3 Nuthatch, Blackcap in garden (Dan Hennessy)

Wanstead Flats: 41 Gadwall, 9 Shoveler, 5 Pochard, 2 Egyptian Goose, 2 Little Grebe, Kestrel, 5+ Great Black-backed Gull through, 3-4 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Fieldfare, 2 singing Mistle Thrush, singing Stock Dove, 6 Skylark, 2 Pied Wagtail, no sign of any Meadow Pipit or Linnet (Nick Croft/Dan Hennessy)

Wanstead Park: 418 Gadwall (total for park and flats 459, a new record), 16-17 Wigeon (Basin - record count), 5 Teal, 21 Shoveler, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Bullfinch (Old Sewage Works) (Dan Hennessy)

Wanstead Flats: Lapwing, Common Buzzard, 31 Gadwall, 10 Shoveler, 7 Pochard, 2 Teal, 4 Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, 17 Linnet, Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit, 4 Pied Wagtail (Nick Croft/Dan Hennessy/Tony Brown)

Wanstead Park: 263 + Gadwall, 12 + Wigeon, 6 Shoveler, 2 Teal, 10 + Pochard, 8 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe, Water Rail, Kingfisher, Kestrel, 2 Lesser Redpoll, Goldcrest, 2 Great Black-backed Gull, 5 Grey Heron (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Flats: Woodcock (Bob Vaughan)

Wanstead Park: still 12 Wigeon on Basin (Tim Harris)

Wanstead Flats: 26 Linnet, 5 Lesser Redpoll, Meadow Pipit, 2 Pied Wagtail, Skylark, Fieldfare, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 9 Shoveler,10 Gadwall, 4 Egyptian Goose, 2 Little Grebe, Goldcrest (Nick Croft/Kathy Hartnett)

Wanstead Park: 23 Shoveler (Perch Pond), 12 Gadwall, 2 Teal, Water Rail, Redwing, Grey Wagtail (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 2 f/imm Bullfinch (Leyton Flats), Treecreeper, 4 Goldcrest, 3 Redwing, 81 Tufted Duck, c500 Black-headed Gull, Kingfisher, Common Buzzard S at 13:16 (Gilberts Slade) (Stuart Fisher)

Wanstead Flats: 1-3 Common Snipe, 6 Shoveler, 4 Egyptian Goose, 30 Greylag Goose grazing on football pitches in the dark, Meadow Pipit, 10 Linnet, 3 Lesser Redpoll, f Bullfinch, Kestrel, singing Stock Dove (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 365 Gadwall, 5 Wigeon, 21 Shoveler, Siskin (Dan Hennessy), Water Rail, 5 Teal (Manor Park allotments in Aldersbrook), Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Grey Wagtail (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Flats: 20 Linnet, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Meadow Pipit, 4 Pied Wagtail, 6 Gadwall, 2 Shoveler, 2 Pochard, 2 Egyptian Goose, 2 Sparrowhawk, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 300 Gadwall, 2 Wigeon, 2 Great Crested Grebe still on the Basin, Water Rail old sewage works on Roding, Teal Manor Park allotments in the Aldersbook (Dan Hennessy), 23 Shoveler, 3 Little Grebe, Water Rail south east corner of the Shoulder of Mutton (possibly up to 5 now on site), Goldcrest, Redwing (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Firecrest very briefly at dawn (Stuart Fisher)